Sir William Paston, through inheritance from a number of family members, became a very wealthy man during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Sir William provides an important link between the family in the early part of the 16th century to the beginning of the 17th century. Sir William used his wealth to build a fine house, great barn and alms houses at Paston, also founding the famous Paston School in North Walsham in 1606 (where Nelson later attended). Sir William lived quietly in Norfolk compared to his Uncles Thomas and Admiral Clement Paston, both of whom achieved fame and favour at the Tudor Court. Sir William provides both narrative and insight into the Reformation and the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth.
Sir John Paston, the younger son of John and Margaret, played a key role in sustaining the family during the turbulent years when the Pastons’ enemies confronted them on all sides and the country experienced the confusion and lawlessness of the Wars of the Roses. John was initially attached to the Duke of Norfolk’s household at Framlingham and used this experience to good effect when in 1479 he became the head of the family. John led the defence against the siege of Caister Castle and was wounded when fighting for the defeated Lancastrian army at Barnet in 1471. John received the first ever recorded Valentine’s letter from his wife to be Margery and went on to steer the family through to calmer waters. Sir John was knighted by Henry VII after the Battle of Stoke in 1487.
Sir John Paston was the eldest son of John and Margaret Paston. Sent to attend court in London by his father, who hoped he could achieve useful influence with the King. John, much to his father’s displeasure, grew to enjoy the pageantry and excitement of courtly life. On one occasion Sir John jousted on the ‘royal’ team beside the King. Despite the criticisms, particularly when he left his younger brother to defend Caister Castle against the seige by the Duke of Norfolk’s army, Sir John managed to eventually secure royal acknowledgement that the Pastons were members of the gentry and ultimately secured the family’s possession of Caister Castle. Sir John was an avid reader and worked on his own ‘great book’ concerning heraldry, warfare and his inspirations; King Arthur and Robin Hood. Sir John succumbed to the plague in 1479 and was buried near his home in Fleet Street.
William’s father, Clement, was a man of humble birth and status who had the vision to secure an education for his son. William made the most of the opportunity and after his training as a lawyer at the Inns of Court in London, he became a Sergeant at Law and subsequently a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas. His success as a lawyer earned him the title ‘The Good Judge’ and brought him many estates, including ownership of Cromer, land and property at Oxnead, Gresham, West Beckham, Norwich and the development of a manor and manor house at Paston. By marriage to heiress Agnes Berry, William also gained property in Hertfordshire and Suffolk. Judge William was involved in a number of high profile cases, both in London and locally through his work for the Bishop of Norwich. Judge William’s power and wealth set the family on an upward path but also left an inheritance that would prove to be a mighty challenge for his young son John.