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MARGARET SINCLAIR, COUNTESS OF ESSEX

It would be easy to write pictorially about the early years of Margaret, Eudo Dapifer and Rose Clare's only daughter. In the grand military surroundings of Colchester Castle, half palace, half garrison of control over hostile, repressed, but brave Saxons, the elements were at work which go to form one of the high types of men and women. Courage, drill, beauty of order among soldiers, from governor to plainest warder; high spirit, decorative ability, and the inspiration which comes only from love and danger and great wealth united, among the ladies, from the thoroughbred infant to the chivalric grandmother of many heroic tales: such a home was the right scene for the upbringing of the mother of the “great Geffrey Mandeville”. The clank of armour was continual music in her ears, and special occasions of assembling of the panoply of successful war were ninnorous, in this castle fifty miles from London, where danger had its visually quite regular threatenings of revolt, or of invasion from France or from Saxony to its Norwegian limits.

Her grandfather from Tunbridge Castle, Richard Fitz-Gibert, earl of Clare, the Conqueror's greatest captain and the justice of England, would be a frequent figure in Eudo's genial home, and her four brave uncles would probably be as often with their sister Rose's family as their military and civil duties permitted. All that was high and inspiriting in civil or military life had a popular centre where the dapifer held his private and popular court; and nowhere else in the country could, and did, royalty more freely take its ease from state care. Dim those far days are, but not dark. There is sufficient fact to guide a careful imagination to full realisation of the splendid vigorous time which, more than all other periods, has gone to the making of this nation of the nations. It is perhaps a matter most for private musing. Progress calls now for the hand to plainer but quite as satisfactory work.

Margaret must, after no doubt one of the best educations that human chance has, first appear historically as the wife of William Mandeville, the second earl of Essex. The husband was worthy of her, though it was by the right of her and her family he became earl. His father was Geffrey Mandeville, or, as they said then, Geffrey of Magna Villa, his land near Valognes or Valence, in Normandy. He came to England with the Conqueror, and was one of his brave warriors of Hastings. He got more than a hundred lordships or estates here in different counties. His king's largest gift was the land which Aesgar Stallere, the Saxon earl of Essex, had, though he did not add the title. Instead of this he was made sheriff or viscount of Middlesex, Essex, and Hertfordshire, which was probably as good in the way of wealth as the third part of the taxes which was the following of the title of earl then.

Geffrey was twice married. His first wife was Athelaise, buried at Westminster, of which land her husband had the fourth. She was mother of William Mandeville. Geffrey's second wife, Dugdale says, was Leceline, though some have her name as Muriel. All are agreed that she was the sister of Eudo Dapifer; and that she had some of his spirit, is evident by the fact that she was the foundress of Hurley monastery in Berkshire. She had a son Osberne, as has been already noted, who had descendants, probably altogether lost in the rich stream of English ordinary life. One of them was Walyaine, but for the present their history is not wanted.

This Norman, Geffrey, was the first constable of the tower of London, and was one of the earliest to wear armorial distinctions, a carbuncle for remarkable part of them. Freeman has interesting notices of him, founded on study of Domesday Book. This, for example: ‘One grant of lands recorded in Domesday (ii. 59) would seem to belong to the very first days of William's reign. Lands in Essex which had belonged to a certain Leofsuna, appear as the property of Geffrey of Mandeville, with the comment Hoc manerium dedit Rex G. quando remansit Londoniae.’ But it must be said that the grasping character, as he thinks, of the Mandevilles does not find favour in his prejudiced sight. He is right enough that they took as much as they could get, but that was the order of the day; and it testifies to their courage and ability that they succeeded well in the stormiest of times.

Margaret Sinclair's husband, William, would please this historian better, both from the mildness of his own character and his relationship to Eudo Dapifer, Freeman's only favourite among the haughty persevering Normans. One thing is particularly remarkable of him. Though titular earl of Essex, as well as substantial earl, he does not seem of so ostentatious a temper as his father. The coat of arms he changed to plain, and the prominent carbuncle was put aside altogether. It is not likely that the countess had most to say to this, for her son Geffrey, and sons are in such matters often of one mind with their mothers, restored the carbuncle, and probably improved on his grandfather's general displaying. She had a daughter, Beatrice, and her history is as remarkable in a womanly way as her only brother Geffrey's was as the first man of his times.

The son Geffrey's doings are a notable part of English history. The chronicles are full of him and his deeds. He lived in the time when Matilda, the empress, daughter of Henry I, and Stephen were so bitterly striving for the crown. Hugh Bigod, dapifer at the death of Henry, came over from Normandy with his tale that the dying king had there disinherited his daughter, and he imitated, somewhat successfully as imitations go, the political feat of Eudo as king-maker, by getting Stephen crowned by the archbishop of Canterbury on the strength of his report. He had his reward by being made the earl of Norfolk, first of his family, getting the third penny and other usual returns of that county. He gained Geffrey Mandeville, then earl of Essex, constable of the tower, and who was the superior of London, much against the municipal will, then even beginning to wake. It was owing to this accession of strength more than to any other circumstance, that Stephen's standing was not like that of Harold, merely a few fighting days.

Geffrey got all kinds of honours and promises heaped upon him, and what seemed to please him most of all, he, as lord of the tower, got the citizens of London wholly put into his hands. He and they were the bitterest of enemies, though it is difficult to discover the cause. He calls them, in some of the records, his enemies, with peculiar determination of temper. The most probable explanation is that the quarrel between Norman supremacy by the rule of strength, and the Anglo-Saxon aspiration to not only self-rule but some kind of revengeful assertion, was hottest where the two powers were at their greatest central strength. Geffrey Mandeville, Margaret Sinclair's son, chief in the tower, which he strengthened and made much more formidable than even it previously was, and the boiling strength of Saxon manliness surging outside, storm of the strongest force kept running. Were it not that the dynastic struggle gave other objects to divert attention, London-at-the-Tower would then have been the scene of feudal and municipal bloodshed till the strongest hand prevailed. He had a new charter of the earldom of Essex from Stephen, of which the witnesses were William of Iypres; Henry of Essex, the standard bearer of England; John, the son of Robert Fitz-Walter, a Clare; Robert Newburgh; William de St.Clare, of whom by-and-bye; William de Dammartin; Richard Fitz-Urse; and William of Ou.

Whatever were the reasons, Geffrey did not hold by Stephen. He may have been jealous of Bigod, as dapifer and new earl of Norfolk. Through his mother, the daughter of Eudo Dapifer, he must have had a better claim to the office than the Bigods, who had it immediately on the death of Eudo in 1120. Geffrey might not then have been of age to claim his rights, and the Bigods were related certainly through marriage to Eudo. Stephen could not possibly dispossess him to whom he owed his crown, even if Geffrey might show his superior rights. In any case, Bigod's good fortune boded ill for Mandeville, and should there be no other politic reasons of self-preservation, not to say aggrandisement, the espousal of Matilda's cause was wise on his part.

The earl of Gloucester, Robert Consul, her brother and champion, being married to a Sinclair, as will appear yet more fully, the interest of the countess of Essex's family would be on the side of Henry I's daughter; and this might also say most for their civilisation and sense of justice. Matilda gave Geffrey her charter to his earldom of Essex when he came over to her. He grew thoroughly awake to the trick that had been put upon England by Bigod, the dapifer, for Stephen's election. The charter is of antiquarian interest, as well as historic and biographic, because it is one of the very earliest writings by which nobility was created, tenure being the rule previously, and most in practice afterwards. Matilda calls herself “domina Anglorum” in it, after the style of her father's ordinary charters of foundation and grant, and the creation reads in its chief part - ‘I give and grant to Geffrey Mandeville for his own use and for his heirs after him hereditarily, that he may be the earl of Essex, and may have the third penny of the taxes of the county as the earl is accustomed to have in his county’.

It would hardly be evidence of the two previous earls' occupancy of this title and office, to put forward the use and wont character of the end of this extract, but it may be allowed as favouring such a state of things. General legal reference it may be, though the Normans were not wasters of words in the kind of work. But this was only part of Geffrey's favours from Matilda. He seems to have got whatever he wished, and the nature of the man was to wish a great deal. Consciousness of strength is certainly as good an explanation of such search as ambition. She gave him the constableship of the tower of London, with the authority over the citizens which he had contended long for; and if he used his power, he does not appear to have abused it, though there never was any love lost between him and those in his lordship, unlike in this to his grandfather Eudo with the Colchestrians.

Perhaps the great awakening of London to its future importance accounts best for the warfare. It would have then two or three hundred thousand inhabitants, and the public spirit of such a number would be galled by the Norman ability to rule, if no other way were possible, by the strong head and the strong hand. He was also made hereditary sheriff or viscount, of London in particular, as also of Middlesex and Hertfordshire like his grandfather Geffrey, the Conqueror's captain. He paid 300 for the Middlesex and 60 for the Hertfordshire sheriffship, which were large sums as money then went: so that the empress could drive bargain well enough with her best favourites, the necessities of war being always clamant. His father, William, the second earl of Essex, does not seem to have been of the active, but of the amiable temper, and may not have had these offices.

Perhaps Geffrey owed his energy most to his mother. Her hand may be expected to have been at work in the next advance her son had. Whoever had them till now, Matilda granted him all the lands in Normandy of his mother's father, Eudo Dapifer, with Eudo Sinclair's office also of dapifer or steward of Normandy; and these are mentioned as being “his rightful inheritance”. The information comes from the best state sources, “From the great register in the office of the duchy of Lancaster”.

This was not all. Not only did he get these grants, but one of Matilda's charters adds that, if she and the earl of Anjou her husband should think fit, Geffrey must get all the lands in England whereof the same Eudo died possessed; and no doubt this would also gain for him the dapifership of England. She mentions at the same time 100 lands, and also twenty knights' fees of land which she had recently given him. His eldest son Ernulph received 100 lands and ten knights' fees of land, 100 land in addition to be taken from escheated manors. If she got Castle Stortford in the fighting, it was to be his and his heirs for ever. Through all her long struggle she kept favouring Geffrey for the very good reason that he was so powerful to help her cause. His family castle was Walden, but he was allowed to build Plessy Castle, Wye Castle, and at the peace of London she gave him special permission to build another, pledging her brother, Robert, earl of Gloucester, Henry Curcy, her steward, and Henry of Essex, the standard-bearer of England, of whom Carlyle makes perhaps too much fun in Past and Present as a Saxon runaway whom Norman bravery prevented doing the worst of all military harm. She seems also to have completed her grant to him of Eudo's lands in England, without proviso, the completion being made at Westminster.

That he well deserved all this from his rightful queen, Henry of Huntingdon's chronicle is ample proof. In the same year, says Henry, in which Stephen assaulted Lincoln unsuccessfully, the ninth of his usurpation (1144), ‘the earl or consul, Geffrey Mandeville, powerfully harassed the king, and, eminent over all, shone strongly’. His seizure by Stephen in open meeting of king and barons at St.Albans, is one of the great events of English history around which much discussion of personal rights has always been held. The king never attempted to justify the proceeding, except by necessity. If he did not seize Geffrey, his power and favour with Matilda would lose Stephen his crown; and he had stretched so many points already for this, that a new injustice could not seem to have quite its proper nature to him. Geffrey was stripped of the tower of London, and of his castles of Walden, Plessy, and the rest. He was kept in prison for some time, and when it was safe to liberate him, Stephen, Henry of Huntingdon says, ‘restored to him the tower of London and the castle of Walden and that of Plaisseiz’. His lands were, however, not to be got again; and this made the ablest man in England the most desperate.

He seems to have cast away these remnants of his power altogether, and Radulph Niger, the chronicler of the Cottonian MSS., says that, in 1143, ‘Geffrey Mandeville by violence entered into Ramsey [abbey] and drove out the monks’. No subject of the time has had half the fulness of treatment that this one received from the historians of the period, mostly monks themselves. Miracles innumerable occurred to punish the dreadful invasion of the sacred monastery of Huntingdonshire. The walls were seen to drip with blood, is one of the mildest of them. Geffrey's sorrows and those of his posterity, to their smallest ache, were all caused by this.

William of Newburgh has two pages of the opposite of encomium of this earl who made the monastery a den of robbers. Even in Stephen's wild time the terrors from the landless man were wholly of their own kind. His lieutenant, by another miracle, was pulled off his horse, and his brain “effused”, apparently in accident of playfulness. Much of useless tale there is, but the bitterest writer puts this down as his final conclusion with regard to Geffrey, and it does not read very dreadfully to us who appreciate Roman Catholic clerisy at that period. ‘He was of the highest probity, but of the greatest obstinacy against God; of much diligence in worldly things, of great carelessness towards God’. The only thing that has to be added to this is, that master minds do not worship the same God at all as monastic ones. The certificate, properly read, is one of high if not the highest quality. But the monks were ungrateful the moment he trod the slightest on their extremely tender toes. Was it carelessness of God that made him build, in 1136 Weaver says, the magnificent abbey of Walden ? That he also endowed it liberally goes without saying. Such souls cannot go tamely into the monastic habit when misfortune has overtaken them, like Henry of Essex, the Saxon, of Reading notoriety.

The last three or four years of his life were indeed very miserable, but the man was noble-souled to his last breath, and those who knew him best, kept their faith in him wholly unchanged. His son Ernulph in particular held by him, and gets his share of monastic blessing. Geffrey was excommunicated, with all the severities and ceremonies possible, by the church; but even this, the weightiest curse that then could fall on man, did not crush him. His valorous heart and hand were wanted when brave work had to be done, and it was while engaged in one of the many inexplicable expeditions of private warfare in England's dreadest reign, or, rather, no reign, that he got his fitful but vigorous personal drama closed.

He was besieging the castle of Burwell in Cambridgeshire, when an arrow out of a loophole struck him in the arm. He made light of it, but from the carelessness of a brave heart the wound was neglected, and he died in a few days, still under excommunication. How could a scratch not be fatal to a soldier in that state, was the universal monastic moral. Did not the grass wither for ever on the spots where the excommunicated lord lay to rest him a little. The 14th of September 1144, was his last day. Roger of Hoveden, the famous chronicler, gives the details of his death, and many of his deeds. But this is suggestive as to how he could be loved.

Says Camden out of the Register Book of Walden, ‘The Knights Templar came and put red cross on him, and put him in a coffin of lead, and hung him in the orchard of the Temple, London, 1144’. They durst not bury him, being excommunicated, but it is said that the pope ultimately rescinded excommunication, and that they buried him in the New Temple. His “enemies”, as he had often called the stubborn Saxon Londoners, probably thought they had their revenge in having their tyrant thus hung in dishonour; and yet it was in the greatest of all honour, the esteem of those who knew his personality best. The impression, besides, need not be left, that there continued special enmity between him and the citizens, the quarrel being rather that of development of public liberty under needed limitation than of the individual kind. Says another writer of the small-souled character, ‘A violent invader he was of other men's lands and possessions, and therefore justly incurred the world's censure and church's doom’. Different criticism from this will be his or hers who reads well the gallant and able Geffrey's life, and the materials are not scanty, in the main stream of England's growth. Henry of Huntingdon's account of his death is of antiquarian interest because of Leland's abbreviation of it in his Collectaneum of about 1550 - ‘Similarly Geffrey, the consul or earl, in the thickest of the line of his men, was alone pierced with an arrow from a certain commonest foot-soldier; and himself laughing at the wound, after some days, however, being excommunicated, died of that very wound’. Leland runs, ‘Geffrey Mandeville, earl of Essex, by a certain commonest foot-soldier was wounded with an arrow, from which not long after he died’.

One abbreviation he has which is too suggestive to pass over: ‘Ernulph, the son of Geffrey, bewails him at Magna Villa’. Ernulph had fled from England before his father's death for this best of reasons, namely, to keep together the Norman possessions to which he was heir. He remained always at the original home of Magna Villa, and does not appear further in English record. It is also said that it was he who was killed while being one of the so-called robbers, in the time when the king himself was an arch-robber, at Ramsey monastery, and that he lies buried there, though Leland's quotation has the ring of most likelihood in it. In either case he is out of English history before his father. And he is so also, if the account that he was taken and banished be true.

The second son, a Geffrey when Henry II came to the throne, for whom the Mandevilles had suffered so much, got back the earldom, and most if not all of the lands. A man of great talents, it is enough to say that he became justiciar of England, and died without issue in 1165. The third brother, William, succeeded him, and by marrying Hawise its heiress added the earldom of Albemarle to Essex; but he was also without family, and died in 1189. This was the last of the Mandevilles in fact, but not in name. The Fitz-Piers de Lutgershall, earls of Essex, subsequently took the name of Mandeville, from marriage of the heiress.

Eudo Sinclair, the dapifer, had another sister than she who was married to the first Mandeville. Her name was Albreda, and she married Petrus of Valognes, the father of the Petrus who helped with William Giffard, chancellor, the bishop of Winchester, and others, to make peace between Eudo and Henry I, Eudo's nephew. Their homes were Hertford Castle, Herts., and Orford Castle, Suffolk. Albreda Sinclair's husband, ancestor of the Valence earls of Pembroke, so famous in English history and royal relationship, had got more than fifty lordships at the beginning of the Conqueror's reign. It was from the Valences' part of Normandy, that the duke before he was the Conqueror was fleeing when Hubert of Rye succoured him. How Albreda Sinclair, Hubert's daughter, met Peter of Valoignes is not difficult to understand, if the ride of a cavalier for some hours covered the distance between the castles of Valoignes or Valence and of Rye.

It must be returned to the relationships of Geffrey and his mother, Margaret Sinclair, countess of Essex, Albreda's niece. Geffrey was twice married, but there is difference about the marriages among genealogists. Most of them make the mother of his three sons to have been Rose de Vere, daughter of Aubrey de Vere, earl of Oxford, and chief justice of England. Weever in his Funeral Monuments gives this, and Sir William Dugdale also in his Baronage. They add further that she had a second marriage to Pain Beauchamp of the earl of Warwick family. Dugdale gives him another wife, but he cannot tell who she was. Their daughter Alicia was, he says, the mother of John de Laci, constable of Chester Castle.

The connection of Margaret Sinclair's only son Geffrey with the De Veres and Beauchamps, is also given in another way; and it is not less likely to be true because of one connection which might be thought to have something of stain. Geffrey's only wife was Rose, the daughter of the unfortunate standard-bearer of England, Henry of Essex, grandson of Swain, the Saxon lord by tenure in Essex of the time of the Conquest. Her mother was a daughter of Roger Bigod, the earliest of that great name in England. Her sister Adeliza, or, as is said now, Alice, was the wife of Albery de Vere, earl of Oxford, and mother of the two subsequent earls, Albery and Robert. It was Rose of Essex, wife of Geffrey, the great earl of Essex, who afterwards married Pain Beauchamp and was mother of Roger.

It is probable that the wholesale confiscation from their father of his estate for the unfortunate accident, or false impression, as Stow shows it to have been, and not cowardice, of letting fall the standard in the Welsh war, to the danger of King Henry II's life, and of the lives of his army, came back to the daughters and their husbands. He was one of the richest and in every way greatest men of many years of his time, and to secure alliance with him was object to any family then existing. But the mistake of a moment spoilt the brilliancy of his own life for ever, and still dims the lives connected with him. Carlyle's mockery, however, is ridiculous, as against himself, to those who really know the men and circumstances of that period. There was no such puppetry as he makes of the matter, and Henry of Essex would not be the man to miss meeting him or another in any personal trial of courage. It is too much of the ephemeral order of criticism of a man, to suppose that once he judges wrongly he is for ever out of court.

It may be true that Henry was not of the fiercest build of nature or he would not join, even if condemned to it, the Reading monks; but the facts do not at all go to prove that he was deficient in personal valour, however limited in judgment at critical moments. His daughters must have had keen personal sorrow through the misfortune which came to their father; but it was thirteen years after her Geffrey Mandeville was dead, and Rose, if it were she who was his wife, and not Rose de Vere, would then have Pain Beauchamp to help her to make the most of affairs. Probably Geffrey's great power in the wars of Matilda and Robert, earl of Gloucester, with Stephen, was owing partly to this then all but highest connection in England. His wife Rose, whoever she was, founded the monastery of Royston, and was buried at Euge in Normandy; the latter fact rather going to prove Dugdale's finding, that she was Rose de Vere.

But something has to be said of the only daughter of Margaret Sinclair, Beatrice Mandeville. Through Geffrey's instigation she got a divorce from her first husband, William Talbot, a nobleman of Normandy, who had displeased him; and she then married William Saye of the baronial Kent and Sussex family long celebrated. They had a son who married a sister of a William Mandeville. Sir Francis Nicolas, in his Synopsis of the Peerage, says that Beatrice Mandeville had a son, William Saye, whose daughter Beatrice Saye married the Geffrey Fitz-Piers who changed his name to Mandeville and was made earl of Essex, after many difficulties, by King John on his own coronation day, 26 June 1199. If so, Beatrice Mandeville lived to see it, for she died in 1200 at a very venerable age. Dugdale says 1207 is the date, and that she died at her house at Rikelings, and was buried with great honour in the abbey of Walden, founded by her noble-hearted, powerful, but unfortunate brother about seventy years previously. It was well the part of the monks there to do all honour to “old Beatrix de Saye”, sister to Geffrey de Mandeville, earl of Essex; for she had been always their special friend, which chiefly means land-grants, but gifts of all kinds as well.

If Margaret Sinclair, countess of Essex, was the last of Eudo Dapifers line, she had a son and a daughter to be proud of exceedingly. She had her last resting-place also in Walden Abbey, with them both; for Geffrey's corpse was ultimately taken from the tree in the garden of his loving fellow Knights Templar on the banks of the Thames, and laid in the abbey of Walden, of his own foundation, near the family home of Walden Castle, Essex.

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