James Gairdner.

The Paston letters, 1422-1509 a new edition, first published in 1874, containing upwards of four hundred letters, etc., hitherto unpublished (Volume 1) online

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Online LibraryJames GairdnerThe Paston letters, 1422-1509 a new edition, first published in 1874, containing upwards of four hundred letters, etc., hitherto unpublished (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 64)
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The Paston Letters

1422 1509 A.D.










1422-1461 A.D.





All the errata noted by the Editor in the last
edition have been corrected, with the exception of
the following :


Page Ixiv., lines 13-16. Delete the whole of the clause from "and
it would seem " to the end of the paragraph, as it
appears that Letter 134 does not belong to this period.


Page 71. The preliminary note to Letter 58 is wrong. As the
letter is dated from Mautby, the writer must be
Edmund, the son of John and Margaret Paston, not
the brother of that John Paston.

Pages 177-181, Nos. 134, 135. See corrections of date and other
particulars with regard to these two letters in Vol. II.,
Nos. 430, 431.

Page 368, No. 265. This note should have been omitted.

In the previous edition there appeared the following
erratum among others :


Page xxvii., line 36. For " flung at her from behind fences," read
"addressed to her in church." The passage as it stands
was written from a misinterpretation of the language
of Letter 162, which is noted further on.

The correction has been made, but it is thought that
the explanation of the mistake is of sufficient interest
to warrant attention being drawn to it here.












There was a time when dedications
were written to secure patronage ; this of mine shall
be to confess a debt. It has been my privilege for
many years to be brought into close official relations
with you at the Record Office; and by having to assist,
in a humble way, in some of your labours there an
honour I esteem more highly than any credit I hope
to gain for work of my own, I feel that I have
learned nearly all I know of the value of historical
documents, or how to use them. Certain I am that,
whoever is familiar with your " Letters and Papers of


the Reign of Henry VIII." will have little difficulty
in perceiving how much this work is indebted to yours
in respect of its plan and system. I only trust that,
in its execution, it may not be found unworthy of the
teaching from which I have so much profited, and in
gratitude for which I remain,

Yours very sincerely,



UBLIC attention was first drawn to the
Paston Letters in the year 1787, when there
issued from the press two quarto volumes
with a very lengthy title, setting forth that
the contents were original letters written " by various
persons of rank and consequence" during First publication
the reigns of Henry VI., Edward IV., and of the Letters.
Richard III. The materials were derived from auto-
graphs in the possession of the Editor, a Mr. Fenn,
of East Dereham, in Norfolk, who seems to have been
known in society as a gentleman of literary and anti-
quarian tastes, but who had not at that time attained
any degree of celebrity. Horace Walpole had de-
scribed him, thirteen years before, as " a smatterer in
antiquity, but a very good sort of man." What the
great literary magnate afterwards thought of him we
are not informed, but we know that he took a lively
interest in the Paston Letters the moment they were
published. He appears, indeed, to have given some
assistance in the progress of the work through the
press. On its appearance he expressed himself with
characteristic enthusiasm : " The letters of Henry
VI. 's reign, &c., are come out, and to me make all
other letters not worth reading. I have gone through
one volume, and cannot bear to be writing when
I am so eager to be reading. . . . There are
letters from all my acquaintance, Lord Rivers, Lord
Hastings, the Earl of Warwick, whom I remember still
better than Mrs. Strawbridge, though she died within
these fifty years. What antiquary would be answering
a letter from a living countess, when he may read one
from Eleanor Mowbray, Duchess of Norfolk?" 1

So wrote the great literary exquisite and virtuoso,
the man whose opinion in those days was life or death

1 Walpole's Letters (Cunningham's ed.), ix- 92.


to a young author or a new publication. And in spite
of all that was artificial and affected in his character,
in spite even of the affectation of pretending a
snobbish interest in ancient duchesses, Walpole
was one of the fittest men of that day to appreciate
,, . such a publication. Miss Hannah More

What was 1-11 11

thought of them was less easily pleased, and she no doubt
was the type of many other readers. The
letters, she declared, were quite barbarous in style,
with none of the elegance of their supposed con-
temporary Rowley. They might perhaps be of some
use to correct history, but as letters and fine reading,
nothing was to be said for them. 1 It was natural
enough that an age which took this view of the matter
should have preferred the forgeries of Chatterton to
the most genuine productions of the fifteenth century.
The style of the Paston Letters, even if it had been
the most polished imaginable, of course could not
have exhibited the polish of the eighteenth century,
unless a Chatterton had had some hand in their

Yet the interest excited by the work was such that
General interest the editor had no reason to complain of
in the work. its reception. The Paston Letters were
soon in everybody's hands. The work, indeed, appeared
under royal patronage, for Fenn had got leave before-
hand to dedicate it to the King as " the avowed patron "
of antiquarian knowledge. This alone had doubtless
some influence upon the sale ; but the novel character
of the publication itself must have excited curiosity
still more. A whole edition was disposed of in a week,
and a second edition called for, which, after under-
going some little revision, with the assistance of Mr.
George Steevens,the Shakspearian editor, was published
the same year. Meanwhile, to gratify the curious, the
original MS. letters were deposited for a time in the
Library of the Society of Antiquaries ; but the King
having expressed a wish to see them, Fenn sent them

1 Roberts's " Memoirs of Hannah More," ii. 50.


to the palace, requesting that, if they were thought
worthy of a place in the Royal Collection, His Majesty
would be pleased to accept them. They were accord-
ingly added to the Royal Library; and as an acknow-
ledgment of the value of the gift, Fenn was summoned
to Court, and received the honour of knighthood.

But the two volumes hitherto published by Fenn
contained only a small selection out of a pretty con-
siderable number of original letters of the same period
in his possession. The reception these two volumes
had met with now encouraged him to make a further
selection, and he announced with his second edition
that another series of the Letters was in preparation,
which was to cover the same period as the first two
volumes, and to include also the reign of Henry VII.
Accordingly a third and fourth volume of the work were
issued together in the year 1789, containing the new
letters down to the middle of Edward IV. 's reign. A
fifth and concluding volume, bringing the work down
to the end of Henry VII. 's reign, was left ready for
publication at Sir John Fenn's death in 1794, and was
published by his nephew, Mr. Serjeant Frere, in 1823.

Of the original MSS. of these letters and their de-
scent, Fenn gives but a brief account in the
preface to his first volume, which we will en-
deavour to supplement with additional facts to the best
of our ability. The letters, it will be seen, were for
the most part written by or to particular members of
the family of Paston in Norfolk. Here and there, it
is true, are to be found among them State papers and
other letters of great interest, which must have come
to the hands of the family through some indirect
channel; but the great majority are letters distinctly
addressed to persons of the name of Paston, and in
the possession of the Pastons they remained for several
generations. In the days of Charles II. the head of
the family, Sir Robert Paston, was created Earl of
Yarmouth; but his son William, the second bearer
of the title, having got into debt and encumbered


his inheritance, finally died without male issue, so that
his title became extinct. While living in reduced cir-
cumstances, he appears to have parted with his family
papers, which were purchased by the great antiquary
Owned by Peter an d collector, Peter Le Neve, Esq., Norroy
Le Neve. King of Arms. Le Neve was a Norfolk
man, possessed of considerable estates at Witching-
ham and elsewhere in the county ; and he made it a
special object to collect MSS. and records relating to
both Norfolk and Suffolk. What intentions he may
have had as to their ultimate disposal I have not been
able to ascertain, but on his death in 1729 his library
was sold by auction, and the MSS., which he had
brought together with so much industry, were dis-

A large part of them, however, came to the hands
of his brother antiquary, Thomas Martin, whose name
By Martin of has been handed down to antiquaries of
Paigrave. th e present day with the epithet by which
he himself wished it to be distinguished, as Honest
Tom Martin of Paigrave. Shortly after Le Neve's
death, Martin found himself a widower, and married the
widow of his friend. He thus came into the posses-
sion of a valuable collection of pictures, antiquities,
and other articles, besides a considerable remainder
of the books and MSS. not yet submitted to 'the
hammer; so that, having already bought a good number
of those which had been sold, he for a time secured
against further dispersion the treasures which it had cost
Le Neve forty years of labour to bring together. The
collection was still spoken of as Le Neve's collection,
and Francis Blomefield, who was at this time engaged
in composing his invaluable "History of Norfolk," 1
alludes to it under that name. Blomefield had the
free use of all Le Neve's MSS., and appears to have
made some collections of his own, though doubtless
on a smaller scale. In the preface to his " History of

1 The first volume of this work was published in 1739, ten years after Le
Neve's death.


Norfolk," he tells the reader that he has made distinct
reference to the several authors and originals he had
made use of in all cases, " except," says he, " where the
originals are either in Mr. Le Neve's or my own col-
lections, which at present I design to join to his, so that,
being together, they may be consulted at all times." It
would appear from these words that it was at this time
Martin's intention, and may have been that of Le
Neve before him, to bequeath or sell the whole collec-
tion to some public body for the use of literary in-
quirers in after times. But if so, he failed to carry out
his project. He lived, indeed, for nearly forty years
after his marriage with Le Neve's widow, but his
necessities compelled him to part with some of his
treasures. Still, as he grew old, he did not altogether
drop the project : he frequently formed resolutions
that he would, next year, arrange what remained of
them, and make a selection for public use. But at
last, at the age of seventy-four, he suddenly died in
his chair, without having carried out his intention. 1

His executors seem to have done what they could
to preserve the integrity of his collections. A cata-
logue of Martin's library was printed at Lynn in 1771,
in the hope that some purchaser would be found to
take the whole. Such a purchaser did present himself,
but not in the interest of the public. A certain Mr. John
Worth, a chemist at Diss, bought both the

r , , ,, ,, ' . By Mr. Worth.

library and the other collections, as a specu- '
lation, for ^630. The printed books he immediately
sold to a firm at Norwich, who disposed of them by
auction ; the pictures and smaller curiosities he sold
by auction at Diss, and certain portions of the MSS.
were sent, at different times, to the London market.
But before he had completed the sale of all the collec-
tions, Mr. Worth died suddenly in December 1774.
That portion of the MSS. which contained the Paston

1 Fenn speaks of him, without mentioning his name, in the preface to his
first volume, p. x. That Martin is the "great collector" here referred to will
be seen by a comparison with the account given of him a little further on
at p. xxi.


Letters he had up to that time reserved. Mr. Fenn
immediately purchased them of his executors, and they
had been twelve years in his possession when he pub-
lished his first two volumes of selections from them.

Up to this point, the history of the MSS. is toler-
ably free of obscurity ; the only question that arises
Francis Biome- being as to their having been owned in
fie'd- part by Francis Blomefield. If it be true

that Le Neve was the first purchaser of the Earl
of Yarmouth's MSS., it seems scarcely probable
that any part of them could have been bought by
a country clergyman like the incumbent of Fersfield.
Indeed, there is no reason to believe that the Paston
family papers were not at this time kept together in
their integrity. Yet Blomefield not only saw them all,
but wrote his initials on several, and marked a good
many others with a mark by which he was in the habit
of distinguishing original documents that he had exar
mined and noted. These liberties he may perhaps
have taken by permission of Mr. Martin ; but in one
case, at least, I find that he exercised full right of
ownership himself by giving away to a friend the ori-
ginal of a letter which must certainly have been once
in the Paston family archives. The truth of the matter
probably is that Le Neve had bequeathed some of
these documents to Blomefield.

But from the days of Sir John Fenn the history of
the Paston MSS. is mysterious. On the 23d May
1787, Fenn received his knighthood at St. James's,
having then and there presented to the king three
bound volumes of MSS. which were the originals of his
first two printed volumes. Since that time they have
Disappearance disappeared, and no one can tell what has
of the MSS. become of them. There is a tradition that
they were last seen in the hands of Queen Charlotte,
who, it is supposed, must have lent them to one of her
ladies in attendance. If so, it is strange that they should
have been altogether lost sight of. All that can be said
upon the matter is that they have since been sought


for in vain. They are not in the library of King
George III., which is now in the British Museum, nor
do they appear to be in any of the Royal Palaces.
The late Prince Consort, just before his death, insti-
tuted a search which he had great hope would at last
bring them to light. I have been informed that it has
since been completed, but the missing originals remain
still unaccounted for.

Nor is this all. The originals of the other three
volumes were all for a long time equally undiscoverable.
Those of the third and fourth volumes, with the excep-
tion of one single document, have not been found to
this day ; and Mr. Serjeant Frere, when he published
the fifth volume after Sir John Fenn's death, declared
that he had not been able to find the originals of that
volume either. Strange to say, however, they were in
his house all the time, and were discovered by his son,
Mr. Philip Frere, in the year 1865, just after an ingeni-
ous litterateur had made the complete disappearance
of all the MSS. a ground for casting doubt on the
authenticity of the published letters. It is certainly a
misfortune for historical literature that the owners of
ancient documents commonly take so little pains to
ascertain what it is that they have got. 1

Thus we have the following strange occurrences in the
history of these MSS. The originals of the first two
volumes are missing, though they were presented to the
King in 1787, bound in three volumes, and no doubt
the binding was a handsome one. The originals of the
third and fourth volumes are missing, but they were
not presented to the King, and apparently were not
bound up; for it happens that the first document in
vol. iii. has been actually found, and is now in the
British Museum. Finally, the originals of vol. v.
were for a long time missing like the others, but were
discovered six years ago at the house of the late Mr.
Philip Frere at Dungate, in Cambridgeshire, along with

1 The proceedings of the Historical MSS. Commission are, however, at
length bringing lo light a vast quantity of unsuspected materials for history
in the hands of private owners.


a large mass of additional MSS. belonging to the same
collection. Among these was the document just
alluded to the one single paper that has been re-
covered of the originals of vol. iii.

The late Mr. Philip Frere, after he had discovered
the originals of vol. v., was strongly urged by myself
and others to make a thorough search in his house for
those of vols. iii. and iv. He did so, and the examina-
tion brought to light a vast quantity of papers of
different ages, many of them very curious, but not a
single other document was discovered belonging to
those two volumes. All that he could find mani-
festly belonging to the Paston Collection, he sold
to the British Museum. The rest he disposed of by
auction. It would seem, therefore, that the originals
of vols. iii. and iv. must have somehow got into
different hands from the other Paston papers.
Dispersion of Indeed, there are but too many evi-
the Letters. dences that the importance of preserving
this interesting correspondence in its integrity has
never been sufficiently appreciated. Single letters
which once formed part of it occasionally turn up at
auctions, and some have been sold to foreign pur-
chasers. No less than twenty came to the hands of
the late Mr. Francis Douce, and are now among his
MSS. in the Bodleian Library. Two separate volumes
of Fastolf and Paston papers have also been in the
market, and are now in the library of the late Sir Thomas
Phillipps at Cheltenham. Nor is it possible to say how
many other letters have been lost along with the printed
originals how many important links are missing to
enable us to understand fully the correspondence that

Nevertheless, the recovery of the originals of the
fifth volume, and of such a large number of unprinted
Need of a new letters along with them, suggested to me
edition. strongly the desirability of a new edition,

as complete as it could possibly be made. The errors
in Fenn's chronology are numerous, and so exceedingly


misleading that, indispensable as these Letters now are
to the historian, there is not a single historian who has
made use of them but has misdated some event or
other, owing to their inaccurate arrangement. Even
writers who have been most on their guard in some
places have suffered themselves to be misled in others.
This is no reproach to the former Editor, whose work
is indeed a perfect model of care and accuracy for the
days in which he lived; but historical criticism has
advanced since that time, and facilities abound which
did not then exist for comparing one set of documents
with another, and testing the accuracy of dates by
public records. The completion of Blomefield's His-
tory of Norfolk, and the admirable index added to that
work of late years by Mr. Chadwick, have also been of
eminent service in verifying minute facts. Moreover,
the comprehensive study of the whole correspondence,
with the advantage of having a part already published
to refer to, has enabled me in many cases to see the
exact bearing of particular letters, which before seemed
to have no certain place in the chronology, not only
upon public events, but upon the private affairs of the
Paston family. I trust therefore, when this edition is
completed, it will be found not only more full, but
more accurate and even more interesting than the
former one.

Still, it is certainly produced under a disadvantage
in the absence of so many of the original MSS., and
were there any reasonable hope of their being recovered
within a definite and not very remote period of time,
it might perhaps have been a question whether a new
edition should not be delayed till then. But there is
no apparent reason why MSS. which have been undis-
covered for more than eighty years should not remain
so eighty years longer, if the indifference or the acci-
dent, whatever it may be, which has caused them to
be overlooked, be made an argument against turning
to the best account those which we now actually
possess. And there is the less reason for hesitating,


because we have very satisfactory evidence that in
reprinting from Fenn's edition those letters of which
the originals are lost, we are not likely to reproduce
Accuracy of anv ver y serious blunders. The care taken
Fenn's text. by sir John Fenn to secure the accuracy
of his text can be proved by many tests. It might,
indeed, be inferred from the elaborate plan of editing
that he adopted, exhibiting in every case two tran-
scripts of the same letter, the one to show the precise
spelling and punctuation of the original, the other to
facilitate the perusal by modern orthography. A work
on which so much pains were bestowed, and which
was illustrated besides by numerous fac-similes of the
original handwritings, signatures, paper-marks, and
seals of the letters, was not likely to have been exe-
cuted in a slovenly manner, in so far as the text is con-
cerned. But we are not left in this case to mere pre-
sumptive evidence. The originals of the fifth volume
have been minutely examined by a committee of the
Society of Antiquaries, and compared all through with
the printed text, and the general result of this exami-
nation was that the errors are very few, and for the
most part trivial. Now, if tHs was the case with
regard to that volume, which it must be remembered
was published after Fenn's death from transcripts
prepared for the press, and had not the benefit of a
final revision of the proof sheets by the editor, we have
surely every reason to suppose that the preceding
volumes were at least not less accurate.

At all events, any inaccuracies that may exist in
them were certainly not the result of negligence. I
have been favoured by Mr. Almack, of Melford, near
Sudbury, in Suffolk, with the loan of several sheets of
MS. notes bequeathed to him by the late Mr. Dalton,
of Bury St Edmund's, who transcribed a number of
the original MSS. for Sir John Fenn. These papers
contain a host of minute queries and criticisms, which
were the result of a close examination of the first four
volumes, undertaken at Fenn's request. Those on the


first two volumes are dated on the 3d and 7th of May
1788, more than a year after the book was published.
But on vols. iii. and iv. there are two separate sets of
observations, the first of which were made on the
transcripts before they were sent to press, the other,
like those on the two first volumes, on the published
letters. From an examination of these criticisms, and
also from the results of the examination of the fifth
volume by the committee of the Society of Antiquaries, 1
I have been led to the opinion that the manner in
which Sir John Fenn prepared his mate- Mode in which
rials for the press was as follows : Two f h e e n r e erf fo e r d
copies were first made of every letter, the publication.
one in the exact spelling and punctuation of the ori-
ginal, the other in modern orthography. Both these
copies were taken direct from the original, and possibly
in the case of the first two volumes they were both
made by Fenn himself. In vols. iii. and iv., however,
it is stated that many of the transcripts were made by
Mr. Dalton, while those of vol. v. were found to be
almost all in his handwriting when that volume was
sent to press in i823- 2 But this statement probably
refers only to the copies in the antique spelling.
Those in modern spelling I believe to have been made
for the most part, if not altogether, by Fenn himself.
When completed, the two copies were placed side by
side, and given to Mr. Dalton to take home with him.
Mr. Dalton then made a close comparison of the two

Online LibraryJames GairdnerThe Paston letters, 1422-1509 a new edition, first published in 1874, containing upwards of four hundred letters, etc., hitherto unpublished (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 64)