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Wednesday, July 2, 2014


A British television series called 'Medieval Lives', currently showing on Sydney television station SBS, highlighted correspondence by a medieval Mawbey woman, Margaret Paston, in its program on medievel childbirth.
The former Margaret Mauteby, later Margaret Mauteby Paston (1423-1484), is described as 'an exemplary pattern for wives and mothers' by the Rev. William Betham's in his commentary on the pedigree of Sir Joseph Mawbey of Botley, Surry of which Margaret was a part.
She was of the 12th generation on the family tree and Sir Joseph, the 21st.
When Margaret Paston was pregnant with her first child, she sent a letter to her husband who was living and working as a lawyer in the Inner Temple in London, accompanied by a ring of St Margaret for him.
In medieval pre-Henry VIII times, St Margaret was revered as the patron saint of mothers in Catholic England.
This was St Margaret of Antioch (Asia Minor), a young Christian shepherdess, who was tortured and imprisoned when she refused to marry a Roman senior official.
While in gaol, the story goes, she was devoured by Satan the devil in the form of a dragon which, after she made the sign of the cross, split open and released her.
Her emerging unhurt from inside the dragon was likened to a form of birth, and thus the association with pregnant women.
Prior to being devoured by the dragon, Margaret's rejected suitor attempted unsuccessfully to boil her in a cauldron.
He finally had his way by beheading her.
The British Museum has over 1,000 documents written between 1422-1509 spanning three generations of the Paston family.
Of these, 104 were written by Margaret Paston.
These 'Paston Letters', the earliest record of private correspondence to survive in Britain, represent the library's best medieval collection.
Margaret Mauteby married John Paston in 1441 during the reign of King Henry VI (1421-1471).
The nuptial agreement was arranged by his clever lawyer father, Sir William Paston, resulting in the Mauteby and East Tuddenham manors passing to the Paston family.
There had been nobility in Margaret's family for generations whereas John Paston's grandfather had been a yeoman (farmer), unable to own land.
Somehow he had managed to educate his son William, John's father, who had turned out to be a brilliant lawyer, thereby elevating the socioeconomic status of the Paston family.
On the death of Margaret's father, John de Mauteby, Esquire, eldest son of Sir Robert de Mauteby, she inherited all of his estate. 
When Queen Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482), the French wife of King Henry VI who ruled in his place during the Wars of the Roses because of his bouts of insanity, visited Norfolk, she stayed with Margaret Paston for two days.
Shortly after this visit, Margaret wrote to her husband in London, requesting he buy her a necklace suitable for any future similar occasion.
Her own necklaces had not been good enough and she had been forced to borrow one from her cousin, Elizabeth Clere.
Margaret Paston had seven children including two sons named John.
John the elder died of plague leaving an illegitimate daughter.
John the younger, knighted in 1487, had a son William (c.1479-1554) who was knighted by King Henry VIII (1491-1547).
The younger John's eldest son was named Erasmus (1502-1540) after the Dutch Catholic scholar, Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466-1536), or Erasmus of Rotterdam.
This name was to become popular in the Mawbey family.
A descendant of Erasmus Paston's son William, also named William (1652-1732), married a 'natural' (illegitimate) daughter of King Charles II (1630-1685).
Margaret Paston died on 4 November 1484, in the second last year of the reign of King Richard III (1452-1458) aged 61.
King Richard's death in battle signalled the end of the War of the Roses.
Margaret's husband, John Paston, had died in 1466, a short time after being released from The Fleet prison in London.
He had become caught up in legal disputes with his enemies over his land holdings after he was made the chief beneficiary of a oral will that others sought to challenge.
Margaret's will, proved on 18 December 1484, requested that her body be buried in the aisle of the church of Mawtby (St Peter and St Paul), Norfolk.
She was buried in the church's south aisle.
Margaret's grandson, Sir Robert Paston, was granted a knighthood by King Charles II in 1673.

See: Full text of Paston Letters

In May 1532, King Henry VIII transferred the power of the Church of England (then Roman Catholic) to the monarch.
Since 1527 he had been seeking a divorce from his wife, Catherine of Aragon, so he could marry Anne Bolyn which Pope Clement VII had refused.
The Pope excommunicated Henry in 1533.