The Chaucer Lecture: What the Paston Women Read

Professor Diane Watt (University of Surrey)
In this fascinating lecture, Professor Diane Watt will explore how the women in the Paston Letters interacted with the books they owned, shared and borrowed.

We are delighted to host Professor Diane Watt to deliver this year's Chaucer Lecture, 'What the Paston Women Read'. This talk will take place in the Templeman Lecture Theatre, with a reception to follow.

Diane Watt is Professor of Medieval English Literature at the University of Surrey. She has published widely in the areas of medieval literature, women's writing, and gender and sexuality. Her most recent book is Women, Writing and Religion in England and Beyond, 650-1100 published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2019. She is currently working on a book entitled God’s Own Gentlewoman: The Life of Margaret Paston which will be published with Icon Books.


The fifteenth-century Paston correspondence provides unique insights into the lives and book ownership of a late medieval gentry family, and includes many letters written by women. Yet, the most prolific of the correspondents, Margaret Mautby Paston, was almost certainly unable to write, and very probably to read either, and she called upon her sons, servants, and chaplain to act as her scribes. Other of the women found themselves in the same position. However, having limited or no literacy skills did not necessarily prevent access to literary culture. Indeed, there is abundant evidence within the Paston correspondence of women owning, inheriting, bequeathing, lending, and borrowing books, which were quite frequently exchanged within extended familial and friendship networks. In this lecture, Professor Watt will build on her previous research for the article 'The Paston Women and Chaucer' by looking at three of the women in the family—Agnes Berry Paston, her daughter-in-law Margaret Mautby Paston and Margaret’s daughter Elizabeth Paston (Yelverton)—and the books that were in their possession or that they may have read, in order to speculate about why they may have been interested in these works and how they might have influenced them.

This annual lecture series, now running for more than a decade, draws leading international scholars to our beautiful campus in Canterbury and is a signature feature of the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies' research programme. In addition to our traditional annual lectures, The Anselm Lecture, The Chaucer Lecture, and The Renaissance Lecture, we are pleased to announce that this year we will host the inaugural The Aphra Behn Lecture. This new lecture, focusing on literature and art from the early modern period, is expressly committed to principles of equality, diversity, and inclusivity.

Booking details

This lecture will take place in the Templeman Lecture Theatre. It will also be streamed online on Zoom. To register for the Zoom link, please use the following form: