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THE COUNTESS OF GLOUCESTER

It may be a more difficult and less successful undertaking to show that Matilda, the wife of Robert, earl of Gloucester, the able son of Henry I, was Sinclair in lineage; but it is impossible to escape the task, if respect ought to be paid to most suggestive and, it may be, wholly settling evidence. The king's son was bom out of wedlock, by Nesta, daughter of Rhees ap Tudor, prince of South Wales, the same blood as Queen Elizabeth afterwards. He is one of the familiar figures of history, as the champion of his sister Matilda, the empress, against Stephen, and there was no better man of his period. Fosbrooke, in his History of Gloucester speaks enthusiastically of him as a great and most excellent nobleman. Patron of the useful chronicler, William of Malmesbury, was one of his many distinguishing impersonations. His eulogist writes of him as having ‘a character of delicious contemplation’. The Tewkesbury Chronicle says he was born in Normandy, before the death of his grandfather, the Conqueror. When he got earldom or consulatum from his father, he was usually called Robert Consul, but he is also named Robert Melhent.

It is of his countess, however, that description is required. She was the daughter of Robert Fitz-Hamo, the famous “knight of Rye”, by his second wife, Sibil de Montgomery, daughter of Roger de Montgomery, earl of Shrewsbury. A Cottonian manuscript says she was their only daughter and heir, but Matilda had three sisters. She and her husband, the king's son, by her right, heired also some of the confiscated property of the fiercest man of the reign, and perhaps one of the worst treated, Robert de Belesme, whose lineage name was Montgomery, she being his niece. This was after the famous forty-five charges drove him to Normandy for his life. The Montgomeries were at the Conquest about the most powerful of the Norman families, having got very large possessions from the Conqueror in all parts of England. The bitterness which ordinary historians ascribe to Henry I with regard to this nobleman, finds its rational, if hardly a delightful explanation, in the relationship thus shown.

William of Jumieges is monastically particular in telling of the thirteen love children whom Beauclerc, the pet monarch of the priests, had to provide about and great necessities excuse many things, possibly covetousness with the other venial sins of royalties. One thing has to be said, that better sons and daughters than they were, fall rarely to the lot of kings, no matter what the hierarchical precautions and training may be. It is something to be thankful about, as saving noble fellow-souls from being broken-spirited outcasts for life, to remember that some of the world's altogether best creatures have first seen light out of the usual fold. Virtue of the deepest kind acknowledges this, while with earnest warning voice at the same time it accepts the facts as the exceptional, to prove at once the rule of restraint and the danger of spiritual pride. A son like Robert, earl of Gloucester, was a joy to a father which only made the grief the keener that he could not hand his sceptre after him to such capable hands. As it was, through paternal favour and his marriage with Matilda Sinclair, he became the richest and most powerful next to the sovereign. The shortest proof of what he gathered is that their son, William, earl of Gloucester, in the aid for marriage of the king's daughter, 12 Henry II (1166), was assessed for 22.5 knights' fees of land in Kent, and 260.5 old with 13.5 new enfeoffment elsewhere. And there are indications that William's generosity was decreasing rather than increasing his parents' wonderfully numerous estates.

But this was not all. With Matilda, Robert also got a great inheritance in Normandy. William Gemeticensis gives a full account of it. He says that Matilda's name was Sibil, and not the name of her mother, who was Mabel Montgomery; but he is wrong. His account, however, seems to have quite confused a host of writers who cannot settle whether Robert Consul's countess was Maud, Sibil, or Mabel, or two, or all of the names. It will be seen that Matilda was her name, and no doubt about it. Describing Beauclerc's love family, he says, ‘His father, however, married to Robert, the eldest of them, a certain very noble girl, by name Sibil, the daughter of Robert, the son of Hamo, niece by Mabel, the daughter of Roger de Montgomery, father of Robert of Belesme.’. It has been said that she heired much if not all the English lands of her fierce uncle, Robert of Belesme. The king, he states, conceded to her husband, ‘Very large inheritance in Normandy as well as in England, which belonged by hereditary right to this maiden’. He describes the head town on her Norman lands as Torrinneium, on the borders of the consulatus or bailliwicks or counties of Bayeux and the Cotentin, two miles distant from the river Vire. It was extremely populous, he says, though the agricultural produce was not remarkably rich, merchandise being largely the interest of a busy and, to its proprietors, profitable town and country. The chronicler adds also that because it was not right to have so much property without public dignity, the king gave him ‘The earldom of Gloucester’. Again and again he gets new additions to his lands through this most extraordinary of heiresses, as her relations die. It is also said that Henry I at his death in 1135, gave him 60,000 directly out of the treasury at Falaise.

Robert, earl of Gloucester, had fought beside his father in the battle of Brenneville, 1119, which, by the defeat of his cousin William, son of Robert Curthose, finally established Henry as king of Normandy and England. He was at the siege of Brionne Castle in 1123. But he gained his high reputation as a warrior in aiding his sister to rescue her father's crown from the usurper Stephen. When he first came to England in 1135 after his father's death, he actually paid homage to Stephen. Nothing else could then be done. But he went to his earldom, and having carefully built Bristol Castle, of stone taken from Caen, he negotiated with Milo, earl of Hereford, the constable of England, and they brought his sister from Anjou in 1138, to be received at Arundel Castle, Sussex, by her stepmother Alice, the countess, formerly the queen of Henry. This was the beginning of chequered struggle till he took Stephen prisoner at Lincoln in 1141.

His famous speech in Joreval is of genealogical as well as historic interest. It has been noticed that he criticised the character of Simon Sinclair, the second earl of the name, then his enemy. The actual speech puts the proper light on the subject. It was not likely he would speak very severely, if he could help it, of his own and his wife's kinsman, nor has he. He addresses the soldiers first about Stephen as a forsworn man, having promised to his father Henry to support Matilda his daughter in her accession to his crown; he then attacks the earl of Mellent, as being deceitful above measure, and equally lazy; next, the earl of Albemarle is pictured as a drunkard, and knowing nothing of soldiering; and lastly, because he was too important not to be named, he describes, in comparatively mild terms, Simon, earl of Northampton, as a man of words only, who never makes performance of his promise. To soldiers in the face of approaching battle something strong had to be said, but it does not appear that Earl Robert lost his good sense on the occasion in the least degree, and the historians are rash who draw too much conclusion as to men from this speech, even if delivered as reported. Stephen he took prisoner to Bristol Castle with him, but the tables were turned again, and Rochester Castle kept Robert in durance. But all that is well known history. His death in 1146 takes him out of the troubled time.

In the transcript of Glover by the Rouge-dragon Smith, MS. 245, Harleian collection. Matilda or Sibilla, as he alternates, marries again, and to Nigel of Mowbray, son of Roger of Albini. Albinis were from Thoeni, uncle to Rollo. Nigel, the famous Neel, was brother to William de Albini Pincerna, the founder of Wymondham Abbey, Norfolk, whose son William, the lion slayer, was that earl of Arundel to whom Queen Alice, of Lorraine or Boulogne, was married, when she received Robert, earl of Gloucester, and his sister, the empress, at Arundel Castle in 1138. The countess of Gloucester's second husband, Nigel, became earl of Northumberland in all except the title, having received the lands of Mowbray, the rebel earl of 1095, from Rufus. He changed his name to Mowbray, such conversions being a kind of passion with the Albinis, the Thoenis of 1066 and previously. At her new home, the splendid warlike castle of Northumbrian Bamborough, historic as any in England, Matilda Sinclair spent the evening of her rich life.

Sir Alexander Malet, Bart., B.A., an ambassador of the present century to European states, and something after the twentieth in direct male line from Malet of the Conqueror's special friendship, says that a William de St.Clair endowed the abbey of Savigny, Normandy, in the reign of Henry I, and he adds, “The English Sinclairs are reported to be of this stock”. The passage occurs incidentally in a note to his rhymed translation of Wace, the French chronicler of, among much related history and biography, the battle of Hastings. Malet is an authority on Norman subjects. His words are of value. He also states in the same book that the priory of Villers-Frossard was founded by William Sinclair. In the division of France into departments at the revolution of last century, it is noticeable that St.Clair beside St.Lowas made a commune, and Villers-Frossard being in it, the home district of his family was where William founded the priory.

Malet notes further that ladies St.Clare founded religious houses in England. The abbey of nuns in the Minories, at the tower, London, would seem to have been one of these. The church of the nunnery was founded by Matilda, queen of Henry I, in 1108, the burial-place of the earls of Dartmouth and others of much note. In 1797 the ruins of the convent of St.Clare were large and imposing. It has been said that it took its name from its nuns being of the order of St.Clare, the Italian saint who was counterpart and the female friend of St.Francis; but she died as late as 1253, and the nunnery had its title long before her birth from a foundress of the lineage. A striking aid to the proof of this is to be found in the Report of the Historical MSS. Commission. In the St.Bartholomew hospital MSS. John Sinclair of Hardaness, in Kent, is a donor to, and has also much business with others about, a chapel of St.Clare on Hardaness. The usual relations of a lord to his chapel are too well established not to be indicative of the lineage connection; as, for example, the priory of Montacute belonged to the Montacutes in name as in reality.

But this step of proof of Matilda's lineage is not dependent on even Malet's accuracy, as man of position and a Norman of high blood, and therefore of special carefulness as to facts in such field. He may well be trusted as to the dates, wherever he may have found them. There is a beautiful transcript in the public record office, Fetter Lane, London, from Basse-Normandie and Gascony rolls, of the charter given to Savigny abbey. Here Matilda, countess of Gloucester, and William de St.Clair give their lands of Vilers and of Than to the abbey of Savigny. It does not at first sight agree altogether with Malet's note. He says that William Sinclair endowed the abbey in the reign of Henry. The clause that they held the land from the time of Henry I would go to prove that this conjunct endowment was made after that king's death. Malet may be quite right if this, as was usual, is another endowment added to the original one, which his information, however acquired, implies to have been that of William alone.

Duncan in his work, The Dukes of Normandy, has general reference to the foundation of religious houses in Normandy by ladies of the Sinclair lineage. He is aware that the Sinclairs founded houses or “establishments” in England; and this is something in connection with a subject hitherto virgin among writers of the historian class. In his List of the Norman Barons who fought at Hastings a good paragraph occurs. ‘Saint-Clair is an arrondissement of Saint-Lo. The remains of the old baronial castle are still visible near to the church. The name of Saint-Clair figures distinctly in the Bromton Chronicle, and though greatly defaced, may be traced in the Battle-Abbey list. William Saint-Clair endowed the abbey of Savigny, in the reign of Henry I. In 1139, the priory of Villers-Frossard was founded by a person of the same name. The Saint-Clairs formed establishments in England, but they are now changed to Sinclair’.

These statements are the more trustworthy because taken from the faithful local researches of Auguste le Prevost, a Frenchman who made Norman antiquities a life study. But to return to the prize of the public record office. The note in French added to the charter is of much later origin than itself, but it is of considerable use: “This charter was sealed with yellow was, and with double hangers, but there remains only the seal of William Sinclair”. To parchment charters the seals, sometimes as many as seven or eight, according to the persons interested, were attached by narrow slips, also of parchment, called queues or tails. The seal which survives is as large as a penny. Round the edge, in quaint somewhat irregular capitals, runs “Sigillum Wlelmi De Sco Claro”, the beginning and end of the inscription separated by a cross for full stop. The centre is occupied by a crusader on an armoured horse, the warrior armed cap-a-pie, with spear from which hangs a pennon en treble queue, as the describer of the charter would put it, with sword to his side, and an oval shield, having a central device, on his left shoulder. The peculiar saddling, the size of the stirrups and spurs, and the long thin loose look of the knight's boots towards toes and heels, are as characteristic of the time as they are noteworthy for antiquarian purposes. Over the horse's head and neck there are ribbed plates of, no doubt, in the actual field, shining steel. It is easy to draw inference from this remarkable seal that he was in the highest sphere and spirit of his period.

But who are these two granters of the charter ? That they are brother and sister is the probable explanation of all the circumstances. This Matilda is undoubtedly the daughter of Robert Fitz-Hamo, because she was the first countess of Gloucester, through her husband, Robert Consul, Henry I's son. No countess of Gloucester occurs with the same name till Matilda, wife of Richard Clare, in 1230, daughter of the earl of Lincoln. The proof is absolute that it was the wife of Robert Consul and the daughter of Robert Fitz-Hamo who gave this charter conjointly with William Sinclair; and the document answers, besides, the confused difficulties of some chroniclers and genealogists as to whether she was Maud, Sibil, or Mabel. If the history of William will show that he was her brother or near relation complete satisfaction must be the result.

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