Paston, John (1442-1479) (DNB00)

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PASTON, Sir JOHN (1442–1479), courtier and letter-writer, born in 1442, eldest son of John Paston (1421–1466) [q. v.], and his wife, Margaret Mauteby, may have been educated at Cambridge, like his father, who did not, however, intend him for his own profession of the law (Paston Letters, i. 433). On the accession of Edward IV he was sent to court to push the family fortunes and make interest in support of their retention of the disputed Fastolf estates. His want of success in this direction and the demands he made upon the not too well filled family exchequer gave great dissatisfaction to his father, who before long despised him as ‘a drane among bees’ without ‘politic demeaning or occupation’ (ib. iii. 481–2). Their relations were not perceptibly improved by the knighthood bestowed upon the younger Paston on his coming of age in 1463 (ib. ii. 135). At any rate, Sir John was withdrawn from court, and kept hanging about at home in Norfolk. But he soon grew weary of this life, and stole away from Caistor apparently to join the king on his northern expedition in May 1464 (ib. i. 438, ii. 141, 160, 257). His father was highly incensed, and for a time forbade him his house. But his mother interceded for him, and in the spring of 1465 he was back in Norfolk, and entrusted with the defence of Caistor Castle; in July he got ‘great worship’ by his resistance to the attempt of the men of John de la Pole, duke of Suffolk [q. v.], to enter upon the manor of Hellesdon (ib. ii. 177, 187, 205). His favour at court seems to have stood him in good stead after his father's death in May 1466, for within two months he obtained a royal recognition of the right of the family to the estates of Sir John Fastolf [q. v.] Once his own master, Paston basked in the sunshine of the court, and seldom appeared in Norfolk. Henceforth he lived chiefly in London at his ‘place in Fleet Street,’ and afterwards ‘at the George by Pauls Wharf.’ Among his friends the most congenial was Anthony Wydville, lord Scales, afterwards Earl Rivers, the king's brother-in-law, to a cousin of whom Paston was for many years engaged. He had the honour of tilting on the same side as the king and Scales in a tournament at Eltham in April 1467, and we have to thank him for the preservation of the account of the more famous tourney between Scales and the Bastard of Burgundy in the following summer (Bentley, Excerpta Historica, p. 176). A year later the king sent him to the Low Countries in the train of his sister Margaret, on her marriage to Charles the Bold (Paston Letters, ii. 305, 316).

Paston was also a friend of George Neville [q. v.], archbishop of York, to whom he lent a large sum of money, and this service was remembered when the Nevilles drove King Edward out of England. The Duke of Norfolk was forced to relinquish Caistor Castle, which he had besieged and taken from the Pastons during the anarchy of 1469, and Paston was promised the constableship of Norwich Castle. But the battle of Barnet, in which he fought on the losing side, ruined these hopes; Norfolk recovered Caistor, and kept it until his death. Nevertheless, by the influence of Scales and other well-wishers, Paston was soon pardoned and again in favour. There is some reason to believe that he sat in the parliament of 1472–3, and his friend Lord Hastings, who was lieutenant of Calais, secured him pretty constant employment there for the next four or five years. From Calais early in 1473 he visited Bruges, where he had himself measured for a complete panoply by the armourer of the Bastard, and two years later he seems to have been present at the famous siege of Neuss by Charles the Bold (ib. iii. 96, 123).

Paston had succeeded to an inheritance, the best part of which continued to be disputed by the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk in the face of a royal decision in his favour. He was hardly the man to pilot the family interests without loss through such troubled waters. Easy-going and lacking in judgment, he left the struggle, which included a formal siege of Caistor, to his mother and brother, and involved himself in money difficulties, ending in alienations and mortgages, which almost drove his mother to despair. She reproached him with his neglect of his father's tomb in Bromholm Priory, which was still unfinished at his death. After much haggling, indeed, he succeeded in effecting a compromise with Bishop Waynflete and other executors of Fastolf, by which he saved some of the estates, including Caistor, at the expense of the rest. But even this remained a dead letter until the way was unexpectedly cleared by the sudden death in 1476 of John Mowbray, fourth duke of Norfolk, leaving no male issue. In the final arrangements Waynflete stipulated that the college which Fastolf had ordered to be established at Caistor should be transferred to his own new foundation at Oxford. The Duke of Suffolk persisted in his claims, and was still giving the family trouble in the last year of Paston's life. Towards the close of 1474 he had had a severe attack of fever and ague, which seems to have permanently injured him, and its effects were aggravated by stormy passages to Calais and foreign diet. Going up to London ill at ease in the autumn of 1479, a year of great mortality, which had already carried off his grandmother and his young brother Walter, who had just taken his degree at Oxford, he was much put out at finding his chamber and ‘stuff’ not so clean as he liked, and in little more than a fortnight he died (15 Nov.; ib. iii. 254, 261). In compliance with his will, made 31 Oct. 1477, he was buried in the chapel of Our Lady at the White Friars in London (ib. pp. 207, 262).

Paston was unmarried, though one of his friends described him as the best chooser of a gentlewoman he ever knew. He was plighted for many years to Anne Haute, a niece of the first Earl Rivers, and a cousin of Edward IV's queen. But from 1471 both parties were seeking release from the contract, which was not abrogated until the end of 1477 at the earliest. In the next year there was some talk of his marrying another kinswoman of the queen. By his mistress, Constance Reynforth, he left a natural daughter (ib. iii. 221, 287). He was succeeded in the estates by his younger brother, who, strangely enough, bore the same christian name. Robert Paston, first earl of Yarmouth (1631–1683) [q. v.], was a descendant of the second Sir John.

Paston's faulty but not unamiable character has a certain charm. He was a child of the new time, with its curious mixture of coarseness and refinement. His letters and those of his friends, with their touches of sprightly if somewhat broad humour, light up the grave and decorous pages of the Paston ‘Correspondence.’ Disliking the business details forced upon him by his position, he is happier when matchmaking for his brother, or stealing a lady's muskball on his behalf, sending his mother salad oil or treacle of Genoa with appropriate comments, or rallying the Duchess of Norfolk not over delicately on her interesting condition. His taste for literature seems to have been real and catholic, ranging from the ‘Ars Amoris’ to treatises on wisdom, not excluding theology; on the death of his mother's chaplain he wrote to secure his library. He employed a transcriber, one piece of whose handiwork, a ‘great book’ containing treatises on knighthood and war, Hoccleve's ‘De Regimine Principum,’ an account of the tournament between Lord Scales and the Bastard and other items, is still preserved in the British Museum (Lansdowne MS. 285). This occurs in the interesting inventory of books (among them Caxton's ‘Game of Chess’), belonging either to him or his namesake and successor, included in the Paston ‘Correspondence’ (iii. 300). We are disposed to regard it as a list drawn up by the elder brother, a few days before his death. Mr. Gairdner refers it to the younger brother.

[The Paston Letters (ed. Gairdner) are the sole authority; they include some documents not originally included in the Paston Collection. In a few cases the dates assigned by Mr. Gairdner seem open to dispute; No. 325, placed under 1459, belongs more probably to 1464, and No. 539 to 1465, rather than 1466.]

J. T-t.