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Family Wills: Margaret Paston and the Rest

  • Joel T. Rosenthal
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

A look at the last wills and testaments of the Paston family—with Margaret as our centerpiece—opens the window on many scenarios and agendas touching the world and worldview of the late medieval laity.1 Reading the wills that have come down to us takes us into the center of that circle wherein the individual and the family, the secular community, and those realms defined and governed by the Church and spiritual life, were overlapped so they can be read as being (or as having become) one entity, one sociocultural phenomenon. Thus, it is not only unnecessary but also anachronistic to worry about whether the Paston wills are more “about” family than they are “about” spiritual expression and direction. Rather, we might think of the aggregation of family wills as offering a kinship-linked case study, or a string of connected studies, that illuminate what John Bossy has characterized as a church composed of a “body of believers,” with both “body” and “believers” as operative words.2 And, lest this seem intrusive—an agenda imposed by the historian upon the family—it was Margaret her-self who spoke of the importance of writing a last will before bidding the world farewell: “And for godsake advise hym to doo make hys will, yeue it be not doo … els it were peté” (I, 220). It was a vital component of “the good death.”

Keywords

Burial Site Worldly Good Open Hand Good Death Spiritual Concern 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    John Bossy, Christianity in the West, 1400–1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 170–71.Google Scholar
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  4. James H. Wylie, The Reign of Henry the Fifth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1919), II, pp. 217–18. Wylie refuted suggestions that the bodies had been pickled or embalmed. For a more elaborate ceremony that was virtually contemporary with Margaret’s burialGoogle Scholar
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    Hannes Kleineke, “The Reburial Expenses of Sir Thomas Arundell,” The Ricardian 11 (1998), pp. 288–96, and thanks to Caroline Barron for this reference. Katherine French, The Good Women of the Parish, p. 64, quoting Vanessa Harding: “a funeral was ‘ane vent scripted by its central participant, or by those to whom he or she had delegated that power’.” This is true in bold letters for the burial ofJohn Paston I, as we see below, that being the only Paston burial for which we have the relevant details.Google Scholar
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    Edgar C. Robbins, William Paston, Justice: Founder of the Paston Family, 1378–1444 (Norwich: Jarrod & Sons, 1932).Google Scholar
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    For the reburial of the patriarch of the House of York, Anne Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs with Peter Hammond, The Reburial of Richard Duke of York (London: Richard III Society, 1996), p. 6 for a diagram of the positioning of groups of mourners, p. 8 for the route followed by the cortège, and Plate I for a Flemish painting of the 1460s depicting a royal funeral procession.Google Scholar
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  29. 69.
    I read this bequest to mean the transmission of books already in Margaret’s ownership. Caroline Barron reads it to mean that she left money for their purchase, so they could be given to the church. Prof. Barron is probably correct. On such bequests, Fiona Kisby, “Books in London Parish Churches before 1670: Some Preliminary Observations,” in The Church and Learning in Late Medieval Society, ed. Caroline M. Barron and Jenny Stratford, Harlaxton Medieval Studies XI (Donington: Shaun Tyas, 2002), pp. 305–26Google Scholar
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    Chaucer-Paston business at Gresham is mentioned in Martin M. Crow and Clair C. Olson, eds., Chaucer Life-Records (Austin, TX and London: University of Texas Press, 1966), p. 543.Google Scholar
  32. 77.
    On Norwich’s rich ration of anchorites, presumably of both sexes, Anne Warren, Anchorites and their Patrons in Medieval England (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1985) and Tanner, The Church in Late Medieval Norwich, pp. 198–204: 18 percent of the lay wills from Norwich named at least one anchorite or hermit.Google Scholar
  33. Rotha M. Clay, The Hermits and Anchorites of England (London: Methuen, 1914): the hermit at the Magdelan gate presided over the lepers who also assembled there. Turner, “The Will of Margaret Paston,” p. 168: one of the anchoresses whom Margaret remembered was Catherine Mann, the recipient of 20s per annum for life from the city.Google Scholar
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    VCH Norfolk II, pp. 442–50 for the hospitals of Norwich; Carole Rawcliffe, The Hospitals of Medieval Norwich (Norwich: University of East Anglia, 1995)Google Scholar
  36. and Rawcliffe, Medicine for the Soul: The Life, Death, and Resurrection of an English Medieval Hospital (Stroud: Sutton, 1999). For Margaret’s quarrel with Selot, master of the hospital, Rawcliffe, The Hospitals, p. 104; in a letter of September 1465 (I, 192): “the demenyng and parcialté of Master John Salatt,” as Margaret reports to John I in September 1465.Google Scholar
  37. 81.
    On bequests for church bells: Judith Middleton-Steward, “Time and the Testator, 1370–1540,” in The Use and Abuse of Time in Christian History, ed. Robert N. Swanton, Studies in Church History 37 (2002), pp. 133–44Google Scholar
  38. R. Hindry Mason, The History of Norfolk (London: Wertheimer, Lea, & Co., 1894), pp. 589–602 on the bells of Norfolk churchesGoogle Scholar
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    Caroline M. Barron, “Johanna Hill (d. 1441) and Johanna Sturdy (d. c. 1460), Bell-Founders,” in Medieval London Widows, 1300–1500, ed. Caroline M. Barron and Anne F. Sutton (London: Hambledon Press, 1994), pp. 99–112: the quote is on p. 108.Google Scholar

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© Joel T. Rosenthal 2010

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  • Joel T. Rosenthal

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