Back to Fiona's Finding Service
Back to Index | Previous page | Next page

GOVERNORS OF ROCHESTER CASTLE

The successor of William Pincerna, the royal cupbearer, or of John, the baron of Magna Charta, was William; and he is known by the part he took in the wars of the barons, led by Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, against Henry III and his son Prince Edward, afterwards King Edward I. That he was a baron himself is proved by his signature to a charter of lands given to a Cobham in 30 Henry III (1246) written Dominus William de Sencler. Of this his history is further confirmation, if any more were necessaiy.

Immediately before the battle of Lewes, the royal army had come from the north (and from Oxford, the scholars of which suffered at its hands for sympathy with the barons, upholders of “the provisions”) to the castle of Rochester to relieve it. It was besieged by Simon de Montfort, and defended by William de St.Clare, the governor, till the approach of Henry and his son the prince compelled the insurgent lords to raise the siege. William Sinclair died the same year, in possession of this office of castellan; and it is not improbable that he was either killed in the battle of Lewes, fought on the fourteenth May 1264, or in defence of the important stronghold of Rochester, which had already seen so much fight since the Norman Conquest. Not the least interesting part of its story is told in connection with the architectural bishop of Rochester in the time of Henry I. The king would not confirm Hedenham manor, Bucks, to the church of Rochester except by gift of a sum from the bishop of 100. The bishop would not agree, and Robert Fitz-Hamo Sinclair, then the first Englishman next to the sovereign at his court, compromised with the disputants by getting the bishop to build the additional part called from his name “Gundulph's tower”, which he did for about 70, and got therefore confirmation of the manor, with other favours.

William de St.Clare had much tradition to make him be valorous captain of so renowned a castle, and so near his family's home, as Rochester. For situation on a mastering site in the varied and comparatively deep valley of the Medway, there like a regular basin around it, and for its impressive Norman architecture in white Caen stone, it is one of the finest and most picturesque relics in the country. It is now in the hands of the corporation of Rochester, which bought it recently for 8000 from the earl of Jersey, who stipulated that it should be kept as a ruin, and that the corporation would prcserve its surrounding gardens in the same condition as when it was on lease to them at a yearly rental of 240. It has had a long eventful history, and as much as the tower of London the English people ought to watch so precious a monument of their Norman period.

If its governor of the middle of the thirteenth century, William Sinclair, had been its builder it would have noted antiquarian and national value, but it was grey and grand with age as now when he was its lord. The rebels coveted its strength in vain in 1264. In the official guide the following is to be found: ‘Henry III entrusted William St.Clare with the custody of this castle, whose ancient seat was at Woodlands, in Kingsdown parish, in this county’. That in 1228 it was held by Hubert de Burgh might have come from the marriage of his son to the daughter of William Langvalee, her mother being the daughter of Sir Hubert Sinclair, constable of Colchester Castle, who saved Henry II's life by expending his own during the siege of Bridgenorth. But there may have been political rather than property reasons for the justiciary of England to be constable of Rochester Castle.

Of Simon de Montfort's attack upon it just before the battle of Lewes in 1264, it has been told that the earl of Leicester made a furious assault upon the castle, but the brave governor and his associates defended every inch of ground with so much ardour and resolution that, although Leicester made himself master of some outworks by burning the bridge and its wooden tower, he was unable to succeed after a siege of seven days with his whole army. The tenure of its lands in this and other counties was perfect castle guard, and every tenant who did not pay his rent on old St.Andrew's Day was liable to have it doubled for the return of every tide of the Medway. It was probably on these terms William Sinclair dealt with his castle vassals. His death at the critical period had its effect, but success went to his side of the struggle by the battle of Evesham in 1265.

The strange thing is that his son, also William, is as vigorous on the parliament's side, and suffers accordingly on the turn of the wheel. Of him there is a good deal known. It was he and not his father who was the William de Sancto Claro indicted at Chelmsford in 1255 for having knight's fees and not being knighted. The Liber Ruber speaks of him as having no honours, and it was the advantage in those periods of English history to keep out of such prominence as long as one could, taxes being less, and the demands upon a man being generally the milder. That he was a person of strong individuality several things besides this indicate. His indictment may have helped to estrange him from the cause of Henry III, of whom his father was so strenuous a supporter. As a knight he followed Simon Montfort to the battles of Lewes and Evesham; and having possession of his patrimony at the latter fight, he lost all, as is shown by this transaction from the Curia Sccacarii of 51 Henry III (1267) two years after the battle of Evesham: ‘William Sinclair: The extent of his lands which by reason of transgressions charged against him the king had given to Baldwin of Hackney’.

But the Great Rolls of Henry III gives further information about William's peculiar fortunes at that critical period. The sheriffs took possession of his lands in East Tilbury soon after ‘soon after the battle of Evesham, at the instance of the earl of Gloucester, and the said William Sinclair made a settlement with the said count, and kept his land’. Roger Clare made possession easy for him, and reasons are not difficult to find beyond the natural ties of blood between them. They were both on the side of the barons at Lewes, and the king or his son must have showed suspicion of the favour experienced, for afterwards the roll says, ‘My lord the king gave that land to Baudwin D'akeney’. To this reference has been made already. But the roll ends by showing that the same William de St.Clare redeemed that land from Baldwin of Hackney and retained it. If all is well that ends well it was not without great energy that he escaped being finally one of “the disinherited”, as the barons who lost their properties at that time were called. Between the time he was possessed by the earl of Gloucester and dispossessed again by the king, he had drawn returns, but this did not prevent the successful invasion of royalist Baldwin from the neighbouring quarter of Hackney coming east upon him at Tilbury.

The difficulties of his relation, baron John Sinclair of Bradfield, at the same time, 51 Henry I (1150), one of the isle of Ely marauders, well got over, must have aided William in Essex and Kent. In the Patent Rolls in the Tower of London of 1267 this is found: ‘The king has restored to William de St.Clare all his inheritance’; which is a kind of quod erat demonstrandum to this passage of biography. Morant says that in Essex he held, 51 Henry III (1266), St.Cleres, East Tilbury, and Coringham, and also that he had a park at Danbury. It was this year he died, and the Calendar of Inquisitions after Death gives the list of his inheritance under the heads of Estilberry, Danigbury, and the lands and liberties of the castle of Rochester. It is, however, doubtful whether he was able to be at that time, in the circumstances in which he had been placed, de facto governor, as he was it de jure. His early death so soon after his possessions were regained, must have made in any case his governorship and residence there of the shortest. The actual holding of the lands of the castle at his death, answers all doubts as to his position; like his father, governor of the most historic stronghold in the most characteristic spot in England.

Further, the William who succeeded these two Williams would get his father's inheritance; though there was nothing in history to bring him forward in the military character. It is in civil capacity he wrought most, as now discernible. In 1279, twelve years after he succeeded to his patrimony, he was sheriff of the counties of Essex and Hertford; and before this his name is noticed in connection with disputed lands, and especially as to a half-fee about which he was arbiter on the part of his relation William Mountchesney or Monte Canisio, the same people probably as the lords Chesney so familiar to early Kent. In the Quo Warranto of 2 Edward I, 1274, he himself holds two half knight's fees from this William Mountchesney in the hundred of Shamele, Kent. ‘Also William Sinclair holds half a fee in Merston from William Montchesney by underholding, and the same William of the king, in chief, and it is worth ten pounds a year: And that William Sinclair holds half a fee in Higham from William Montchesney by underholding, and the same holds from the king in capite, and it is worth per annum 100 s.’.

His transactions about lands are of curiously incomprehensible character. Through Cicely Sinclair, the wife of Ralph of Osyth, a sister or some near relation, he got in 1266 Chichridell and other manors near St.Osyth, Essex, and also some property of hers at East Tilbury. The East Tilbury portion, Morant found in some ancient record, consisted of 140 acres of arable land, 8 of meadow, a marsh for feeding 200 sheep, 50s. 2d. rent assize, and a windmill. This portion of East Tilbury was held from Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford and Essex. But East Tilbury contained several knights' fees, and all is explainable if these Sinclairs from Hugo or Hamo Dapifer's time had one portion, and added subsequently to this as opportunities came.

In 1285 an Edmund of Kemesck or Camoys certainly held the greater part of East Tilbury, and Kemescks of Camoys Hall also fell heirs by relationship to Hugo's uncle, Hamo Dapifer. They may have been Crevequers by the sister of Hamo already noticed. In the records of a Quo Warranto court at Colchester, 13 Edward I (1285), particulars are given. ‘Edmund of Kemesck or Camoys was summoned to answer to his lord the king, by what warrant it seemed good to him to claim as heir the frank-pledge and returns of corn milled in Estillberry, without the assent and wish of his lord the king: And Edmund appeared: And says that a certain William Sinclair held the said manor to the end of his life, by the grant of Edmund himself: He says also that Edmund himself and all his predecessors, from a time of which no memory remains, held the said liberties in the said manor: And he showed no special warrant from his lord the king: And William of Chiselham, who summed up for the king, said that the liberties of it depended on the crown, and they were allowed to no heir without the special warrant of the king’. The justice, William of Chiselham, sent him to the king's court for final decision; but of this there appears nothing. No doubt when John Warren, earl of Surrey, opened Edward I's eyes as to the tyranny of these proceedings, by openly drawing his sword in court and declaring that by that he held like his ancestors his lands, and when the judicious king stopped the inquisitions, Edward de Camoys got all his liberties without challenge. John Warren gave the further valuable warning, that the Conqueror himself had his lands as only a comes among their ancestors as comites, and Quo Warranto business was put out of court for that reign.

It would seem that William Sinclair had neither this nor the other parts of East Tilbury returned, by the post-mortem calendar of his lands. He died 11 Edward I (1283) possessed of Danehoberry Park alone in Essex, Chichridell and its related manors at St.Osyth had gone out of his hands also, and the presumption is that his Kent lands and Rochester Castle privileges went over to others, probably his relations. Besides Higham, Merston, and Green manor, he had Great Okeley manor and Little Okeley, as no doubt much more in the western angle the Medway makes with the Thames, the stem-land of a little world of his lineage. Misfortune, extravagance, or, being without children, generosity to his relations, suggest themselves as to his strange doings.

In Norfolk particularly all kinds of discoveries are on the verge of his actions, yet without satisfaction quite solid as to him and his people. Between this county and Kent there is a continual state of business for the Pincernas or Butlers, as they began to be called, of which lineage he was; and he may have made the fortune of the famous earls of Ormond and Ossory, while giving away his own. These Butlers are said to be descended from a butler of one of the earls of Leicester by some of the modern Peerages, and Theobald, king's butler at the coronation of Henry II, is mentioned as one of them. It is not likely. Never was it so difficult as then to get good place without birth of the highest kind; and, besides that the Pincernas or Botelers were mostly a Kent race, it is all but certain that this line of Hugo St.Clair, king's butler or pincerna, the descendants of the Hamoes and Fitz-Hamo of the ducal house of Normandy, is one with the Butlers of West Wickham,Kent, earls of Wiltshire, and with those distinguished men of Ireland. Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, was possibly one of them, first names being much weightier than now that surnames are general.

In 1270 this William Sinclair of Danbury Park married one of the two coheiresses of Nicolas Pincerna or Nicolas the Butler or Nicolas le Boteler, and got the half with her of Walcote Hall, North Burlingham, Wilton, Swalfield, Burgh Hall, Butlers or Herewards, and Upton. North Walsham, Blomfield says in his History of Norfolk, he got, as himself heir to the half of Sir Richard Butlers land there. His marriage, as was so much the Norman way in their desire to hold and increase their lands, was therefore a lineage one. In Burgh Hall there was Nicolas Pincerna or Le Botiler, he says, before the last Nicolas who died in 1250 lord of this and other manors.

In 1242 William Sinclair, governor of Rochester Castle, the father of this William, had possession of half of Burgh Hall, and sold it to William of Heveningham, Suffolk. The rights of it were afterwards gained by Guy de Botetourt, whose descendant was made a baron, 9 Edward III (1336), on the aggrandisement it gave. The husband of the other coheiress, Adam of Brancaster, followed the sheriff in all his transactions about these properties, Guy getting much from him also. The older Nicolas Boteler or Pincerna had a part of Swafield, which the sheriff's father sold to William of Heveningham as early as 1232, having heired it from Nicolas. But a clean sweep of the coheiresses' lands was made in 51 Henry III (1267), three years after they were married. The son William of the William of Heveningham who had already bought much at an earlier period, purchased and got every inch both husbands acquired by their wives, why or how it is impossible to see. North Walsham, of which the half fell to William de St.Clere from Sir Richard Butler, William conveyed by line to William the younger of Heveningham in 1273, ‘to be held of him and his heirs by the service of a sparrow-hawk’. They also had Suffolk lands by the coheiresses, which went similarly.

William Sinclair and Felicia Butler his wife had no heirs as far as can be traced, and this may account for favours to William of Heveningham, who was a magnate of the eastern counties. The puzzle is made still more perplexing by Felicia Butler his widow advancing a claim in 1285 over the Suffolk and Norfolk estates of her father thus disposed of. The claim was for something she called her “dower”, which she contended had not gone with the rest at transfer. That the husband and wife had reduced themselves to poverty is an impossible supposition, and yet this claim of something shadowy by the widow two years after his death in 1283, points to that. Danbury Park went to his male heir, a brother or nephew, as well as the Kent and other chief manors. In the Inquisitions ad Quod Damnum of 11 Edward I Williemus de Sancto Claro appears; and as late as 18 Edward I, 1290, seven years after his death, in these same records, Inquisitiones ad Quod Damnum there is suggestive notice of him.

Before dealing with this, however, something may be said of the William of Giselham who was the king's justice over the Tilbury affair. Edward I had been three years beyond sea before returning to England in 1289, and he found, or pretended to find, great evils in the dispensation of justice, from the chief justiciary Weyland downwards. What makes his punishment of so many able men suspicious, is the immense fines he put upon them all. A clerk of the court, Stretton, was fined no less than 32,000 marks besides jewels and silver plate. Such a vein of cash as this the royal heart and need could hardly be expected to spare, the Jews no longer being oppressible. Indeed they were banished next year for the very reason of impecuniosity, or possibly to secure by confiscation, as the king did, their immovable goods in England.

Sir Ralph of Hengham, chief justice of the higher bench, a descendant of Hubert Sinclair, castellan of Norwich, was fined 7000 marks, on similar accusation to that for which Lord Bacon suffered. The Chronicle of Dunstable MSS. and Wikes give eleven others who lost their offices of the very first rank. Such a swoop has never fallen before or since on the highest personages of the administration of law, and it is far more likely that political chicanery or violence was at the bottom of it than corruption among so many knightly and distinguished men. Sir William of Giselham, who had made his fortune with Edward by being an enthusiastic Quo Warranto inquisitor, got, four years after the Tilbury decision, a seat as judge on the king's bench. He was of a Kent family, and it is of genealogical interest to find his father, John of Chiselham, in a Cottonian MS. as a witness to the confirmation of a charter to Rochester see by Geffrey de Say, son of Geffrey de Say and Alicia de Chemuney, side by side with such signatirres as William, son of Henry of Cobham, and Hugo Pincerna. Henry Bray, judge and escheator for the Jews' treasury department of the nation, suffered a fine of 1000 marks at a time when the imposition of tallages and all other manners of collection shows the crown at its wit's end for money.

Edward had the skill to use parliaments for his purposes. He was just opening the drama of political scheming which the state of the Scottish monarchical succession offered him.

But to return to the lord of Danehoberry Park. He is twice mentioned in the Inquisitions ad Quod Damnum of 18 Edward I (1290) ‘John, the son of Simon, executor of the will of William Sinclair in favour of the chapel of Danbury’'; and again, ‘William Sinclair gave land for making a chantry’. Such glimpses are at Danbury helpful to give outline of the kind of man he was; and in his generosity to the cause of the religion of his time, he seems to have had the hereditary spirit of his people well developed.

The chapel of Danbury is one of the most historically interesting ruins in the kingdom, and it enhances its claims on consideration that this sheriff of Essex and Hertford, so incomprehensible, and still so comprehensible, in his doings and character, had a hand in part of its foundation and in its permanent support. It was his family chapel, and he fully realised his duties in regard to it. But there are no grounds for believing that his patrimony in largest part, and his acquirement of estate with his wife, coheiress of Nicolas Pincerna, left him, by fanatical enthusiasm for dying to endow college, cat, or chapel. The shapeliness of the Norman nature, which never forgot either secular or religious duty, had in him also a sufficient representative. The crusading ecstasies were over before his time, else this might be explanatory of his transactions. It was his forefathers who took the cross, three of whom already had their monuments in Danbury Chapel, to inspire him with the pietas which is next to the divinest thing in man.

Back to Fiona's Finding Service
Back to Index | Previous page | Next page


e-mail to:fnsnclr@btinternet.com