History which deals with the most notorious of the archbishops of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, never overlooks Hugh Sinclair's position in the quarrel between the prelate and his king, Henry II. The family were as high at court, in his person, as when the dynasty of their own lineage was on the throne. They may have owed this chiefly to Matilda, the empress, though there is every sign that her son of the Anjou descent loved them dearly. How Hubert Sinclair saved his life has been told; and how Hugo stood by him in the worst struggle of his difficult and troubled reign, is equally worthy of remembrance.
The first preferment Thomas a Becket got in the church, after he left the bar, was from the abbey of St.Albans, to Bradfield, the property of the descendants of Richard Sinclair, the hero of Hastings; and Hugo de St.Clare knew of him through his relations more than others of Henry's court. Matthew of Westminster is authority for this. But Becket's prominence began on appointment to be archdeacon of Canterbury. After being made high chancellor his love of pomp appeared to the full. On becoming archbishop of Canterbury, his asceticism, even to want of clean linen and the consequences, grew equally notorious.
From 1163 till his so-called martyrdom in 1171, he tortured King Henry with an ingenuity which was ostensibly in the “cause of God”, or, to use that phrase which was to the king as bitter as gall, “saving the honour of God”, but which seems little if at all short of fiendish. Fifty years after his death, so productive of monastic miracle and popular pilgrimage, the clever heads of the university of Paris publicly debated whether then the soul of Becket was in heaven or hell. He was about the most malignant oflicial that ever stepped on English soil, and undoubtedly meant to bully spiritually from the sovereign downwards, if he had his way. The clergy committed murders, and not only were left unpunished, but against every right of humanity kept in their positions by the church, which claimed the full jurisdiction.
A glaring case of seduction and murder at last brought matters to a crisis, and Henry grew determined to have at least the punishment of felons completed, whether lay or clerical. The constitutions of Clarendon were articles of state and law to arrive at this point; and Becket, the archbishop, after severe struggle, made some movement of concession, but immediately afterwards retracted, as one who had been a Judas in the act to the “honour of God”. He got absolution from the pope, and henceforth he nailed his colours to the mast. Disobedience and insolence to his king, devotion to the Roman hierarchy, were the rules of the rest of his disagreeable and miserable life.
The best and bulk of his own clergy despised the conceited stubbornness of the incorrigible ascetic, as being of like character at bottom with the buffoonery and license to correspondent excess of his lay days, and with the absurd display of his lord chancellor and ambassador period. The man was a parvenu and impudent mountebank, who, late in life, found a cause and a hot iron conscience. Such a canker becomes of necessity a grief to himself and every one with whom he has to do.
When he had to flee to France in the first year of the quarrel, 1163, the system of letters of excommunication by Pope Alexander's aid, who was only a schismaticised pope, began. Hugo de St.Clare was about the first to suffer from this kind of weapon. He was one of the lords of council. His special offence was that he took possession by the king's authority of lands and goods of the see of Canterbury. What could deserve more the clerical bitterest of all cursing and swearing than meddling, justly or not, with lucre ? Thomas “the saint”, in his letter from Sens in France, ad suffraganeous suos, excommunicated John of Oxford, Richard of Ilchester, Jocelin of Baliol, Ranulph of Broc (Ranulph for cutting off his horse's tail during the quarrel in England), Thomas Fitz-Bernard, and Hugo de Sancto Claro. He gives particulars as to the crimes of the last two,
‘We have excommunicated also Hugh Sinclair and Thomas Fitz-Bernard, who have taken possession of the goods and properties of the same church of Canterbury without our permission.’.
Lord Lyttleton,in his Life of Henry II, gives the strangest details of the preparatio this designing or mad, or both, prelate gave himself before he felt fitted for this special effort. He had a whole night's watch before the sepulchre of some doubtful St.Dransius, whom popular opinion credited as favourer of victors in personal combats. Geoffrey Baynard did the same thing the night before the day on which he over-threw unfortunate Henry of Essex, the craven or mistaken standard-bearer of England. It is curious how well Becket gauged and engaged the people's affections on his side. Lest this might savour too much of the secular order of things, he took care to spend another night's politic devotion at the shrine of St.Gregory, whom he held to be the founder of the Anglican church. Thus supported, he went to Vizelay to do his self-imposed duty; and it was only by a pressing message from King Louis of France, saying that Henry II was extremely ill, that he was then prevented from including his king among the ministers he did excommunicate.
It was hardly to be wondered at that Henry once so bitterly cried out that his archbishop wished to ruin him both soul and body; and it is said that Becket knew him to be of so religious a tendency, despite all his gallantries, that he meant to drive him into a monastery as place of refuge from the world, of which he was often heard declaring his utter weariness. The penances he underwent after Becket was no longer his opponent are proof of the power the prelate thought thus to exercise over him.
Illness and King Louis saved him from the first stroke of St.Peter's or St.Thomas of Canterbury's vindictive sword; but Becket, says Lyttleton,
‘pronounced several sentences of excommunication against his servants and ministers, particularly against John of Oxford, for the causes before mentioned; against Richard de Ivelchester, the archdeacon of Poictiers, for holding communion with the archbishop of Cologne, a favourer of the antipope; against Hugh de St.Clare and Thomas Fitz-Bernard, for having usurped the goods of the church of Canterbury (that is, for having obtained the sequestration of those he had forfeited by his flight); and, lastly, against the chief justiciary, Richard de Luci, and Joceline de Baliol, as the favourers of the king's tyranny, and the contrivers of those heretical pravities, the constitutions of Clarendon’.
Again, in 1168, from Pontigny, he excommunicated Gilbert Folliot, bishop of London, who had gone wholly over to the side of his king; and, in a letter to the chapter of St.Paul's, Becket warns them to shun all the excommunicated. On the coming Ascension, he informs them, he is to have further heyday of new excommunications. Meantime, to keep their minds fresh on the subject, he sums his previous work, in addition to their bishop, thus:
‘These are the names of the excommunicated: - Jocelin, bishop of Salisbury, Earl Hugo, Ralph of Broc, Thomas Fitz-Bernard, Robert of Broc, cleryman, Hugh Sinclair, Letard the clergyman of Northfleet, Nigel Sackville, Richard the brother of Hastings, who took possession of our church of Monocotone: Farewell’. Sackville he accused of holding a manor belonging to the archbishopric; but his views of law and right may be understood from the fact that the very beginning of his clerical arrogance was claiming Tunbridge Castle and its lands, the home and patrimony of the great family of Clares, as under-holding to the see of which Becket was holder.
Who were in capite holders if the Clares were not ? He excommunicated William of Eynesford, an in capite baron, against an express law; a thing never before done under any king, to whom the first lords were alone responsible. What made the matter worse was that it was on his own unjust presentation of a cleric to a church in prejudice of this baron's rights. To have claimed Tunbridge as a fief of his, seemed the top of insolence; but especially in a threatening letter to him, without the court etiquette of introduction, Henry himself soon felt the kind of man the saint that once was a devil could be with his crozier and sackcloth. The “great” Augustines, and others such, take all the fun they can out of both periods of life.
Other names, the best he could find, are in the lists of excommunicated, such as Alan de Neville and Richard de Poictiers. As early as 1165, Rapin says, he
‘excommunicated all that adhered to the constitutions of Clarendon, and particularly some lords of the council, who however despised his censures’. This is too general; but he mentions nine names, of which Hugh de St.Clare's is one. In the chroniclers there are plentiful details, and lists of the lords in council in particular who suffered. Matthew of Westminster, Fitz-Stephen, and Hoveden are useful references. Diceto and Matthew Paris are good, especially as to the names. In his letter to Pope Alexander, Becket, announcing what he had been doing, names Hugo and the rest; and with the consciously impudent intolerance which is only bred of clericalism in contest for the “honour of God”, self included, adds that he had not excommunicated the king yet, but would not defer it long.
All the historians deal with this subject largely, and with these men. Goldsmith calls Hugo and his batch “the king's chief ministers”. But he is not much of an authority on the subject. Another history says that they were Baliol, Lucy, and “four others of Henry's courtiers and prime favourites”. Hugo is mentioned as one of these; and it is certain they were the six best men in England, next to its king. One of the latest compilers names Hugo de St.Clair and other three as the Norman favourites of Henry. In numbers such as four or six there is no great danger of that favouritism which has been so deadly in all annals.
The Thomas filius Bernardi who is specially mentioned as seizing, with Hugo de St.Clair, the goods and possessions of the see of Canterbury, must have had blood or affinity relationship to him. In the valuable gatherings of Benedict, abbot of Peterborough, the “burgh” from which Hubert took his local surname, there is a brother of this Thomas who plays a large part in the conquest of Ireland. He was sent beforehand by the king, with William Fitz-Adelm, his dapifer, to prepare for the arrival there of the sovereign, and he got Wexford and Waterford as his reward. Afterwards this Fitz-Adelm, then viceroy, has Wexford, and it appears Robert had left Ireland, for in 1176, when England was divided into six provinces for the better dispensing of justice, Robert Fitz-Bernard with Richard Giffard and another were the rulers of Kent, Surrey, Sussex, and several other counties. Hugh of Cressi, William Fitz-Raphe, and William Basset are names of others appointed which have genealogical pertinence. In the Great Rolls Robert Fitz-Bernard was farmer of the county of Kent.
It is supposable that in the seizure by Hugo Sinclair and Thomas Fitz-Bernard there may have been a revival of old claims, through their relation, Adam, the commissioner, as Odo's under-tenant, of large parts of whose lands they had already possession by heirship. The king's purpose, however, may wholly explain their doings. Hugo from the Great Rolls of Henry II was vicecomes of Kent as his uncle Hamo Dapifer was, and therefore by this office saw after the king's rights.
Not only did he get this title in heirship or by prescription from his uncle, but he was also king's butler or cup-bearer, the place that then retained most of the privileges of the original dapifer, seneschal, or mayor of the palace. In Henry III's reign, 1263, the appointment of Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, as high steward of England, and at the same time Sir Roger of Leybourne, of Hugo's lineage, as steward of the household, illustrates the history of the division of the original office. M. West., Wikes, and Tindal are authorities for these appointments, and Tindal says Sir Roger got made pincerna by the king, though accounted his greatest enemy, which is proof of hereditary claim. The Albinis, earls of Arundel, Salop, and Chester had been king's butlers. It was William Albini, pincerna or butler, who married Adeliza, the beautiful dowager queen of Henry I. The office seems to have left the Albinis, though they still claimed the privilege of being the pincerna of coronation days; and Hugo de St.Clare, by relationship to them, and as of near consanguinity to Eudo and Hamo, the dapifers, was the proper person to get the high office. The chronicler, Benedictus abbas Petroburgensis, says that one of the St.Liz was pincerna in Richard I's reign, who have been proved of the same lineage. Hugo Pincerna is to be found on the Carta Eudonis Dapiferi holding land of the extent of seven knights' fees.
Eudo's lands were then in the hands of the king, but this considerable portion of the estate shows that, despite the intricate female rights which affected properties wholly partible, Hugo's lineage to Eudo secured some possessions to him out of the great “feoda”. Henry Fitz-Gerald, the king's chamberlain, managed it; and his brother, Dominus Gwarenne, a chief officer at court, well known to history, as the Fitz-Geralds became generally in this reign, holds portions, and also some other brothers, as from the king. Eudo's lands escheated to the crown, but not without considerable and prolonged honourable struggle. In the first four years of the reign, Hugo Pincerna as vicecomes Kanciae appears again and again receiving monies for the treasury; and there can be no doubt that he is the Hugo de St.Clare of the Becket struggle, and the lord of Aeslingham.
From the Textus Roffensis there could come accumulation of evidence about his connection as a dweller in the locality and as a relative to others of his surname. For example, to a confirmation of a charter, extracted from the Cottonian MSS., granted by Geffrey de Say to St.Andrews, Rochester, who could be more suitable and ready witnesses than “William, son of Henry of Cobham, Hugo Pincerna”, and others? The title pincerna was at this period quite distinct from dapifer, having the conservative traditions as its pride, the dapifers becoming numerous and only divisional officers of state and law. The Bigods were never pincernas, and therefore do not confound with this Hugo de St.Clare, Hugo being a name frequent to that family, related only by affinity to the Sinclairs, through whose rights they got into their dapiferships. To these Fitz-Geralds, descended from Gerald, the steward of Arnulph Montgomery of the castle and honour of Pembroke, Geffrey Mandeville, grandson of Eudo Dapifer, had given a one-fee holding of Eudo's lands; but their property increased by geometric progression through their Irish doings of fame. What is of closer interest to discussion of Hugo Sinclair's life, Philip of Leybourne in Kent also held, like him, seven fees of Eudo's lands. The lords of Leybourne, who are frequently mentioned among the greater barons by Rapin, Tindal, and all the historians, were undoubtedly of Hugo's stock, and subsequent facts will help to make this clear.
Perhaps one of the most interesting entries among the gifts to St.Andrews, Rochester, is one which shows that Hugh Sinclair was not the kind of man to deserve excommunication from church or state or whatever else when human interests are to be dealt with wisely and well.
‘Hugo, the royal butler, gave forty shillings to the Rochester alms, which he provided for from holdings in Southfleet and elsewhere, on the days of his birth, and he gives the charitable offering for the convent, and he has a smaller portion sent into the convent, and a distribution to the poor’. With the value of money then, and these gifts as yearly, the lord of Aeslingham might well have favours of chapel and house chaplains from the see at his further own charges. If the antiquity and brevity of such Latin records obscure the exact force of the words, there is no doubt about the general meaning of such an entry as the above. It is of such a man that Thomas Becket writes in 1169 to the pope or half-pope, Alexander, as one of the “malefactors” deserving no mercy. In his epistle, the twentieth of the collections in the Bodleian and Cottonian libraries, so he designates them.
But let Lord Lyttleton's views of Becket be read in this respect.
‘He also intreated him not to absolve the malefactors he (Becket) had excommunicated. These malefactors were several of the most eminent prelates and barons of England. Having waited the term prescribed to him by the pope, and being therefore reinstated in his former authority, he had at once excommunicated the bishops of London and Salisbury, the archdeacon of Canterbury, (whom in a letter to the pope he calls the arch-devil of Canterbury), Nigel de Sacville, and Thomas Fitz-Bernard, officers of the king's household, Hugh de St.Clare, Hugh, earl of Chester, Richard de Lucy, great-justiciary, and other chief men of the kingdom. All this was done between Palm-sunday and Whitsunday without any notice of it having been given to Alexander’. This was hardly clerical obedience either.
But enough of the famous historical quarrel. It will help to throw light on its nature if this “despoiler of churches” (could Thomas Becket's excommunicating letters be believed) is shown further in his genuine character as a reverent as well as capable man. The bishop of Rochester had another opinion of him and his family than had the archbishop. In the Textus Roffensis, edited by Dr. Thorpe, there is a double entry of a charter to the lord of Aeslingham, as it calls Hugo. Aeslingham manor is the Frindsbury district of to-day, and it is fruitful of information with regard to the Sinclairs generally. When they got possession of Aeslingham, it was not the fifth of the parish, but this name soon covered it all. The bishop grants a free chapel to Hugo within his manor of Aeslingham, as recompense for the many benefits of him and members of his family to St.Andrews, Rochester. This is the second John of its bishops. The servants of the manor were to be buried in the chapel, but though at a loss to the church, as the charter puts it, the family were to have burial in St.Andrews. For the monks' services of burial at the chapel, ten shillings annually were to be paid, with thirty sheaves of wheat, thirty of barley, and thirty of oats, from the harvest fields. Bishop John II further gives him the license to have his house chaplain at his own charges, as the previous bishops, whom he names, had granted. There is no doubt about the territorial position of the lord of Aeslingham if no further knowledge of him had been rescued from oblivion. Of this valuable charter the signatures are perhaps the very best part: Hugo de Sancto Claro himself, Philip Gruer de Sancto Claro, Robert de Clovilla, William Richard de Clovilla, another Hugo de Sancto Claro, Robert de Sancto Claro, Roger de Sancto Claro, and some others. Roger is mentioned as his brother.
The kindliness and respect to which this Latin charter testifies, are all the more genuine from the fact that Aeslingham manor was before this the best endowment the bishopric had. Offa, king of the Mercians, gave it to the bishop of Rochester in the eighth century, and Sigered, king of Kent, confirmed the grant, as also did Egbert. The charters with their exact dates are preserved in this Textus Roffensis. In The Domesday Book it is part of the lands of the bishopric, and if the exceptional threefold increase of revenue from it then, as compared with that in the time of Edward the Confessor, is indication, it could not but have been a most desirable possession. How it left the church will appear in discussing Hugo's lineage.
The point of importance now is that the favourite minister of Henry II, if he had no superstitious regard for the church and its officials, was everything but an irreligious personage. In the Report of the Historical MSS. Commission he appears in Normandy as witness, “Hugo de Sancto Claro”, together with the chief men of Henry II's court, to the endowment of a religious house there by a Norman noble; and this is indication of full similar interest in such doings. He had too much traditional fame from his ancestors, as founders of abbeys and churches, to neglect his religious for state duties, however honourable. If he signed Stephen's charter in 1136 he must have lived to a good old age. In the list given by Richard Prior of Hagulstadt, one of the X Scriptores, or earliest authorities of English history, “Hugo de Sancto Claro” is the signature, and not “Hamo de Sancto Claro”, as Lord Lyttleton's Cottonian MS. authority states. Perhaps the valuable fact is that one or other did sign then.