Meet the family
The great-granddaddy of them all, Clement was a yeoman who took advantage of the Black Death to build up a substantial landholding in and around Paston. Seeing which way the wind was blowing, he had the foresight to borrow enough money to send his son, William, to school, where he was educated in the law. This farsighted gamble was to establish the fortunes of his family for generations to come. It is entirely possible that he began life tied to the land, since at least one letter in the Paston collection accuses him of being a peasant bondsman. He died on 17 June 1419 and was buried at Paston.
Born in 1378, Clement's son, William, survived the many Plagues of Children to be educated in the law. This was the making of the Paston family. It is with William that the fortunes of the Pastons really take off, for William was able to use his position as a lawyer to become a Serjeant-at-arms and eventually a Judge of Common Pleas. His position allowed him to make a very judicious marriage to Agnes Berry, which substantially increased his family's land. Their favourite residence was the beautiful manor of Oxnead, which still nestles in a little nook of the Norfolk countryside, beside a church in which many members of the Paston family are buried.
John Paston Snr and Margaret Paston
William's oldest son was born on 10 October 1421 and grew up to be educated in the law at Cambridge and the Inner Temple. He, too, made a very advantageous marriage to Margaret Mauteby, gaining the manors of Mauteby and East Tuddenham, which still survives. John and Margaret were major figures in the county. He was both MP and JP for Norfolk, and together they endowed benefactions to various institutions within Norwich. The great hammer-beam roof of St Andrew's Hall and the church of St Peter, Hungate are the best examples. On either side of the window dedicated to them in St Peter Hungate, the two portrait busts of John and Margaret still smile down on us today.
It was John Snr who took the great gamble that almost destroyed his family, but which ultimately secured its position and lifted it beyond the ranks of the squirearchy. This had been achieved in just two short generations after peasanthood. As a lawyer, he spent a great deal of time in London, where he made friends with the local Norfolk knight and landowner, Sir John Fastolff - a Lollard sympathiser and the real-life Falstaff of Shakespeare's plays. It is probably no coincidence that, having wormed his way into the ailing knight's confidence and become his lawyer, John Paston miraculously found himself the main beneficiary of Sir John Fastolff's will! Sir John's cheated heirs, most notably Sir William Yelverton, Thomas Howes and the de la Poles, didn't believe in coincidence either, and contested the will. When John Paston Snr died in 1466, he was buried at Bromholm Monastery (where his tomb can still be found) with the legal wrangles still unresolved.