Sir John Fastolf - Encyclopedia

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SIR JOHN FASTOLF (d. 1459), English soldier, has enjoyed a more lasting reputation as in some part the prototype of Shakespeare's Falstaff. He was son of a Norfolk gentleman, John Fastolf of Caister, is said to have been squire to ThomasMowbray, duke of Norfolk, before 1398, served with Thomas of Lancaster in Ireland during 1405 and 1406, and in 1408 made a fortunate marriage with Millicent, widow of Sir Stephen Scrope of Castle Combe in Wiltshire. In 1413 he was serving in Gascony, and took part in all the subsequent campaigns of Henry V. in France. He must have earned a good repute as a soldier, for in 1423 he was made governor of Maine and Anjou, and in February 1426 created a knight of the Garter. But later in this year he was superseded in his command by John Talbot. After a visit to England in 1428, he returned to the war, and on the 12th of February 1429 when in charge of the convoy for the English army before Orleans defeated the French and Scots at the "battle of herrings." On the 18th of June of the same year an English force under the command of Fastolf and Talbot suffered a serious defeat at Patay. According to the French historian Waurin, who was present, the disaster was due to Talbot's rashness, and Fastolf only fled when resistance was hopeless. Other accounts charge him with cowardice, and it is true that John of Bedford at first deprived him of the Garter, though after inquiry he was honourably reinstated. This incident was made unfavourable use of by Shakespeare in Henry VI. (pt. i. act iv. sc. i.). Fastolf continued to serve with honour in France, and was trusted both by Bedford and by Richard of York. He only came home finally in 1440, when past sixty years of age. But the scandal against him continued, and during Cade's rebellion in 1451 he was charged with having been the cause of the English disasters through minishing the garrisons of Normandy. It is suggested that he had made much money in the war by the hire of troops, and in his later days he showed himself a grasping man of business. A servant wrote of him :- "cruel and vengible he Bath been ever, and for the most part without pity and mercy" (Paston Letters, i. 389). Besides his share in his wife's property he had large estates in Norfolk and Suffolk, and a house at Southwark, where he also owned the Boar's Head Inn. He died at Caister on the 5th of November 1459. There is some reason to suppose that Fastolf favoured Lollardry, and this circumstance with the tradition of his braggart cowardice may have suggested the use of his name for the boon companion of Prince Hal, when Shakespeare found it expedient to drop that of Oldcastle. In the first two folios the name of the historical character in the first part of Henry VI. is given as "Falstaffe" not Fastolf. Other points of resemblance between the historic Fastolf and the Falstaff of the dramatist are to be found in their service under Thomas Mowbray, and association with a Boar's Head Inn. But Falstaff is in no true sense a dramatization of the real soldier.

The facts of Fastolf's early career are to be found chiefly in the chronicles of Monstrelet and Waurin. For his later life there is much material, including a number of his own letters, in the Paston Letters. There is a full life by W. Oldys in the Biographia Britannica (1st ed., enlarged by Gough in Kippis's edition). See also Dawson Turner's History of Caister Castle, Scrope's History of Castle Combe, J. Gairdner's essay On the Historical Element in Shakespeare's Falstaff, ap. Studies in English History, Sidney Lee's article in the Dictionary of National Biography, and D. W. Duthie, The Case of Sir John Fastolf and other Historical Studies (1907). (C. L. K.)

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