FASTOLF, Sir JOHN (1380–1459, soldier and landowner)
Lot 78
FASTOLF, Sir JOHN (1380–1459, soldier and landowner)
£ 1,500 - 2,000
US$ 2,100 - 2,800

Lot Details
FASTOLF, Sir JOHN (1380–1459, soldier and landowner)
DOCUMENT MENTIONING SIR JOHN FASTOLF, issued in the name of John, Earl of Arundel, Lieutenant for the King and the Duke of Bedford, Regent in France, transferring to Guybon Barde and his men the guard and control of the town of Alençon, previously held by Sir Robert Harling, knight in the service of Sir John Fastolf ('...comme de nagueres guybon bbarde escuier lors mareschal dalencon ses freres et autres gens de guerre de la soulde dicelui lieu se soient mis dutout a la garde et gouvernement des chastel et ville dicelui lieu dont en paravant lavoit messire Robert harlyng chevalier soubz noble homme messire john ffastolf chevalier lieutenant de treshault et puissant prince monseigneur le duc de bedford Regent le royaume de France cappitaine dudit lieu dalencon...'), noting that according to Barde and his men, the town and castle had been left with insufficient defence, and that, despite taking over the defence and control of the town and its castle in the best interests of the King and the Regent, they had not received any remuneration since doing so, 1 oblong folio membrane (8½ x 14½ ins; 22 x 36 cm), on vellum, some creasing and staining, somewhat affecting legibility at right-hand edge of document, written in a neat lettre bâtarde script and signed at foot by the scribe, docketed on verso 'iiije liasse' (4th bundle), [the date of 4 March added in a later hand is incorrect], Alençon, Monday 4 May 1433


  • Only three other documents relating to Sir John Fastolf have been sold at auction in the last thirty-five years.

    Sir John Fastolf served under the Duke of Clarence in Aquitaine in 1412–1413 as deputy constable of Bordeaux and remained there as captain of Soubise and Veyres in 1413–14. He joined Henry V's expedition in 1415 and fought at Agincourt, and returned to Harfleur early in 1416 as a knight under the Duke of Exeter; he participated in the battle of Valmont and the siege of the town by the French. It was with Clarence and Exeter that he served from 1417 to 1421, being present at the sieges of Caen and Rouen. During Henry V's absence in England, he formed a group under the command of the Regent, John, Duke of Bedford, which carried forward the momentum of the conquest. Appointed Lieutenant in Normandy for a year in 1422, Fastolf was employed in clearing the region to the south-west of Paris, and held captaincies at Fresnay-le-Vicomte and Alençon. He was made a knight of the Garter in 1426. From the ransoms of his prisoners at this battle, who included the Duke of Alençon, he claimed to have gained 20,000 marks. In February 1429 he won the 'battle of the herrings' at Rouvray by using barrels of the fish as a stockade. Four months later, retreating with Lord Talbot from Beaugency, the rearguard was overwhelmed and only the van, under Fastolf, evaded death or capture by a rapid withdrawal. Talbot later charged Fastolf with cowardice and demanded his removal from the Order of the Garter. The case against him was still being heard in the 1440s and, although he was vindicated, his reputation was thoroughly tainted and his enemies taunted him as 'chevalier fuytif' ('a cowardly knight').

    When he returned to England in 1439 he acquired the Boar's Head tavern in Southwark (a property 'owned' by Shakespeare's Falstaff). At Caister in Norfolk he built a moated castle and furnished his houses to baronial standards. Despite his success and worldly wealth, he experienced twenty years of hostility and persecution that almost brought his ruin. His fortunes were caught up in the contentions of domestic politics not because he was actively involved in them, but because his background linked him to the opponents of the government and his lack of an heir attracted the covetous and unscrupulous.

    Although Shakespeare adapted Fastolf's name for his character Sir John Falstaff, the personality he gave him was wholly imaginary. In the original draft of Henry IV (1597) the companion of Prince Hal was the historically-correct Sir John Oldcastle who had also figured in the Famous Victories of Henry V (1594). Apparently to meet the objection of Oldcastle's descendant, Lord Cobham, Shakespeare changed the name to Falstaff, doubtless suggested by the fact that Fastolf had owned the Boar's Head tavern in Southwark. Shakespeare introduced the character of Oldcastle–Falstaff to emphasize Henry V's conversion on his accession from a life of riot and dissipation. 'The corpulent, cowardly, and mendacious Falstaff was the opposite of the austere and dedicated king who historically had repudiated his former companion Oldcastle on account of his Lollard beliefs. Fastolf himself was neither self-indulgent nor heterodox and was never among Henry's close friends. Falstaff's rumbustious and endearing character quickly took on a life of its own, becoming not merely the inspiration for The Merry Wives of Windsor but the subject of numerous musical adaptations, culminating in Verdi's Falstaff (1893) and Vaughan Williams's Sir John in Love (1935), and in the film Chimes at Midnight (1966), in which the director, Orson Welles, himself played Falstaff' (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).
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