Of those lithe athletic figures in armour on horseback around William, duke of Normandy, on that famous October day of 1066 near Hastings, nine at least were Sinclairs. With the Greek-like ease familiar from fine expression in tapestry, they moved in the inmost circles of his gallant surrounding. Hubert Sinclair, earl of Rye, was still in the strength of manhood, though he had near him his four sons in the flower of warriorhood. Radulph was the eldest, Hubert second, Adam third, and Eudo the youngest. The earl of St.Clare, Walderne, the brother of the earl of Rye, was also there, with his three sons, Richard, Britel, and William. It is not improbable that the earl of Senlis, though then a French and not a Norman subject, also added with his sons to the roll of “De Sancto Claro” in the decisive contest for England's sovereignty. Of him, however, there is no record existing with this established. The others are discernible in wonderful distinctness through those more than eight hundred succeeding years. Many of them, no doubt, did doughty feats at Senlac.
One is immortalised; and, considering how events suffer under the tooth of time, several more have been very kindly rescued from oblivion by the fates of the chances. In Wace's Roman de Rou, written within hearsay memory of living witnesses of the Norman Conquest, there is this passage in an admittedly very faithful description of the battle of Hastings, the chief event in his history of Rollo's line:
‘Dunc puinst Hue de Mortimer,
Od li Sire d'Anvilier;
Cil d Onebac e de Saint Cler
Engleiz tirent mult enverser’
It was at a critical point of the fight that this Sinclair, Richard, the son of Walderne,
‘overthrew many of the Angles’.
Angles they were, and not for a moment “English”, as we now understand the word. To dub the Normans with the name of Frenchmen, and so to gain sympathy for the supposed patriotic side, was hardly ingenuous procedure on the part of some late fanatical historians. We have as much honour now from the deeds of the brilliant conquerors as of the brave conquered of that memorable field. It may not be granted to some writers that the majority of present names is Norman, but we have all the fame of every gallant deed on both sides. It is not an enviable distinction, to have given an evil twist to the facts of this finest chapter in the growth of a great people, when Normannic united with Celtic and Saxon blood to form what Americans and others, with conscious meaning, call the Britisher. If there was patriotism it went on a false scent, and judicious treatment of history was left in the background.
Our Freemans and our Froudes are passionate pleaders to contemporisms when they might be aspirants to immortality in their line of art. It has been said of William of Malmesbury that his account of the grossness of the Angles or Saxons and of the refinement of the Normans, was probably true, because he had the blood of both in his veins; one could almost think that the historian special of the Conquest had discovered in his honest enough researches, that he was a descendant of some Saxon bondman, and felt therefore bound to see nothing good in what like the chronic Irishman he assails as the oppressor. There is a subtle truth in the saying that Herewald was the last of the English. He was the wake of the brave but brutal Angles; and it is reason for thankfulness that too much of the Teutonic, partially Tartaric, grating grit, is not conspicuous in our national composition.
At the warriors' table on the night of the battle, spread among the dead, where forsworn presumptuous Harold's standard all day had stood, these Sinclairs were; and there they also slept the sleep in mankind's estimation perhaps the most dignified possible on earth, that of conquerors after victory. On that very spot, Battle Abbey was to rise, as if to guard their memories for ever with its shelter; and it has not been altogether unsuccessful. Its roll of heroes, broken, and perhaps fuller also than it should be, still keeps the “lord of St.Cler” as one. The head of the then great family, Walderne, earl of St.Clare, had his name on the memorable list, the representative of all. It is true that “Richard de Saint Clair” is expressly mentioned in the roll in the church of Dives, Normandy, of the companions of the Conqueror in 1066; but this does not conflict, seeing that the warriors had then only first names, and were designated after some one or other of their estates. Huberts and Walters of various localities occur in the list. Through the advance to coronation and complete possession of the country, the family followed worthily their great chief; and their services are well seen by the offices they filled.
Dark gaps come in the history of kings themselves so far away in time; it is not wonder that there are clouds often over their noblest supporters. The sons of Hubert Sinclair, earl of Rye, can, however, be followed.
Radulph was sent with troops northward to secure the heart of England, and he was made castellan and earl of Nottingham. To him the castle of Nottingham was given to keep, and keep it well he did.
Another Radulph, of another strain, a semi-Saxon, had got the tower of Norwich to guard; but he was the worst traitor of the marriage-feast which cost Waltheof his head in 1075. After this Radulph of Waer took to flight, the young Hubert Sinclair was sent to take and hold it.
His cousin Richard, the hero of Hastings, went with him; and Domesday has its account of the pain and blood it cost to restore all the disorder. The lands of the rebellious burghers knew the necessary fire and sword. Hubert became the governor with the hand of iron, and Richard had gifts of land and house in the district where the soldiers had done soldiers' duty. Richard also was to the front among the high war and court officers of the time.
Adam got lands in Kent. He is known as “of Campes” there. His possessions were large; but all men were warriors who followed the duke of Normandy, and only the oblivion of time and the frequency of the military heroes, hide him in this character also. When troubles began in 1066 in Normandy, King William had sent him and his two brothers, afterwards the castellan of Nottingham and the governor of Norwich Tower, with their father Hubert, to quell the Cenomannic region, the most refractory part of the dukedom.
In the battle of Hastings itself, the rebellious spirit appeared, in the person of one of the Cenomannic nobles; and it needed good counsel and prompt hands to deal with them, their duke away in England. The work had been thoroughly done, and the sons returned to this side of the Channel. Adam was one of the able commissioners who compiled that wonder of the world, as to state record, The Domesday Book. It was the civil capacity of such born rulers that put the right finish to their valour and skill in war. The first opportunities which peace gave, were always eagerly taken advantage of, to shape things into beautiful civil polity.
When the father and three brothers went thus back to Normandy on that weighty enterprise, Eudo the youngest remained with the king, and of them all he was destined to become the greatest. He was in the king's immediate service, and his history is as remarkable as it is full.
Britel Sinclair was sent to Devonshire. In the fighting around Exeter he bore his share; and, when quiet came, he settled in Somersetshire and Cornwall.
What became of William, the youngest son of Walderne, is perhaps the most interesting, as it is at all events the most celebrated, of all the narratives of the Sancto de Claro family, whose representatives thus surrounded and followed their duke and their relation, when he conquered, with most masculine vigour, the malcontents of his plighted kingdom of England.