Invective Through the Ages 1: The Paston Letters

OK, so, the Paston letters is a huge collection of correspondence between various members of the Paston family, a family of gentry from Norfolk. The letters run from the 1420s to the very early 16th century, and they’re a fantastic look at what life was like for a family during the Wars of the Roses, as well as a great source of insight into all kinds of everyday-life stuff. The letters are online here, but they’ve also been printed umpty-million times and you can find those on Google Books. 

Today, what I want to talk about is just the name-calling. There’s a fair amount of trash-talk in the Paston letters, which spend a lot of time recounting brawls and affrays between Paston supporters and the supporters of their various rivals. 

And when Gloys was further passed by the space of three or four stride, Wymondham drew out his dagger and said, ‘Shalt thou so, knave?’ And therewith Gloys turned him, and drew out his dagger and defended him, fleeing into my mother’s place … and then Wymondham called Gloys thief and said he should die, and Gloys said he lied and called him churl, and bade him come himself or ell the best man he head, and Gloys would answer him one for one … and with the noise of this assault and affray my mother and I came out of the church … and I bade Gloys go into my mother’s place again, and so he did. And then Wymondham called my mother and me strong whores, and said the Pastons and all their kind were [WORDS MISSING HERE — WHY, GOD, WHY?] … said he lied, knave and churl as he was. And he had much large language … 

I know it’s childish of me to like it, but it’s just such a weird insult. Strong whores? I’m sure it made sense in the 1440s. 

Margaret Paston didn’t take any shit, incidentally. Consider: 

Right worshipful husband, I recommend me to you, and pray you to get some crossbows … 



Invective Through the Ages 1: The Paston Letters

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