The Troubles of the Yorkshire Plumptons

K.R. Dockray introduces a West Riding family of Percy retainers, whose land-holdings suffered from the Wars of the Roses and from legal disputes.

The Paston Letters survive as the earliest large collection of private correspondence in the English language, and the Pastons are the most famous of medieval gentry families. By comparison the Yorkshire family of Plumpton is virtually unknown, and their letters little used. Part of the reason for this is clear enough. The Paston letters have proved a gold mine not only for social history, but also for the political intricacies of the Wars of the Roses c. 1455-1485.

Most of the Plumpton letters, however, belong to the reign of Henry VII, the man who ended not only the Wars of the Roses but allegedly the Middle Ages as well, and the Plumpton correspondents have much less to say on matters of state. Moreover their interest lies chiefly in the late medieval land market and in the laws governing it.

Nevertheless, these letters have been unduly neglected, particularly as a source for northern society and its attitudes at the end of the Middle Ages. They present a picture of a West Riding gentry family not so politically aware as the Pastons, but certainly neither uninvolved in, nor unaffected by, the politics of the time.

Fifteenth-century Yorkshire, remote from London and in many respects a law unto itself, certainly had its share of the economic difficulties and lawlessness of the age, as well as enduring the seemingly ever-present threat of invasion from Scotland.

Yorkshire society, not surprisingly, had its own fierce loyalties, especially to the powerful Percy and Neville families whose crucial role in the Wars of the Roses has long been recognized. Many Yorkshire gentry thought it prudent to seek protection from one or the other, and the Plumptons were no exception.

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