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TWO JOHNS

There is further information about John who succeeded Gerebert and died so soon after. In the Patent Rolls of the Tower of London, year 40 Henry III (1256), there is mention of him as “lately dead”, in connection with 50 acres of land and one messuagium which he held for the third part of a knight's fee, the arable land being always a small portion of estates then. This also occurs, ‘The same held two knights' fees in Bradfield and Wethersfield from the abbot of Saint Edmondsbury, in which Alesia was formerly, the countess Warenne, sister of the king’. Henry III had three sisters, and one brother Richard, the duke of Cornwall and king of the Romans. Rapin and Tindal give no account of the third of these ladies, who was Alesia the countess Warenne here noticed; but Rapin mentions Joanna and Eleanor, the former being queen of Alexander II of Scotland, the latter wife, first of William Marshall, earl of Pembroke, and then of the Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, who cost all that trouble of battles of Lewes and Evesham to Henry and his son Edward, the greatest of the Plantagenets.

It would be interesting to know how John Sinclair succeeded this sister Alesia, in holding Bradfield and Wethersfield from the abbey, to the extent of two knights' fees. Gereberd certainly had the former, to one knight fee's extent, from the abbot, besides his own held in capite. The explanation is that Bradfield was of several fees in extent. There was a Monks-Bradfield besides that which had the name St.Clare. Of Wethersfield, however, this is the first mention, and John got it directly after the countess. The honour of Bolonia was then in the crown, and he was one of the underholders; though this could only be an occasion rather than the reason why he should be next after the king's sister. But he may have got these two fees through ties to the count, Warenne. In the Testa de Nevill, the book of the fees in the court of the treasury, he appears under “Norfolk” as holding half-a-fee of Elvedon from the feoda of the count.

John had possession of the Bucks, and Oxford properties for twenty-five years before his father Gerebert's death, and for a short time of less than a year he had possession of most of his lands, except what Robert Sinclair had got of Gereberd's to the north. John was the principal heir to the various lands of Gereberd, and died in 1252; the family branching into two, in the persons of John, his successor, and of Robert. This second John, had Bradfield St.Clare as the head of his barony, and of him considerable account has survived. He “kept court” at Bradfield from 41 Henry III (1257), which means that he held the baronial court which settled local cases. Mr. Gomme says that the baron court was much the same as the hundred court. Between them they did most of the civil and criminal business of the counties, and John had the best of traditions to be equal to his position.

On his father's death a mandate was sent with regard to the Essex lands. De terris capiendis, is the heading of the record. ‘The king commanded the abbot of Pershore [Gloucester] that without delay he must take into the hand of the king the manor of Topefield, which was that of John Sinclair, who held in capite from the king of the honour of Boulogne, and that he keep that safely till the king has given further order: With the king witness, at Woodstock, 16th Aug’. It was in 1252. The inquisition after death being held shortly thereafter, this is the result in Essex, where Topefield was the head property: ‘John, the son of John Sinclair, is his nearest heir, and is of the age of nineteen’. It was in the following year that by an exactly similar legal process he was declared heir of the Suffolk lands. There are no records for other estates that may have fallen to him, and if twenty-one was majority, then his lands, so far as these two counties were concerned, remained some time longer in the king's hands. What he hold as undertenant is not of course to be discovered in state papers, the superior answering to the treasury for the whole feoda or fief.

His father and his father's predecessor, Gereberd, are known by various incidental notices to have been wide underholders to the earl of Warren, Peter of Kennet, the abbot of Edmondsbury, and others. In the Open Rolls of the Tower there are transactions about the Essex and Suffolk lands in 40 Henry III (1256) and it would appear that John did not get actual possession till that year. This is supported by the fact that he did not begin to keep his manorial court, at his beautiful seat of Bradfield St.Clare, till the year 1257. In 1250, Henry III had taken the cross, to go against the Saracens as soon as he could get ready. In 1252, Rapin says, the voyage to the Holy Land was still being contemplated, and ‘as money was the most necessary preparation, he took occasion from this voyage to extort great sums from the Jews, nor were his Christian subjects less spared’. Henry's needs in this way being chronic, it is likely John Sinclair had to wait in nonage for the regal profit longer than was necessary. Kings had learned to apply to the nobles the system, so fruitful with the clergy, of deferring occupancy.

That John had some bitter grievance to put right, is implied by his taking sides, as one of the barons, with Simon Montfort, the earl of Leicester, against the king. His patriotism, however, may be sufficient explanation of this. The appointment of the twenty-four barons, and afterwards the founding of England's greatest institution, the house of commons, in 1264, had his active co-operation. It was the year after he began to hold his manorial court at Bradfield St.Clare that, in 1258, when he was twenty-five, the provisions of Oxford were drawn up, and twelve commissioners chosen by the king and twelve by the barons, to regulate the disorder of the troubled reign. He was at Oxford on that day with a goodly following, as most of the military feudal tenants of the kingdom were, to compel progress. Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, was made president of the council. They had the appointment of the sheriffs through all the kingdom, with general powers almost unlimited.

But Henry and his son Prince Edward (afterwards Edward I) could not endure the thraldom, as they thought it; and, in 1263, the civil war began. Prince Edward's violence in coming with his army from Wales suddenly, and forcibly taking possession of 10,000 from the treasury of the Templars, London, began the system of reprisals in similar way through the kingdom; and perhaps Stephen's reign was not worse socially than Henry's at this period. The Londoners naturally took the side of the barons after the prince's doings; and they even threw dust at the queen as she tried to pass up the river from the tower palace, as well as words of insult, to express their feelings. It was Edward's special hatred to the Londoners for this, that lost Henry the battle of Lewes in 1264; he pursued them too far, and the royalists were meanwhile defeated by the earl of Leicester. Percy, Bohun, Basset, Baliol, Bruce, and Comyn were made prisoners by the barons. John Sinclair was on the victorious side that 14th day of May in Sussex. The first house of commons parliament was summoned some months after, the greatest step in English civil freedom. But the escape of Prince Edward from surveillance renewed the war, and the battle of Evesham on the 4th August 1265, in which Simon Montfort, the earl of Leicester, was killed, put the political game entirely into the royal hands. The estates of the confederated barons were confiscated, and London lost her gates, magistrates, and 20,000 merks, as punishment of her love of liberty.

Simon, the earl's eldest son, left Kenilworth Castle, his home, in despair of pardon, and fortified himself in the isle of Axholme, Lincolnshire, where many of the confederates joined him. Prince Edward compelled them to surrender, in December, their lives and limbs to be spared, and their estates to be given back or not as himself and his uncle, the king of the Romans, might decide. Montfort got a pension of 500 merks, but he soon after turned pirate in the English Channel, the Cinque Ports conniving at his doings. Meantime the malcontents had possession of Kenilworth Castle, and besides a new batch of barons in Axholme Isle, there were risings in the north and in Hampshire. But the chief centre of the barons was where Hereward made his last stand, in the isle of Ely among the fens.

While blockading Kenilworth, Henry called a parliament, and articles of terms were drawn up and offered for the acceptance of the rebels. Their pardon was to be general, but before having possession of their estates some were to pay five years' value, others three, others one. John Sinclair was among these barons of Ely, with several of his lineage. The terms were rejected, and soon after they, and he as one of them, made an expedition to Norwich, returning to the isle with 20,000 sterling and all the necessaries they could take with them. Tindal says they did as much for Cambridge, ‘in their return to Ely, carrying away not only several Jews, but also the richest of the townsmen, whom they kept prisoners till they would ransom themselves at exorbitant rates’. The Annals of Waverley Abbey, Wikes, and Rishanger support him in this. After more than a six months' siege Kenilworth was lost, and about the 25th of July the founders of the house of commons surrendered their last refuge, the semel et iterum famous isle of Ely. Says Rapin, ‘The only conditions granted them was the saving their life and limbs’.

By the suffering of its benefactors humanity seems alone to be well served. There are signs, however, that these patriotic rebels did not submit tamely to be kept out of their properties, and some of them undoubtedly contrived to secure portions if not all from the greedy hands of weak Henry. John Sinclair of Bradfield St.Clare was of this number. In the state rolls of 51 Henry III (1257) there is a graphic account of his particular sins. A commission, or king's sham parliament, was sitting at Ipswich, in Suffolk; and a presentation was made there by Richard de Bosco, or “Richard of the wood”, against John Sinclair and various others. They may have been claiming their own estates, and this accusation could be used as potent argument against recovery; or, the king and the prince, now at their leisure, may have been revenging their troubles of five chequered years of alternate imprisonments and successes. Those named might be greater adventurers than the others, being, as local men, best acquainted with the resources of the district around Ely; and so had to suffer more than the loss of their estates. The whole roll, however, in which these troubles are being settled, does not show special vindictiveness. A William Sinclair of the Thames district lost and recovered again his estates there, though with difficulty, because of espousing the side of the barons. But of him again. There is record that John was fortunate.

The presentation before the court by Richard de Bosco was, that John de Sencler, Robert de Mundeville, milites, Edmund de Seincler, Peter de Sender, parson of Wethersfield, summetar John de Sencler, and others, sent by Robert Euel or Howel (the head of the malcontents in the isle of Ely), had come with horses and arms to his house in Walberwickam, and had taken all they could lay their hands on. There is a particular account of the cups, dresses, gold-rings, weapons of war, and other valuables which they found, and the value of each article is given in the presentation, throwing quaintest light on the social as well as political condition of that troubled time. But John de Sencler and his equestrian armed company did not stop at this point, in their enthusiasm for popular liberty as against royal prerogative. This royalistic Richard de Bosco must have incurred the special hatred of the earl of Leicester and his barons. Probably, however, his personal stubbornness or disinclination to be quietly fleeced, is suflicient explanation of the treatment he got. No doubt the love of ransom money, which was one of the belles passions of these and much later times, Agincourt included, aided the general necessity of frightening Richard de Bosco thoroughly. He says they took and stripped him, carried him into the wood of Bukenhelle, possibly his own wood, so hoisting him as it were with his own petard, and there kept him bound a day and a night. The length of detention was evidently his own doing, the time being required for him to make up his mind as to what he would do. Only after the aid of striking him on the neck with a kind of sword (and he was lucky that it was only a kind of such speedy weapon) and sundry additional whippings, did he make a finem or settlement by paying a ransom of 65 marks. This sum would be value for perhaps 500 now, and though such doings were the fashion, Richard de Bosco had some reason to grumble. Whether these Sinclairs, of grave social and official standing, and more than the half of England and whole of London, which they thus represented in the struggle for rights, are to be blamed or praised, may be left to ingenuity. Might and right coalesce as laws weaken and tyrannies strengthen.

It is of importance to note that the surname is spelt in this roll exactly as Richard, the son of Walter, earl of St.Cler, has his spelt in The Domesday Book, with the exception of Edmund de “Seincler”. To other things, this is corroborative of their descent from him. Edmund is a side branch of the same family, who, for distinction, made the difference of spelling; and to them the attention is next to be directed. Then only thirty-four years of age, none of his name-fellows were John's sons, though the parson of Wethersfield church, which being on one of his estates was an advowson of his, was his brother, who went into the clerisy, and ought perhaps to have kept his natural war instincts within the pale of that body. John, “the summetar”, was of an older generation, or a cousin; but these are not alternatives of surety or importance. As to John Sinclair, the lord of Bradfield St.Clare manor, he did not make the phrase permanently applicable to himself by his patriotism which the followers of Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, were known by after the royal victories, “the disinherited”. He recovered his position though he did give rough handling to Richard de Bois, once bailiff of Norwich, and who had a name of considerable standing, in his own person and in those of landholding descendants. Morant says John occurs in 52 Henry III (1268) next year after this presentation, as a lord, the width of his possessions compelling him to the full duties of a baron of the kingdom.

The Rotuli Hundredorum was drawn up by a commission subscribed under the great seal, 11 Oct of the 2nd year of Edward I (1273), and was the result of forty-seven articles of inquiry as to the state of the demesne lands of the crown, the manors in the crown's hands or their alienations, the tenants in capite and their skill of evading tax by subinfeudation and other schemes, alienations to the church under pretences of frankalmoigne or free gift, wardships, marriages, escheats, fee-farm, services, tolls, murage, customs, unlawful exportation of wool, and other of the curious social institutions of the thirteenth century. There were ten local men appointed for the St.Edmundsbury district to find the true state of matters there, and John de Sco Claro appears as one of the four of best rank, milites, among the ten. They made inquisition concerning the liberties of St.Edmundsbury on oath. This shows that he had not suffered much, if at all, by the previous period of rebellion. It is acknowledged that Edward appreciated the motives of the barons by himself summoning parliaments and paying them the highest respect. If there were nothing further than this of explanation of John's continued prosperity it might be enough.

In Laing's Scottish Seals there is notice of a Sir William at the date of 1292, and the fact that his seal was in the chapter house, Westminster, might suggest that he was one of these Englishmen. His shield is a cross engrailed in a centre of rounded tracery, and in each of three compartments a boar's head couped. The inscription is “S Willelmi De Sco Claro militis” - “Sir William Sinclair”. Edward III's connection with Scotland at the period may be explanation of a Scottish knight's seal getting placed among state relics, though it is open to discuss the locality implied by the boars' heads. But this William only in passing. It may be added, however, that he may have been the “Sir William de Santcler” in Robert Crawfurd's History of the Royal Stuarts, who was one of the representatives of King Edward Baliol's claims in 1294 before Edward I at Norham against the earlier Robert Bruce.

A John de St.Cleer pays his feudal respect to the abbot of St.Edmundsbury as late as 30 Edward I (1302) for some possessions connected with the manor of Bradfield St.Clare; and it is as probable that it was the hero of the island of Ely who was thus living so long and happily ever after, as that it was a successor of the same name. It is true that the homage to the abbot suggests a new reign at the manor or the abbey. Either way serves the genealogical narration, for history there is not, of these years, as far as is discovered. Most men of the period had substantial dealings with the church in preparation for the close of life, and John Sinclair of Bradfield, baron, was no exception to the rule. He was too old to join Edward I in the wars against Wallace and Edward's own relation and English vassal Bruce, who headed the Scottish or, better word, Norman independence which was secured in 1314 by the battle of Bannockburn.

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