1473 - Paston, John - To John Paston

From International Robin Hood Bibliography
Date Apr. 16, 1473
Author Paston, John II
Title Letter to John Paston III
Mentions Robin Hood; Sheriff of Nottingham; St George; Barnsdale; W. Wood; (folk drama)
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By the coast: Caister Castle. The Pastons were in intermittent possession of Caister Castle, and it may have been where W. Wood performed in one or more Robin Hood plays. Well inland: Norwich, another possible venue for W. Wood's performances.
The ruins of Caister Castle, perhaps from their most photogenic angle / Photo from Literary Norfolk.
Caister Castle up close / Photo from Castle UK.
A visit to Caister Castle.

By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2013-08-07. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2022-04-27.


          Wyrsshypffull and ryght hertyly belowyd broþer, I recomande me on-to yow, letyng yow wete þat on Wednysdaye last past I wrote yow a letter wheroff John Garbalde had þe beryng, promyttyng me þat ye shold haue it at Norwyche þys daye or ellys to-morowe in þe mornyng; wherin I praye yow to take a labore acordyng afftre þe tenure off þe same, and þat I maye haue an answere at London to Hoxon iff any massenger come, as eu[er]e I maye doo fore yow. As for tydyngys, þere was a truse taken at Brussellys abut þe xxvj daye off Marche last past be-twyn þe Duke off Borgoyn and' þe Frense Kyngys jmbassatorys and Master Wiliam Atclyff for þe Kyng heere, whyche is a pese be londe and water tyll þe fyrst daye off Apryll nowe next comyng, betwyen Fraunce and Ingelond and also þe Dukys londes. God holde it for euere and grace be.
          Item, þe Erle off Oxenfford was on Saterdaye at Depe, and is purposyd in-to Skotlond wyth a xij schyppys. I mystrust þat werke.
          Item, þere be in London many flyeng talys seyng þat þer shold be a werke, and yit þey wot not howe.

          Item, my lorde chamberleyn sendyþ now at þys tyme to Caleys þe yonge Lorde Sowche and Syr þomas Hongreffordys dowtre and heyre, [Davis, p. 461:] and som seye þe yonge Lady Haryngton. þes be iij grett jowellys. Caleys is a mery town; þey shall dwell þere, I wot not whyghe.
          No more, but I haue ben and ame troblyd wyth myn ouere large and curteys delyng wyth my seruantys and now wyth þer onkyndnesse. Plattyng, yowre man, wolde þys daye byd me fare-well to to-morow at Douer, not wythstondyng þryston, yowre oþer man, is from me and John Myryell and W. Woode, whyche promysed yow and Dawbeney, God haue hys sowle, at Castre þat iff ye wolde take hym in to be ageyn wyth me þat þan he wold neuer goo fro me; and þer-vppon I haue kepyd hym þys iij yere to pleye Seynt Jorge and Robynhod and þe shryff off Notyngham, and now when I wolde haue good horse he is goon in-to Bernysdale, and I wyth-owt a kepere.

Wretyn at Canterburye, to Caleys warde on Tewesday and happe be, vppon Good Frydaye þe xvj daye off Apryll Ao E. iiijti xiijo.
Yowre J. P., K.
Item, þe most parte off þe sowdyorys þat went ouer wyth Syr Robert Green haue leeff and be comyn hom, þe hyghe-weye full. My cariage was be-hynd me ij howres lengere þan I lokyd afftre, but j-wysse I wende þat I myght haue etyn my parte on Good Frydaye, all my gownes and pryde had ben goon; but all was saffe.[1]

IRHB comments

This letter, written by John Paston II to his brother, John Paston III, on April 16, 1473, is No. 275 in Davis's edition. W. Wood is mentioned in three earlier Paston letters. John Paston III to John Paston II, July 8, 1472:

I pray yow recomand me to my lord of Aran, Syr John Par, Syr George Browne, Osbern Berney, R. Hyd, J. Hoxson, my cosyn hys wyfe Kate, W. Wood, and all.[2]

John Paston III to John Paston II, 21 September 1472:

I pray noo mor, but my brodyr E., J. Pampyng, Thyrston, J. Myryell, W. Pytte, T. Plattyng, Jwdé, Lityll Jak, Mastyr Boton, and W. Wood to boote, to whyche persons I prey yow to comand me... [3]

John Paston II to John Paston III, 12 April 1473, just a few days before the letter with the Robin Hood allusion:

Item, as fore me, I most nedys to Caleyse warde to-morowe. I shall be heere ageyn iff I maye thys next terme. John Myryell, Thyrston, and W. Woode be goon from me, I shrewe them.[4]

Where did Wood play Hood?

'Castre', where W. Wood promised his master some three years before the letter was written never to run away again, is Caister Castle in Caister-on-Sea, Norfolk. It may well have been the venue for W. Wood's Robin Hood play or plays, but Norwich has also been suggested,[5] and in fact, since the Pastons travelled a good deal, the venue(s) could conceivably be one or more unknown localities. David Wiles at one point queries Caister as the venue but dismisses the idea, noting that "[s]ince Caister Castle had been forcibly taken from the Pastons in 1469 [...], we may rule out the explanation that Wood used to perform before his master with fellow villagers of Caister."[6] Wood, a returning lost sheep, had made his promise of fidelity to John Paston II at Caister, so this must have been sometime before the Pastons lost Caister Castle. Wood's Robin Hood antics are said to have taken place during the last three or four years before John Paston II’s letter was written (on 16 April 1473), and after the promise was made (at Caister), so if the Pastons lost Caister Castle in 1469, it would seem this could only have been the venue if John Paston II got both chronology and sequence of events wrong. Yet this is not necessarily so.

A contested castle

It is, I think, commonly believed that the Pastons did not regain possession of Caister Castle until the late 1470's or quite early in the 1480's.[7] Wiles’s argument rests on this assumption, but it is not entirely correct. Let us take a look at the history of this contested castle.

Sir John Fastolf, who died in 1459, had ordained in his testament that the castle he had built in his native Caister-on-Sea between 1432 and 1446 was to be "a house of prayer and for poor people, to be founded to pray for ever for his soul and [those] of his parents.[8] This was not to be. During the course of the protracted disputes over Fastolf’s will, the castle came into the hands of the Paston family, whose overhead, John Paston II, had been a confidant of Fastolf's and could apparently with some plausibility claim to be his heir.[9] However, in 1469, one of Fastolf's executors – "a certain accursed William Yelverton Justiciar of Norfolk", according to William Worcestre, Fastolf's secretary from 1438 to the latter's death – sold the castle to John de Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk (1444–76).[10]

The Pastons now found themselves in conflict with a major player. In mid-August, Sir John Heveningham, a cousin of John Fastolf's, appeared at Caister Castle on the duke's behalf, demanding that the Pastons hand over the castle to the duke. John Paston III, master of the castle while his elder brother was away on business, refused to comply. On August 21 or 25, the Duke of Norfolk besieged the castle with an army of 3,000. The Pastons surrendered the castle on September 27 after "Dawbeney", fondly remembered in John Paston II's letter, had been killed by a crossbow bolt. The list of defenders in William Worcestre's notes on the siege includes "W. Wod" among the valets ('Valetti'), as a servant of John Paston II.[11]

Worcestre later tells us something still more important which seems to have been overlooked:

Caister Fastolf was taken a second time by the trickery of a servant of the Duke of Norfolk, namely John Colby the duke's groom, when the servants of John Paston knight were asleep in the afternoon, namely on Sunday 23 June, to the great harm of the goods of J. Fastolf knight in the keeping of the said Paston.[12]

This entry immediately precedes one dated 1472. Note the use of the phrase "a second time". Worcestre certainly cannot always be trusted, as for instance when one of his jottings makes Lund the capital of Denmark and Trondheim an "island city", [13] and he undoubtedly also makes many errors when dealing with historical matters closer to home, but the fate of Caister Castle, or "Caister Fastolf" as it was then called after Worcestre's former employer, would have been vital to him as he was still involved in administering Fastolf's possessions. In his notes he deals with Caister at length and in detail; he returns to it several times. Moreover, this was not ancient history but recent events that had taken place less than a decade before he wrote about them. He lived in Cambridge from 1470, and from 1477 to 1480 we find him travelling, measuring buildings and monuments, talking to locals and taking his historical notes in Norfolk, mostly in coastal areas. He visited Caister Castle in 1480, but in view of his career in the employ of its former owner it seems highly unlikely that this should have been his first visit. At his death, no later than 1485, he had been living on the outskirts of Norwich for some years. There is no reason not to trust him when writing about Caister Castle whose history he must have known better than most. Until certain evidence is found to the contrary, we must believe that the Pastons regained possession of Caister Castle sometime after they had had to surrender it but then lost it again a little less than two years after the siege where "Dawbeney" lost his life. Thus W. Wood the groom may well have done a swashbuckling Robin Hood and a noble St. George on a green somewhere near Caister Castle during the period to which John Paston II's letter refers.

Taking humour seriously

I perfectly agree with Wiles that we should, as it were, take the humorous tone of John Paston II's letter seriously. There is no reason to think that W. Wood's dramatic activities were in any way part of his duties as the Pastons' servant or groom. In the letter, his master is saying, though not in so many words, "he promised to behave, he hasn't, and now he has absconded again. I remember him for his moonlighting activities as an amateur actor rather than for anything he might have accomplished in the line of duty." The remark about the plays may simply have been occasioned by John Paston II having heard about Wood's participating in such activities on a single occasion. It is of course possible that Wood performed in such plays more regularly and with the Pastons' active encouragement, but this is a more far-reaching and not a necessary assumption. Odd as it may sound, there is, however, reason to believe that one of the three early plays that have come down to us, that of Robin Hood and the Sheriff is the very one that featured W. Wood.


Other sources




Also see


  1. Davis, Norman, ed. Paston Letters and Papers of the Fifteenth Century (Oxford, 1971-76), vol. I, pp. 460-61.
  2. Davis. op. cit.., No. 353; vol. I, p. 577.
  3. Davis, op. cit., No. 354; vol. I, p. 579.
  4. Davis, op. cit., No. 274; vol. I, p. 458.
  5. Lancashire, Ian, compil. Dramatic Texts and Records of Britain: a Chronological Topography to 1558 (Cambridge, 1984), No. 1226
  6. Wiles, David. The Early Plays of Robin Hood (Cambridge, 1981), p. 36, and see p. 65.
  7. See for instance Clive, Mary. This Sun of York: A Biography of Edward IV (London, 1973), pp. 141, 182-83, 197, 208, 213, 237, 266, 270.
  8. Worcestre, William; Harvey, John H., ed. Itineraries (Oxford, 1969), p. 191, and see p. 190 for the Latin text. Editor's brackets.
  9. Wikipedia: Caister Castle
  10. Worcestre, William; Harvey, John H., ed. Itineraries (Oxford, 1969), p. 191, and p. 190 for the Latin. For Worcestre's biography see p. ix.
  11. Worcestre, William; Harvey, John H., ed. Itineraries (Oxford, 1969), pp. 190, 191
  12. Worcestre, pp. 525, 253.
  13. Worcestre, pp. 192, 193.