Norfolk family letters hailed as medieval social media

Margaret Paston Image copyright Paston Footsdteps
Image caption Margaret Paston, who lived through the Wars of the Roses, collected the letters in secret, because some contained subversive views and plots

The earliest recorded begging letter is being marked with a festival on the 600th anniversary of it being written.

The letter, believed to have been sent by Amy Bowet of Suffolk in 1418 to newly-rich Norfolk lawyer William Paston, is one of the Paston Letters.

She asked for 40 marks, about £17,000 today, for her husband to join Henry V's campaign for the French throne.

It is the first of the Paston Letters, which marked the Pastons out as one of the "first modern families".

The Paston Heritage Society is marking the 600th anniversary of the letter with a three-year project of events across Norfolk to highlight the family's importance.

Image copyright British Library
Image caption An example of one of the medieval letters collected in secret by Margaret Paston who was told to destroy them in case the authorities found them

Dr Karen Smyth, from the University of East Anglia, said: "Thousands of letters written across three centuries show domestic insights, high drama, cultural values, political manoeuvring and social intrigue.

"The Pastons are the first modern family... their letters document everything we do in social media today - from tasty meals to shopping lists, from rumours of illicit love affairs to provocative social commentary.

"We find stories of bitter sieges, Margaret Paston being forcibly carried out of her Caister Castle home, defence of properties in Norwich courts and petitions to Parliament to defend rights - a family using all means to combat a ruling elite - a story that many can relate to today."

'Nationally important'

Dr Rob Knee, chairman of the Paston Heritage Society, said: "They were astute lawyers and they used this advantage to great effect taking on leading aristocrats in legal disputes over land, inheritances and marriages."

The first known member of the family was Clement Paston who is believed to have been born in the 1360s.

His surname is derived from the North Norfolk village where he lived.

The society says the family were "one of Norfolk's most prominent families from about 1380 to 1750, rising from medieval peasants to becoming nationally important members of the aristocracy".

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