SIR JOHN FASTOLF (1378?-1459), warrior and landowner, belonged to an ancient Norfolk family originally seated at Great Yarmouth, where many of the name had been bailiffs from the time of Edward I. A Hugo Fastolf was sheriff of Norfolk in 1390. Sir John's father, John Fastolf, son of Alexander Fastolf, inherited the manors of Caister and Reedham, to which he added by purchase much property in the same county. His mother, daughter of Nicholas Park, esq., and widow of Sir Richard Mortimer of Attleborough, Norfolk, married a third husband named Farwell after John Fastolf's death, and died 2 May 1406, being buried at Attleborough.
1. William of Worcester, Annals.
Fuller's statement that Fastolf was trained in the house of John, Duke of Bedford, is erroneous. Blomefield asserted that he was at one time page to Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, before the duke's banishment, 13 Oct. 1398. A little later he was in the service of Thomas of Lancaster, afterwards Duke of Clarence, Henry IV's second son, who became Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1401. We know that Fastolf was in Ireland with Clarence in 1405 and 1406.1 On the feast of St. Hilary 1408 he married, in Ireland, Milicent, daughter of Robert, third Lord Tibetot, and widow of Sir Stephen Scrope. The lady owned the estate of Castle Combe in Wiltshire, and other land in Yorkshire. Fastolf settled on her £100 a year for her own use, but seems to have turned his wife's property to his own account, to the injury of her son and heir by her first husband, Stephen Scrope.
Caxton, in his 'Tully of Old Age,' says that Fastolf exercised ' the wars in the royaume of France and other countries by forty years enduring.' It is therefore probable that Fastolf was engaged in foreign warfare before Henry IV's death in 1413. In that year he was entrusted by Henry V with the custody of the castle of Veires in Gascony, then in English hands. In June 1415 he undertook to serve the king in France with ten men-of-arms and thirty archers. After the capture of Harfleur, Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter, and Fastolf were constituted governors of the city, with a garrison of about two thousand men. Fastolf distinguished himself at the Battle of Agincourt, in the raid on Rouen, in the relief of Harfleur when besieged by the constable of France, at the taking of Caen, and at the siege of Rouen in 1417. In the last year he was made governor of Conde-sur-Noireau; before 29 Jan. 1417-18 was knighted, and received a grant, of Frileuse, near Harfleur; in 1418 he seized the castle of Bee Crespin, and in 1420 became governor of the Bastille.2
His activity was not lessened on the death of Henry V. In January 1422 he was grand master of the household of Bedford, the Regent of France, and Seneschal of Normandy. He played a conspicuous part in the recapture of Meulan, which he had helped to capture two years before, although the French had since recaptured it. In 1423 he was constituted Lieutenant for the King and Regent in Normandy, and governor of Anjou and Maine. In the same year he seized Pacy and Coursay, and captured Guillaume Reymond, governor of the former city. The honour of a banneret was conferred on him. At the battle of Verneuil (1424) he took prisoner John II, Duke of Alençon, son of the duke who was slain at Agincourt. But Alencon was ransomed three years later, and Fastolf complained that he was deprived of his proper share of the money.
It was largely owing to Fastolf's efforts that in the following year the subjection of Maine was completed. On 15 July 1425 he met Salisbury under the walls of Mons. On 2 Aug. the fortress surrendered, and Fastolf was made lieutenant of the town under the Earl of Suffolk (10 Aug. 1425). In September 1425 he took the castle of Silly-Guillem, 'from which he was dignified with the title of baron.' In February 1426 he was installed, while still in France, Knight of the Garter. Sir Henry Inghouse and Sir William Breton acted as his deputies at the ceremony. But in the same year John, Lord Talbot, superseded him as governor of Anjou and Maine. The supersession caused Fastolf much irritation. On 27 Nov. Bedford and Fastolf signed indentures, pledging the latter to continue in the duke's service.3 In 1428 he spent some time in England.
During the season of Lent 1429 Fastolf performed his chief exploit. Orleans was under siege by the English, and their camp was in great need of provisions. Fastolf was directed to bring in supplies. He reached Paris safely, and returned with the necessary stores, but when approaching the camp outside Orleans was attacked at Rouvray by a French army under the Comte de Clermont far exceeding his own in number (12 Feb.) His victory was, however, complete. For purposes of defence he used the barrels of herrings which he was convoying, whence the battle obtained its popular name, 'the Battle of the Herrings.' But after Joan of Arc's successes Fastolf was unable to resist the proposal to raise the siege of Orleans (8 May). The tide had turned against the English, and the French under their new leader were pushing their victories home. Beaugenci was in danger of falling before Joan of Arc's forces. They had laid siege to it, and the arrival of two English companies led by Talbot and Fastolf did not avert its fall.
The English generals marched towards Paris, but Joan ordered a pursuit. On 18 June 1429 the French came up with the English army at Patay. Talbot behaved with foolhardy courage. A manoeuvre on the part of Fastolf was misunderstood by his own men; panic seized them, and Fastolf's endeavour to recall them to their senses proved ineffectual. It was only when the day was irretrievably lost and his life was in immediate danger that he beat a retreat. Talbot with Lord Hungerford and others was taken prisoner. This is the version of the engagement given by an eye-witness, Jean de Wavrin.4 According to Monstrelet, Fastolf behaved with much cowardice in running away, and by way of defending his action recommended at a council of war held soon after the battle a temporary abstention from hostilities till further succours arrived from England. Talbot and Bedford are reported to have received this suggestion with much displeasure, and Fastolf, we are told, was not only reprimanded by the Duke of Bedford, but degraded from the Order of the Garter.5 Anstis, the historian of the order of the Garter, doubts whether it would have been in the duke's power to subject Fastolf to this indignity.
Monstrelet's damaging imputation has been adopted by the later English chroniclers. In the 'First Part of Henry VI,' printed in Shakespeare's works, Fastolf is portrayed as a contemptible craven in the presence of Joan of Arc's forces, and is publicly stripped of his Garter by Lord Talbot.6 Monstrelet admits that Fastolf was quickly restored to his honours, 'though against the mind of Lord Talbot.' There can be no doubt that Fastolf was employed after the battle of Patay in as responsible offices as before. Monstrelet's story when compared with Wavrin's account of Fastolf's conduct resolves itself into the statement that at Talbot's request Bedford held an inquiry into a charge of cowardice brought against Fastolf after Patay, and came to the conclusion that the accusation was unfounded.
In 1430 Fastolf became lieutenant of Caen; in 1431 he raised the siege of Vaudemont, taking prisoner the Duc de Bar, and in 1432 was nominated English ambassador to the Council of Basle, after a visit to England. He does not seem to have attended the council, but assisted the Duc de Bretagne, then engaged in war with the Duc d'Alençon. He was in England early in 1433, when he constituted one John Fastolf of Oulton, Suffolk, his general attorney. Once again in the following year he was in the train of the Duke of Bedford in France, when he acted as one of the negotiators of the peace of Arras. In September 1435 Fastolf drew up a report on the recent management of the war, in which he advocated its continuance, but deprecated the policy of long sieges.7
Duke of Bedford died on 14 Sept. 1435, and Fastolf was one of the executors of his will. From 1436 to 1440 he continued in Normandy, but in 1440 he returned home, and withdrew from military service. In 1441 Richard, Duke of York, Bedford's successor, awarded Fastolf an annuity of £208 'pro notabili et laudabili servicio ac bono consilio.'9 He was summoned to the privy council, but his advice was not frequently sought.
That he was not popular with the lower orders is shown by the threats of Jack Cade in 1450. When the rebel leader was encamped at Blackheath Fastolf sent his servant, John Payn, to ascertain his plans. Payn's identity was discovered, and his master was denounced as the greatest traitor in England or France, who had diminished all the garrisons of Normandy, Le Mons, and Maine, and was responsible for the loss of the king's French inheritance. It was also stated that Fastolf had garrisoned his house at Southwark with old soldiers from Normandy to resist Cade's progress. Under certain conditions Payn was allowed to leave Cade's camp to warn Fastolf of the rebels' approach, and the knight deemed it wise to retire to the Tower of London. After Cade's rising was suppressed, Payn was imprisoned in the Marshalsea by Queen Margaret, and vain attempts were made to lead him to charge his master with treason.
Besides his property in Suffolk and in Norfolk, where he had fine houses both at Norwich and Yarmouth, Fastolf had a residence at Southwark, and his wife's property at Castle Combe, Wiltshire, was largely under his control. He seems in the early days of his retirement to have chiefly spent his time at Southwark, where he maintained a large establishment. In 1404 his mother had surrendered to him her manors of Caister and Repps, and as early as Henry V's reign he is said to have obtained a license for fortifying a dwelling at Caister, his birthplace. Before 1446 he had begun to build there a great castle, the foundation of which covered more than five acres. The building operations were still in progress in 1453. In 1443 he had obtained a license from the crown to keep six ships in his service, and these were afterwards employed in carrying building materials to Yarmouth for the castle. In addition to public rooms, chapel, and offices, there were twenty-six separate apartments. Before the close of 1454 the castle was completed, and there Fastolf lived until his death, five years later, only paying one visit to London during that period.
Fastolf's life in Norfolk is fully described in the 'Paston Letters.' John Paston, the author of the greater part of that valuable correspondence, was Fastolf's neighbour and intimate friend. Margaret Paston, John's wife, seems to have been a distant relative.10 Paston came into possession of many of the knight's private papers at his death, and these have been preserved with his own letters. Fastolf shows himself in these papers a grasping man of business. 'Every sentence in them refers to lawsuits and title-deeds, extortions and injuries received from others, forged processes affecting property, writs of one kind or another to be issued against his adversaries, and libels uttered against himself.'11 His knowledge of all legal technicalities was so complete that he could give his agent, Sir Thomas Howes, to whom most of his extant letters are addressed, legal hints which would do credit to a pettifogging solicitor.
His zeal in amassing wealth and in increasing his landed property was the chief characteristic of his old age. On 18 Dec. 1452 he lent £43712 to the Duke of York, to be repaid next Michaelmas, on the security of certain jewels.13 The jewels were still in Fastolf's possession at the time of his death; but his executor, John Paston, restored them to Edward IV. Fastolf's latest days were chiefly spent in reckoning up his debts against the crown. Some of these dated back to the French wars, in which he had never been fully paid the ransoms for the release of his prisoners—for Guillaume Reymond taken in 1423 at Pacy, and for John, Duc d'Alençon, taken at Verneuil in 1424. Others related to recent quarrels with the Duke of Suffolk, who had seized portions of his property.14
That Fastolf was a testy neighbour and master is obvious from his repeated complaints of the lack of that respect which he thought due to himself. On 27 May 1450 he wrote to Sir Thomas Howes, his agent, that if any dare resist him
'in my right,' then they shall be requited 'by Blackbeard or Whitebeard, that is to say, by God or the devil.'15 His dependents had much to endure at his hands. 'Cruel and vengeful he hath ever been,' writes Henry Windsor, his servant, 'and for the most part without pity and mercy.'16
Another discontented dependent was the annalist, William Worcester. Worcester entered Fastolf s service in 1436, and was for some years steward of Fastolf's manor of Castle Combe, Wiltshire. Acting as Fastolf's secretary he drew up statements vindicating his master's policy in France, and later translated at Fastolf's request Cicero's 'De Senectute' into English (printed by Caxton in 1481). According to the 'Paston Letters' Worcester was also author of a work entitled 'Acta Domini Johannis Fastolfe,' in two volumes, but, although many of Worcester's papers are still at Castle Combe, this manuscript is not among them, and its whereabouts are unknown.17 Beyond Fastolf's relation with Worcester the chief evidence of the love of literature with which he is often credited is a manuscript translation of 'The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers.'18 This is described as having been translated in 1450 from the French for the 'contemplation and solace' of Sir John Fastolf by Stephen Scrope, his stepson.19
Fastolf took much interest in church matters, and administered a large patronage. He made Archbishop Kempe a trustee of his Caister property in 1450, and through his friend Bishop Waynflete he is said to have presented to the newly founded Magdalen College, Oxford, the Boar's Head in Southwark, and the manor of Caldecot, Suffolk, but no mention of these benefactions is found in the college archives. He also contributed towards building the philosophy schools at Cambridge. About 1456 he resolved to found a college on his own account at Caister, to maintain 'seven priests and seven poor folk.' On 18 Nov. 1456 he wrote to John Paston about his efforts to obtain the requisite license from Archbishop Bourchier.20 But before the arrangements were completed he died at Caister, 5 Nov. 1459. He had been ill of a hectic fever and asthma for 148 days. His wife had died about 1446. He was buried in the church of St. Bennet in the Hulm 'under the arch of the new chapple which he had lately rebuilt on the south side of the choir or chancel under a marble tomb by the body of Milicent, his wife.'
Three copies of a will are extant, dated 3 Nov., two days before Fastolf's death. They are printed, with inventories of Fastolf s goods and wardrobe, in the 'Paston Letters.' i. 445-90.21 The first of these documents is much interpolated. Whole paragraphs are scratched out and others inserted. The second draft is briefer. The third alone in Latin is merely a codicil, and deals chiefly with the duty of the executors. The altered passages in the first appoint John Paston and Sir Thomas Howes sole executors; in the third draft ten other executors are mentioned, including Bishop Waynflete, Sir William Yelverton, and William Worcester; but Paston and Howes are empowered to deal with the property on their sole authority. The practical effect of these instruments was to make Paston Fastolf's heir, after provision had been made for the Caister college, and four thousand marks22 distributed among the other executors. As early as 1457 Fastolf seems to have talked of giving Caister to Paston, and is said to have made a will to that effect in June 1459, but Paston admitted that the instrument, not now extant, was defective. At the time of his death Fastolf's property included ninety-four manors, four residences (at Yarmouth, Norwich, Southwark, and Caister), 2,643l. 10d.23 in money, 3,400 ounces of silver plate, and a wardrobe filled with sumptuous apparel. An allusion in the preamble of the first will to the favourite Lollard text, 1 Cor. xiv. 38, has suggested to some of Fastolf's biographers that he sympathised with the Lollards.
The authenticity of Fastolf's extant wills was much disputed. In his closing days Paston was greatly in Fastolf's confidence. On 3 Nov. Fastolf was certainly speechless, and could not have dictated his will. There can be no reasonable doubt, therefore, that the extant documents were written out by Paston, and if of any value are all practically nuncupative. The circumstances were suspicious, and rumours were quickly circulated that Paston had forged the will in his own favour. Other claimants to parts of the property arose. William Worcester, deeply disappointed by his exclusion from all share in the estate, made the first protest. The Duke of Exeter seized Fastolf's house in Southwark; but Paston entered at once into possession of much land in Norfolk and Suffolk.
In 1464, however, Sir William Yelverton and William Worcester, both nominal executors, disputed the whole distribution of the property in the Archbishop of Canterbury's court. Paston declined to answer the charges, and was committed to the Fleet prison just after Edward IV had granted him a license to erect the Caister college. At the same time the Duke of Suffolk claimed Fastolf's manor of Drayton. John Paston died in 1466. Sir John, Paston's son and heir, was allowed to occupy the property after resigning certain lands to the Duke of Norfolk, and agreeing that Bishop Waynflete should transfer the collegiate bequest from Caister to Oxford. Before 1468 Sir Thomas Howes deserted the Paston interest, and joined Yelverton, declaring soon afterwards that the will which he and Paston had propounded was fabricated by them. Howes and Yelverton now asserted that they, as Fastolf's lawful executors, had a right to sell Caister Castle to the Duke of Norfolk, and proceeded to do so. The duke was denied possession by Paston, and took it after a siege (August 1469). The dispute continued, but finally, after the duke's death in 1476, the castle was surrendered to Paston. It was sold by the Pastons to a creditor named Crow in 1599, and is now a complete ruin.
In 1474 an agreement was made between Waynflete and Sir John Paston to attach Fastolf's collegiate bequest to the new foundation of Magdalen College, Oxford, for the support of seven priests and seven poor scholars. Pope Sixtus IV authorised this diversion. At the same time Waynflete received the manor of Drayton. Thus Fastolf proved one of the early benefactors of Magdalen College. His armorial bearings are emblazoned on shields both on the wainscot and in the windows of the hall, and in the statutes of the founder (1481) the performance of masses for his soul was repeatedly enjoined on the college authorities. An old college joke nicknamed the seven 'demies,' or scholars, who benefited by Fastolf's bequest, 'Fastolf's buckram-men.'24
Fastolf's posthumous reputation was somewhat doubtful. Drayton eulogises him in his 'Poly-Olbion',25 but Shakespeare is credited with having bestowed on him a celebrity that is historically unauthorised. In the folio edition of Shakespeare's works Fastolf's name is spelt Falstaff when introduced into the 'First Part of Henry VI.' This may seem to give additional weight to the theory that the Sir John Falstaff of Shakespeare's 'Henry IV' and 'Merry Wives of Windsor' is a satiric portrait of Sir John Fastolf. Shakespeare represents Falstaff to have been brought up in the household of the Duke of Norfolk, as Fastolf is reported to have been. Fastolf had a house in Southwark, and his servant, Henry Windsor, wrote to John Paston, 27 Aug. 1458, that his master was anxious that he should set up at the Boar's Head in Southwark.26 Falstaff is well acquainted with Southwark, and the tavern where he wastes most of his time in the play is the Boar's Head in Southwark. The charge of cowardice brought against Fastolf at Patay supports the identification.
Shakespeare was certainly assumed by Fuller to have attacked Fastolf's memory in his Falstaff, for Fuller complained in his notice of Fastolf that 'the stage have been overbold with his memory, making him a thrasonical puff and emblem of mock valour.' The nickname bestowed on Fastolf's scholars at Magdalen in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries of 'Fastolf s buckram-men' is consistent with Fuller's view.
But that the coincidences between the careers of the dramatic Falstaff and the historic Fastolf are to a large extent accidental is shown by the ascertained fact that in the original draft of 'Henry IV' Falstaff bore the title of Sir John Oldcastle, and the name of Falstaff was only substituted in deference, it is said, to the wish of Lord Cobham, who claimed descent from Oldcastle. Mr. Gairdner suggests that Fastolf's reputed sympathy with Lollardism, which is by no means proved, encouraged Shakespeare to bestow his name on a character previously bearing the appellation of an acknowledged Lollard like Oldcastle. Shakespeare was possibly under the misapprehension, based on the episode of cowardice reported in 'Henry VI,' that the military exploits of the historical Sir John Fastolf sufficiently resembled those of his own riotous knight to justify the employment of a corrupted version of his name. It is of course untrue that Fastolf was ever the intimate associate of Henry V when Prince of Wales, who was not his junior by more than ten years, or that he was an impecunious spendthrift and greyhaired debauchee. The historical Fastolf was in private life an expert man of business, who was indulgent neither to himself nor to his friends. He was nothing of a jester, and was, in spite of all imputations to the contrary, a capable and brave soldier.
2. Norfolk Archaeology, vi. 125-31; Archaeologia, xliv. 12.
3. Stevenson, Letters and Papers relating to the French Wars under Henry VI, ii. 44-5.
4. Jean De Wavrin, Chronicques Anchiennes, ed. Dupont, i. 279-94, Société de l'Histoire de France.
5. Monstrelet, Chronique, ed. Douët-d'Arcq, Société de l'Histoire de France, iv. 329 et seq.; Basin, Histoire des Règnes de Charles VII et Louis XI, ed. Quicherat, i. 74, Soc. de l'Hist. de France; Vallet se Viriville, Histoire de Charles VII, 1863, ii. 84 et seq.
6. Act III, scene 2, 104—9; Act IV. scene 1, 9-47.
7. Stevenson, ii. 578-85.
8. £20 in 1441 was roughly equivalent in purchasing power to £13,800 in 2010.
Source: Measuring Worth.
9. i.e., "For notable and laudable service and good counsel."
10. Paston Letters, ed. Gairdner, i. 248.
11. ib. p. lxxxvi.
12. £437 in 1452 was roughly equivalent in purchasing power to £266,000 in 2010.
Source: Measuring Worth.
13. Paston Letters, i. 249.
14. ib. i. 358-68.
15. ib. i. 131.
16. ib. i. 389.
17. Scrope, History of Castle Combe, 1852, p. 193.
18. British Library Harleian MS. 2266.
19. Blades, The Biography and Typography of William Caxton, 1882, p. 191.
20. Paston letters, i. 410-11.
21. ib. i. 445-90.
22. 4,000 marks in 1459 was roughly equivalent in purchasing power to £1,620,000 in 2010.
Source: Measuring Worth.
23. £2643, 10d in 1459 was roughly equivalent in purchasing power to £1,620,000 in 2010.
Source: Measuring Worth.
24. Chandler, The Life of William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, p. 207; Hearne, Diary, quoted in J. R. Bloxam's Register of... Magdalen College, i. 89-90.
25. Michael Drayton, Poly-Olbion, Song XVIII, l. 528.
26. Paston Letters, i. 431.
Lee, Sidney L. "Sir John Fastolf"
Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. XVIII. Leslie Stephen, Ed.
New York: Macmillan & Co., 1889. 235-40.
Other Local Resources:
Books for further study:
Cooper, Stephen. The Real Falstaff: Sir John Fastolf and the Hundred Years' War.
Pen and Sword, 2011.
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