Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Margaret's bead bequests

Margaret Paston, PART II

As I mentioned in the first post in this series, I found four clear references to "bedes" or "bedys" (meaning paternoster beads) in the Paston Letters from 15th-century England. I discussed the first one last time; here are the other three.

In 1470 -- almost twenty years later than the first reference -- Margaret Paston's brother-in-law William Paston received a set of coral beads as part of the collateral for a loan. What's particularly interesting here is that the beads are the very first item listed, ahead of such items as twenty silver spoons and several valuable cups. Here's the text:


This bill endentid [bill of indenture, a record of the loan] made the xv day of August the xth yer of King Edwarde þe iiijte [Edward IV] betwixt William Paston, esquyer, on þe ton partie [on the one part] and Thomas Vyall of Norwich, payntur [painter], witnessith þat þe saide Thomas Vyall hath borowid of þe saide William Paston v li. [five pounds] of lawfull mony, vpon plege of j par of corall bedys with xxj gaudys ["gauds," i.e. marker beads] of siluer and gilte weyng [weighing] vj vnc. [ounces] with þe lace and þe knopp, xx siluer sponys weyng xvj vnc., j standyng pes ["standing piece", probably a covered cup] of siluer with a couer weyng x vnc., a large maseer ["mazer", a type of elaborate wooden cup wil silver fittings] parcell [partly] gilt weyng, þe tymber ["timber", i.e. the wood] and all, xv vnc., j maser siluer and gilt weyng viij vnc., a maser weyng vij vnc. dj. and j quarter and a mase[r] with þe fote [foot] broken, not weyde. And the saide Thomas Vyall byndith hym-silff, his eyres and executours [bindeth himself, his heirs and executors] to pay to þe saide William Paston the saide v li. of lawfull mony at þe fest of þe Natiuité of Our Lorde ["feast of the Nativity of Our Lord", i.e. Christmas] next commyng affter þe date of this present writyng. In witnesse wher-of þe parties beforsaide enterchaungeably haue set to ther seallys. Writen þe day and yer above saide. Wyl[ia]m Paston

The description of the beads is more detailed than most: "j par of corall bedys with xxj gaudys of siluer and gilte weyng vj vnc. with þe lace and þe knopp." This translates as, "One pair [i.e. set] of coral beads with 21 gauds of gilded silver, weighing 6 ounces including the string and the 'knop'." (A "knop" is literally a knot or knob: probably here meaning a large decorative bead or pomander.)

A dozen or so years later, we have the 1482 will of Margaret Paston herself. Several things about it are interesting, and two sets of her beads are mentioned specifically.


(This brass isn't of Margaret Paston, BTW, but it seemed appropriate even though I don't know who it is. I can tell you that it's English, at least.)


In the name of God, amen. I, Margaret Paston, widowe, late the wiff [wife] of John Paston, squier, doughter and heire to John Mauteby, squier, hole of spirit and mynde, with parfite avisement [perfect awareness] and good deliberacion, the iiijte day of February in the yer of our Lord God a ml cccclxxxj, make my testament and last wille in this fourme folowyng.

Item, I bequeth to Anne, my doughter, wiff of William Yeluerton, my grene [green] hangyng in my parlour at Mauteby, a standing cuppe with a couer gilt with a flatte knoppe, and a flatte pece with a couer gilt withoute [i.e. gilded on the outside], xij siluer spones, a powder boxe with a foot and a knoppe enamelled blewe [blue], my best corse girdill ["coarse girdle," i.e. a large belt], blewe herneised ["harnessed", i.e. decorated] with siluer and gilt, my premer ["primer", i.e. prayerbook], my bedes of siluer enamelled. Item, I bequeth to the seid Anne my fetherbedde with sillour, curteyns, and tester in my parlour at Mauteby... (followed by blankets, sheets, pewter dishes et cetera)

Item, I bequethe to Marie Tendall, my goddoughter, my peir bedys of calcidenys [chalcedony] gaudied with siluer and gilt...

Parenthetically here, those who know the story of this family will appreciate that Margaret's will leaves NOTHING to her youngest daughter Margery, though Margery's sons do get the same bequest as the rest of the grandsons. Young Margery, after many arguments and not a few beatings to discourage the relationship, persisted and secretly married the family's bailiff Richard Call, a descent in social status which her mother strongly disapproved -- in fact, her mother actually went to court to try to have the marriage declared invalid.

The list of valuable items bequeathed to Margery's older sister Anne begins with a green wall hanging (possibly embroidered), a silver "standing cuppe" and covered dish, then smaller items of silver. Next is listed a blue belt, perhaps of silk, with gilded silver fittings (likely a gilded buckle, belt-tip, and several decorative rivets or sewn-on badges). Next come the paternoster beads, and only after all that, bedding and other household stuff, and last of all, money.

This sequence probably means something, and we see similar sequences in other wills and inventories. Some of it is clearly set by custom: a will is a sort of ritual, and things may be listed in a certain order just because that's how it "should" be done in a will. But perhaps this sequence also contains some indications of relative value, whether this means monetary value or perhaps social value or status. By and large, the most costly and precious items seem to be listed first, progressing to those that are more common, practical, and subject to wear and tear.

Anne's beads are gilded silver, clearly a high-status item and quite costly, and they are duly weighed (string and all!) and grouped with the other silver items. Goddaughter Marie's beads are chalcedony, a very hard, semi-translucent stone that could also be quite valuable.

Beads don't appear in exactly the same place in all lists. But the three lists analyzed here make one thing clear: bedes (beads) are definitely worth more than beddes (beds :)

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