The first William was the husband of Hubert Sinclair's only daughter and heiress; the second, their son. It has been said by Polwhele that the husband of the heiress was a man of noble birth and in high favour with the king, which might go very well without saying, as the phrase sans dire puts likely things. The spelling of the name is rather variable in the records, but there can be very little doubt that he is one of the Giffard family which gave the two first Norman earls to Buckingham. The Walter Giffards were De Longuevilles in Normandy, the title there being earl or count of Longueville. It was Walter Giffard who commanded a division of the Norman army in the battle of Hastings, and he figures in the rhymed chronicle perhaps most in the scene where the Conqueror had taken his position for refreshment of food after the fight. Giffard was not there when it was decided to place “the tables” where Harold's last stand and death occurred, and on coming up he is amazed, and counsels care lest the Saxons be only half defeated yet. It is quite a dramatic interlude, but William would not move, and Giffard takes his place with the rest of the blood-spattered determined victors.
He fared well in the distribution of lands, getting no lordships; and he was one of the few in the council which aided William Fitz-Osborn and Odo to govern England. He was afterwards one of the commissioners who drew up The Domesday Book. In Rufus's reign he is remarkable for loyalty to that monarch at first, having fortified for his cause his castle in Normandy; but afterwards he sided more with Robert Curthose. He was a witness of the laws of Henry I, and died in 1103. He was buried in the abbey church of Longavilla, Normandy, of his own foundation. His brother, he who in 1128 first brought in the Cistertian monks, placing them in Waverley Abbey, Surrey, was William Giffard, bishop of Winchester and chancellor of England, whose aid to Eudo Sinclair, dapifer, at a critical time has been seen. The Monasticon in one place makes his sister, Rose Giffard, who was widow of Richard Fitz-Gilbert of Tunbridge, earl of Clare, Eudo's wife, but in another passage the right relationship is shown. She was the mother of his wife Rose Clare.
Bishop Giffard and Peter de Valence, Eudo's sister Albreda's son, helped to make the peace between Henry I and his dapifer. The Valences are the family who were constables of Hertford Castle, and who had for seat Orford Castle, Suffolk. As earls of Pembroke they took their best figure in history. William was the uncle of Edward I. The conqueror of Robert Bruce at Methven and elsewhere is a well-known figure, the Aylmer de Valence of the time of that Edward. Their relationships with Sinclairs are frequent. One of the marriages has monumental proof at Braybrook, Northamptonshire, as late as 1571.
Besides the bishop only another of these Giffards had the highest rank. To the first earl, a second, who was also Walter, succeeded, and he, who was a faithful supporter of Henry I in his many struggles, died without issue. He signed the charter of liberties by this king, as may be seen in Matthew Paris. The lands of his earldom of Buckingham came, through his aunt Rose Giffard's rights, to Richard, earl of Clare, and those of his earldom of Longueville in Normandy fell to William, the marshal of England and the “great earl of Pembroke” of the reigns of John and Henry III.
When the claims to the Scottish crown were being investigated by Edward I in 1291 at Norham, John Hastings, as descendant of the youngest of the three daughters whose rights were being founded on as best, demanded the partition of Scotland, on the ground that it was a fee of the English crown. In this case he would have a third, as if it had been an earldom or a knight's fee. “Fees are all partible”, was his cry, and he was technically right. There is more insight got into the condition of England from this historic phrase than from volumes of investigation. The seemingly sudden extinction of families, the immense changefulness of possessions, the difficulties of tracing genealogies, the mixing of high Norman names in the most ordinary spheres, which are marked features of the centuries after the Conquest, have ample explanation in the words of John Hastings. The danger of exclusiveness, so open to poor human nature, its very strength throwing into weakness, had thus a powerful corrective.
It was much later that primogeniture came with its rather frosty fingers to preserve, but also to keep out energy from, select families. The division of possessions, by heiresses in particular, is the cause of lost lines to an immense extent. The barbaric equal division, on the elementary theory of fair play, had and has its evil consequences, however just, as the foundation of the primogeniture and male-succession system also has. In its rigour, the latter could only have been the work of pedants and mad genealogists. To have nobody worth chronicling about is the disconcerting result of this fossilising of best life. Via media, golden mean, common sense, or whatever phrase helps to keep us human, that is, not too divine, and never brutal, is the goal of all best culture, from peasant to king; and none of us can escape when we break the universal law.
The courses of lineage are subject to a thousand chances, suggestive enough of all the melancholies, in the midst of whatever honours and gallantry. For example, Hubert Sinclair of Norwich had descendants by the male line in Yorkshire and Lancashire who took some local or other accidental name, and grew into one of the greatest families of the district, Sir Henry Ellis says, as the Frechvilles. In the time of Charles II the last of them disappeared. Under the earlier system of succession to name and property, these surprises are endless. Disguised by new names England has now much blood in it of the old families, Sinclairs included.
Giffards there were to some number when the earl's lands were divided. In Gloucestershire there were the lords of Brimsfield, the liberal endowers of Gloucester Abbey. At the battle of Evesham in 1265, John Giffard was “the second man to the earl of Gloucester”. Walter Giffard was archbishop of York in Edward I's reign. As early as 1071 one of the earl's family went to Scotland with William Sinclair among “the emigrants”, and founded the Giffards there. Such Sinclair or Giffard might not try to heir anything here after favour for the Athelings. There was no want of male Giffard blood to succeed the earls of Buckingham, but the nearer female rights as then legal, kept them from succession, even to the titles.
That William de Longueville, the husband of Hubert Sinclair's daughter, was of this family, all the indications point; and that he took the Norman estate as his surname, is quite in accordance with facts. Polwhele is therefore right that he was of as noble blood as there was; and the close relationship of the Giffards or Longvales with Eudo Sinclair is good evidence that the king put the property of the last Sinclair lord of Colchester, by no means out of the family, in using his right of marriage over his favourite ward. In The Domesday Book there is a manor Longueville or Lanvalee in Kent, which was the right position for William's home to be, the chief scene of the family traditions. He may have been of a Norman family of this same lineage.
At Hubert Sinclair's death in 1165 at Bridgenorth, William Langvale was in his manhood; for he got after his marriage, not only his father-in-law's lands, but he was made constable of Colchester Castle. He held it under Henry Second, Richard I, and John. He is in record as paying 200 marks of the usual fine at change of monarch, to the latter. That he was also warden of the forest of Essex must not be forgotten. King John when he granted Magna Charta gave, or was forced to give, at the same time a charter of the liberties of the forests, which shows the importance of such office. The people's food, clothes, and fire depended on the wise provisions of the warden. In the chronicle of the abbey of St.Albans a few words which survive give a double inference, namely, as to the spread of his lands over England, and as to his religious liberality. William of Lanvale gave to it the villa or farm of Dissington in Northumberland, called “Ducentuna, in Northumbria”, by the monks.
The first of the two William Langvales died in 1210 at a good old age. He was succeeded by his son “of the same name and surname” by the lady Sinclair. The position of the family is at once fixed by this that he is one of the barons (named by Matthew Paris) who wrested from John at Runnimede beside the Thames the charters which are the bulwarks of English liberty. “W. de Lanvalei” is the name as given there. He comes before Geffrey Mandeville, earl of Essex, in the list; and this reminds of the previous Geffrey, of Stephen's reign, who like this William Langvale was also a Sinclair by the mother. It is his charter of confirmation of the charter of Hubert de Sancto Claro, his grandfather, that is preserved in the British Museum among the Harleian charters, referring to the church of Holy Trinity, Norwich, and the monastery of Bermondsey, Southwark, already noticed.
He married a daughter of Alan Basset, a great surname. He is the twelfth of the sixteen nobles who appear at the head of Magna Charta as it is still to be seen. Thomas Basset is another of those, as the Latin has it, nobilium virorum. Bassets are the only family with this double honour. Gilbert and Philip were chief men in the Richard, John, and Henry III reigns. One of the Bassets was governor of Dover and warden of the Cinque Ports.
The lady's grandfather appears in this,
‘Richard Basset and Aubrey de Vere account for the fee-farm of Surrey, Cambridgeshire, and Huntingdonshire: In the treasury £414, 1s. by weight: Great Rolls, 5 Stephen, 4th roll’. This was in 1141. The Veres fell heirs to Eudo Sinclair's lordship of Colchester Castle, and the Bassets, as lords of Drayton, are long conspicuous in history. In Henry V's reign one of them, a Sir William Basset, was made governor of St.Cler Castle in France; the same fortress which was burnt by William Mandeville, earl of Essex, in Henry II's reign, of which king it was a favourite residence, who planted some trees there with his own hands.
An only daughter, Hawise, was the fruit of the marriage, and thus these Langvales came to their period. Her fortunes were also distinguished. In 17 John (1216) she was put under the wardship of Hubert de Burgh, who is one of England's greatest men. He married her to his son, John de Burgh, whose mother was the Princess Margaret of Scotland, sister of the king. Hawise had heired her grand-aunt, the daughter of Hamo Sinclair of Colchester and sister of Hubert Sinclair, in her properties of Stanway manor and Lexenden, Essex, given to her by Henry II; and her father had the bulk of the Sinclair properties already through his mother; so that she was an heiress to be desired, even in the large scheming of such a giant of distinction and honours as Hubert de Burgh. The earl of Kent, the seneschal of Poitou, governor of Dover Castle, ambassador repeatedly, chamberlain of the household, justice of England, and, on the death in 1220 of William, the marshal, the great earl of Pembroke, who was the only man to be compared with him of his time, governor in his room of the kingdom, Hubert de Burgh was a father-in-law such as few ladies secure. The lists of his lands and offices read like fable. His king, Henry III, not only when a boy but in his manhood was untiring in adding to this man's immense fortunes. Among the sixteen “noble men” of Magna Charta he stood eighth as, senesculus Pictaviae. The successful defence he made in 1216-17 of Dover Castle against Lewis, the dauphin of France, is famous.
Condemnation by him as chief justiciary, of Constantine, a London street-hero who had raised a dangerous insurrection in 1222, on his own fall from his position of first man next the king in 1232 to misery and persecution beyond all imagination, made 20,000 citizens swear to go and take him (a kind of monarchical Strafford, as they thought), from the altar of the church at Merton, Surrey, to revenge their republican's death by his. Only by policy were they prevented. There is no tale in English or hardly any other history so pathetically descriptive of human nature, both individual and collective, as his; and volumes could be filled to high and entertaining purpose in exhibiting his great but greatly chequered life. A brave man, he kept his courage up to the last. Not like Wolsey did he go down never to rise, but regained before his death probably as much of the world's goods and honours as he then thought sufficient.
His son, Sir John de Burgh, Hawise's husband, was knighted by Henry III in 1129, three years before his father was disgraced. He signalised himself, Matthew Paris says, in 1242 at the battle of Xantoignes in France. Matthew of Westminster and he, take note of the death of Richard de Burgh, “a baron of note”, in this same year. Dugdale follows the history of these De Burghs, and from him it is worth noting that Lanvally was held for one knight and a half's service, the original but probably much cut up manor of the Langvales. Hawise de Lanvally had among other lands Kingstown, Hallingberrie, Waokre, and Lexenden. Henceforward there do not seem ties of Sinclairs to Colchester, its castle, abbey, and lands, though they figure for centuries in other parts of Essex.