The Paston Letters

The Pastons were a family of rich landowners living near Norwich from the 15th – 17th centuries, and letters from various members of the family have survived. William Paston and his son John were lawyers, and many of their letters detail legal matters. But the letters between family members also talk about household matters. The writers show evidence of improvised spelling that gives us some insight into the ordinary written language of the day.

From Agnes Paston to William Paston I 1440, 04, 20?

To my worshepefull housbond W. Paston be þis lettere takyn.

Dere housbond, I recomaunde (1) me to yow, &c. Blyssyd be God, I sende yow gode tydynggys (2) of þe comyng and þe brynggyn hoom of þe gentylwomman þat ye wetyn (3) of fro Redham þis same nyght, acordyng to poyntmen (4) þat ye made þer-for yowre-self. And as for þe furste aqweyntaunce be-twhen (5) John Paston and þe seyde gentilwomman, she made hym gentil chere in gyntyl wyse and seyde he was verrayly yowre son. And so I hope þer shal nede no gret treté be-twyxe hym. þe parson of Stocton toold me yif ye wolde byin here a goune, here moder wolde yeue ther-to a godely furre. þe goune nedyth for to be had, and of coloure it wolde be a godely blew or ellys a bryghte sanggueyn. (6) I prey yow do byen for me ij pypys of gold. Yowre stewes (7) do weel. The Holy Trinité have yow in gouernaunce. Wretyn at Paston in hast þe Wednesday next after Deus qui errantibus (8), for defaute of a good secretarye, (9) &c. Yowres, Agnes Paston.
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1. recomaunde. recommend, ‘commend’
2. tidings, ‘news’ : orig., tid and time both mean ‘time.’ The saying “time and tide wait for nobody” is redundant.
3. witan, ‘to know, learn about,’ cf. wit
4. appointment
5. the h in betwhen, ‘between,’ is not etymological
6. sanguine = blood-red
7. fish ponds
8. note that the date is not a numerical day/month/year, but a prayer said on a certain day on the religious calendar; this prayer is recited the third Sunday after Easter
9. ie, she writes this letter herself

From Agnes Paston to John Paston I 1453, 07, 06

To my welbelouyd son John Paston.

Sone, I grete yow well and send you Godys (1) blyssyng and myn, and lete you wete that Robert Hyll cam homward by Horwelle-bery; and Gurney tellyd hym he had byn at London for mony and kowd not spedyng (2), and behestyd Robert that he shuld sende me mony be you. I pray for-3et yt not as 3e com homward, and speke sadly for j nothyr fermour. And as for tydyngys, Phylyppe Berney is passyd to God on Munday last past, wyt þe grettes peyn that evyr I sey man. And on Tuysday Sere Jon Heny[n]gham 3ede to hys chyrche and herd iij massys,and cam hom agayn nevyr meryer, and seyd to hese wyf that he wuld go sey a lytyll deuocion in hese gardeyn and than he wuld dyne; and forth-wyth he felt a feyntyng in hese legge and syyd doun. Thys was at ix of þe clok, and he was ded or none (3). Myn cosyn Clere preyt you that 3e lete no man se here letter wheche is in-selyd vndyr my selle. I prey you that 3e wyl pay youre brothyr William for iiij vnce and j half of sylke as he payd, wheche he send me by William Tauyrnere, and bryng wyt you j quarter of j vnce evyn leke of the same that I sende you closyd in thys letter. And sey youre brothyr William that hese hors hath j farseyn and grete rennyng sorys in hese leggis. God haue you in kepyng. Wretyn at Norwyche on Sent Thomas Evyn (4) in grete hast. Be youre modyr A. Paston
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1. Godys: note the extra vowel in the suffix; is –ys pronounced as a separate syllable, or is the word one syllable, with this spelling a remnant from the old days when it was pronounced as a separate syllable?
2. kowd not spedying: ‘knew not success’; uncouth still means someone who ‘doesn’t know’ or is clueless; sometimes we jokingly revive couth – “That’s sooo couth.” Speed means ‘success,’ and we still sometimes come across the old-fashioned farewell, ‘godspeed.’
3. he was dead before nones; nones refers to the 5th of the 7 liturgical daily hours or prayers; usu. the 9th hour after sunrise
4. St. Thomas’s Eve, Dec. 21.

From John Paston II to Margaret Paston 1479, 10, 29

To þe ryght worshypfull Mestresse Margret Paston be thys delyueryd.

Please it yow to weete þat i have ben heer at London a xiiij nyght, (1) wher[o]ff the first iiij dayes i was in suche feere off the syknesse, and also fownde my chambre and stuffe nott so clene as i demyd, whyche troblyd me soore; and as i tolde yow at my departyng i was nott weell monyed, for i hadde nott paste x m[a]rke, wheroff i departyd xl s. to be delyueryd off my olde bedfelawe, and then i rode be-yonde Donstaple and there spake wyth on off my cheffe wittnessis, whyche promysed me to take labore and to gete me wryghtyngys towchyng thys mater bytwyen me and þe Duke off Suffolk, and i rewardyd hym xx s; and then as i jnformyd yow i payed v m[a]rke jncontynent vppon my comyng hyddre to replegge owte my gow[n]e off velwett and other geer. And then i hopyd to have borowyd some off Towneshe[n]d, and he hathe foodyd me forthe euyre synys, and in effecte i cowde have at þe most and at þe soneste yisterdaye xx s.; wherffor i beseche yow to purveye me c s., and also to wryght to Pekok þat he purveye me as moche, c s., whyche i suppose þat he hathe gaderyd at Paston and other placys by thys tyme. For wyth-owte i have thys x li., as God helpe me, i fere i shalle doo butt litell goode in noo mater, nor yitt i woote nott howe to come home but iff i have it. Thys geer hathe troblyd me so þat it hathe made me moore than halffe seke, as God helpe me. Item, i vndrestande þat myn oncle William hathe made labor to þ'exchetor, and þat he hathe bothe a wrytte off diem clawsyth extremum and also a supercedeas. (2) I have wretyn to þe exchetor th[[e]]r-in off myn entent.
Iff myn oncle hadde hys will in that, yitt sholde he be neuer nerre the londe, butt in effecte he shold have thys avauntage whyche is behovefull for a weyke matere, to have a coloure ore a clooke ore a botrase (3). But on Tywesdaye i was wyth þe Bysshop off Hely, whyche shewyth hym-selffe goode and worshypfull, and he seyde þat he sholde sende to myn oncle William þat he sholde nott procede in no suche mater till þat he speke wyth hym; and moore-ouyre þat he scholde cawse hym to be heer hastelye. In whyche mater is no remedy as nowe, butt iff it were soo þat þe exchetor, iff he be entretyd to sytte by myn oncle William, whyche par case he shall nott, þat iff my brother John and Lomnore have knowleche off the daye, and they myght be there, Lomnore can geve euydence j-now (4) in that mater wyth-owte þe boke. And more-ouyre þat they see bothe the letter and the other noote þat i sende to þe exchetor, and wyth helpe off th'exchetor all myght be as beste is. And iff my brother and Lomnor take labor her-in, i shall recompence ther costys. Wretyn in haste wyth schort advisemen[t] on the Frydaye next Seyntys Symond and Jude A0 E. iiijti xixo. Late my brother John se thys bille, for he knoweth mor off thys mater. John Paston, K.
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1. in Modern British English, a fortnight = 14 nights. The French speak of une quinzaine, or 15 nights, to refer to half a month.
2. these are legal writs. The write of diem clausit extremum was issued by the echeator, a county official responsible for collecting anything due to the king.  The writ was issued within a year of the death of a landholder to determine death duties.  A supersedeas is a stay.
3. buttress
4. enow, enough

Margery Paston to John Paston III 1489, 02, 10

To my rygth wurchypful maystyr Syr John Paston, knyth, þis lettyr be + delyveryd in hast.

Rygth reuerent and worchypfull syr, in þe most owmble (1) wyse I recomand me vn-to yow, desyryng to here of yowre welfare, þe qwech (2) God long contynew. Syr, myn brodyr Wyllyam recomawnd hym on-to yow, and as for þe lettyr þat 3e sent on-to hym, he hath schewyd my lord þe entent þer-off and he thynkyth hym-self þat it is no part of hys duté to have any part of þe fysch ore any mony þat schuld grow þer-of. Never þe lasse my lord, acordyng as yowre desyre was in þe letter, had qwestyond John a Lowe of thys fych, a-for þe comyng of John Danyel, what he had doon wyth-all, and he aunswerd as for þe nedyre chavyll (3) þer-of he had put it in sewrté and leyd it in a howse be-cawse yowre debyté (4) seasyd it to my lordys vse tyll it myth (5) be vndyrstond wedyre þe propyrté ware in þe Kyng or in my lord. And so my lord held hym well content it schud be so, in so moch as þe Kyng and my lord have comawndyd John a Lowe þat thys forsayd chavyll schuld be browth vp to þe Kyng in all goodly hast. Fardermore my brodyr Wyllyam perseyvyd be yowre wrytyng þat ye cowd make þe remnawnth of þe fych worth iiij li. to my lord. My lord wold 3e schuld not trobyll yowre-self no more wyth-all be-cawse he thynkyth þat þe propyrté is not in hym. And also an odyre, my brodyre Wyllyam heryth sey in þe corte þat þe Kyng and my lord be content þat þe remenavnt of þe fych be to þe vse of them of þe cuntré, þe wech 3e schall here þe more serteyn þer-of here-after. Also my broder Wyllyam seyth þat my lord wyllyd yow þat 3e schuld send þe retorne of þe comyscion as hastyly as 3e can, and mervell þat 3e hath not sent it vp or thys. As tovardys (6) þe brekyng vp of þe parlement, many lykelywoodys (7) þer be þat it schuld contynew no wyle, and thes be they. My lord þe Archebyschop of Yorke departyd as 3ysterday, and my lord of Northethomyrlond schall goo as on Fryday, and also all schuch folkys as schall goo in-to Breten (8) schall be at Portysmowth on Satyrday cum forthnyth, and þe Munday after on see bord, at wech seassun þe Kyng intentyd to be þer to take þe mustyrs. And as for thos jantylmen that toke schippyng to a gon over in-to Breten vp-on a fortnyth a-goo, þat is to sey Syr Richard Egecum þe cowntrollere, Syr Roberd Clyfford, Syr John Trobylvyll, and Johon Motton, sariant (9) porter, be a-ryvyd a-geyn vp-on þe cost of Yngland, save all-only Syr Richard Egecum wech londyd in Breten and þer was in a towne callyd Morleys, wech a-non vp-on hys comyng was besegyd wyth þe Frenchmen, and so skapyd hardly wyth hys lyff; þe wech towne þe Frenchemen have gotyn, and also þe towne callyd Breest, how-be-it þe castell holdyth as we here say. And þer be apoyntyd serteyn captens as thys seasun, wech be Lord Bruke, Syr John Cheney, Syr John of Arundell, Syr John Becham, Syr John Gray, myn broder Awdley, myn vnkyll Syr Gylberd Debnam, and Thomas Stafford and many odyr knytys and esqwyrys. And, syr, I thanke yow for þe lettyr þat 3e sent me. Also, syr, I have fulfyllyd myn pylgremage, thanke-it be God. Also, syr, we vndyrstond þat it is anactyd of euery x merke of mevable goodys xxd. to þe Kyng, be-syd þe tennyth of euery mannys londys. And, syr, my brodyre Heydon schall send yow þe serteyn of all odyre thyngys grawntyd at thys parlement, for he hath cawsed John Danyell to tery all thys day for hys letter, be-cawse he was wyth þe Kyng at Westmestre þat he myth not entend to wryth it tyl nyth. Also, syr, Master Calthorp hath payd j c merke to þe Kyng. Also, syr, I have delyuerd þe x li. to Master Hawes and reseywyd of hym þe oblygacion. Also I have delyuerd þe xxti merke to Edmund Dorman be my brodyr Heydons comawndment. No more to yow at thys tyme, but God and þe Holy Trinyté have yow in here kepyng; and myn syster Anne wyth all þe company recomawnd hem on-to yow. Wretyn at London þe x day of Februare.(10) Be yowre seruaunt Margery Paston.
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1. omble, ‘humble,’ note absence of aspiration here.
2. which; wh- was often written q-; does the absence of an h indicate wh- is not aspirated?
3. fych could refer to fish, but more likely to the marten, an animal used for fur; the nether or lower jaw
4. deputy
5. might
6. towards, as for
7. likelihoods
8. Breten, ‘Brittany.’
9. sergeant. i and j are treated as one alphabetical letter until the 18th c.
10. here a more familiar calendar date is used