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SIMON SINCLAIR, THIRD AND LAST EARL

To the earldom of Northampton there was immediate succession on death of his father for the third Simon; but Huntingdon, so lately possessed, was again wrenched from the grasp of the true heirs. The politics of the two kingdoms required that Simon should go to the wall; but he was a determined and able man, and fought well this and many another battle, civil and military. Malcolm, now king of Scotland, son of Henry who held the earldom of Huntingdon till his death in 1152, revived the old subject, and in exchange for part of the north of England, which he had overrun, got it, to the exclusion of its protesting right lord. King Malcolm's brother, King William, “The Lion”, also held it; but in the reign of Henry II, when his undutiful son rose in rebellion while his father was in Normandy, matters cleared up, after this and the other family storms raised by Eleanor of Aquitaine and their sons against the gallant Harry. The earls of Leicester, Chester, and Derby were against him in England, while his son Richard had his defeat in pitched battle in France. King William of Scotland, like enough to Shakepeare's “weasel”, did not fail to try the chance of the scramble. Simon was one of Harry's trusted and tried captains of war. The rebel earls had seized and strengthened Huntingdon Castle with King William's connivance, his brother David playing indefinable and waiting game. The castle was captured from the rebels. It was their chief stay, and the loss demoralised them. Simon had his king's warrant to take possession of it, as the rightful heir.

Benedict, the abbot of Peterborough, who wrote his chronicle of the reigns of Henry II and Richard I contemporarily, says that Richard de Luci, justiciar of the kingdom, delivered it to Count Simon by the mandate of the king: ‘Because he had been calumniated in the king's court; the county of Huntingdon ought to be his by hereditary right; and the king granted it to him, if he could obtain it’. William of Scotland was compelled to give up all claims to it, on his own part and on that of his brother David. The striving, however, still went on bitterly between these two grandsons of Matilda, the daughter of Waltheof; and towards the end of his reign, Henry II settled the struggle by razing the noble structure to the ground, for the express purpose of healing one of the poisoned sores of the body politic of his kingdom.

To enter fully into the multitudes of intrigues, royal, noble, and common, which centred around the castle of Huntingdon might make a huge book. The lesson, though a long drawn-out one, is that if right is bravely contended for, it will in the end beat mere might. Till his death without heirs in 1184, Simon enjoyed this dearly gained earldom with his others. William of Scotland was made prisoner at Alnwick by Ranulph de Glanville, and had to pay for his intermeddling with purely English affairs by imprisonment, and a ransom. Stow says, of 4000, then a large sum. The excuse for the interference certainly lies in the alliance of the crowns, by the marriage of Henry I with Matilda of Scotland, the daughter of Margaret Atheling of the Saxon royal line of England. The embroglio of the rights, personal, political, and dynastic, was inextricable to human wit; and tragedies alone could clear such an atmosphere. There were quite new elements also at work in this stirring reign. Matilda's struggles had brought numbers of foreign adventurers, rank and file, into the country, lower types of men than the Normans. Her son Harry, with all his ability, perhaps was not the equal in genuine manhood to his predecessors of rightful claim. The Fulc blood was in him, and the Plantagenets may be well enough reckoned England's kingly diamonds of something less than the first water.

Very shortly before the accession of Henry, a charter was given to the church of Holy Trinity, Tottenham, London, by “Simon, earl of Northampton”; and, though undated, its signatures fix its time, and also give hint as to the kind of people then getting into the court circles. The carta is preserved among the Cottonian MSS. It is written very beautifully, on a piece of parchment seven or eight inches by five, to the extent of seven lines and a half; and some of the witnesses' names are suggestive of the beginning of the new time: Matilda, queen of the English; Custac, her daughter, a name and person perhaps not known out of this charter to record or history, English, French, or German; William of Ipres, the Flemish earl of Kent; Reimo of Dieppe; Richard de Bot; and other such barbarous names. Pet. de Hoo was a name that came to fame afterwards in Sussex, but there is a distinct lack of the finer Norman somids of gallant historic names even then in Matilda's surroundings. England has had some reason to regret the unfortunate close of the kingly house of Rollo, though she boasts of great rulers since.

Simon had made a marriage which helped him the better to fight his case to the successful end. His wife was Alice Gaunt, sole heiress to her father, Gilbert Gaunt, earl of Lincoln. Earl of Northampton and of Huntingdon, Simon had long been earl of Lincoln also, by the right of his wife. Her property was of splendid proportions. The first Gaunt was a nephew of William the Conqueror, and he had secured from his uncle one hundred and thirteen manors in Lincolnshire, with forty-one in other counties. In 12 Henry II (1166) when Thomas a Becket was figuring, there was an assessment made for the marriage of the king's daughter, and Simon, then only earl of Northampton, had sixty-eight knights' fees of old enfeoffment and twelve of new. If to these two earldoms be added the fees of the castle and honour of Huntingdon, the warlike, brilliant, and able captain of Henry II must be said to have succeeded; and perhaps he even surpassed in wealth and influence his grandfather, the Conqueror's favoured lame warrior. But this was not all his good fortune. He had two sisters, Amicia and Hawise, and though record does not seem to have preserved to whom they were married, they must have had bright and rich lives, because it is known that they were both under the king for feudal marriage. Kings took care to have justice out of their wards, and Henry is well known for his generosity to those who were thus in his custody. The irony of human fortune, however, is powerfully illustrated by the facts that Simon died childless, and that once again the bone of contention, Huntingdon, fell to Scottish royalty. His wife's property, with the earldom of Lincoln, went on her death to her uncle Robert, and Northampton became crown land. The last Earl Simon died in 1184, and was buried in the priory of St.Andrews, Northampton; the foundation of his grandfather, and the favoured monastery of his ancestors.

William, king of Scotland, had in 1174 gone back ransomed to Scotland, and Stow in his Annals has the curious tale that hearing that his nobles would not come to meet him farther than Peebles, twenty miles from the capital, ‘he took with him many of the younger sons of noblemen in England that bare him good will, and gave them lands in Scotland, which he took from such as were rebels to him there’. Stow continues, ‘The names of those gentlemen were Bayelliol, Brewse, Soully, Moubray, Saintclere, Hay, Giffard, Ramsay, Grame, etc’. It is to be feared that the “industrious” annalist is venturing too far from London, but most of his sayings are accurate.

Under “Lord Sinclair”, Burke's Peerage has suggestive discussion of different lines of Scottish Sinclairs, as the Roslin and the Herdmanston, whose common origin cannot be traced to one ancestor on this side of the English Channel. If the Scottish Sinclairs first saw Edinburgh and Roslin then, history and records have been making the greatest mistakes; but it is quite possible that some of the English Sinclairs joined the descendants of Queen Margaret Atheling's dapifer at this period.

King William ten years after this got Huntingdon, and immediately gave it to his youngest brother David, whose daughters and their descendants were heirs of the Scottish crown, and the occasion of the Wallace and Bruce wars of independence, or of solution as to what Englishman should have the northern province of the island for which the Norman kings exacted the usual tributary homage. Northampton and afterwards Huntingdon fell into the sovereign's hands. For more than a hundred years the earldom of Northampton was in abeyance, till the Bohuns in 1337, earls of Hereford and Essex, constables of England, justices, and all that was well securable, got possession. They, too, became extinct, after some successions, in the person of a youth whose shoulders bore an unheard-of weight of hereditary and patrimonial honours and wealth.

Nothing is more pathetic than some of the sudden disappearances of English nobility, though it seemed to have all that could aid vitality. Simon's wife, Alice Gaunt, was buried at Bridlington monastery, the foundation of her grandfather Walter, earl of Lincoln. If mention is made that Braybrook manor, Rothwell hundred, was always part of the estates of the Simons, who are such singularly dramatic figures at the very heart of English and even of Scottish history, they may be left with their often chequered but always honourable glory.

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