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VICECOMES AND ESCHEATOR

Guido or Guy de St.Cleer was the son or grandson of the baron of Bradfield of the raiding adventures. His mother was a Neville of the famous earl of Warwick “king-maker” family, and to the maternal side he owed his first name. The earliest notice of him is in 1335 as, with his wife Marjory, holding Wyrun Hall, Norfolk, which would be connected with her marriage dowry, this being a new name in the properties of the lords of Bradfield. In 22 Edward III (1349) he was made king's viscount or sheriff of the united counties of Cambridge and Huntingdon, in both of which he had properties. At this time sheriffs had their appointments only for a year, with rare exceptions, as can be seen by the extant and easily accessible lists; but Guy's ability or influence, or both, gained him this coveted position again and again. He held it in the 23rd year also, and had it renewed in the 24th and 25th of Edward III's reign. It was the period of the glorious but expensive battles of Cressy and Poictiers in France when Guido had so much management of the king's affairs in the counties where his lands lay, and it is safe inference to draw that he was personally popular with both his lord and the people, when the official connection was so often kept up. His wealth also would have its good effect in such times of pressure. At the interval of a year he had the consulship of the two counties for the fifth time, 1354. The year after he was out of this particular harness, but in 29 Edward III (1356) he was made escheator for the king in the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.

Escheats were one of the principal sources of the king's revenue, and they included not only the lands properly so called, but also those which after the Conquest became vested in the crown by devolution, seizure, forfeiture, or other contingency. The records are full of references to such honours, baronies, or fiefs as that of Bolonia, “quae est in manu regis” - which is in the hand of the king; and this family itself, is remarkable as holding from such escheats some of its fees. Those baronies were often farmed to the favoured nobles at a yearly payment. But besides the great fiefs, the lands of the lesser barons and gentry, as well as the produce of hereditary offices and serjeanties, fell frequently to the crown. Usually the escheats merged into the royal demesnes, claims getting gradually quite dead. In Henry II's reign was instituted a public office of escheatry, managed by custodes or keepers. These afterwards got the name of escheators, and one of these Guido was. Small escheats the sheriffs took care of, the justices itinerant putting them in their charge. But perhaps the most lucrative part of the escheator's duties was taking possession for the king of the temporalities or estates of the church on occurrence of vacancy from office by death or otherwise. Of these the bishops could not get possession, and cannot yet, without writs. Rufus and Anselm, king and archbishop, figured in the game of profit and loss early, and the crown never lost this useful and necessary hold on the rich demesnes of the church, at one period worth more than the half of England.

Next year, 1357, Guy was sheriff of the united counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. Among the charters still preserved in the British Museum, there is an order by him as vicecomes of Norfolk of that year. It is a parchment carta of ten lines' length, in Latin, seven inches or so by four, and in good preservation, except that the queue and seal are gone. With four other similarly ancient Sinclair charters, its interest is of considerable public and very particular genealogical importance. The five are in absolutely safe keeping henceforward. One is from John de Seintcler of Penshurst, the poet Sydney's place afterwards; and, written in old French, his seal with the shield of blazing sun is attached to it. But this will probably recur, and Guido's course requires further following. Of Norfolk and Suffolk, as previously of Cambridge and Huntingdon, he was exceptionally made viscount again and again. In 1358 he had reappointment. The last of his sheriffships traced is that of 1359.

But he was often escheator at other periods. In the Rotulorum Originalium in Curia Scaccarii Abbreviatio temporibus Henry III, Edward I, and II there are to be found no fewer than seven king's mandates to him in this office. One of them under the heading Canc or Kent is addressed to Guido de Seintcler, escheator of the king in the county of Cambridge; another under Cant or Cambridge is addressed to him as escheator of the county; the third is to Guido de Seyntcler, escheator of the king in the county of Suffolk, under the heading Suff; in a fourth belonging to Suffolk he is “esc.r.”, in the county of Huntingdon; under Huntingdon he appears as its king's escheator; Canc or Kent has him as escheator in the counties of Cambridge and Huntingdon; and lastly there is a mandate to him under Cantab as escheator of the king in the county of Cambridge.

The names and business which are in these mandates are of special value. In Suffolk he was to put Robert Corbet, chevalier, son and heir of Sir John Corbet, in possession of the manor of Asyngton, held by Sir John in capite as from the honour of Hatfield-Peverell, then in the king's hands. On doing certain service in the court of the honour or barony, and paying a reasonable relief, Sir Robert was to get full possession. It would be valuable to know if Guido was aware of the unity of lineage of these Corbets or Corbeils with himself.

In Cambridge he was to take possession for the king of Barnton and Iskelyngton, and also of the “house of St.Michael” in the town, of which house the master was dead. The manor of Bramton with its pertinents had to be seized in Suffolk. In Huntingdon, Richard, the brother of John, the son of John Farndon of Newbury, after a reasonable tax, was to get a house and 86 acres of land, with 15 of meadow, and various returns. In Kent, Guy was to give Thomas de Wanton his mother's lands, and also those of another lady relation. Walter Hamelyn, then dead, who had been himself escheator of the king in the county of Cambridge, had a son John, to whom Guido Sinclair, the ruling escheator, must give lands, houses, mill, meadow at Badburgham, as the heir to his father, who was holder from the crown by services.

One of these mandates may serve as specimen for the others: ‘Kent: It was commanded to Guido Sinclair, escheator of the king, that having accepted security from Thomas Oky, who married Matilda who was the sister of Andrew Stenene, dead, concerning his reasonable tax, he make full possession as heirs to the same Thomas and Matilda of one homestead, sixty acres of arable land, two of meadow, and twelve pence of returns from the assize with the pertinents, which was held from the king in capite by the service of the sixth part of one knight's fee’.

In Blomfield's History of Norfolk there are useful notes of Guy, especially in connection with Grimston, which he possessed, a manor that afterwards was called Morley's, because of its coming into the possession of the lords Morley. It was part of the old barony of Hengham, which the Hubert Sinclair family held from the reign of William I. Kimberley of the present peer, of Wodehouse lineage, is another of its parts, once held by the Gournays of the Vexin. Grimston or Morley's manor, near Hengham, the caput baroniae, is a few miles south of Kimberley Castle. Says Blomfield: ‘The family of the St Cleers or de Sancto Claro were also ancient lords of this manor’. He thinks that ‘good part of this manor was alienated by some of the family, who had a noble seat and park at Bradfield abovementioned’. Whether Guy was the seller cannot be fixed. It is more probable that it was John, or perhaps Gereberd, as in his younger days he seemed dealing with the Jews overmuch. At the time in which Guido lived it was not possible to recover matters by raiding in the Jewish quarters, the kings themselves being precluded from the extraction of Israelitish teeth in default of the required liberality. It is certain that he had great opportunities of enriching himself, whether he took sufficient advantage or not of his position and influence.

His son Pain, or Paganus, de St.Clair, must have died without male issue. In 49 Edward III (1376) he preleases to Edward de St.John and Joan his wife and her heirs all his right in the manor of Grimston. She may have been his sister or daughter, as she was certainly his heiress. The St.Johns are said to have been a Kent family descended from the rich Hugh de Port of Domesday Book. The lands of this branch of Sinclairs could therefore fall into hands far less worthy; but it is melancholy, nevertheless, to see the end of so much vigour as exhibited itself in these northern and eastern home counties. Of Pain Sinclair little is known, and he must be left with the remark that his mother was of the Beauchamp family, from whom he got a first name unusual to his paternal lineage. A Joan was the heiress of the Bradfields.

The chief estates, indeed, ultimately reverted to Sir Philip St.Cleere, known most as Sir Philip of Bristow, in Surrey. Blomfield says he was lord of Bradfield and Wethersfield in the reign of Henry IV; but in the inquisition after death 9 Henry IV (1408) he is returned as having Wethersfield manor in the county of Suffolk, without mention of Bradfield. Wethersfield must have grown into the head manor by which the others, if any, took their designation. He also is one of the descendants of Richard Sinclair, the king's chamberlain and son of Walter, earl of St.Clair and of Medway; but his relationship to Pain was very distant, and it is difficult to believe that he inherited as heir-general, though this would seem to be the fact. Sir Philip's history, however, will occur again in following his own powerful branch of the lineage; and it is enough here to know that the Suffolk lands were not yet lost to the name, Sir Philip having descendants to possess these and many other estates. The following refers to one of them: Henry V, from whom Sir John Sinclair had Wethersfield by direct holding, gets the custody of the manor after his death.

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