Ok, I’m setting aside the earl and countess of Oxford just long enough to bring you this…
John Paston, lawyer, husband, father, takes his job seriously and expects his family – wife included – to do the same. But in one letter – just one tiny (rather long, actually, but thats beside the point) letter, we catch a glimpse of Paston-the-romantic.
Here’s the background. John has been in London for some time. He has heard news from home that his wife, Margaret, is not well. He writes this (13 July 1465):
“John Hobbs telleth me that ye be sickly, which me liketh not to hear; praying you heartily that ye take what may do your ease and spare not, and in any wise take no thought ne too much labour for these matters, ne set it not so to your heart that ye fare the worse for it … And in case I come not home within three weeks, I pray you come to me; and Wykes hath promised to keep the place in your absence…”
On 14 September, her son (John III) writes to her in London.
And on 20 September, her no-nonsense husband writes this:
“Mine own dear sovereign lady, I recommend me to you, and thank you of the great cheer that ye made me here, to my great cost and charge and labour.”
There follows the usual pages and pages and pages of the usual instructions and ends with this:
“Item, I pray you remember and read often my bill of errands and this letter till it be done, and all such matters or articles as ye speed hereof, cross them that ye may know them from tho that not be sped; and send me answer of your good speed… Though I write right certainly, if ye look them lightly and see them seld they shall soon be forgot.
“Item, I shall tell you a tale:
Pamping and I have picked your mail
and taken out pieces five,
for upon trust of Calle’s promise we may soon unthrive.
And if Calle bring us hither twenty pound
ye shall have your pieces again good and round;
or else, if he will not pay you the value of the pieces there,
to the post do nail his ear,
or else do him some other sorrow
for I will no more in his default borrow;
and but if the receiving of my livelode be better plied
he shall [have] Christ’s curse and mine clean tried.
And look ye be merry and take no thought,
for this rhyme is cunningly wrought.
My Lord Percy and all this house
recommend them to you, dog, cat and mouse,
and wish ye had be here still,
for they say ye are a good gill.
No more to you at this time,
but God him save that made this rhyme.
By your true and trusty husband, JP”
After twenty odd years of marriage, this letter must have come as something of a shock to poor Margaret! Still, rather self-affirming to know that she still had IT!
Such giddiness is never repeated.