They are the famous Norfolk family whose lives were recorded in historic letters during the 15th century.

To send a link to this page to a friend, you must be logged in.

But 200 years later, the immense wealth they had worked so hard to build up was disappearing thanks to a lavish lifestyle and a series of hare-brained schemes.

Now a new book, published by the Norfolk Record Society, has brought together a collection of much later Paston Letters revealing the family’s path to financial ruin.

Editor and retired archivist Jean Agnew has spent three years working on the 300 hand-written musings of Robert Paston, a direct descendant of earlier letter writer John Paston.

The book, The Whirlpool of Misadventures: Letters of Robert Paston, First Earl of Yarmouth, reveals the contents of his correspondence from 1663 to 1679.

Mrs Agnew, from Wreningham, said: “The Paston letters from the 15th century are the first set of personal family letters written in English so they are very famous. But nobody ever thinks ‘what happened to the Pastons?’”

At the beginning of the 17th century, the Pastons were the richest gentry family in Norfolk.

But having supported King Charles II during his exile, the family lost out financially during the civil war when they were fined for being royalists.

The book’s editor said that had not seemed to curb their spending.

“They couldn’t stop,” she said. “Their lifestyle was out of all proportion with their income. Robert became Lord Lieutenant which put the lid on it – you had to entertain and you didn’t get paid for it.”

While there are no accounts available for the family, which disappeared within 50 years of these letters because of a lack of male heirs, it is clear they are getting strapped for cash.

Mrs Agnew, said: “They are always going on about getting some money from somewhere or another but they are ‘crock of gold at the end of the rainbow’ projects.

“In 1679 he writes this bit about ‘falling into a whirlpool of misadventure’. He could see he was going down the tube.”

Most letters are between Sir Robert and his wife Rebecca Paston, whose oldest son, William, married an illegitimate daughter of King Charles II. But Mrs Angew said she found a loving family in the letters.

“I feel I got to know them very well. You begin to feel for them. Robert, I think, was a lovely man. All the same, I’m glad I wasn’t one of his creditors.”

To buy The Whirlpool of Misadventures: Letters of Robert Paston, First Earl of Yarmouth, visit


  • It is an enduring shame that Great Yarmouth council, Norfolk County Council and bodies like the National Trust or English Heritage have not seen fit to attempt to take Caister Castle into state or county ownership , Home of the Fastolfs, the Pastons, scene of War of the Roses sieges and spats with the Duke of Norfolk amongst others, it sits ignored and part of a privately owned seedy tourist "attraction" motor museum. The admission fees are high enough to deter those who would just wish to look at the ruins, the site is neglected and gives no insight to how the ground lay at the time it was built. An important part of Norfolk history unacknowledged.

    Report this comment

    Daisy Roots

    Friday, November 30, 2012

  • What a very strange and spiteful comment to read at the bottom of this news item. I have absolutely no connection with Caister Castle apart from having enjoyed a number of most enjoyable visits to this tourist attraction (please note Daisy, a lack of quotation marks). You sound like you have some sort of axe to grind. Are you a militant cyclist or an avowed Marxist perhaps?

    Report this comment


    Friday, November 30, 2012

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site





Classifieds, browse or search them online now

The Canary magazine
Order your copy of The Canary magazine