Near Kemsing on the railway line from London to Maidstone, the county town of Kent, the ancient seat of the Aldham family still preserves the name of St.Clere, and with the addition of Upper and Lower Sinclair, as the Kentishmen now distinguish. Yaldham is also a synonym. A more beautiful situation for a home is not in England. A large modern mansion is there now (1887), which by its condition, and some of its surroundings, raises thoughts of better days. The magnificent beeches, whose height seems endless, can hardly be reminiscence of the ancient owners; but they are certainly reminders of the splendid traditions of the place. High on a gently sloping hill, it has a view over an English Eden of several miles, the most fertile, soft, and luxurious basin that can be imagined. Where Adam, the commissioner of The Domesday Book, had his home, is a short distance to the east; and every way the gaze turns memories are roused of Sinclair lineage. Igtham, Seal, Knockholt, the archiepiscopal palace of Otford, a favourite home of Henry VIII, are in sight.
Of events the most classical in the kingdom's history, this has been the scene. Near where the mansion was built, the caput baroniae of estates in many counties, there still exists some very ancient remnants of building. Low square doors, pent roofs, walls built alternately with lime and heavy oaken beams, make the thought come that these portions must have known the presence of some of the family. The soil and sky are, at all events, as pure and sweet as when they looked with the varied emotions of their periods, and of their particular natures, over these fields, so full of growth and beauty. “Tis the place and all around it”. In the neighbourhood of London there was no more favourite spot for royal and noble leisure than that mid district of the historical county. Instead of the peaceful English mansion which now rests on the hill slope, the Aldham-St.Cleres had the strong feudal castle usual to the chiefs of wide lands, and the clang of arms was the hourly familiar sound for centuries above the rich vale beneath.
It has been already shown that Aldham was the local name taken from this home, and that the lineage was Sinclair. The way the double name of Aldham-St.Clere came was that a St.Clere of the same family married the ultimate heiress of those who had taken the name of Aldham, and thus their local surname got preserved. The Aldhams were Richard the son of Earl Walderne's male descendants, and the John St.Clair who married Joan de Aldenham, Aldham, or Audham, about 1300, was of the stock of the same Richard, and the proprietor then of the neighbouring Igtham. He did not, however, possess the caput baroniae of Aldham-St.Clere. Through the right of the mother, this Joan, it was his son John St.Clere of Igtham who heired Francis de Aldham, his cousin, and founded the new family of the old strain. One of the rolls of the treasury has been referred to, showing that he was not only his cousin by affinity but that they were consanguineous besides, this being the word used to show unity of blood male, John was aged twenty six when he came into possession of the properties of the Aldhams.
In 1312 the earl of Warwick, the leader of the barons, had beheaded Piers Gaveston, the favourite of Edward II; two years after, the English army was destroyed near Stirling; and from 1315 a dreadful famine of three years had paralysed the country. The king was in continual trouble with his barons, of whom the earl of Lancaster was then head. The barons, jealous of Edward taking up with favourites, had got the office of king's chamberlain for Hugh Despenser or Spencer, the young son of one of themselves, of whom they thought they were sure. But he and his father, Hugh the elder, became worse scourges of their own friends than Piers Gaveston himself; and in 1320 a new baronial war violently ended this rule of unexpected favourites by clearing the kingdom of them both. The tide, however, completely turned in favour of the king next year, and recalling the Spencers, he overpowered the barons and, says Rapin:
‘never, since the Norman Conquest, had the scaffolds been drenched with so much blood as upon this occasion’. The nobility blamed the Spencers inexorably for the severity. The earl of Lancaster was beheaded, John Giffard was put to death at Gloucester, and among many others, Francis de Aldenham, whom Tindal puts among the lords, also lost his life thus, at Windsor, the last of the earlier Aldham Sinclairs. The Hugh favourites had their surname from an office at court of the nature of public almoner; and the elder being a Norman himself, and by marriage to Eleanor Clare, a sister of the last earl of Gloucester of the Clare line, who was killed at Bannockburn, securing the earldom, the disappointment of the barons with him and his son Hugh was of the keenest. Francis de Audham, the neighbour of Tunbridge Castle, and the relation by many affinities of its lords, had hard lines measured to him. Many knights were hung in chains, but Francis had the higher privilege of getting beheaded in the court of Windsor Palace. He may have been in royal office, and had to suffer, for example and terror, on the spot. He was a young man, and died without issue, John de St.Clair of Igtham succeeding him as above.
Before following John's course, and that of his descendants, the ancestors of this Francis Sinclair of Audenham have to be considered. Their connection with Northamptonshire, helps towards the purpose more than that with their own peculiar county of Kent. His father was Baldwin of Aldham, in Kent, and of Wodepreston, in Northampton. His sister was John Sinclair's mother. The father of Baldwin and Joan was Thomas de Audham of Kent, and not of Northampton till by his marriage with the widow of his kinsman, Robert de la Haye of Sussex, Isabel Montacute or Montagu, he got, uxoris jure, Wodepreston, and some properties in the west. She was daughter of Sir William Montacute, or, as Nicholas says, of the 4th Baron Montacute, who died 1249, both being of the great western family who were earls of Salisbury, princes of Man, and played first parts in political events generally. Thomas de Audham died in 1276, his son Baldwin being then only fifteen. Margery Montague, Isabel's sister, was married to William, one of the lords of Echinham, “the knightly family” of Sussex; and it is worthy of note that in the ancient church of Echinham, the Sinclair arms of the later Aldham family is quartered with theirs, than which there could not be any better proof of, at least affinity.
Sir Thomas Aldham, knight, followed Richard I to Palestine, and was at the siege of Acre in 1191. The Robert of Aldham previous to Sir Thomas, is in one of the charters of Rochester; and the family go back, through the lords of Ros, in Kent, to Richard, the king's chamberlain, son of Walter, earl of St.Cler and of Medway. But there is a gap between the two Thomases, which Peter de Aldham fills up perhaps, who appears as a witness at Winchester, then a great scene of national business, in a charter of land to their favourite St.Andrews of Rochester, dated 1245.
The connection of the Aldhams with Geffrey of Ros is shown thus from the Textus Roffensis. Geffrey of Ros, and afterwards Robert Aldham, gave the tenth part of Aldham, namely, Stownfield, containing 22 acres, Brodefield containing 42 acres, Piryefield containing 20 acres, Donnfield containing 40 acres, and Freythe containing 18 acres: total 180 acres. This has various interest. These acres show what was actually in cultivation around Aldham, and compared with the usual patches laboured then gives the impression of wealth and energy. “Peerie” is the Norse word for “little”, and has philological value.
Robert of Burnaville held Ros, and is one of the Aldham line, though it is impossible to find an exact date for him.
William of Ros held it in 1163; for Carte in his History of England says that Thomas a Becket claimed two of his manors as belonging to the see of Canterbury, at the very beginning of the great quarrel. William held six and a half knight's fees as of the king, in capite; but Becket claimed the manors of Hethe and Saltwoode as his.
Hugo de St.Clair and his kin were very closely interested.
William of Eynesford, who is often referred to by ordinary historians as chief occasion of the dispute, was one of them, as well as William of Ros. Ralph of this family was in 1199 prior of Rochester, and showed the usual love of, and capacity for, architectural work, being a prominent builder of the churches of his time. Hamon de Hethe, bishop of Rochester, would also seem to be of the same house.
The Aldhams appear very often in Northampton, and less frequently in Somerset. The Monasticon has three of them, Roger, Hugo, and William, signing a charter by Nesta of Cokefield, Northampton, to the church of St.Mary and St.Anthony, Kerseya; and, in 30 Edward I (1301), Osbert Aldham is a juror in a great cause at St.Edmundsbury, Suffolk, as to the seneschalship of the abbey. Cokefield has suggestive relations to Gereberd Sinclair and his family, which might reward search; but that Robert of Cokefield in 1222 gave his right over it to John de Montacute, grandfather of the lady who married Thomas Audham, accounts for the Aldham prevalence there. That they held part of the property of the Montacutes in Somersetshire, the manor of Chiselberg in particular, explains their appearances in histories and records of that county, the original home of the Montagus, their name being local to that district, the “sharp hill”, from the situation of their home castle. The connection with this county will appear through the history of their heirs, the Sinclairs of Aldham, who added to their Somerset properties, having relations there continuously from the Norman Conquest. They kept the Sancto Claro name religiously untouched by the prevalent pride of locality appellation.
Much can still be collected of the earlier Aldham Sinclairs; but as it would be of the same substantial rather than remarkable character, enough is stated. That they were of the baronial order expresses a great deal in those periods, when all that was being done which was notable, was the work of the barons, to whom kings were but the foils. Franciscus Aldeham, the last of the branch, he who was executed as one of the rebel barons, is mentioned in one of the Harleian MSS. as the antecessor of John and Philip St.Clere, and as holding fifteen military fees from the honour of Morteine alone, which is ample evidence of his baronial position. Mortayne or Morteine was escheat and practically demesne of the crown since its early forfeiture by William the Conqueror's nephew, and to hold from it was equal to in capite tenure. He held much besides of other baronies, Aquila for one, Aldham being probably of ancient in capite possession, and not as of any barony, itself the caput baroniae of the family. The Aldham coat of arms was, Azure, a pile, or.