Prince William, the only son of Henry I, and the whole company of the White Ship with its noble passengers, sank in the English Channel, Berold the Rouen butcher alone surviving to tell the dreadest tale of 1120. From Normandy in great gaiety they were coming, and when the crashing rock split their vessel into pieces, the gallant prince in vain efforts to save the life of his natural sister, the Countess of Perche, was drowned, to the consternation of England and the inconsolable grief of a souless king.
In that same year, during the spring, and before the disaster of 25th November, which ended the male succession of that Norman dynasty that he had served so long and loyally, the dapifer also died.
It was a saddest of times to the whole people; for Henry had courted and gained the affection of the Angles, more than he had perhaps kept that of his own race, by his charters, his return to the laws of Edward the Confessor, his administration of justice by circuits and all good means, and by his marriage to Matilda, the grandchild of Edgar Atheling, the fated prince's high-born mother.
To Eudo the tragedy would have been, were he alive, a greater grief than to all other men, the king alone excepted. Had he not been first servant and subject to three of these great descendants of Rollo, the kings who were his own relations ? and had he not looked forward to the reign of a fourth, with whose person and education he had been so long conversant ? This young brave William would have well kept up and advanced the traditions of the Williams to whom Eudo owed so much, and for whom he had toiled so watchfully.
The twenty years from the accession of Henry, though successful for Eudo, had been troubled and dangerous. When on the death of his own King Rufus in 1100, doubts began to spread as to whether England and Normandy had not better be united under the elder Robert, the dapifer's state became fluctuating. His adherence to Henry was less ardent than the revengeful Beauclerc thought loyal to him. Some of the best of the Normans longed to have one ruler over their various estates in the two countries, for all reasons of policy and comfort. Robert de Belesme was the leader, and his failure was as bitter as the slighted Henry was unrelenting, to the utter ruin of his brother's party.
Fortune smiled everywhere on the Conqueror's youngest son, and in 1106 he himself had secured the very union many wished, by Curthose's defeat at Tenchbrai and subsequent imprisonment for life.
Eudo's full cup was never nearer spilling than in the trying crisis, and that he weathered such storms, shows sagacity of an extra-ordinary kind.
It came, however, to this point with the suspicious Henry, that Eudo's wife, Rohaise Clare; her uncle, Walter Giffard, bishop of Winchester; and Peter of Valoniis, or Peter de Valence, ancestor of the royal earls of Pembroke - a son of one of Eudo's sisters and of the Petrus de Valoniis who as sheriff of Hertford appears, with Geffrey de Mandeville, sheriff of Essex, and Ralph Barnard of Middlesex, in William the Conqueror's charter separating the temporal and spiritual courts (see Ancient Laws and Institutes); had to use their powers of intervention to bring matters into peace. Count Gilbert of Tunbridge, and earl of Clare, her brother, had gained great position by his support of Henry, and Rohaise dreaded his ambition, or that of some other of the successful party, for the supplanting of her husband from his hereditary office. Stripped of this, he might be stripped of more.
But she being of that very noble chief of Normans, to wit, Richard who was the son of Count Gilbert, Eudo was not dispossessed, says the chronicler, “for his wife's sake”. This Richard Fitz-Gilbert was the Conqueror's greatest captain, and justice of England. He had married Rose Giffard, daughter of Walter Giffard, of whom afterwards in discussions of lineage. It is to be presumed that Eudo's politic hand was in the balancing of the sister's interest against the brother's probable ambition, founded on high services to Henry; and these two Clares at this crisis preserved their traditional nobility of action. Count Gilbert and more of her brothers and relations were all gained over; and the placing of the foundation of a new prosperity for the dapifer was made.
The Harleian MS., 312, has saved extracts from the monasterial register of his abbey of Colchester, and one of them is the remission of all grudges by Henry I against his minister, the confirmation to him of the feudal lordship of Colchester, and the possession of its castle and tower. Both words are mentioned, and this might explain the discussion about the date “1090” in part of a modern building, on the site of which tradition says was Eudo's private Colchester residence. It is not improbable that the remnant of ancient wall thus preserved was part of the turris mentioned in the manuscript. There does not seem any other notice of two fortified places, and it is hardly likely that legal tautology is the explanation. That he lived in a private residence, separate from the castle, is against all the ways of his rank and time; and his occupation of the tower part of the whole lordship may be the popular authentic tradition of “Eudo's house”.
The signatures to this remission and confirmation are extremely useful. His power rose higher than it had ever been. Under the Conqueror he may have been dapifer of England and Normandy; under Rufus his own policy gave him only the stewardship of England; in Henry's reign he was full minister for the then united kingdom. The shortest and clearest proofs of this last fact are contained in the charter to his own abbey at Colchester, “Eudo, dapifer of my lord the king of all the Anglican kingdom”, and in the record of one of his relations getting the dapifership of Normandy at a subsequent period by the claim of its hereditary tenure in Eudo Sinclair's family. Unfortunately there does not seem to be a, date to the charter, and as the abbey was finished and consecrated in 1104, it may have been given before Henry I had possession of Normandy. The proof would have been doubly complete, had its date been subsequent to 1106; no long time for the monastery to wait for its founder's endowment. On the evidence given, it is proved that in Henry's time he held both dapiferships.
Nothing is more an axiom in court and political experience than that nil desperandum is the sagacious motto of the born statesman. Wolsey's is pulpit sentiment that when a man falls he must fail “like Lucifer, never to hope again”. Eudo was not the man likely to “Fall into the compass of a praemunire” either of hierarchical or political nature; or, if he did, he would not sit down and lick his chains but use his power and break them. Only monastic tempers get weary of the real world, and his vigour continues in those twenty years of Henry's reign as full as though he had not the weight of dignified and venerable age upon him. He came into, and kept, the strong grace and favour of the king, who was as stubborn in his likings as he was fell in his hate.
The details of Eudo's political and social doings, by their very success, have not left much record; but it is noticeable that religious devotion grew on him as he neared the end of the continued sovereignty, rather than pilgrimage, of his rich life. It was not in England, but in his native Normandy, that he breathed his last. He died a brilliant example of a good man who lived according to the Christian ritual of his time. Around his deathbed in his castle of Preaux, France, stood, with the reverence or interest that could alone bring such personages there, Henry, king of England and Normandy, Geoffrey, bishop of Rouen, and Turstan, archbishop of York. In their presence he did the duties of a dying man. To all whom he owed anything, either for their service or whatever else, he directed payment to be made. His last days were passed in continual penitence and sorrow for sin, in confession again and again, in absolution, and in penance severe even then, according to the directions of these high dignitaries of the Galilean and Anglican churches. With the king's sanction, and their witness, he divided all his fortune as his practised wisdom and clear mind dictated. When this was done, he made his surrounding relations, and his personal following, give their solemn word, that by all they owed to him they would take his body to his own abbey which he had built at Colchester. Says the chronicle,
‘Ita Eudo uti bonus Christianus, poenitens, pectus tundens, et Dei invocans misericordiam, ultimum efflavit spiritum’. His noble wife was still beside him in this, the dark shadow, as she had been his faithful companion in all the life difficulties of the thirty-two years of their devoted partnership, Bonquet quotes, in a note, a writer in Latin, that Eudo was
‘an old man and blind’.
Rose Clare, one of England's earliest and greatest ladies, could not be too much honoured by volumes written in her praise. When it grew certain that he was not to rise again in health, her continual prayer to God was that with His will she might not survive a whole year
‘so dear and so noble a man’, (Cott. MS.) It was a great grief to her that the pride of her brothers, the Clares, and of her relations, who were then securing her claim to be a queen, prevented the wish of her heart to accompany her husband Eudo's remains herself to the loved abbey of Colchester. She would have been made queen, too, had she not been the prophetess of her own desired fate. Within the year she died, to the keen disappointment of her ambitious friends; and not an aged woman, for though so long the wife of Eudo, she had married him when under age. Her last directions also, were to be laid in the abbey of Colchester, beside him whom she loved so deeply; but by her brothers, who had lost their secular game, and did not care for spiritual things, she was buried instead at the famous monastery of Bee. It is perhaps gratuitous of the chronicler to add that they did this to save expense.
While she was alive such a compromise could not happen to her husband's remains. She took care that it reached England. When it arrived, and, as it appears, having gone by way of London, it was met coming from the west by all the monks a mile from the coenobium, or monastery, with a large accompanying crowd, not only of the townspeople but from distant places. When they reached the abbey, a miracle of a kind the whole world apart from the frequent, too frequent, monastic ones, astounded the multitude. Another solemn procession had just come, like this great one from the west, from the north, and, grief added to grief, it was found that Walter Sinclair, the nephew of Eudo, was being brought to the same family resting-place, by accidental if not miraculous concurrence. Under one monument the uncle and nephew wore laid, with the highest honours of sepulture,
‘die pridie Kalend. Martiarum, anno Domini,1120’. His tenderness for his loved Colchestrians appeared even then; for, that they should not be burdened with the expense of this celebration, he had willed for the purpose the manor of Bryht Lyngeseia, and a hundred librae denariorum, besides his gold ring with a signet of precious topaz. His cup ornamented with plates of gold, within and without, of fine workmanship, was given to the abbey. The abbot, however, Gilbert, a monk from the Bee monastery, who took the place of Hugo, gave it to King Henry, asking in return the royal approval of Eudo's grant of the manor and gifts which were kept. It is possible that the Dapifer's cup may be still somewhere among the royal precious vessels of the kingdom, most probably, however, in other shape.
Nor did his wife Rose Clare forget to send similar last gifts to their own abbey. She sent four phylacteries, two serica pallica, one silver calix, and one silver censer. She gave, like her husband, a final gift of land, Tholi in Halyngeberia. It was not her fault that some of the yet unborn King Richards took violent possession of it from the abbey. As much as woman could be such a man, she was Eudo. Besides building with him, she built and ornamented other religious houses. Near Rouen she built a xenodochium at her own expense. She was truly a woman known in all the churches; for not only were her presents of gold, of silver, and of that needlework in which Norman-English ladies excelled so much, to be seen among the ornaments of home churches, but of those beyond sea. The finest, because most womanly part of all her delightful character, can close a chapter that may well linger if dearness of subject is excuse for delay.
It was shortly after Eudo had been the means of establishing William Rufus on the throne of England, himself then a great, the greatest, statesman and officer in the land, that he was so human as to be caught by especially the beauty of the eyes of this dear Rose, then a girl of fourteen, in her father's halls at Tunbridge Castle, Kent. His admiration she returned with an enthusiasm told by the fact they were married before she was fifteen. If ever two became one they did. Who could wonder at Rufus's pleasure in giving Colchester Castle to the young wife with her husband, as a fully compensating home for her father Earl Richard's fort and palace united, as was the mode of the chief Norman homes, the greatest warrior of Hastings field. She loved her husband as he well deserved. The Latin word is, she
‘worshipped him, and with wonderful zeal, with wonderful affection’ Rose Clare and Eudo St.Clare were the living poem of their period.
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