Caister Castle, Siege of

(1469)
   In July 1469, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, seized control of the royal government by capturing and confining EDWARD IV. The king’s detention created a leadership vacuum that allowed great noblemen to act as they pleased in their areas of influence. Because it is described in detail in the PASTON LETTERS, the siege of Caister Castle in Norfolk is the best-known consequence of the local lawlessness that flowed from Warwick’s coup. The violence at Caister is a prime example of the disorder that afflicted some parts of the country during the WARS OF THE ROSES.
   On 21 August 1469, less than a month after Warwick took the king into custody, John MOWBRAY, fourth duke of Norfolk, laid siege to Caister Castle, a fortified manor house in the possession of a Norfolk GENTRY family named Paston. Since 1459, Norfolk’s family had disputed possession of the house with the Pastons, who claimed it by right of inheritance from Caister’s wealthy builder, Sir John Fastolf. John MOWBRAY, the third duke of Norfolk, had contested Fastolf ’s will and briefly held Caister in 1461, until compelled by Edward to restore it to the Pastons. The two families continued the dispute in the courts until the fourth duke took advantage of royal weakness to resolve the issue by force. Sir John Paston, the head of his family in 1469, was in LONDON when his younger brother, also named John, found himself surrounded at Caister by a force said to number 3,000. With only twenty-seven defenders armed with crossbows and a few small guns, Paston was able to hold out for five weeks against the duke’s ARCHERS and ARTILLERY pieces. Although everyone was anxious to avoid bloodshed and damage to the house, the duke lost two men and Paston one. The elder Paston appealed to George PLANTAGENET, duke of Clarence, the king’s brother and Warwick’s ally, to help mediate a settlement. Thanks to Clarence’s intervention, Norfolk agreed to terms of surrender on 26 September, several weeks before the disorders in the kingdom (like the Caister siege) forced Warwick to release the king. Paston marched his men out of the house under a safe-conduct that allowed them to keep their ARMOR and horses, but forced them to abandon their arms, the castle’s furnishings, and all Sir John Paston’s private possessions. Because he needed Norfolk’s support, Edward IV failed to bring the duke to account for the siege. As a consequence, the Pastons became retainers of John de VERE, the Lancastrian earl of Oxford, and, in 1470, supported the restoration of HENRY VI; both brothers fought for Warwick at the Battle of BARNET in 1471. However, Edward IV’s victory ensured that Caister, which had been briefly returned to the Pastons during the READEPTION, remained in Norfolk’s possession until his death in 1476.
   Further Reading: Bennett, H. S., The Pastons and Their England: Studies in an Age of Transition, 2d ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Davis, Norman, ed., The Paston Letters and Papers of the Fifteenth Century, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971, 1976); Gies, Frances, and Joseph Gies, A Medieval Family: The Pastons of Fifteenth-Century England (New York: HarperCollins, 1998).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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