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What the Paston Letters Tell about Land Owning in the 15th Century England

What the Paston Letters Tell about Land Owning in the 15th Century England

By Naoko Kishida

Bunkyo University: Bulletin of the Faculty of Language and Literature, Vol.17:2 (2004)

Abstract: This article attempts to analyze certain terms on land owning and farm workers (= tenants) which occur in the Paston Letters and Papers. The purpose is to reveal, through the close examination of these terms, some aspects of the land owning system and the status of farm workers in the 15th century England. Jacob (1961) points out that the manorial system of England was declining in the 15th century. How do the terms on land and manors which appear in the Paston Letters reflect his observation? I pick up several terms relating to the land owning system in the England of Middle Ages and examine their distribution in the letters; i.e. the terms ‘villein, serf, demesne, bond, rent, and tenant.’

Introduction: This article attempts to analyze certain terms on land owning and farm workers (= tenants) which occur in the Paston Letters and Papers. The purpose is to reveal, through the close examination of these terms, some aspects of the land owning system and the status of farm workers in the 15th century England.

The Paston Letters and Papers are the collection of the private letters written by and to the three generations of the Paston family. The family rapidly went up the social ladder from humble beginnings to the status of a landlord in the 15th century England. The law was their family business. This is why the papers include a lot of legal documents, such as wills and petitions.

The lawyers in the family worked as legal advisers for the celebrities in the society. Above all, they served the honorable old soldier and knight, Sir Thomas Fastolf. The knight trusted the Paston family so much that he bequeathed them a lot of land. This generous bequest, however, caused the family to get involved in serious law-suits on land possession. The facts above make the letters the excellent probe with which we can examine the changing society of England in this period of turmoil, caused by wars after wars.

Click here to read this article from Bunkyo University

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