Family Wills: Margaret Paston and the Rest

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


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.”


Burial Site Worldly Good Open Hand Good Death Spiritual Concern 
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© Joel T. Rosenthal 2010

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