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The Siege of Caister Castle

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Detail from an original painting by Graham Turner of the Pastons and the Siege of Caister Castle, 1469
The Siege of Caister Castle - Original Painting The Siege of Caister Castle - Original Painting Ref: GT-CC

John Paston III organises the defence of Caister Castle from the besieging forces of the Duke of Norfolk, during the summer of 1469. Alongside him the Pastons' long-standing friend and retainer John Daubeney - 'Daub' - retrieves a crossbow bolt that has sailed over the wall, and 'cupshotten' William Penny spans his crossbow.

Following the death of Sir John Fastolf in 1459, his neighbour and advisor John Paston controversially claimed that the old warrior had bequeathed Caister Castle and his estates to him in a verbal deathbed will. Ten years later, the long-running dispute over ownership of the Norfolk castle exploded out of the law courts and into violent conflict when the Duke of Norfolk took advantage of the breakdown in royal authority after the Battle of Edgcote to escalate his claim and lay siege to the disputed castle.

John Paston had died in 1466 leaving his oldest son and heir Sir John Paston II to continue the family's struggle. While he sought support at court, his brother, confusingly also called John, was left in charge of the castle, commanding a small garrison which included four professional soldiers - '... they are proved men and cunning in the war and in feats of arms, and they can well shoot both guns and crossbows, and amend and string them, and devise bulwarks or anythings that should be a strength to the place; and they will, as need is, keep watch and ward. 'They are serious and well advised men, saving one of them which is bald and called William Penny, which is as good a man as goes on the earth, saving a little he will, I understand, be a little cupshotten' (in other words, he liked to drink).

On 21st August Norfolk's forces surrounded the castle. Three days later 'was a cruel day with guns fired at the castle'. While this demonstrated the seriousness of their purpose, the intention must have been to starve the garrison of food and supplies, rather than damage the castle itself. As John III and his companions struggled to survive in their isolated outpost, Sir John in London tried to find a solution, while also calming their mother in Norwich. On 12th September Margaret wrote to him saying; '... your brother and his fellowship stand in great jeopardy at Caister, and lack victuals; and Daubeney and Berney are dead and others greatly hurt, and they fail gunpowder and arrows, and the place sore broken with guns of the other part'. With the tension evident in their correspondence, Sir John replied to his mother's frantic letter saying; 'Mother, upon Saturday last was, Daubeney and Berney were alive and merry, and I suppose there came no man out of the place to you since that time that could have ascertained to you of their deaths.' With only limited information reaching them neither was correct; John Daubeney had indeed been killed by a crossbow bolt, most likely on 9th September, and in the escalating violence, two of the attackers had also lost their lives: John Colman and Thomas Mylys, killed by gunfire.

On 26th September, terms of surrender were issued by the Duke of Norfolk, with a reluctant offer of safe-conduct for John III and the garrison to 'depart and goo out of the seid manoir without delay... the seid fellasship having their lyves and goodes, horse and harneys (armour)... except gonnes, crosse-bowes, and quarelles...'. John III wrote to his brother explaining the situation: 'we were, for lack of victuals, gunpowder, men's hearts, lack of surety of rescue, driven thereto to take appointment'. In his defeat he remembered to praise his men; 'I pray you give them their thanks, for by my troth they have as well deserved it as any men that ever bare life'.

Original gouache painting by Graham Turner - image size 12.2"x 20.5" (31cm x 52cm) Note: When framed with a mount, the overall picture size will be larger. Painting is priced unframed.

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With its elegant tall tower, brick construction and high, stepped gables, Caister's design was clearly influenced by the castles Fastolf would have encountered in Europe, and the ruins that survive today only hint at what this impressive building must have looked like. Now an empty shell, the castle would have contained extensive ranges of buildings around its central courtyard, with a second structure alongside, of which only the lower wall now remains, pierced with many loopholes. The principal rooms would have been well-furnished and decorated; an inventory of the items inherited from Sir John Fastolf includes coin, plate, jewelry and tapestries, along with 'fetherbeddes', 'pillows stuffed with downe', 'koshyns of tapseri. In my Master Fastolffes chambre', 'carpettes', 'tabill clothes' and many other domestic items.

Surrounded by a moat, the castle's defenses also included gunloops built into the walls, and these weren't just for show - the castle's artillery had seen action against French raiders in 1458 when 'ye shotte many gonnes'. The inventory of 1462 referred to above also lists an impressive array of guns, ranging from large calibre weapons down to 'vij hande gonnes with other apparel longyng to the seid gonnes', along with other items of armour and weapons, including eight suits of white (polished) armour 'of old facion', ten brigandines 'febill', nine 'jakkes of horn, febill' (jacks reinforced with pieces of horn), ten bascinets, twenty-four sallets, six gorgets, nine bills and assorted pieces of armour and weapons, two mail habergeons 'and a barell to store hem' and four 'gret crossbows' of steel, 'ij of baleyn, iiij of ew'.
Caister
Prints are availablePrints are available

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