Material culture in Fifteenth-century England: the case of Sir John Fastolf (1380-1459)
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date16/01/2024
John Fastolf (1380-1459) from a minor gentry family in Norfolk, spent much of his adult life as a soldier in the Lancastrian Wars in France, becoming enormously wealthy in the process thanks largely to the ‘spoils of war’. The subject of this thesis is an investigation of Fastolf’s expenditure of this great wealth, with particular focus on his acquisition of material goods. Current scholarly interpretations of Fastolf are built on the assumption that he maintained a high degree of outward estate, filling Caister Castle, his family home in Norfolk, with costly material possessions. However, assessments of Fastolf as a consumer are based on little more than two inventories cataloguing the goods at Caister. Superficially, the catalogued items appear to constitute an extensive array of expensive merchandise. In reality, close inspection of the documentation reveals a commonplace assortment. As for Fastolf’s taste for lavish expenditure, analysis of his financial accounts reveals that he kept spending to a minimum. This policy enabled an accumulation of large cash reserves, much of which facilitated his various business ventures, including speculating on the grain market and his long-term policy of lending money at interest. A reassessment of Fastolf’s acquisition of material goods carries important implications for fifteenth-century English patronage generally. A case in point is Fastolf’s tapestries, regularly cited as robust evidence of his proclivities for ostentatious display. This is based on an understanding of tapestry as an extremely costly product. However, a range of primary source documents reveal that low- and medium-quality tapestries were collected by the majority of English patrons. A significant aspect of this thesis is a consideration of the source of these tapestries, and the possibility that some may have been woven in England. Firmly held views of Fastolf as a cultured bibliophile are similarly open to question. In particular, the proposition that Fastolf’s book collection not only surpassed the libraries of other English households in terms of literary merit, but that these volumes once graced the French royal library. Apart from the observation that there are no rare titles, nothing that does not appear in other English sources, this assumption takes no account of the vibrancy of fifteenth-century English literary culture. A fundamental aspect of this thesis is a consideration of Fastolf’s acquisitions within the socio-economic framework of the period. To this end a wide range of ancillary contemporary English source material has been consulted, including: parliamentary records; Plea and Memoranda Rolls of the City of London; inventories and household accounts; as well as the writings of contemporary chroniclers, poets, and advisory texts.