John Paston (1421-66)

PASTON, JOHN (1421–1466), letter-writer and country gentleman, the eldest son of William Paston [q. v.] the judge, born in 1421, was brought up to the law in the Inner Temple, and by 1440 was married by his parents to a Norfolk heiress. We may infer that he had been at Cambridge from his residing for a time in Peterhouse, even after his marriage (Paston Letters, i. 42). After his father’s death in 1444 he divided his time between his Norfolk estates and his London chambers in the Temple. The great additions which the judge had made to the Paston lands were viewed with jealousy, and John Paston incurred the further hostility of Sir Thomas Tuddenham and other officers of the duchy of Lancaster in Norfolk, of which he held some of his land in Paston. He was perhaps already seeking to round off his patrimony there, and secure the manorial rights at the expense of the duchy (ib. iii. 420). Tuddenham and his friends, who had the ear of William de la Pole, duke of Suffolk [q. v.], the minister in power, prompted Robert Hungerford, lord Moleyns [q. v.], to claim and take possession (1448) of the manor of Gresham, near Cromer, which Judge Paston had purchased from the descendants of Thomas Chaucer [q. v.] Paston’s title was legally unassailable, but the times were such that he thought it useless to go to law, re-entered on the manor after vainly trying diplomacy, was driven out by an armed force, and only recovered possession when the fall of Suffolk brought in a ‘changed world.’ But the new ‘world’ was so unstable that he failed to get a judgment against Moleyns for the damage he had sustained, and the indictments which he and others brought against Tuddenham and his supporters likewise fell to the ground. His friends had advised him to get elected as knight of the shire; but his patron, the Duke of Norfolk, forbade him to prosecute his candidature. Shortly after this he came into close relations with Sir John Fastolf [q. v.], which had important effects upon his fortunes and those of his family. His wife was a cousin of Fastolf, the connection being probably through the Berneys of Reedham, and in 1453 we find him exercising a general oversight of the building of the great castle at Caistor, near Yarmouth, where Sir John had decided to spend his declining years. After he had taken up his residence there in the summer of the next year, Paston transacted much legal business in London for his kinsman, who frequently thanked him for the zeal he showed in his ‘chargeable matters.’ Fastolf was childless, and had set his heart on disappointing the Duke of Norfolk and other great lords who turned covetous eyes on Caistor by founding in it a college for ‘seven priests and seven poor folk.’ But such a prohibitive sum was demanded for the mortmain license that he died (5 Nov. 1459) before any arrangement had been arrived at. There was nothing, therefore, inherently improbable in the will, dated two days before his death, propounded by Paston, which gave the latter all his Norfolk and Suffolk estates on condition that he secured the foundation of the college, and paid four thousand marks into the general estate. Ten executors were named, but the actual administration was confined to Paston and Fastolf’s Norfolk man of business, Thomas Howes. How far the objections which were presently raised by two of the executors were prompted by the Duke of Norfolk, who seized Caistor Castle before June 1461, and other claimants to the estates, it would be hard to decide; but there was certainly a prima facie case against the will, which was obviously nuncupative at best, bore signs of hasty drafting, and cancelled a will made only five months before, leaving the foundation of the college and the administration of the estate to the whole body of executors. Howes, too, after Paston’s death, declared the later will a fabrication. But his testimony is not free from suspicion, and was contradicted by others. The facts before us hardly justify Sir James Ramsay (ii. 345) in assuming without question that Paston was guilty of ‘forgery and breach of trust.’ The reopening of the civil war in the autumn of 1459 may very well have convinced Fastolf that unless he gave some one a strong personal interest in the foundation of his college his intentions were very likely to be defeated (Paston Letters, i. 491). For the rest of his life Paston’s whole energies were devoted to retaining his hold upon the Fastolf estates against the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk and the recalcitrant executors. Once his enemies laid a plot to carry him off into the north, and three times he was imprisoned in the Fleet, on the second occasion (1464) just after he had obtained Edward IV’s license for the foundation of Fastolf’s college. The suit against the will began in the spiritual court of Canterbury in 1464, and was still going on at his death. He was compelled to bring evidence to prove that he was not of servile blood. But the Fastolf succession had made Paston a man of greater importance than before; he sat in the last parliament of Henry VI and the first of Edward IV as knight of the shire for Norfolk, and had some influence with Edward, in whose household he seems for a time to have resided. He managed to retain possession of Caistor and most of the disputed estates down to his death, which took place at London on 21 or 22 May 1466 (ib. ii. 290). He was buried in Bromholm Priory.

Paston was somewhat hard, self-seeking, and unsympathetic. He grudged his younger brothers the provision which their father made for them, and his dealings with his own eldest son leave something to be desired. His letters reveal the cool, calculating, business temperament, which we have chiefly to thank for the preservation of the unique family correspondence, in which he is the central, though not the most interesting, figure (for the history of the ‘Paston Correspondence’ see under Fenn, Sir John, where the reprint of Fenn’s collection, edited by Ramsay in 1841 for Charles Knight, is not mentioned).

By his wife, Margaret Mauteby (d. 1484), daughter and heiress of John Mauteby of Mauteby, near Caistor, Paston had five sons and two daughters. The sons were: John the elder (1442–1479) [q. v.], who is separately noticed; John the younger (d. 1503), who was the father of Sir William Paston (1479?–1554) [q. v.]; Edmund, living in 1484; Walter, who took the degree of B.A. at Oxford in June 1479, and died a few weeks later; and William, who was at Eton in 1479, and was afterwards attached to the household of John de Vere, earl of Oxford [q. v.], until, some time after 1495, he became ‘crased in his mind.’ Paston’s daughters were Margery, who married in 1469 Richard Calle; and Anne, who married in 1477 William Yelverton, grandson of William Yelverton [q. v.], the judge.

[Paston Letters, ed. Gairdner; Norfolk Archæology, vol. iv. (1855); Ramsay’s Lancaster and York.]

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 44
Paston, John (1421-1466) by James Tait

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