Monumental Brass Society

Ann Paston

Date of Brass:
Norwich 3


August 2019

It is not often that brasses make the news around the world but the simple inscription commemorating Ann or Anna, daughter of Sir John Paston, did so in the second week of June 2019. An archaeologist, Matt Champion, working on the Paston Footprints 600 project on the church at Oxnead had happened to notice her inscription and that it recorded a member of the family previously unknown to historians. The story was then taken up by the media.

The Paston family of Norfolk has attracted a great deal of attention over the past 250 years. The Norfolk historian Francis Blomefield had access to their seat at Oxnead Hall after the death of the last member of the senior branch of the family, William Paston, 2nd earl of Yarmouth, in 1732. In the muniment room he came across a collection of letters sent to and from and between members of the family in the fifteenth-century. He preserved what he judged to be the most interesting letters among the many. In 1787 John Fenn published a small selection but James Gairdner brought out six volumes between 1852 and 1857 with 1088 items, almost all letters. The most recent collections published are those by Norman Davis, who worked from the original letters in the 1970s. With such a largesse of original documents readily available as transcriptions, the problem that had faced anybody studying the Paston family today was the belief that with such a well-known family everything had already been uncovered. Ann's brass proved otherwise.

Ann's father was the younger of two brothers both named John Paston. The elder, born in 1442 and knighted in 1463 had died unmarried in 1479 after a career at court. His brother, Ann's father, born in 1444, was knighted in 1487 at the battle of Stoke. He married Margery, daughter of Sir Thomas Brews, in late 1477and was known to have had three children, Christopher, who died in two of whom survived to adulthood, William and Elizabeth. Margery died in 1495 and was buried in the Whitefriars priory in Norwich. John married again, to the twice-widowed Agnes Morley, but is not known to have further children before his death in 1504. In the light of Ann's brass being recognised as adding a further child to John and Margery's family, historians then uncovered more of her brothers and sisters, namely Philip, Philippa and Dorothy, all of whom survived to adulthood and married. Apart from Ann's inscription, her sisters Elizabeth and Dorothy were also commemorated in brass, at Herne and Upper Hardres, both in Kent. Elizabeth had initially married William Clere, who died in 1501, before her marriage to Sir John Fyneux, chief justice of the king's bench. She died in 1539. Dorothy married Thomas Hardres and died in 1533. Both Elizabeth and Dorothy are commemorated by brasses with inscriptions that specifically state that each is a daughter of Sir John Paston andwith heraldry that included the Paston arms. These brasses were probably made in Canterbury.

Ann Paston was probably born after the death of her grandmother Margaret Paston in 1484 as Margaret's will of 1482 does not mention her. Her death came after her father's was knighted by Henry VII on 16th June 1487 on the field of the battle of Stoke. Her father had been given the manor of Sparham by his mother early in 1477 in anticipation of his marriage. The rector of Sparham until his death in 1493 was William Mustarder. One of his executors was Sir John Paston. Mustarder was commemorated by a brass showing him in mass vestments but the inscription doed not give his date of death. The brass is a late example of the Norwich 2 style. However, an inscription in the church in the same style was evidently laid down by another of Mustarder's executors, Clement Wulvysby,, in memory of his wife Maud, who died in 1493, and her mother, so we cannot assume that Sir John was responsible for choosing who was to make Mustarder's brass. Ann Paston's inscription is in the Norwich 3 style and thus dating between 1485 and 1507 but presumably before Sir John's death in 1504. The elaborations of the initial letters of each line do not help with the dating as these can be seen on many brasses from the whole date range of the style. The flat tops of the letter t indicate that the brass does not belong at with the early N3a group but from 1488 or later. The inscription is engraved in the form of a scroll with curls below both ends which is unusual and presumably cost a little more than the regular rectangle that was the norm but perhaps indicative of the sense of loss her parents felt for a daughter who had most likely progressed beyond infancy.

Ann Paston's inscription had been recorded and transcribed as long ago as the early seventeenth-century by the anonymous chorographer when he was visiting Norfolk churches and by Francis Blomefield in the first half of the following century for his history of Norfolk. Its existence was also recorded by Edmund Farrer in his List of monumental brasses remaining in the county of Norfolk (1890) and Mill Stephenson in his 1926 List.

Anne Paston, Ann's niece, the daughter of William, son and heir of Sir John Paston, and his wife Bridget Heydon, is also commemorated by an inscription brass in the Norwich 3 style at Bodham, evidently laid down before William succeeded his father at Oxnead in 1504. There was once an inscription for Elizabeth, wife of John Paston, at Caistor St Edmund, near Norwich. This was recorded by the chorographer and in Blomefield's history, both noting that the arms, presumably on a shield below the inscription, had disappeared. The inscription was in English. Its terminating prayer suggests that it was pre-Reformation, but no John Paston was recorded marrying an Elizabeth. Could this have been the earlier marriage by William Paston's second surviving son John, who died aged 64 in 1576 and is commemorated by a brass at Huntingfield, Suffolk, where he lived with his second wife? There is still much to be learnt about the Pastons and historians of the family need to spread their researches beyond the Paston Letters.

© Jon Bayliss

Christobel M Hood, ed.,The Chorography of Norfolk (Norwich 1938), p.95, p.133
Francis Blomefield, An Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk (2nd edn., 1811), V, p.430, VI, p.495

Photo: © Martin Stuchfield

Rubbing: © The Monumental Brasses of Norfolk by William Lack, H. Martin Stuchfield and Philip Whittemore (forthcoming)

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