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Blood and Roses. The Paston Family in the Fifteenth Century. [Hardcover]

Helen Castor
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Book Description

16 Sep 2004
The Wars of the Roses turned England upside down. Between 1455 and 1485 four kings lost their thrones, more than forty noblemen lost their lives on the battlefield or their heads on the block, and thousands of the men who followed them met violent deaths. Yet almost nothing is known about the thoughts and feelings of the people who lived through this bloody conflict, whether king or noble, landowner or peasant. Almost nothing, but not quite. As they made their way in a disintergrating world, a Norfolk family called the Pastons were writing letters - about politics, about business, about shopping, about love and about each other. Extraordinarily, these letters have survived the centuries; they form the earliest great collection of private correspondence in the English language. More than five hundred years on, the Pastons' voices still have the immediacy of an overheard conversation. Blood and Roses traces the remarkable story of the Paston family across three generations. The world of the fifteenth-century aristocracy was a world of cut-throat snobbery and vicious power struggles, and the Pastons were newcomers to the grame: an ambitious nouveau riche family striving to establish themselves among the landed gentry. They took part in the Wars of the Roses in supporting roles, but they were extraordinary characters in their own right: William Paston, the self-made man who founded the family's fortunes; his son John Paston, who embarked on his own battle to inherit the estates of the rich old soldier Sir John Fastolf, the model of Shakespeare's Falstaff; John's wife Margaret, who held the family together for forty years, raised seven children and defended the family's property from armed assault along the way; and their sons John II - a courtier with a passion for books and an eye for female company - and John III, the sensible, reliable brother, whose touching correspondence with his sweetheart includes the earliest surviving valentine in England. Helen Castor explores the Pastons' experiences of birth, marriage, death and the realities of daily life, and unravels the turbulent politics of the family's affairs against the backdrop of civil war between York and Lancaster. The result is a vivid evocation of the medieval world. Blood and Roses draws on a wealth of original historical research to tell the dramatic, moving, often funny and always human story of how one family survived one of the most tempestuous periods in English history.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber; 1st edition edition (16 Sep 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571216706
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571216703
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.4 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 291,508 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Castor has put (the letters) to magnificent use here, combining scholarship with humour and clarity in a marvellously readable book. -- Miranda Seymour, Sunday Times, 21 November 2004

Sharply written, impeccably documented, structured with the grip and pace of a good thriller – does the same. -- Hilary Spurling, Daily Telegraph, October 2004

Book Description

A gripping family biography set against the turbulent background of the Wars of the Roses. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
45 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars detailed look at the Paston family 5 Sep 2009
By M. K. Burton VINE VOICE
This work of history takes a look at the multi-generational Paston family throughout the years immediately after the Black Death and through the Wars of the Roses. The Pastons left behind an immense number of letters which have been miraculously preserved for six hundred years and as such are a historical treasure trove for those of us who wonder how gentlemen lived in the fifteenth century. Helen Castor recounts the rise and fall of their fortunes here, illuminating their individual personalities; the tenacious women, especially Agnes and Margaret, the hard-working William and John and the at times disappointing John II. Using the Pastons as a lens, Castor picks up larger issues at work in fifteenth century England and provides a fascinating biography about a surprisingly ordinary family.

I read this one for my dissertation, so I paid much closer attention to it than I would have otherwise. To my surprise, I still really enjoyed it. Helen Castor writes clearly and succinctly, so that while we're learning facts, we don't feel bogged down by too much academic language. She also summarizes quite a bit of information about the period, so I think this would be useful for even those who aren't too familiar with fifteenth-century England. Even though I'm well acquainted with the Black Death and the manueverings of the Wars of the Roses, it is integrated enough into the Pastons' story so as not to become boring.

I have personally read quite a number of the Paston letters; they're invaluable because the Pastons were intimately involved at court and reflect the surprising amount of social mobility available shortly after so many died in the Black Death, so they have both an insider's perspective and a consciousness of where they had come from.
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57 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Paxton Letters in Context - at last! 7 Sep 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a historian I have volumes of the Paston Letters, edited by James Gairdner, but they are just that, a series of letters. Helen Castor has achieved the impossible, taken the letters and made them part of a fascinating story that involves the reader all the way through. The Pastons come alive, with their grievances, their needs, their unhappiness, their illnesses, births, deaths and fluctating fortunes. It is good to see historical persons in their true context, Sir John Falstoft for one, and the various Dukes and Earls showing their true colours, not the ones history sometimes gives us. The duke of York rampages through the story, throwing his considerable weight around, (he's a favourite of mine) while poor King Henry slides in and out of conscious thought and the villains steal properties from their owners while their owners are in them ... This is the stuff of true history and Helen Castor is to be applauded for making it come alive in this readable and informative way.
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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent and fascinating book! 14 Jan 2005
I bought this book for two reasons; firstly because I love the period of history involved, 1400's, and secondly because I love local based history.
However this book offers MUCH more than that. It has all the pace, twists and turns of a John Grisham legal novel!!! Except this is real, not fiction.
The book follows the lives of the Paston family from Norfolk. From their lowly start as minor landowners, promoted from the peasant classes all the way through the many struggles and trials both in the courts and out to maintain their status and earn the lands and money due to them.
This book isn't all about legal negotiations though. The 15th century wasn't a black and white culture where lands and possessions were concerned; it was more about whom you knew and whether they owed you any favours. Or which people of high status you could get on side. Throw in the dangerous ups and downs of fortune when the English throne changed hands many times during the Wars Of The Roses, and having to judge the best side to be on, and you have an absolute classic thriller!
Yet again though, the book is even MORE than that. The excerpts of the letters the Paston family wrote to each other, not only tell of their legal battles, but have some amusing moments of banter between brothers and even in a serious letter it might finish off asking the recipient to buy them some material as they can't find any of quality in Norwich!
It's a fascinating book, that tells the story of the Paston family, whom by the end you can not help but feel close to and that you know them well. You also get a wonderful insight of the Wars Of The Roses from a slightly background view, as well as lots of information on day to day living in the 1400's.
If you love history you'll love this book!!!!
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A student's perspective 12 Aug 2006
I am currently in Year 12 and studying the Wars of the Roses, and came across this book when searching for some interesting background reading. But it is so much more than a regular history book - whilst illustrating how the wars affected lesser figures such as the Pastons, it also provides a gripping family saga worthy of any historical fiction. The conviction that it all really happened makes it, to me, all the more fascinating. I admit to getting slightly bogged down in some of the details of the legal disputes, but I persisted and it was worth it. If anything the events grow more exciting as the book progresses, just like a well-written novel. In short I would recommend this book to anyone, historian or not.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly written history of the War of the Roses thorough the eyes of...
A very readable, superbly written history of a fascinating period of English history. Ms Castor has delved through the Paston family letters, a remarkable and unique set of letters... Read more
Published 15 days ago by bw
3.0 out of 5 stars The Pastons At Home
I was a little dissapointed by this detailed but very dry account of the Paston family. The book explains how a whole collection of letters were found in the 18th century which... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Neil Lennon
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical novel
I bought this as a Christmas present as chosen by the recipient, who was very pleased with it. Useful for wet evenings!
Published 5 months ago by Keen computer user
5.0 out of 5 stars Blood and Roses
I chose this rating because of the easy way that this book is to understand, I love history and this book gives you an insight of people and life in the middle ages. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Mr. S. R. Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars If you like Medieval history, you'll love this!
This was recommended by a fellow student of Medieval history. I read it whilst doing the course and it really helped bring the era to life. Would recommend.
Published 6 months ago by Sophie H.
5.0 out of 5 stars Blood and Roses
The Paston Letters give a fascinating insight into ordinary peoples lives during the War of the Roses. Read more
Published 6 months ago by S. Richardson
5.0 out of 5 stars Do not keep on
A superb study of a subject that has fascinated me for 50 years. I cannot review the other books because i am building up a collection for holidays etc
Published 6 months ago by A. G. Ruffhead
5.0 out of 5 stars Blood and Roses, book by Helen Castor
Helen Castor is a historian who has presented TV shows on a subject which is clearly dear to her heart, she is very knowledgeable. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Hausfrau
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazon, you've got it wrong!
The title of this book by Helen Castor is 'Blood and Roses - The Paston Family in the Fifteenth Century' NOT 'Blood and Roses: A Town , its Myths and Gallipoli'.
Published 7 months ago by Ms S. M. Walker
5.0 out of 5 stars My Ancestor's Biography by an excellent Historian
Helen Castor is to be congratulated on this excellent family biography. It happens to be about my family so that made it far more personal for me, that, and the fact that we have... Read more
Published 9 months ago by S2b an OAP
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