Back to Fiona's Finding Service
Back to Index | Previous page | Next page

WHO WAS SIMON OF SENLIS ?

On the Paris side of Rouen, the town of Senlis was of importance at the time of the Conquest. Randulph or Ralph le Riche, a Norse soubriquet, was its feudal chief. He had two sons, who came to England in the Conqueror's reign, Simon and the Warner le Riche who was the ancestor of Englishmen of the surname Rich. It is, however, of Simon inquiry is being made. If his lineage were discovered, his brother's will easily be followed, even if with a different surname. He does not seem to have been at the battle of Hastings, as far as can be discovered; but he had, when he first appeared in English history, a renowned name as a soldier of the first rank. Immediately after the Norwich marriage and conspiracy, he begins to be a figure of weight and infiuence. He was a veteran then, and war had lamed him in one leg; but he was still young, and very vigorous of mind and body. He was with Ralph and Hubert Sinclair in putting clown the conspiracy headed in open civil war by Roger Fitz-Osborn, the earl of Hereford; and it is likely he was one of the chief commanders of the proceedings which ended as has been seen.

Considerable time after this, King William proposed that his own niece Judith, the widow of Waltheof, should marry the brave soldier. It was 1075 when the Saxon was beheaded, and the proposal, from what appears in The Domesday Book, could not have at all events been urged as strongly as it eventually was, before 1080. Simon had not only built Northampton Castle, as Ingulphus shows, before this, but lived and ruled there as its governor. It may be that Huntingdon Castle, so much struggled for in English and Scottish history, had him, if not as founder, as governor then; and this would go to explain his wish, from much personal neighbouring knowledge of her, to join their fortunes. Huntingdon Castle was the home of the widowed countess, Judith; and Northampton Castle, which Simon himself built from its foundations, was in feudal proximity. The lady had no heart for marriage, and could not look at matters in the convenient or political way. Her uncle's will was strong; but rather than marry Simon, she and her three daughters fled from their castle for shelter among the fens and fen-people of Ely. Her enemies give her another lover, as the cause of this escape and personal misery; but the fact that her maiden daughters fled with her is of itself enough to silence all such evil and essentially rebellious libel. She had had enough of marriages and conspiracies, and would rather be a beggar than to live where life and death were continually meeting under dreadest aspect. Simon pursued his purpose with a steadiness explainable to his advantage on the supposition that he really loved the lady, the greatest then in England next to the royal family, of which indeed she herself was a member. That she had immense estate may or may not be read to his credit. Nothing appears to prove that he stretched a point in the matter. It rather became a feud of honour between her and her uncle, the Conqueror. He had chosen Waltheof before for her, and woman's nature might well be capable of saying, “If I meant to marry again at all, at years when I have three daughters women by my side, I would choose this time for myself”. William had got somewhat morose then, and no doubt looked on all things, love also, as but instruments of political usefulness.

Simon, it may be guessed, was with all his scars and his halting on one foot more presentable than a blackamoor Othello; and did not he win Desdemona, the fair European in her teens, by the glamour of his soldier's training and history? The Frenchman from Senlis found means to gain the affection of Matilda, the eldest daughter of Judith and Waltheof; and probably Judith was nothing loth to have the difficulty thus solved. On their flight William had at once seized the castle and honour of Huntingdon. The town of Northampton and the whole hundred of Falkely he granted before this seizure to Simon “for shoes for his horses”, a phrase that may have a personal innuendo in the contest. Simon's marriage to Matilda, “the lady of Daventry”, coheiress and eldest daughter of Waltheof and Judith, gave him the earldoms of Northampton and Huntingdon, as well as claim to that of Northumbria, if events should favour its change from Walcher the bishop's stewardship.

But the clue to his real lineage must be given. Langebek's Scriptores Rerum Danicorum is authority as to some things: in this passage, for example, describing the marriage of one of the daughters of Judith, Waltheof's countess - ‘to a certain French-born knight by name Simon Sylvanectensis or Seint-Liz; the name of his father, however, Ralph the Rich’. St.Liz is plainly another way of writing the name of his native town in France. As there were Hubert of Rye, William of Ipres, Eustace of Bouillon, and so forth, there was Simon de Senliz or St.Liz. The change of spelling might be made equally, in the cases of the town, or of those who thus hailed from it, by the usual local surnaming then. What has nearly lost Simon to the genealogy of a family, is the similarity between the sound of St.Liz and of St.Cleere, the midland mode of spelling and sounding Sinclair. Simon was Simon of Senlis by local surnaming, and he was Simon Sinclair by the more modern and far more valuable fashion of family lineage. But if this was all that could be said on the subject, there might well be endless controversy, for nothing is so subtle as such questions of writing and pronouncing words. There cannot be too much care in giving them their exact weight in discussion, and neither more nor less. No judicious inquirer would debar them on the mere diffusiveness or elasticity of all etymologising; but they are, of themselves, decidedly insufficient evidence. They come in usefully as support to weightier things.

It is to Leland, the antiquary of the sixteenth century, that there is indebtedness for the right clue; and it is none the less valuable that it leaves the question an open one for some debate. His notes are as short often as they are always quaint and almost innocently honest. He began his famous Itinerary on 5th May 1542, and he presented it a finished book to Henry VII for a birthday present. When he came to Northampton, he wrote his findings, and one of them is especially interesting. ‘St.John's Hospitalle was originally founded by one William Sancte Clere, archdiacon of Northampton and brother to one of the Simon Sainctcleres, as sum of St.John's name them; but as I have redde alway they were caulid Saincteliz and not S.Clere’. This might be safely left to have its own effect, but the full value of these few words would be lessened, if attention were not drawn to some circumstances of persons, place, and time. It were sacrilege to say a depreciatory word of a good sincere antiquary like Leland, to whom so many owe much real gratitude for the glimpses he gives of the past. His character, however, is not at all of the judicial order, although he is faithful in observing and noting his observations. As between him, an itinerant stranger at Northampton in 1542, and those who not only had the traditions then of the place, but actually lived by bounty of the archdeacon, William Sinclair, there can be little doubt as to whose story is the true one. Indeed, the similarity of St.Liz and St.Cleere or St.Cleeres in sound, of itself explains Leland's doubt. No weigher of evidence would hesitate to take the actual local tradition, thus and then delivered by monks or monkish mendicants of literate peculiarities, in preference to the passing impression of any antiquary, not to say one of Leland's guileless, exceedingly pleasant, but rather easy nature. His register of the tradition of Northampton is so valuable, that there would fain be escape from criticism of this most useful of all the itinerants, even to the extent of saying that reasoning is not his strongest point. The tradition is of the honest wholesale kind that testifies most in favour of itself. Not only was William a Sinclair, but he was the brother of the Simon Sinclairs who were the earls of the ground they stood on and of much beside.

Such magnates as they had been were not likely to be lost in this point of lineage, in a town where men could point to their religious, hospital, and other foundations as numerous, and at that period still in existence. Who were better keepers of genealogical details than monks ? and the monks indebted for their subsistence to these Simons for centuries, had been all but as thick in Northampton as the leaves of Vallombrosa. Either nothing at all might be expected to survive of so great benefactors, through the destruction of documents by time and other enemies of record, or what would remain would for very gratitude be truth. The other side is open to those who may take it, but considering the comparative darkness of most historic facts of so far a past, this note of Leland's gives surely Avhat may be called daylight. Other things still will corroborate the fact that William the Conqueror's lame favourite warrior was Simon Sinclair; but in the further narrative he will be wholly accepted as such, the case being already far clearer than is usually possible for such inquiries to be with the greatest perseverance. It is not asserted that here, without additional incidents, the proof of lineage is absolute; though not only tradition but remnants of actual monastic records in the foundations of the Simon Sainct-cleres must have existed in 1542, had the plan of Leland's journey, with its notes wholly trustworthy as far as his information went, allowed him more than the few hours he spent investigating the antiquities of Northampton. To a man who had to do as much of England as possible, the specialties of this town would not have close enough appeal for the thorough search necessary to a decision. In the circumstances the local and learned tradition is supremely valuable, and it will find indirect suggestive corroboration by every step in the history of this family and of their relations.

The characteristic Norman addition to the high military spirit, of religious devotion, showed itself early in Simon. He built the castle of Northampton, Dugdale says, in 1084, and at the same time the priory of St.Andrew's near his castle. It had hierarchical subordination to the abbey of our Lady of Charity in France, which was on his father's, and ultimately his own, French properties. To this also Leland has a valuable note.‘St.Andrews the late Monastery of Black Monks stood yn the North Parte of the Toune hard by the North Gate. Simon Saincteliz [Beyng the first in Burton] the first beyng Erle of Northampton and Huntendene made this House; but he is not buried there; for he died in Fraunce and there buried’.

He was earlier than his relation Eudo Dapifer in this field of religious English foundation. It is noticeable that among the descendants of William Sinclair, the son of Walderne, earl of St.Clare, to the smallest and latest proprietors of them, the necessity to their spiritual imagination of communication in things above the material world, with all its pomps and vanities, kept asserting itself in the form of sacred building and provision for the intellect and emotions. It was not so specially remarkable in times when it was the fashion to make such offerings under Roman Catholic rule, though it is true that no name has been more liberal in this way so long as real religious imagination showed itself at actual work. Neglect of the religious necessities for the limited and purely secular political ones, is no attribute of mastery, but the reverse; and a people wisely, or, indeed, instinctively shuns the leaders or higher classes who trust to the raw logic of facts, which are really not true facts till lit by the glow of disciplined imagination.

Simon was one of those Knights Templar who so romantically united the secular and religious. Kennet in his Parochial Antiquities shows that he gave them the manor of Merton, in Oxfordshire; and that he took personal part in their doings is shown by the fact that he went to the Holy Land, where he had probably been often before, in the last year of his life. It was on his returning for England that he died at his French home in 1115, and was buried there in his dearly loved abbey, De Caritate. But his gifts were not limited to these institutions. There is record of him giving the fruits of the church of Pidington to the priory of St.Fridiswidde in Oxford; and, to the priory of Daventry, the produce of several of his churches. These are only accidental survivals of record, and but indicate much other similar grant. His endowment of his own monastery of St.Andrews, built wholly to his mind, was of the same extensive kind as that of St.John's Abbey at Colchester. One item is sufliciently suggestive of the whole. He gave by his first charter the third part of the annual produce of his land jure uxoris, of Daventria, and various tithes besides of that extensive district. The full charter is in existence and the giving of it had national importance, as can be seen from the signatures.

It was in 8 Henry I,(1108) two years after Eudo Dapifer had begun to build at Colchester that a second carta Simonis comitis was granted for St.Andrews, Northampton The names attached are, Henry king of the Engish; Matilda, the queen; Anselm, archbishop; Robert, bishop of Lincoln; Robert, bishop of Chester; John bishop of Lys; Samson, bishop; John, bishop of Bayeux, in Normandy; Gundulph, the architectural bishop of Rochester; Maurice bishop of London; Ranulp, the chancellor; Henry, count of Warwick; William, count of Warenne; Nigell of Oily, the magnate if Oxfordshire; Robert of Ferrers, that of Derby; Eudo Dapifer: William of Aubeney, the bravest warrior of Tenchbrai battle, and son-m-law of Simon Sinclair; William of Curcy Robert, count de Mellent; and David of Scotland brother of the queen. The whole of Stoberiam was part of this second charter. It would only be about generous and very mportant work that such a list of England's best could be engaged, and there is no need to illustrate his religious doings further.

He was one of Henry I's chief nobles, and was a witness to the monarch's charter of public liberties given at the beginning of his reign. Henry addressed it to Hugh de Boclande, then vicecomes or sheriff of Hereford, whom he loved and promoted greatly afterwards. There is a copy of it in Matthew Paris's history. In Baker's History of Northamptonshire there are many facts collected about Simon, and one of his writings, without a date, has equally political and religious interest. It was testified by it that Robert de Pinkeney in Simon's presence at Northampton, granted to the church and monks of St.Andrews all the fee which Godfrey and Gero held of him in Sulgrave by service of one knight; and the earl addresses it, “To all my faithful men of Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire”. High feudal spirit shows well through these words.

The civil condition of things was founded on the obedience and loyalty which make an army the perfect instrument for its work. Fortunately or unfortunately, the existence of women and children is chronically antagonistic to such a system of civil drill, and only at intervals can there be approach to the esprit du corps of men of war among a population. It is not without its beauty when seen, and speaks considerably in favour of the ruling and ruled of the period. Weak idealists alone keep dreaming of armies of factory men and factory girls under captains of industry conquering the ills of life successfully. The direction of effort by order is of greatest value, but mere martinetcy is never more out of place than in such a field. Necessities of soul and body are better guides than any captains of industry, though all personal high action, if it is anything other than pretence and imposture, deserves honour, but not suicidal worship. The system of things and humanity was made according to no high-pressure theories of hysterical and, in practice, fitful and ineflicient labour, but in accordance with the suffering and doing as they can, which are, and have been, and always shall be, the chequered lot of men. No one will choose to die young of famine, for the tragic beauty of the business; and even to die so is nothing so unknown to human experiences that we are to madden ourselves into frantic dervishes about the matter.

This great feudal lord, “Simon Sylvanectensis”, as Leland in his Collectanea himself calls him, thus answering his own statement that his name was Saincteliz, lived one of the splendid, active, and religious lives of his time; and his faithful men of Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire have descendants who are still proud of him and of his many deeds. In the Collectanea Lelandi, edited by Thomas Hearne, the antiquary, one hundred years ago from the MS. in the Bodleian library at Oxford, there are even explanations that St.Liz was only the name of the town from which Simon came to England, and not a true surname. Leland makes the abbreviation from a history of Normandy which he had met - ‘The St.Liz or Senlian city is in Normandy’. The word originally may have meant the wood-encircled place, though the saintly fashion of crusading times had taken it past Senlis to Saincteliz and to the best-known form in English genealogies, St.Liz. Leland himself, if he had thought of it long enough, would probably find himself agreeing with the Northamptonians of the sixteenth century, that this was the local surname of the feudal Normandy, and that the family surname was, as they had told him on the best authority for such matters, Sinclair, Sancto Claro, St.Cleere, St.Clare, or other of the many forms of the racial surname.

Back to Fiona's Finding Service
Back to Index | Previous page | Next page


e-mail to:fnsnclr@btinternet.com