Robert and Hamo were the sons of Hamo, earl of Corboil, Normandy, by the testimony of Brady the faithful historian, Glover the expert herald, and all the authorities. William of Corboil was created archbishop of Canterbury in 1123. Madox says there were difficulties about his creation. He is said to have been the first churchman as apart from statesman appointed to the office. That he was of the Hamo family, and consequently had the royal influence on his side, may be explanatory of the trouble, if it was that he was too young or private a man for the dignity. He figures fully in the clerical records of the prelacy. Enough if what notice he has in some secular histories be discussed now.
Rapin rightly calls him Corbet, and this is the same word which was also spelt Corbie. It was an earldom of Picardy, situated further north than Normandy, and under the king of France, if really at all subject. This externality probably gained William his archbishopric, with other aids which may be noticed. Rapin does not go quite wrong, in his sound and able History of England, when describing the successor of Ralph, the previous archbishop:
‘Corbet, abbot of St.Bennet's, was elected by a synod held at Winchester for that purpose’. On this Tindal makes notes, giving his authorities,
‘At Gloucester. See Sax. Annals.’
There were many Corbets in England's history who might have reminded Tindal. Lord Peter Corbett in 1296 figured in Edward's claims for Scottish homage. Nay, does not Tindal himself note that Reginald, earl of Cornwall, was the son of Henry Beauclerc, the king, by Sibil, the daughter of Sir Robert Corbet of Alcester, in Warwickshire ? She was his own kin, as they both well knew. Burke says of the present baronets of the name that the
‘family was founded in England by Corbeau, a noble Norman who accompanied the Conqueror;’ and, in The Domesday Book, Roger holds twenty-four lordships, in Shropshire alone, while his brother Robert has fourteen in that county, and was the lord of Alcester. One of Lord Clive the conqueror of India's ancestors, Richard Clive of Huxley and of Styche, married Margaret, daughter of Sir Richard Corbet of Moreton Corbet and Elizabeth Devereux of the lord Ferrers family.
William Sinclair held the archbishopric till his death in 1136. In church matters he is found in 1127 summoning a council on the burning question then of celibacy, after the faux pas of the notorious Cardinal de Crena, sent by Pope Honorius II to England in 1125 to advocate the cause. William's cure was to put the marrying priests into the king's hand to be dealt with. The plan was good till the king learnt the comfortable addition to his income from dispensations. Rapin says this caused many of the inferior clergy here to be the last in Europe to submit to the pope's decree. One of the great clerical and state troubles of this period, was the power the pope took of sending legates with authority above all the bishops and archbishops of the country. William was the first English archbishop who held at the same time the pope's legateship; and probably this great step gained from the popish thraldom, was somewhat owing to the scandal which the previous legate, the Italian cardinal, created.
The synod met at Westminster where William of Corboil, archbishop and pope's legate, presided. Some of the resolutions carried are suggestive of the period. The third was against money being the way to become monks and nuns. It would seem that there was competition for the idle luxurious religious life. One forbade plurality of archdeaconries, and one that monks should become farmers. The payment of tithes was made sacred by their being considered “the demesnes of the Most High”.
But it is on the political side that William Sinclair has most general interest. Henry I had given great favour to his nephews, Stephen, afterwards king, and Henry whom he made abbot of Glastonbury Abbey. They were the third and fourth sons of Adela, Henry Beauclerc's sister, and of the earl of Blois. The eldest was imbecile, and the second took his father's position. Stephen and Henry put heads together to get the rule of England, after Prince William was drowned and Matilda was made heir to the crown. Henry had been made bishop of Winchester, and just before Henry the king's death in 1135, had gained William Sinclair, archbishop of Canterbury, and the wealthy Roger, bishop of Salisbury, to favour his brother Stephen's aspirations to the crown, in preference to Matilda. Rapin's sentences give the clue to the state of matters which made Stephen king of England so unexpectedly. The three prelates secured the whole church; and the lay lords, for all their oaths in favour of Matilda to Henry, were powerless.
‘The archbishop of Canterbury affirmed that the oath taken to Matilda was null and void, as being directly contrary to the customs of the English, who had never suffered a woman to reign over them. The bishop of Salisbury maintained that the oath was not binding, because Matilda was married out of the realm, without the consent of the barons, whose intention was when they swore, not to give themselves a king but of the race of William the Conqueror. In fine, to remove all scruples Hugh Bigod, the late king's steward, swore on the holy evangelists that Henry before he died disinherited Matilda and nominated his nephew Stephen for his successor’.
Twenty-two days after the king's death Stephen was crowned at Westminster by William Sinclair, the archbishop. It is said that his conscience made him let fall the host at the ceremony, but age and weakness are better explanation. He did not live long to support the king of his making; and so much the worse, it is likely, for the king. William's French birth and training made Salique law to him matter of conscience, and he would have used every effort to maintain the position he had taken. Stephen made the immense mistake, on the death of the archbishop in 1136, the year after his accession, when everything was quiet, of seizing not only the revenues of the see of Canterbury, but, as the archbishop died without a will being made, all his effects as the prerogative of the crown. This was against his own express charter of liberties, and the church never forgave him. The mischief of this reign began, and nothing but exhaustion, and Stephen's own giving up of the struggle of fifteen years and more, could end the misery.
It is a possible theory that this is the “Willlamus de Sancto Claro” who endows the abbey of Savigny, and gives the lands of Vilers to it with Matilda, countess of Gloucester; and even so, there would be no contradiction of their common lineage, both being descendants of the earls of Corbeuil. He certainly, as far as time is concerned, could be the William de St.Clare who signs the charter of the earldom of Essex by Stephen to Geffrey de Mandeville, the son of Eudo Sinclair's daughter Margaret. But in all charters of the period the clergy were most particular to put their titles with their names. There is nothing of this in the charter.
Malet's date of the foundation of the abbey of Savigny, 1139, would have to be changed before this William could be its founder and endower. What is most in favour of him being the man is that if he were not Matilda's brother he could as an archbishop appear without indecorum in a conjoint charter of lands gifted. As being a relative also, and having lands in juxtaposition to hers in Normandy, it could quite well be that he was so yoked in a good work. It is right to say thus much, but the vast preponderance of likelihood is the other way. The seal with the warlike crusader is not clerical at all, though it must not be forgotten that civil earldoms and hierarchical office were then quite compatible in one person. On the whole, however, Matilda, covnitess of Gloucester, had another companion than this able and honoured high priest of her lineage, and for him and his affairs further search must be made.
William of Malmesbury in his work The Pontiffs of England, tells of the peculiarly clerical antecedents of this the first wholly-trained monk of the see. His quarrel for supremacy with the stubborn Thurston, archbishop of York, was founded mainly on the want of the invariable political influence; and the monks had great terror lest he should sweep their houses clean, to their personal disadvantage, but the prior of “Cic” was wisely equal to his promotion. The chronicler gives his character pithily,
‘He was indeed very religious, somewhat affable, but neither tory nor radical’. The family passion for architecture had in him a good representative. The Magna Britannia says that the cathedral church of Canterbury was rebuilt by him, and that there was a great public consecration of the building in the presence of the king, the queen, David, king of Scots, and the nobles. His work is to be seen to this day at the cathedral which is the centre of England's religious hierarchy; and it might almost be a question whether he was more fortunate in being the primate than in being builder of the revered historic temple.
One other excursion beyond this “island in the sea”, this England, with its “happy race of men”, and return is made to it for good.