The state records of Stephen's reign are scanty, and therefore it is lucky to find indirect evidence of men's existence and deeds from chronicles or other less authentic materials than the national archives.
Whether Anglian Richard was son or grandson of Richard, the son of Walter, earl of St.Cler and Medway, cannot be discovered absolutely, the guide of time allowing either possibility, He was the grandson, if the Robert, son of Richard, who was one of Stephen's dapifers in the first year of his reign, and who is a witness to a charter given then to the bishop of Bath, was the son of the chamberlain. The charter is among the codices of the college of Corpus Christi, Cambridge, and though insuflicient for proof of itself it might be a powerful link towards reaching certainty here. The Sinclairs at first were certainly in the highest favour with this king; whether by policy, or will on his and their part, are questions of subtle kind. “The charter of Stephen, the king, concerning the liberties granted to the church and the kingdom”, is a peculiar, suggestive, and, luckily, an extant document. From the archives of Exeter it was copied, and the copy is in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. It begins,
‘I, elected by consent of the clerisy and the people of England, and by the Lord William of Canterbury … ’.
This William was a Sancto Claro, and two others of the surname are among the extraordinarily select witnesses of this carta of 1136, namely, the son of Count Simon Sinclair, earl of Huntingdon and Northampton, and Hamo de Sto.Claro, by this express and full name. William of Aubeni is there, a relation by blood and marriage; Robert, earl of Gloucester, Matilda Sinclair's husband, the son of Henry Beauclerc, is there; and, indeed, nearly all who were noblest in England. Gilbert de Laci is the last on the list.
In the general confirmation by Henry II of all the previous charters of the Tewkesbury monastery of St.Mary, founded by Robert Fitz-Hamo Sinclair, the signatures to one of those Henry I gave, would make “Brience, the son of the count”, who is one of the witnesses of Stephen's national charter, also a Sinclair. But this is a mistake on the part of both Sir Robert Atkins and Rudder, the careful historian-antiquaries of Gloucestershire. They print the signature, “Brience, son of Earl Hamo, steward of the household”. Hamo Sinclair had no children, all the authorities agree, and “Brience, son of the count” is of another relationship than this to him. Both were related closely to the Montgomeries. The difficulty is at once solved by putting a comma after “Earl”, thus making it the signature of two persons. In this same charter Hamo and Robert Fitz-Hamo appear, mentioned as brothers. The question who Brience was, is at once settled, however, by the list which Richard Prior of Ingulstad, one of the X Scriptores, has given, where he appears as the son of the earl-constable, which office Hamo had not.
But return must be made to Richard, whom it is safe enough to assume as grandson of the first Richard of his branch, the son of Walderne, earl of St.Cler and of Medway. Something about his character and general position is attainable from a history by Matthew Paris of a quarrel between one of the abbots of St.Albans and William de Albini, pincerna, the earl of Arundel, whose fierceness was notorious and almost fabulous because of the story of slaying a lion by his own personal vigour. It was Abbot Robert who claimed the right of lodging in the cella or priorate of Wymundham, Norfolk, as being subordinate to the monastery of St.Albans. The prior and the earl of Arundel joined issue, in ways strangely characteristic of the period. That Abbot Robert bearded the terrible earl in this matter, was always afterwards his highest tribute so far as courage is concerned.
But there was more at work than the arrogance of an earl in Stephen's time of fortified castles. The prior of Wymundham had run scant of money, and had taken the liberty of making away with some of the valuables of the priorate. He was of the supple order of cleric, and contrived when the abbot of St.Albans, his superior, heard of the larceny, to make it appear that the proceedings were by order of the lord of the manor, the earl of Arundel. This he cunningly thought would of itself prevent all attempt at inquiry.
Abbot Robert recognised how matters really stood, having had much experience of monkery, and duty was clear to him. He set out with a company of clerics from Hertfordshire to see for himself. Before reaching Wymundham he was met by some of the prior's agents, who said that the cella was in possession of the earl's men, and that by the earl's command the abbot should have no lodging there. Abbot Robert could not sleep outside. He and his thirty or forty of a company must have something done for them. Hospitality was the monastic privilege and duty, and how much more to their own head, the abbot. Meantime, something alarming had occurred, probably by the instigation of the prior, at his wits' end. The abbot's cook, who had gone on in front to prepare food, was attacked and driven back on the main body, with the loss of his baggage of pots and kettles; and it was only by the highest flutter of monkish garments that the earl's minions, or the prior's, could be frightened from their savoury prey. At this point the prior in person appears on the scene. With him came Henry of Gorham and Richard de Sancto Claro. The abbot must be resisted if he should attempt entrance.
It became serious, even to fears of martyrdom; and though Robert did not shrink an inch, he was willing to make some compromise. His company might go to Norwich to find shelter, but he himself would sleep at all hazards in that cella of his own. The prior, Henry of Gorham, and Richard Sinclair had better go and tell the earl what was done, and that he was prepared to meet him next day at Norwich for any explanation on either side. Immediately on this treaty Abbot Robert went forward, pressed through angry soldiers, without active opposition, and did sleep in his own cella.
The ambassadors arranged the meeting rightly, and the abbot and the earl had their tug of war.
‘What business have you on my lands with your company ? Your right is to lodge yourself there for a night and pass on; the priorate is my affair’. So the earl, but he was not match in logic for the abbot.
‘As head of St.Alban's monastery, I and my company, large or small, can visit or stay when and as long as I choose, without any reference to the lord of the manor’. But if he gained his point he did not go much farther. His sagacity told him that with an earl so violent, and a prior so shifty, too close inquisition were not desirable. He departed, and found the credit of bearding Arundel worth his considerable journey.
Richard Sinclair as peacemaker, implies that he was well known to the earl, as well as one of the magnates of the district himself. He had a castle or manor there, though Wortham, which his antecessor Richard, the chamberlain, possessed in 1080, was the chief demesne. His successors showed still more inclination to reside in Suffolk, and the story of those of the great centre of St.Edmundsbuiy will exhibit this. He appears in the Great Roll of the Pipe, 1189-1190, at the beginning of the reign of Coeur de Lion:
‘Norfolch' Sudfolch' De Plac Cvrie: 1 Richard I. Gerard de Wachesha redt comp de XX.s.p recogn res Ric. de S Claro de tra de M'lingef: In thro x.s: Et deb x.s.'’. This is one of the usual transactions in the king's court about the receiving of taxes from lands. Richard Sinclair pays a tax from another estate of his, Marlingford in East Anglia. Gerard of Wachesham is the sheriff, and if Wachesham is the same as Wercham, it will be seen that Richard later had his chief land, which implies affinity for such heirship. But nothing can be added to the subject, and Wachesham and Wercham may not after all be the same places.
This Richard, residing near Wymundham, in Norfolk, at the time of the monastic adventure, is the same also with the Richard de Sancto Claro who appears in one of the charters of the Rolls of 7 John (1206). It is a confirmation to the abbess of St.Edward of Shaftesbury.
‘And the tenths from the demesne of Richard Sinclair of Wercham, which he himself gave with his daughter: And in the same “town” 30 acres from his demesne’. There is little doubt that this, though the spelling is somewhat different, means the in capite domain of Wrotham, and also the Wachesham of 1189-1190. Between this district and St.Edmondsbury there was a Werham, and it is likely that the names had one origin, and the places one proprietor, if modern Werham had any particular estate existence then at all.
It may be thought curious that Richard did not send this daughter for whom he thus provided, as a nun to some convent nearer his home demesnes. It may, however, be remembered that the Sinclairs had great traditions in connection with the nunnery of Shaftesbury. Hawisa Sinclair, one of the daughters of Robert Fitz-Hamo, had been its abbess from the reign of Henry I, as her sister Cecilia, on Dugdale's authority and Glover's, was abbess of Wilton in Wiltshire. Some say Cecilia was that of Winchester. It was woman's highest ambition of those periods to be abbess. Lillechurch nunnery, Kent, had King Stephen's daughter for abbess, and hardly any such position in England was not filled by relations of royalty. The career Richard opened for his young daughter was one of the most privileged, and only wealth and birth could get on this path to feminine eminence.
Henry I when he provided that Matilda Sinclair should inherit the greatest part of her father's lands, to grace and enrich her husband, the king's son, whom he created earl of Gloucester, made ample amends to Hawise and Cecilia by giving them these high and coveted positions, of which the wealth was as great as the other advantages. Whether this young daughter followed the steps and reached the eminence of her relations, has yet to be discovered. That this is a charter of confirmation, may throw back the original gift by Richard considerably beyond 7 John (1206) and so go to the proof that the Richard of Wymundham was the donor.