Margaret Paston

Woman of Letters and fierce 'captainess', c.1422 - 1484.

Arguably the best known Paston woman, Margaret Mautby Paston is the 'captainess' of the family; yet many of her stories remain hiding in plain sight, within the letters. By creating this page we're writing Paston women back into history.

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Extract from one of Margaret's letters

I greet you well, letting you know that your brother and his fellowship stand in great jeopardy at Caister, and lack vitual . . . and the place is sore broken by the guns of the other party; so that, unless they have hasty help, they are like to lose both their lives and the place, to the greatest rebuke to you that ever came to any gentleman, for every man in this country marvels greatly that you suffer them to be so long in such great jeopardy without help or other remedy.'

- Letter from Margaret to her son John, Sept. 12, 1469.

 

Find out more about Margaret

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Animation of Margaret Paston telling her life story.

Read a biography of Margaret Paston.

Listen to an audio tour of our Gresham walk narrated by Margaret Paston.

(Her daughter Ann narrates the Mautby walk, sharing insights into her mother's life).

Imagining Margaret Paston: a creative monologue, scripted and performed by Holly

 

Biography of Margaret Mautby Paston, 1422 - 1484.

In 2019, a memorial stone was unveiled by Paston Footprints in a picturesque English churchyard to one of the most important figures in the history of women’s literature, more than five centuries after she passed away.

Mautby church, near Great Yarmouth, played host to the ceremony, where a new memorial dedicated to Margaret Paston was placed near to the site of her original medieval tomb (you can view this on the Mautby walk).

Margaret Paston was born Margaret de Mauteby, the daughter of a locally important family that had connections all across eastern Norfolk. She was the daughter of John de Mauteby and married John Paston, an aspiring lawyer and landowner, in 1440. The couple had numerous children and grandchildren, and the family went on to become one of the most important and influential in East Anglian history. However, Margaret holds a key place in British history not for her actions, but for her letter writing skills. Her letters are filled with vivid expressions of resilience, ingenuity and fortitude.

Margaret was one of the key authors of the now famous Paston Letters; the most complete set of medieval family correspondence to have survived, which are now mainly kept in the British Library. The letters chart the  family’s many triumphs, trials and misfortunes during the turbulent period known today as the Wars of the Roses, and offer a unique insight into daily life in the late Middle Ages. Amongst many of the now famous letters are a large number (over one hundred) written or dictated by Margaret herself, as she dealt with all aspects of the affairs of her growing family and navigating diplomacy and rebellion concerning local figures of note.


Many of the letters written by Margaret now have iconic status amongst medieval historians. Offering as they do a first-hand insight into otherwise little known events that have escaped the wider written records, it is Margaret’s own character and determination that has attracted interest as much as the events she relates. In 1448 Margaret and a few members of her household found themselves under virtual siege at their fortified manor house of Gresham, near Holt. Expecting to be attacked at any moment Margaret wrote to her husband John Paston, asking that he send immediate supplies to help defend their house. The now famous letter requests that he buy crossbows, ammunition for the crossbows, armour for their servants, pole-axes to defend themselves, and then adds as an afterthought a request that he also buy a pound of sugar and a pound of almonds – making it one of the most unusual shopping lists in British history.


When she wrote her will in 1482 Margaret stipulated that she was to be buried in the south aisle of Mautby church, where many of her ancestors had previously been laid to rest. She also gave very clear instructions as to what her own tomb was to look like, and the heraldry that it would display. Sadly the south aisle of Mautby church was demolished in the eighteenth century, having fallen into disrepair, and Margaret’s tomb was lost with it.

Margaret is the one Paston woman who has attracted some interest and attention before our Rebel Women campaign. Read another biography, on an external site, by Melissa Snell.

On our sister site you can search for Margaret Paston in the letters database.

 

How do you imagine Margaret?

From drawings to blogs, cakes to knitted figures, zines to mood boards. All creative imaginings welcome. See some examples below.

Post your creation on social media with the tag #pastonfootprints or email us Pastonfootprints600@gmail.com. See policy page for publication terms on this gallery.