The Paston Family: Marriage and Land Transactions in Late Medieval England
Schweitzer, Elizabeth A.
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The Pastons were an English family whose records date back to the late fourteenth century. Over several generations, the Pastons were able to rise in social class from the level of husbandman to knighthood, and a collection of over a thousand letters and documents regarding the family have survived to this day. The Paston Family improved their position in society through their marriages and land acquisitions. In the first three known generations of the Pastons, the family increased its wealth and land holdings considerably and was able to climb up the social hierarchy thanks to their carefully selected marriages and land acquisitions. Clement Paston, the first generation that I have chosen to examine, was a husbandman who owned a small parcel of land which he worked himself. His name was taken from the small town in which he lived. William, Clement's son rose above his father's position in society as a result of his education as a lawyer and his extremely advantageous marriage to Agnes Berry. His son, John I, followed in his father's footsteps and also received an education as a lawyer and married a wealthy woman, Margaret Mautby. The Paston men married for land and for the social connections that those marriages afforded them. In order to understand how the Pastons were able to forge such successful and lucrative marriages, it is important to understand marriage tradition and law in England during this period. Once medieval marriage is understood and the Paston' s marriages are examined, it is then possible to explore their land transactions and the legal conflicts that resulted from those transactions. The men of the Paston family were welcomed into increasingly prestigious social circles from which they were able to draw wealthy, landed clientele for their legal practices. The money and land that the Pastons received thanks to their land acquisitions and marriages enabled the Paston family to climb further up the social ladder with every generation.