Radulph Sinclair was the eldest son of Hubert, the ambassador, and the eldest brother of Hubert of Norwich, Adam of Kent, and Eudo Dapifer. To him was committed the custody of the splendid castle of Nottingham, the home and fort of Waltheof, the traitorous Saxon earl of Nottingham. Ralph also got the earldom of the county, when William I had in 1074 secured this nobleman, to whom he had married his own niece Judith.
There is general abuse of the lady among the chroniclers, who are chiefly Saxons, for her pretended eagerness to get Waltheof beheaded. Love of another was an easy tale to invent. A lady with two or three daughters at or near womanhood was not of such temper. The more likely theory is that she was a true Norman at heart, and detested with her whole soul the dishonourable scheming that was certainly going on. Her life could well become a burden to her, living it in the midst of such deceit as was around, and if she gave her uncle the king the benefit of her advice, which is not proved, justification might be found for her.
The political game then playing was no matter of three-volume sentiment, and ladies with the fine training of Normandy were more than clinging chattels. They had to be treated on grounds of equality. They founded religious houses, heired wide fortunes, judged effects of dynasties and alliances with the wisdom and decision born only of actual experience; and if Waltheof or his admirers of his own race forgot that to a Norman lady right and honour were first, and protection of evil-doing husbands of very secondary consideration, they deserved justly all the consequences of the crude mistake.
Her uncle afterwards offered her marriage to one of his choice, but she did not seem to have eagerness for another married life; and if this caused her misfortunes, and ultimately, as her enemies say, poverty and vagabondage, for all her high titles and wealth, their gratuitous story of her love of a lover does not appear to have much or any ground. In the freedom of poverty, if it ever did arrive at all, there would have been no political or other bar. But it is a Saxon libel on Judith, countess of Nottingham, to which the unavoidable difficulty with her uncle, the king, gave only too much ease of colour for the complacent fabulists who love a moral more than facts.
It is not easy to realise how dangerous a man this Waltheof was, not only for William, but for the whole Norman nobility and soldiers. He was the son of Siward, the second, certainly not the only son, if Shakespeare in Macbeth had the right version when he makes young Siward fall by Macbeth's sword before the Scottish castle of Dunsinane. In the time of Edward the Confessor, “Old Siward, with ten thousand warlike men”,was a power needing politic treatment; and Waltheof his son not only heired the earldom of Northumberland, which itself could raise such an army, but with his wife had got also the earldoms of Huntingdon, Northampton, and Nottingham. They were descended from Ursus, the Dane; and, hereditarily brave, Waltheof had given example of his courage, if not ferocity, by his famous stand at one of the gates of York, where he chopped off the heads of Norman soldiers, then his enemies, as they came, to a number sufficient to make him the most notorious sword-wielder in England. The Conqueror's prizes given to him were politic as much as generous, but when such a man had shown his mind, and by the ability of such leaders as Bishop Odo, Richard Fitz-Gilbert, Hubert, and Ralph, had fallen into William's hands, there was little course open to the king. It was simply a balancing of blood for blood, life for life. Those who know human nature act accordingly, and William's only death for state reasons is capable of defence, if any such doings are at all to be treated as other than the work of fate's necessity. Outside of Winchester at early morning Waltheof was executed, and his body was taken some time afterwards for burial to Croyland Abbey, Lincolnshire. The bishop of Northumberland, Walcher, got the rule of Northumbria; the earldoms of Northampton and Huntingdon remained in Judith's hands, who had three daughters, the children of Waltheof; and Ralph Sinclair had the earldom of Nottingham given to him, together with the governorship of Nottingham Castle, one of the finest structures of the kind in the kingdom.
It has been said that Waltheof 's possessions were his greatest enemies, implying that the Norman nobles were hungering after them. The right sense in which to take the saying is, that the immense width of his lands, and his power of raising thousands of soldiers, gave William no choice of risking again and again the traitorous changes of disposition of the powerful and fickle Dane. His mother, or, as some say, his step-mother, was Elfrida, daughter of Aldred, count of Northumbria, by whom Siward got his northern wide district. Of these counts there had been Utred, Waldesus, and Aldred previously known to record. Her uncle was Cospatric, the lord of Raby, the ancestor of all the Nevilles, and father-in-law of William Sinclair, Queen Margaret Atheling of Scotland's dapifer. There was no preternatural hurry to share the spoil. In Domesday Book the Countess Judith holds the lands, and that was five years at the least after the death of her husband.
If Ralph Sinclair had early possession of Nottingham, it was absolutely necessary for the security of his sovereign's rule. King William knew where the foot must be planted, prepared for attack or defence; but there is no evidence that hungry seizure was at work. Of all Eudo Dapifer's brothers, Ralph needed least to be enterprising in this way, as being the eldest son, and heir to large property in Normandy. With Hubert of Rye deceased, he would be expected to keep up the French home in its old and added splendour. The military and loyal aspect of the affairs of the chief central and northern counties was the matter of first importance to him. It was only accidental, that he and Hubert secured the best things out of the terrible but deserved fall of Ralph, earl of Norfolk, or, as has been said, consul of East Anglia, meaning Cambridge, Norfolk, and Suffolk; of Roger Fitz-Osborn, earl of Hereford; and of Waltheof, a son greater than his father Siward, who could ‘wake Northumberland’, and lead ten thousand men to the aid of a Scottish prince, or more if need required.
A passage from Duncan's List of the Norman Barons who fought at Hastings, the information of which is chiefly derived from the local and other antiquarian careful research of Auguste le Provost, has valuable reference not only to Ralph or Raoul, as the French write the name, but to other members of his lineage.
‘ Haie-du-Puits is in the arrondissement of Coutances. The lord of this barony, at the date of the Conquest, was Raoul, seneschal of the earl of Mortain, and brother of Robert de la Haie, a contemporary of Henry I. Raoul seems to have been the son of Hubert of Rye, to whom was entrusted the castle of Nottingham, and the governorship of that county; he is frequently mentioned in The Domesday Book. It is certain that Robert de la Haie was nephew to Odo Dapifer, another son of Hubert of Rye. This Odo Dapifer has been frequently confounded with Odo au Chapeau, son of Turstin Halduc, or Haldup, one of the founders of the abbey of Lessay. This error may be traced back even to Ordericus Vitalis, who wrote in the twelfth century. In addition to other grants, Robert de la Haie received the lordship of Halnac, in Sussex, in the reign of Henry I, and founded the priory of Boxgrave, a dependency on the abbey of Lessay. The name of his wife was Muriel. They had two sons, Richard and Raoul; the former had an only daughter, who carried the estates into the family of Saint-John. In the war between Stephen and Geoffrey Plantagenet, Richard de la Haie, who commanded at Cherbourg, for the king of England, was seized by pirates, and his brother, Raoul, was compelled to surrender the castles in the Cotentin to the earl of Anjou. These events belong to the years 1141 and 1142. Richard de la Haie, son of Raoul, founded the abbey of Blanchelande in Normandy.’
There is a correction to this, namely, that the same Robert de la Haie could not be the brother of Ralph and the nephew of Eudo Dapifer. If there was only a single individual of the name, he was certainly the nephew of both. The earl of Mortain was the half-brother of the Conqueror, and like his other half-brother, Odo, bishop of Bayeux, he shared largely in the division of lands at the Conquest. They got more than any else of William's following, the earl of Mortain being first in the number of his lordships, nearly 800 in 18 counties, and Odo first in the value of the possessions secured. It speaks of relationship of some close kind, for this is the chief clue to transactions of the period, that, as Ralph Sinclair was seneschal to the earl of Mortain, so Adam Sinclair was seneschal to the bishop, Odo, earl of Kent. Such connection of double brothers could not be accidental.
The fortunes and misfortunes of Arlotta's two sons, had the strongest relation to those of Ralph and Adam. The whole state of matters throws peculiar colour over the conquering duke of Normandy's domestic affairs, and these played large part in the drama of his English years.
More direct knowledge of Adam's stewardship to Odo is attainable, from The Domesday Book and other sources, than of Ralph's to Robert, earl of Mortain and of Cornwall, chiefly because the bishop was a livelier actor in history than his brother. Robert's son William fell into as final misfortune as his uncle, the unfortunate and troubling Odo; though the great Hubert de Burgh and William Fitz-Aldelm, king's dapifer and viceroy of Ireland, restored or regained fortune for this line from Arlotta, the mother of the Conqueror. Such favour as Ralph must have had in these circumstances, substantiates the statement that he had the governorship or earldom of Nottinghamshire, though the fact is settled otherwise by records. It is curious to note that Eudo, the third brother, was high steward to the third and greatest brother of Arlotta's sons, the king of England and duke of Normandy.
The house of Rye was the most successful of the time, and Freeman does not grudge them their successes, wonderful to be said. On the relationship of Robert de la Haie to it, information is to be got in Burke's Peerage, under “Viscount Bolingbroke and St.John”. Roger de St.John, of Stanton St.John, co. Oxon., married Ciceley Sinclair, daughter and heiress of Robert of Haya, lord of the manor of Halnac, co. Suffolk, as Burke finds; and their daughter Muriel, ancestress of the celebrated Viscount Bolingbroke of Battersea and Wandsworth, Pope's friend, seems to have been named after her mother or grandmother. What is of great importance, amounting to positive proof, if Burke's information be correct, is, that he states that Robert Sinclair of Haya was “a kinsman of Henry I”. Robert's son-in-law, Roger St.John, further, was the son of the John de St.John who was
‘one of the twelve knights that accompanied Robert Fitz-Hamon, earl of Gloucester, in a warlike expedition against the Welsh’, and who got the castle of Faumont, Glamorgan, “for his great services”. The connection of Eudo, Fitz-Hamo, and the lords of Haya, can be discerned here, for various inferential reasons. That Ciceley Sinclair's sister-in-law married Sir Bernard de St.Valery, a relation of the Conqueror by the mother's side, is also indication of the “set”. The able Tregozes appear in family charters of these families, for they were St.Johns of the Adam de Port line male, to whom Lydiard Tregoze, in Wiltshire, came by a marriage with a Beauchamp. Burke shows that the Scottish Hays, represented by the marquis of Tweeddale, the earl of Errol, and by four baronets, are of Norman origin, the first remarkable one being William de Haya royal butler to Malcolm IV and William the Lion. It is suggestive that the ancient seat of one branch was called Huntingdon, in East Lothian. Was it an English memory ? The earls of Errol were high constables, and such offices were only given to royal blood.
But perhaps the most instructive information in connection with the subject is that given by the famous “Giraldus Cambrends”, a churchman of the Barry lineage so remarkable in Irish history, and a contemporary of Henry II. He says that Nesta, the Welsh princess, concubine of Henry I, had seven sons to different Normans, which was gay even for Welsh morality. They were the progenitors of nearly all the leading chiefs in the conquest of Ireland, 1172. One of the seven was William Hay, and Girald Cambrensis says that in the division of Nesta's Welsh properties he got Sanctum Clarum. His father was certainly a Sinclair of Hay. The half-brothers of this William were the Fitz-Gerald, Fitz-Stephen, the Maurice, &c, who figured in the Irish Conquest. One of her daughters was married to the lord of Ros. Girald mentions a Robert and a Richard Hay as constables of Lincoln before the Lacis; and they were probably descendants of Ralph Sinclair, castellan of Nottingham. The Lincoln Hays are well known by charters as well as in the records of the interesting northern ancient city. The true home of this branch of Sinclair blood is to be found on the beautiful banks of the Wye, Herefordshire. Haia Castle was built by Maud, married to one of the Brecknock Bruces, the female Samson or Guy of Warwick of the Welsh border. It is there that the Sinclair, Hay, and Bruce famines get so interknit after the Norman Conquest, that they seem of the same blood, as must have been, if going to Normandy were profitable. Wales has played a most productive part in giving historical Norman figures to the two islands. Jones in his History of Brecknock has varied incidental information as to these families' close union by marriage and otherwise. To one of the Devonshire Sinclairs the William Bruce of Bramber in The Domesday Book was married, and again and again the lines are meeting, the Bruces not being then the greater.
It can be more easily understood how Eudo Dapifer, as Dugdale says in speaking of William Rufus, could “well be accounted the chief instrument in raising him to the royal throne”, when it is remembered that he had only the governors of the southern castles to gain over; his two brothers, Ralph, earl of Nottingham, and Hubert, earl of Norfolk, or possibly consul of East Anglia, having such castles as Nottingham and Norwich in their powerful hands. A knowledge of this would aid decision on the part of William de Ponte-Arce to give up the keys of the treasury at Winchester, and on the part of the governors of Dover Castle, Pevensey, Hastings, and other sea-board castles, to swear, in Eudo the seneschal's favour, for Rufus as king.
There is a statement by Nicolas as to the claimed possession of the earldom of Nottingham by the Peverells at some period. He says that no earl was created till 1377, when Baron Mowbray got the title, but he is discussing the times after that reign of Stephen so destructive of previous doings, and difiicult of itself to master. There is record that Ralph had the custody of the castle and county of Nottingham, afterwhich there can be no room for difficulties of formal creation, which also is probably implied in this account. The Ferrers, later, put in a female claim, but without success.
Earl Ralph had a son Ralph who figured in the empress's wars with Stephen, he may or may not have been actually earl, though it is probable he was so at intervals, having followed the fortunes of Stephen. Matthew Paris, William of Malmesbury, and others, have much to say of him. He was a “fierce man and a great plunderer”. It is likely these were the virtues of that time. Evidently he had the king's trust as one of his best warriors. He surprised the castle of Devises in Wiltshire by a skilful stratagem, and the chroniclers say he then boasted that with this stronghold for base he would conquer for Stephen all the country between Winchester and London. That he had great wealth is shown by the fact that he sent on his own account for soldiers out of Flanders to put his schemes to their full execution. But unfortunately this biter was himself bit. John, the subtle captain of Marlborough Castle, put his own science into use, and in some way got him taken prisoner. Kidnapping was in accordance with the chivalry of that civil war. He was taken to the empress, Matilda, flighty, sometimes capable, always persistent, sometimes timid (as when she got into a coffin to escape after one of her battles), and often cruel. Earl Ralph she asked to deliver up the castle of Devises on peril of his life. That it was still held by his men shows that the subtle governor John had taken unfair advantage of his gallant enemy, the captain of Devises Castle. It was not Devises he had taken, but its lord, who was probably enjoying an outside walk or gallop unattended. He would not betray the castle to Matilda. He must die then, was the alternative. There was no shrinking, even though the indignity was further threatened that she would have him hung. This was the mode of the execution of thieves, and nothing more bitter could be invented against the chivalrous soul of a Norman; but his honour kept him firm as a rock, and he died the shameful death. His family could not recover in England from the state of matters into which this and other things put them in the reign of Matilda's son. They lived and succeeded most in Normandy.
As early as Henry I's reign Ralph is noticeable as giving gifts to the Knights Templar. His son Hubert, called Hubert Fitz-Ralph, though liberal to the monks of Derley in particular, declined largely from the former estate. He is taxed for only 20 fees; and, what is suggestive of the want of royal sunshine and other advantages contemporaneous, they are all of old enfeoffment. He had a sister, however, who brought 10 knights' fees of dowry to a Norman lord, Henry de Cotentin. The main line seems to have become soon extinct, in England, for in 6 Henry III (1222) a Juliana, the daughter of a Hubert, his heiress, appears for her son, then in wardship. A collateral line through Mary, co-heiress of Ralph Fitz-Ralph of Middleham, Yorkshire, gave this seat to the Nevilles, of which semi-royal line the earl of Salisbury, heir of the Montacutes, and Warwick, king-maker, were chiefs.
When the dauntless “Coeur de Lion”, after great successes and in sight of Jerusalem as crusader, was deserted by his European allies, Tindal says,
‘Philip of France, immediately after his return to his dominions loaded King Richard with calumnies, and had a conference, January 22, 1192, between Gisors and Trie, wherein he demanded of William Fitz-Ralph, seneschal of Normandy, his royal sister Alice; but the seneschal refused to send her, though Philip showed him the convention made between King Richard and him at Messina. After that the king of France gathered a large army, and would have invaded Normandy; but the great men of his kingdom would not let him.’
This useful light on the family is taken from Hoveden's Chronicle and the Bromton Chronicle; and it suggests that the Norwich branch claimed, and got, the hereditary rights of Eudo, the seneschal. It is the more likely because in Rymer's Foedera, William Fitz-Ralph, seneschal of Normandy, is witness with Robert of Tregoz and with Peter of Pratellis, Eudo's chief estate and castle in Normandy, to a charter of Richard I for their favoured Rochester. The same authority implies that his father Ralph was also seneschal. In 1226 a Ralph, the son of Nicolas, was “our seneschal”, but the reference may be too far afield. There is no doubt of the Gerold, son of Ralph, who was one of the commissioners sent in 1170 by Henry II to the counties to reform the administration of justice, and through him the true descent of the Irish Fitz-Geralds is probably to be found. That this William Sinclair founded a Norman branch is open for inquiry; but enough is said to show that he was of the stock in blood and spirit, and it is to England attention is chiefly necessary. In 1170, after Henry II's four years' stay in France, he found the administration of justice shamefully neglected, and Gervas, the chronicler, names Gerold Fitz-Ralph as one of the commissioners sent into the counties with full powers of inquiry and punishment as to the doings of the magistrates. But Earl Ralph's most remarkable descendants were the lords Freshville of Derbyshire, whose claims to heir the last Hubert of Norfolk have been noticed. They played their part in the best English life till the reign of Charles II, when they became extinct, the last males distinctly traceable from this first Norman earl of Nottingham.
Cooper's discovery of a member of the Rye family is interesting, as showing that they did not limit their efforts to military and feudal courses, but were capable as well at sea and in commerce.
‘On 21st July, 1212, the ship of Geffrey, son of Michael de Ria, was at Winchelsea with 120 tuns of wine belonging to the merchants of Iypres and Ghent’. Probably Geffrey was one of the sons expected to provide for himself, and the question arises, was this Michael the son of one of the Sinclairs earls of Nottingham, and also, it is to be expected, lords of Rye in Normandy ? Meantime, it must also be said that Michael of Rye may have been of the next port to Winchelsea in England. If so, it will add further to the large accumulation of facts pointing to Rye in Sussex as companion home of Sinclairs with the famous Rye of Normandy. Another discussion will still further treat this subject. That Michael of Rye was grandson or great-grandson of Ralph Sinclair, governor of magnificent Nottingham Castle, and earl of the county of which it was the powerful centre, there are not known facts to show.
Amid the embroglio which the pride of first names and of lands creates, it is difficult to follow accurately enough some trains of facts. Says Hallam,
‘The authors of Nouveau Traité de Diplomatique trace the use of surnames in a few instances even to the beginning of the tenth century; but they did not become general, according to them, till the thirteenth’. Surnames from the place where the mansion or castle was built, were at first the only distinction; and these were of some use certainly, but not of so much to present search as might be thought. The Sinclairs seem to have early found the value of having a surname in addition to that of their places. Like the Romans they knew their gens. This, however, was cherished at some cost to feudal pride. The same English writer says somewhere that the use of such a general family surname made a man be considered a simple gentleman instead of a lord by tenure. It is great reason for thankfulness, in toiling now, that so many of the name cling to the clear though less demonstrative name. When it occurs, as it does in a remarkable number of earliest records, almost single to itself, there is no shadow of doubt as to what “tribe”, as one antiquarian says, its bearer belongs. The house of Rye has been thus absolutely fixed by record, and the modesty or skill may work perhaps equally well for other branches of it than have yet been followed. If it can also help in the next enquiry, which is undoubtedly both difficult and admitting of debate, there need be no reason to regret the frequent signature of the general surname.
Ralph Sinclair in The Domesday Book holds, as “Radulphuis filius Huberti”, wide lands in Leicester, Stafford, Derby, Nottingham, Lincoln shires, in capite; and there is one entry in Derbyshire as undertenant. He has 10 manors in Nottinghamshire, and 11 houses in Nottingham itself. In Derby he had 37 lordships, of which Criche was one; in Lincolnshire he had Gunnebi; and in Leicester, Dalby.