‘Ryght worchepfull mastres’: Letters of Request and Servants’ Scripting of Margaret Paston’s Social Self
Parergon, Volume 26, Number 1, (2009), Published by Australian and New Zealand Association of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Inc.)
Margaret Paston’s influential role in managing the Paston family’s affairs in her capacity as a wife, mother, and widow has been well documented. Garnering less attention, however, has been Margaret’s role as the ‘maistresse’ of her household and the influence she exercised in governing the estate servants with whom she collaboratively managed the Paston family’s estate business. Examining the highly politic speech activity of request enacted in the petitionary letters servants addressed to Margaret offers a rare opportunity to examine the rhetorical impact of these letters in the dialogic shaping and expression of Margaret’s honour or ‘worshep’, a critical aspect of her social self and influence in the course of estate management.
Born of an established, respected Norfolk family, Margaret Paston (née Mautby) brought the Paston family, through her marriage to John Paston I, not only several desirable properties but also the legitimizing gentle status and social connections this provincial parvenu family so desperately needed.1 With the exception of her mother-in-law, Agnes Paston (née Barry), also of gentle birth, Margaret was the only other Paston woman of any pedigree to guide her husband and children on how to conduct themselves in an honourable way.