Blood and Roses: The Paston

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9780007148080: Blood and Roses: The Paston

In a span of thirty years, four kings lost their thrones, countless men lost their lives on the battlefield or their heads on the block, and others found themselves suddenly flush with gold. The Wars of the Roses tore England asunder, yet until now, almost nothing has been known about the ordinary people who lived through this extraordinary time.

Drawing on an incomparably rare trove of letters discovered in a tumbledown stately home, historian Helen Castor reconstructs the lives of the Paston family, who singlemindedly worked their way up from farmers to landed gentry. As they went about their business in a disintegrating society, the Pastons corresponded on topics ranging from politics to love, from shopping to family gossip. A wife writes her husband that she'd rather have him home than have a new gown, "even if it were scarlet." A brother reports that the handless servant, Thomas Stumps, has demanded a crossbow so that he can defend them in a siege. Five hundred years later, these voices still have the immediacy of a conversation overheard on a street corner.

Blood and Roses is a gripping and intimate biography of a family, which traces three generations of births, marriages, and deaths. Castor unravels the story of the family's tur-bulent affairs against the backdrop of civil war, bringing to vibrant life a remote and hazy era.

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About the Author:

Helen Castor is a historian of medieval England and a Bye-Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Her first book, Blood and Roses, was long-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize and won the English Association’s Beatrice White Prize. Her second book, She-Wolves, was selected as one of the books of the year by The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Independent, Financial Times, and BBC History Magazine. She lives in London.

From Publishers Weekly:

Starred Review. Referring to publication of the Paston letters, the "literary sensation" of 1787, Horace Walpole said, "I cannot bear to be writing when I am so eager to be reading." The letters are a collection of roughly 1,000 documents written by four generations over the course of some 70 years that provide astonishingly intimate insight into late medieval English life during the tumultuous War of the Roses. The Pastons began as peasant farmers, rose to the status of minor Norfolk gentry and strove mightily to improve their lot through the courts, business and marriage. In this multigenerational biography, Castor tells their story as a sweeping whole and allows readers to understand these people's mental world, one so alien to us and yet strikingly familiar in the most unexpected of ways. Much of their story revolves around the acquisition of land and how they tried (not always successfully) to keep it out of the hands of their sometimes violent neighbors. Castor, a history fellow at Cambridge University, nicely summarizes the complexities of 15th-century politics and culture without losing her momentum. Beautifully paced and splendidly retold, Castor's tale of one family trying to survive and thrive against the odds is popular history at its best. 8 pages of color photos, 1 map. (Apr. 11)
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