Editions of the Paston Letters

The medieval letters and documents were first published by John Fenn across five volumes, beginning in 1789. The 17th century documents were published by the Norfolk Record Society in 1942 and a further selection in 2012.

John Fenn, Original Letters written during the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV, and Richard III by various persons of rank or consequence, containing many curious anecdotes relative to that turbulent and bloody, but hitherto dark period of our history, vols. 1-4,1787 - 19; vol 5. 1823.

Fenn published five volumes of the letters, each one with a basic 'translation' of the letter to aid with understanding.

Since Fenn, there have been three key scholarly editions of the medieval letters.

James Gairdner, The Paston letters, 1422-1509 A.D., (1872-75).

The first Gairdner edition was in 1872-1875 by James Gardiner. In this edition, the material is presented in chronological order, along with miscellaneous items about life and times in 15th century England. Gairdner has made many corrections and additions to the medieval letters as published by Fenn. He published a new edition in 1904 with further letters and comments, and used a different numbering system. There was a direct reprint of his work in 1910 but this used the 1872-1875 edition; the source used for the letters on this site is based on the 1904 edition as being the most up-to-date of the Gairdner editions, with further research when it is available. He used a different numbering system for the two editions, so identifying which edition is in use is important in considering the letters.

Norman Davis (ed.), Paston Letters and Papers of The Fifteenth Century, (1971-1976).

Richard Beadle and Colin Richmond, Paston Letters and Papers of the Fifteenth Century, - Part III, Early English Text Society, Supplementary Series 22 (Oxford, 2006).

In the 1970s, Norman Davis published two volumes, where he arranged the correspondence en bloc. The intention was to showcase the collections of each of the fifteen family members. The effect is to make individual Pastons to stand out more clearly. Davis's greatest expertise is in his understanding of the handwriting of the letters; he was in many cases able to distinguish who the scribe was for each letter and comments in detail on the handwriting. He also suggests or corrects amendments to earlier assumptions about dates of letters.

Most recently, Beadle and Richmond have completed the third volume of Davis's enterprise, which includes new records and documents (among other material, there is a significant addition to Fastolf related documents in this volume). It also includes notes on corrections to Davis's two volumes.

The letters and documents as we are presenting them here are intended as an introduction, and we're adding some tools which the computer make available. However, for academic research we would strongly advise referencing and cross checking with Davis, Beadle and Richmond. The volumes provide many useful appendices and listings for those digging deeper.

There is also an easily accessible modern English translation: The Paston Letters: A Selection in Modern Spelling Ed. Davis, Oxford World's Classics, 1999.

There are other valuable books to help us understand the letters. Helen Castor's Blood and Roses brings the Pastons to life by using the letters to tell the Paston story. It's an excellent starting place for getting to know the medieval Pastons.

Colin Richmond's series of books, starting with The Paston Family in the fifteenth century: The first phase takes a more academic approach in analysing dates, locations and events in the letters. All will depend on how deep you want to delve into family life and national events in the 15th century.

The early 17th century letters are published as The Correspondence of Lady Katherine Paston 1603-1627 by the Norfolk Record Society. They were edited by Ruth Hughey and she provides important notes and an introduction in spite of being hampered in some of her work through lack of access to materials in the Second World War. We are grateful to NRS for permission to published the text in this form.

For the late 17th century Jean Agnew provides the authoritative text and interpretation. The Whirlpool of Misadventures - Letters of Robert Paston, First Earl of Yarmouth, 1663-1679 was published by the Norfolk Record Society in 2012. We are very grateful to NRS for permission to use the text and to Jean Agnew for her considerable assistance as we work on this site.