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GEREBERD, VISCOUNT OF NORFOLK AND SUFFOLK

The brother of the young lady sent to Shaftesbury convent for her education (and profession, it may be) was a man of much business in political and particularly in financial affairs. Gilbert, Gerebald, Gerebert, or Gereberd Sinclair is one of the most frequent names in the state papers of his time. The variations in his first name do not cause any doubt, for the title follows them, “viscount of Norfolk and Suffolk”. This, with the dates, which cannot be more authenticated than by state entries, makes assurance doubly sure.

It was he who founded the fine English home of Bradfield St.Clare; a name which his property near St.Edmondsbury still retains, to keep him and his lineage in remembrance. The park around his manor was one of the most remarkable of those greatest lovers of the forest and its sport, the Norman rulers of England. It was a few miles from the monastery of St.Edmondsbury, part of it being an underholding from the abbot. The district is remarkable among other greater things as being the ancestral home of the notorious Francis, Lord Bacon, the shrewdest and most overrated philosopher of Christendom. The natural and political advantages of Bradfield St.Clare, as in the neighbourhood of the best city, socially and clerically, of East Anglia, induced Gereberd to make it the caput baroniae of all his estates wherever else held; and his good judgment is supported by indications down to this day.

English history has largely transacted itself near Bradfield. St.Edmondsbury and its abbey were very celebrated in the reigns of Richard Coeur de Lion, John, and Henry III, under all of whom Gereberd was in state service. In 1182 Abbot Samson got his election, he whom Past and Present has so vividly preserved as a specimen of that olden time; and it is of interest to know that Gereberd held parts of Bradfield as from him. It might not, however, be too much to say that better specimens of heroism than Abbot Samson, disentombed from Jocelin of Brakelond's chronicle, could have been got from the period. Lachrymose and spiteful, his stubbornness for good, as he saw it, was of the puritanic, essentially vulgar, rather than the manly and chivalrous sort. Monk's cowl and frock of the twelfth, or clothes of the nineteenth century, cover very similar pieces of human nature.

St.Edmondsbury Abbey was especially honoured in King Richard's time. To it he offered in religious duty after his return from Palestine, by way of the Austrian prison from which he was ransomed by English gold, the rich standard of Cyprus, taken from its tyrant king, Isaac, whose beautiful daughter had so much of the Lion-Heart's favour.

Sir Francis Palgrave in his Ancient Calendars and Inventories, has given various extracts referring to Gereberd from the sixth year of Richard, 1195, to the accession of John in 1199. The earliest is about the advowson of the church of Bradfield on the home manor, Thomas a Becket's first living. Robert, the son of Simon, makes a claim, and succeeds, about part of the returns of the church, Gereberd not appearing to contend against it. The passage is from the Rotuli Curiae Regis or Rolls of the Justiciar's Court, under “Suffolk” - ‘Rob fil Sim. … Girebt de Sco Claro … de Bradefeld … Walt de Hope … ’. Besides the light it throws on the law business of the time, this extract is of the special use that it notes the indifference of spelling his name Gilbert or Gereberd. Another is: ‘Suff … Gereb d Sen[c]ler … Rob d Cokef. … Petr fil Elie. … R d Cokef … Ric fil Ric …’. It is difficult to discover who all these are, except Gerebert himself. The family of Cokefield, however, are in frequent relationships with these St.Edmondsbury Sinclairs, the descendants of Richard, son of Walter, earl of St.Cler, and also with his descendants who took the name of their place of Aldham. There is a charter in the Monasticon of a Nesta de Cokefield, the wife of Matthew of Leyham, to the church of St.Mary and St.Anthony, Kerseya, which has witnesses of undoubted kin, as William de Huntingfield, who represented as much land in Suffolk as in Kent, Roger of Aldham, Hugo de Aldham, and William de Aldham. Palgrave's suggestion of a 'c' in Senler is more kind than useful, the original spelling aiding other searches, especially in the midland counties.

Richard, the son of Richard, might have been Gereberd's father. Certainly at this period Gereberd was very young, and not in the full throng of business in which he is engaged afterwards. From a later record he was attorney to this Adam of Hilleg, who here appears to be sheriff. It might be an undue supposition that he was thus fitting himself for the same office, which he held subsequently both in Suffolk and Norfolk. The Jews were extremely busy in those reigns, and Gerebert has many dealings with them. Evidence cannot settle whether he succeeded in his younger period as he did later. Rather does it point to the opposite. In 1196 whether for enterprise or necessity he sold the lands of Marlingford, Norfolk; the same place which is referred to in the Great Roll of the Pipe of 1189-90 as being in possession of Richard de Sancto Claro. There is account of him selling other lands of the same county in 1208.

But there is warning not to run to the conclusion that he was in “the hands of the Jews”, as the phrase is now (1887), by the fact that in John's reign he is also a buyer of properties. He bought Berwicks-and-Scotenays, in Essex, from Alberic de Wic; and, with additions, this became one of the remarkable places held by him and his descendants. There is a description of it by Morant in his county history. It is known in charters as Topesfield and Topefeud, and Morant gives the suggestive further information, that Camoys Hall, which was one of several manors included in it, had been a residence and property of Hamo Sinclair, the dapifer. It is in the Hingford hundred, and was held as from the honour of Bolonia or Boulogne, Eustace, the earl, bridging the Channel at an earlier period with his possessions, France and England being curiously united then, and in other also than the Normandy relationship. Alberic was probably one of the Veres, and the connection with the Sinclairs through Eudo Dapifer's family would also aid such a bargain.

Richard's ruinous reign as to money, both by his own crusading madness and that of his most gallant subjects, explains great revolutions in family matters, and his successors John and Henry were not the men to heal the wounds of the body social. Gerebert, however, seems to have prospered, and many things indicate that he well knew how. The value of being a wide underholder, especially to the church, which then had half the income of England from the soil in its possession, is shown by a notice of holding lands, not only from such as Samson, the abbot of St.Edmondsbury, but from the prioresses. With several others of social standing he pays rent to the prioress of Algarsthorp for possessions, no doubt the most profitable of all in this kind, men being then much better arithmeticians than women.

In the Rotuli Litterarum Clausarum in turri Londoniensi anno 2 Henry III, 1217, in a summons by a Say to a Ferrers about the manor of Bercot, “Lincoln” being the heading, the case having about one hundred and fifty witnesses, ‘Gilebt de Sco Claro Vic de Norf & Suff,’ appears. This settles his position at the beginning of Henry III's troubled reign, as viscount of Norfolk and Suffolk, or king's substitute for the rule of these counties. In the same year there is one of these secret letters from Henry to the sheriff of Essex to put Alan de Creping in possession of lands which Alan had lost by rebellion against John, in which appears James de Seincler - ‘Eod m scribitur Vic Essex p Jam de Seincler’. At this period Gereberd is old enough to have a son at manhood, James; and, in the year after, he gives lands in Stone and Bishopstone, Buckinghamshire, to a Hugo de Seincler, who is another son.

On the carta of St.Edmondsbury in the Niger Liber Scaccarii of Henry II. Gibert de Sancto Claro holds one miles or knight's fee, as from the abbey. Henry died in 1188, thirty years before, and the return of the charters of the holdings of the church and barons might have been considerably earlier. That Richard Sinclair was dead in 1189-90, and that his heirs paid the taxes on Marlingeford, is proved by this reference to Gilbert as holding from St.Edmondsbury in Henry II's time. Another name in 2 Henry III (1218) is of close lineage to Gerebert: ‘Eodem m scribitur Vic Suff p Rob de Seinclow’.

The public affairs of Gerebert have much light thrown on them by Cole's Documents. This is a volume of extracts from the tax accounts of Henry III during the third and fourth years of his reign. Here Gerebert is sheriff of Norfolk. But the next entry with regard to Suffolk (in which the famous Jew, Isaac of Norwich, appears) shows him in another character, as the attorney of Adam of Hillega, who seems to have then been viscount or sheriff of that county. Three years previously Gerebert has been shown as viscount of both Norfolk and Suffolk. ‘Gereberd for Adam, the sheriff, claims the taxes from Isaac of Norwich, due by Hugh, the son of Richard, the Jew being his agent and money-lender’. Another entry puts Gereberd himself in exactly the same position as Isaac. ‘Here the taxes are taken at Westminster from a Norfolk man, Gereberd being his agent, and it is of value to notice that William of Hengham was the king's agent’. He was one of the descendants of Hubert Sinclair, the governor of Norwich Castle and earl of Norfolk, of the Rye family. They became best known as the barons of Hengham, Stephen's reign putting them out of the very highest rank, which they held in previous reigns.

In Warwickshire Gereberd next has transactions for himself and for the king with a world of Jews, and it is probable that he was then sheriff of the county, that office alone explanatory of this entry. The ghost of the learned Gereberd would have to be invoked for perfect explanation of all this legal money business. Joseph, Manasseh, Leon or Levi, Bendico or Benjamin, Jacob and his brother, lent 41 to the king. Rudder in 1766 said that the Norman silver pound, which meant weight, was equal to 3, 2s., and it could buy what perhaps 10 then could not. Compared with the present value of money, this 41 lent by the Jews would be equal at least to half-a-thousand, and, if limitation of circulation is considered, to far more. It was, therefore, quite worthy of the “lord king” and his sheriff's best attention, the teeth of the Jews having got to their usual length again after Richard and John's dentistry. It is possible, however, that England owes a good deal of its greatness to the freedom of circulation which usury encouraged. If these were gold pounds (and one such was worth 48 in 1711, according to Sir Robert Atkins), the 42 then would be worth several thousands now. The subject is too subtle for satisfaction.

The gist of Gereberd's settlement with Joseph and Co., is that the king pays them back 22 of the loan of 41 which he had for four years, and the rest is to come with interest by instalments during the three remaining years, and further that if Gereberd pay some of it Joseph will give him reckoning for it, and, chiefly, Gereberd wishes that if he have any of the payments to make he may make them to the king, the Jews and Henry to deal with each other. He gets the grant, but the transaction is too distant in the far time to be at all sure of its special meaning.

The general effect of it is easily discernible, namely, that kings and king's viscounts had difficulties then of keeping the wolf quiet as much as private and public men have now, if not more. There are paragraphs and paragraphs of this and other such Jewish and business transactions in shaky Latin, but already more than enough has been written of what is nearly obsolete to much useful general purpose. Here Gereberd denies his liability to pay 62 merks to some Jews of Oxford and elsewhere, on the very good ground that they have forged the bill against him. The cyrograph was a parchment to which the wax seal was attached as to charters, and these Jews seem to have known the theory and practice of palimpsest, and also of detaching queues or wax hangers from the original parchment to put them to new ones. Cheque forging is a much more difficult process for sharpers now. To take off the previous writing, as the monks for economy often did, and write anew, was as good for the swindlers as for them.

Tindal's elaborate essay rather than note on The Exchequer of the Jews in England, is as valuable as it is exceedingly interesting on the subject of cyrographs, money business, and indeed of the whole Jewish economy in this country, the civil, religious, and political bonds and privileges included. It is to be found in vol. I, book viii, p. 346, at the end of Henry III's reign, in Rapin's History of England, which Tindal annotated most usefully, and continued from the beginning of the reign of William and Mary in 1689, when the able Frenchman left it.

But a work on the subject could be written, from the information in such records as these about Gereberd Sinclair in Cole's Documents, that would give great pleasure to a limited class of students of history and life. That Gereberd succeeded through all his transactions is to be inferred from his generosity to others, as well strangers as relations. In the hundred of Piriton, Oxfordshire, he gives a portion of his lands there to a widow, to the termination of her life, free from all rent and from all services whatever; and in 1227 Hugh Sinclair, to whom he gave the properties in Buckinghamshire in 1218, gets large additions from him in the same district, though he did not live much longer to enjoy them. In Palgrave's Ancient Calendars and Inventories, from 6 Richard I to John, this Hugo is one of a court in an Essex settling about the heirship, probably his own, to a Sibilla of that county, before he got his lands in Buckinghamshire. John de Sancto Claro succeeded Hugh as heir in 1237.

In a record of 36 Henry III (1252) is an entry by which it appears that Gereberd and his successor John were both dead at this date, and their properties awaiting possession by the new heir. They must have died within a year of each other; for in the Calendar of Inquisitions after Death of 36 Henry III (1252), number 22 deals with Gerebert as quondam proprietor of Topesfield, of the honour of Bolonia, in Essex; and number 48 of 36 Henry III (1251) John de Sancto “Clauro” for the same place. In 37 Henry III (1253), John is again mentioned as formerly of “Bradfeud maner, Suffolc”, which was the Suffolk pronunciation of Bradfield St.Clare.

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