The English Judicial System in the Fifteenth Century: The View from the Paston Letters
Cole, Christopher H.
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Valuable insights into fifteenth century English justice can be gained from the Paston Letters. This collection contains a wealth of letters written by the Paston family members during this century. The Pastons present a somewhat tragic story. The family experienced a rapid rise and an even more rapid decline in status and fortune. In this process the family was involved in several lawsuits. The course and outcome of these cases sheds light on how the legal system functioned in the fifteenth century. However, before examining these cases an understanding of the legal structures is needed. So the first part of this work is concerned more generally with the judicial structures of the fifteenth century. These forms have a bearing on how justice was dispensed. Also memberships in certain judicial bodies were indicators of social standing. In the second part of this paper, two specific law suits involving the Pastons will be examined. From their voluminous correspondence, several conclusions can be drawn as to how the legal system operated in actuality. In their letters, the Pastons discuss the events and strategies that were used to further the family's fortunes.