What are the Paston Letters?
The Paston Letters is a remarkable collection of letters and other documents surviving from the 15th to the 17th century, between different members of the Paston family, their staff, their friends, their business colleagues and also a number of legal documents.
Whilst we've begun here by referring to them in the singular, they are not all held as a single collection today. Nevertheless, we can think of the letters as being a magnificent and unique record of a family's correspondence in a time gone by, giving an insight into medieval life in a way which no other set of documents does.
If you want to read a selection of the letters in a modern translation, then there are various recent publications available. You can find our selection listed in the 'References and Bibliography' section on the drop-down menu from 'The Paston Letters' heading.
We're also putting a selection below from the 1872-1875 edition as published under the editorship of James Gairdner. These use the original language of the letters, so can be difficult to read. However, we've attached a number of notes and are experimenting with a 'translation' system that will give access to the modern English words. There's only a few letters in place at present, but we plan to develop things over time. Click the tabs at the bottom of the pages and then hover your cursor over the words to access these facilities. We're also hoping to add some further analytical facilities.
There is a great deal of refining to do - those working on the documents are all volunteers and we welcome others to help. You'll find in the drop-down menu for each letter some of our attempts to help with understanding. The last of the options, where we've completed it, is called 'The Letter Today?'. This is our attempt to put the letter into modern colloquial English. If you think we've got it wrong, please use the 'Volunteers' button on the front page and join the Forum where you can share your views on what's on the site.
However, there is generally enough in place for an understanding of the letter to be gained. Further help on understanding may be gained by using the University of Michigan's Middle English Dictionary.