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THE VISCOUNT AND FEE-FARMER OF COLCHESTER

The name and locality of this man, who is frequently mentioned in state rolls of the reigns of Henry I, Stephen, and as late as Henry II, bind the Ryes of England and France still more closely. Hamo de Sancto Claro at Colchester, is a combination which could not be accidental. He appears to have been of the Fitz-Hamo and Hamo Dapifer family, and related at greater distance to Ralph, Hubert, Eudo Dapifer, and to Adam of the Two Camps, Kent. He was probably the brother of William de Sancto Claro, the sons, it may be, though more light is necessary, of Fitz-Hamo by the Welsh princess, Theodora ap Tudor. If so, he was the elder, his properties being much more extensive than those of him of Dorset, he who endowed the abbey of Savigny in conjunction with his sister or near relation Matilda, countess of Gloucester, in 1139. The Great Roll of the Pipe of 31 Henry I (1131) makes Hamo the payer of heavy taxes in Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Sussex, Boseham, Norfolk, Suffolk, Durham, Northamptonshire, and Bedfordshire. He ranks among the chief men of the time in this respect, his largest properties being, as to their order of size, in Bedfordshire, Norfolk, and Hertfordshire.

These localities point unmistakably to heirship of Fitz-Hamo's lands in part, and also some of Hamo Dapifer's. Whether it is possible to establish this thoroughly from Domesday without other aid, must be left for specialists in legal business. The records of him and his doings are unimpeachable in their integrity; and it becomes a most interesting inquiry, whether successful or not, how he got all these lands, in the most favoured spots of the kingdom. From the other families no likely person could be chosen to fill the place this Hamo of Colchester does. That he was Fitz-Hamo's eldest and William the second son would satisfy many related events. It will be seen afterwards that there was a third brother, and his family distinguish themselves in history. It might be that Hamo Sinclair of Colchester, as far as time and birth are concerned, could have been a scion of the Hubert of Norwich, or Ralph of Nottingham, families; but the extensive properties, and their situations, shut off the real possibility of such connection, even should there be nothing directive in the name.

If he is the son of Fitz-Hamo, he is seven steps from Rollo his ancestor, William the Conqueror being five, as the century nearly between their different dates of births might make right. That Hamo was in close relation to the crown, is indicated by the fact that Henry I gave Colchester and its castle to him, after Eudo Sinclair the dapifer's death, the relation of both. It has been noted that Henry was at the deathbed in Normandy of Eudo; and though Eudo had his son, the first earl of Essex, then alive, and also his daughter, Margaret, the wife of Geffrey Mandeville, earl of Essex in her right, he seems to have given a large part of his lands and property to King Henry. Colchester Castle was in the hands of the king, and much besides of the dapifer's emoluments. It is not improbable that the fee-farm which the crown gave of it and of Colchester, on feudal principle, to Hamo de St.Clair, was of the nature of a compromise as to rights of heirships.

His running accounts with the treasury were of this nature, ‘Hamo Sinclair renders an account of the fee-farm of the town of Colchester: In the treasury; 38, 16s. 7d.: and he owes 23 0s. 10d.’. At that time, as every one knows, sums of this kind were more than perhaps twenty times present value. These being current sums, it is difficult to be sure of how much Henry let the returns of Colchester to him at. The burgesses a considerable time afterwards, 32 Henry II (1132), got free from feudal customs to the extent of paying their own rent, which was then 42 per annum. This, however, may have been a much smaller sum than Hamo paid. But as late as 1327 the citizens of London paid only 300 for the fee-farm of London. Morant, the historian of Colchester, says fee-farm is equivalent to rent and perpetuity, so that Hamo's possession had all the nature of property, estates often having perpetual tenure by either some personal service or small sum as acknowledgment of superiority. Tindal gives the same explanation of the term.

The fee-farm of Colchester, nevertheless, was then up to its value, though if the times grew better there would be no rise of rent. It was through him as sheriff or viscount that the taxes came to the crown, of aids, scutages, and tallages. There are frequent entries of such kind as this, ‘And the same Hamo Sinclair, king's sheriff, concerning the aid from the town of Colchester: In the treasury; 3, 2s. and 4d.’. So it went on continually, as is usual with public affairs, and Hamo was, in some respects, the equal and right successor of Eudo Sinclair, the more absolute lord of Colchester. The Ruber Liber Scaccarii has Hamo de Sco Claro as one of its familiar names. Morant says there is record that Colchester was in fee-farm in Stephen's reign, and also 9 and 17 Henry II (1109 and 1117); the sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire, this Hamo de St.Clair, being the holder at these periods, as no doubt throughout, if all the state accounts were available for examination.

The position of viscount or sheriff was then of high importance, he being the king's manager of counties, checking the doings of the count or earl, who had the charge of, and drew the third penny for, the actual rule of his county. Hamo Dapifer did not think it beneath him, though dapifer or high steward, next in dignity to the sovereign, to be '“sheriff of Kent”. This Hamo had a double charge with his two counties; and, without reference to his properties at all, this makes him a man of mark, his district of rule being particularly influential and prominent in his period. His entries in the little book by Hunter extracted from the Roll of the Pipe, 1131, are nearly a dozen; and from this it can be imagined how busy a man he was in civil affairs. The fee-farm of Eudo Dapifer's lands also would take much care of management, ‘he renders account with regard to the fee-farm of the land of Eudo Dapifer’.

Vice-count grew to be the later descriptive title recognisable under viscount, shire-reeve or sheriff being the Saxon equivalent to the Franco-Latin word. A recorded tax on his properties ranged in the different counties from 6s up to 38s. It is difficult to take conclusion as to their value from one taxation, there were so many taxes under different names; but it is of use by indicating their localities, which is a hard enquiry when The Domesday Book loses it relevance to the estates of new generations. That he was a buyer and seller of lands, and in this respect perhaps before his times, one of his transactions in Suffolk may example, ‘Muriel, the daughter of Ralph of Sanineio, renders an account of 18, 6s., 8d. that she has to pay for land free from all claim from Hamo Sinclair: In the treasury ten marks silver; and she owes , 11, 13s. 4d.’. Enough, however, of what easily may become duller than useful. Connected with the king's treasury he may have been, besides holding his sheriffships; as others of his relations were, it will be discovered.

Hamo Dapifer had a hall which had the full privileges of holding court, and he had houses besides in Colchester. This Hamo had one mansion near Chelmsford, and it was called St.Clere Manor. It would be built on one of the properties the rolls refer to in Essex, and would have the nature of a castle, as was usual. Colchester Castle did not make defence of less importance at St.Clere Manor. With Henry II he was in great favour, very likely because then well-stricken in years, after a very active and successful life. Colchester has stories about some of its sheriffs being so rapacious that they tried all they could to get the fee-farm given to the burgesses so as to escape exactions. But giving municipal freedom to cities, formerly under their feudal lords, became the habit of those times, and nothing of slight can specially reach Hamo as one of the oppressors. It is probable that villein-grumbling, town or country, had quick cure from the ruling and necessary vigour of all Norman lords, and Hamo would no doubt be equal to the traditions. Possibly Eudo Sinclair with his kindness spoiled the Colchestrians a little, and made them feel small burdens as if they were great. But there need be no injustice to them for what is to all appearance only the prattle and easy prejudice of some chronicler or writer while amusing himself with passing the time. Of this sheriff and his family the Colechestrians are nearly as proud as they are of their loved Eudo. To his only daughter, Henry II gave charters of the splendid estates of Stanway manor and of Lexden, in Essex. His only son was instrumental to this liberality by his doings. The father Hamo added to his other works interest in religious things like his predecessor Eudo.

Accounts are extant of his benefits to the abbey of St.John the Baptist, Colchester, the foundation of the dapifer. His name occur's in its Register, part of which is preserved among the Cottonian MSS. in a work of ancient extracts; and the usual habits of men of wealth and birth, make it safe to assume that his gifts, and perhaps his own foundations, were in accordance with what we know of his noted civil energy. It is certainly of more than genealogical interest to find Eudo and this Hamo of the next generation, of one mind as to Colchester's spiritual welfare. ‘At the same time was founded the abbey of St.John, Colchester, by Eudo, mayor of the palace to King William’; and Hamo as governor of Colchester Castle, fee-farmer of the town, proprietor in a dozen counties, sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire, and endower of his relation's abbey, as probably of other religious houses, was worthy in good degree to follow him. It would be valuable to know how Hamo's prosperity affected Eudo's son, John Sinclair, earl of Essex, and more especially Margaret, his daughter, after the death in 1144 of Geffrey, earl of Essex, her husband; but it will not perhaps be further cleared up, and there is at least this to depend on, that the lineage had good substance and success, though the times were so unsteady when not unjust and oppressive. Stephen's reign ruined noble families for ever, but this line reached better times in some of its members, and has effective English representatives.

If Hamo is not the son of Fitz-Hamo, the nephew of Hamo Dapifer, vicecome of Kent (the brother of Matilda, wife of Robert Consul, Henry I's son, and also brother of William de Sancto Claro of Dorset and other counties), who is he ? There are contemporaries of the name, but account of them hereafter will show the impossibility of his biography agreeing with theirs. The lineage connection with royalty is the best explanation of Henry I, about 1120, giving Hamo de St.Clair the fee-farm of Eudo's lands, and also of his castle and town of Colchester, the royal and Hamo families being further connected by Matilda's marriage ten years previously. If Henry had gained anything at the dapifer's deathbed, it is not likely he would have taken the trouble he evidently has, to let the main fruits pass out of his own family again. His daughter-in-law's half-brother was a fit and proper person to hold in hand this part of that king's immense possessions. They are still more imposing when reckoning is made of how he provided for his many near relations, his thirteen illegitimate children included. It is granted that there has not yet been found absolute record to make Hamo de St.Clair of Colchester Castle the son of Fitz-Hamo, or the nephew of Hamo Dapifer, but the tendency of what evidence there is points in this direction. Imagination must be kept out of the question, and the relationship accepted above may be open to correction.

Petroburgensis Benedictus abbas, in his chronicle, makes Hamo de Sancto Claro one of the witnesses to King Stephen's second charter to the people of England, and Stubbs in his Select Charters accepts this. But Richard Prior of Hagulstadt, in his chronicle, gives the signature as Hugo de Sancto Claro, whose history as royal cup-bearer will occur subsequently. That Eudo Martel and William de Albini in subscribing the same document are both called pincerna or cup-bearer, would favour Hamo of Colchester's subscription, but further knowledge may arise under Hugo de St.Clare pincerna.

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