Richard, Britel, and Agnes spent their lives after 1066 mostly if not altogether on English soil.
William for some unexplained reason espoused the cause of the Athelings, and was one of the emigrants who took refuge with Malcolm of Scotland. Motives of love, hope, or justice may have separated him from the interests of his Norman chief. He was not singular, for he was only one of a considerable company who set sail for the purpose of reaching Hungary with Margaret Atheling in their charge.
Their ship was driven on the coast of Scotland by stress of weather, and it was the destiny of royal Margaret to become King Malcolm's loved wife, as it was that of William Sinclair to remain there as her steward or dapifer. He had all kinds of honours, and his personal popularity is well enough indicated by the phrase which his fine proportions, features, and yellow hair gained him, “The seemly St.Clair”.
The William “le blond” in the roll in the church of Dives, Normandy, of the companions of William I in the conquest of England, appears to be Sir Walter Scott's favourite in his notes to The Lay of the Last Minstrel. He is in these called the
‘second son of Walderne, count de St.Clair, and Margaret, daughter to Richard, duke of Normandy’; but his mother was Duke Richard's daughter Helen. There is a theory mooted of his lineage and consequent motives that deeper historic study might establish, though present evidence only points in the direction.
It would seem that the introduction of Norman styles at the Scottish court began with the advent of Queen Margaret Atheling, and that her dapifer or steward became dapifer of Scotland, the same office from which the royal Stuarts took their name. Now this highest position, next to the monarch, was always hereditary; and was not this “seemly St.Clair” therefore the direct fore-father of the Stuarts who by marriage with the Bruces became kings of Scotland and afterwards of the United Kingdom ?
Robert Crawfurd in his History of the Royal and Illustrious Family of the Stuarts gives an origin to them that might be made to agree with this curious likelihood. He says the Banquo of whom Shakespeare writes in Macbeth was the son of Ferquhard of Lochaber, a scion of the royal house of Scotland. Banquo was killed in 1050 by the usurper Macbeth, but his son Fleance escaped to Wales and married Nesta, the daughter of Griffith, the son of Llewellyn. Their son was Walter or Walderne. In charters he is Walter, “senescallus domus”, or dapifer, to Malcolm III of Scotland. It is supposed that he is the same with Walter, earl of St.Clair in Normandy, and that his marriage there with the duke of Normandy's daughter gave him the lands of St.Clair.
It is recorded in history that he sent his second son William to the Scottish court before the Norman conquest of England, as if to be his substitute. The tale has it briefly that he sent him to see how affairs were going in Scotland. William's second arrival with Queen Margaret may have been simply returning to his hereditary rights as dapifer. There is a common similarity in the first names that aids these inquiries, Allan and Walter being the prevalent ones.
The stewards of Scotland had Paisley with its abbey and the neighbouring district of Kyle for their chief patrimony, and the chartulary throws considerable light on the family after the first three or four. From 1160 the lineage is clear, but the previous hundred years is almost a blank. The earliest notice of a Sinclair after William, the dapifer, is of an Allan in some land charters of Haddingtonshire, given before the “stewards” got the Renfrewshire and West of Scotland properties. What the real blood of the royal Stuarts is, has not yet been settled, though they have been also as Alans referred to Normandy.
But these questions may have thorough treatment in a discussion of the descendants of this “seemly St.Clair”, the ancestor of all the Scottish kin of the name. The theory of a longer residence in Normandy of the family previous to the Conquest is the more accepted. But William's espousal of the cause of the Athelings is a considerable difficulty.
Wodrow in his useful reminiscences says that the chief secretary of Scotland, Sir Robert Spottiswoode, son of Archbishop Spottiswoode, got the MSS. of the famous Black Book of Paisley, the headquarters of the Stewarts, from Sir William Sinclair of Roslin, who was married to his only sister. The charter-room of Roslin Castle had many secrets to tell before an unfortunate fire reduced its records. That Sir William should about 1638 have the Paisley writings in his possession is at least suggestive, however unlikely that it may throw desirable light on the early Stuart history. If these references should lead to inquiry, what is too much of digression on mere probability may not be fruitless.
It is quite possible that the cup-bearer of Queen Margaret has his hereditary representative in the Henry Sinclair, panitarius, or steward of the household, who is mentioned in the famous letter to the pope in the time of Edward I, where another Henry is mentioned as pennander or bannerman of Scotland, the equivalent to the office of the custodian of the French oriflamme. For the present the subject must be left entirely open, and the more that it is somewhat out of the straight course of progress.
It is a puzzle why William De Sancto Claro should have left him he fought for at Hastings. Great bitterness arose between the Conqueror and some of his best nobles. The division of offices and lands would of all things be of the character to raise heart-burnings, and it is proverbial that the amour-propre of his followers was particularly keen. King William had no more determined enemy at the Scottish court than this namesake and relation of his. They met more than once in the many fights of William's reign on the borders of the kingdom, and in one battle at least the former subject was successful against his king. Married to the daughter of Cospatric, the Saxon earl, to whom the Conqueror had acted capriciously because of the capricious character of this his most northern count, and because of the difficulties of the period, this was additional cause of vexation between the two Williams. Sinclair, as warden of the marches, lost his life fighting bravely against King William and his lieutenant, Robert Fitz-Hamo, the earl of Gloucester. It is doubtful whether the course he took, brilliant career though his descendants have had, was as hopeful as if he had stayed with his brothers and sister. The indications are that his line of action had some limiting effect on their fortunes.
How could their monarch be sure that the others also would not go away and leave him ? Richard, the hero of Hastings, had the highest claims on his generosity in the share of lands and offices. In the absence of sufficiently distinct documents, it would hardly be right to state that he was comparatively forgotten. As the sons of Walderne, earl of St.Cler, and the nephews of Hubert, earl of Rye, both he and Britel were well entitled to large notice, even if they had no personal relationship to the king.
It is established that nothing irritated the Conqueror to anything like the same degree, as did the presence of the emigrants at the Scottish court. Their continual appeals to the Danish king, to come and help them to drive “the bastard” out of the island, were as annoying as they were dangerous to his very existence. That the relations of perhaps the most active and formidable of all these malcontents, the steward of Queen Margaret Atheling, sister of the Edgar whose claim to the crown which the Conqueror then wore was formally perhaps better than his who bore it, suffered from the state of things, at least in the negative way of neglect, seems somewhat apparent.
Were it not that jealousies against each other are very exceptional in the history of Sinclairs wherever they have been, it might be possible that the influence of Eudo Sinclair at court was not exercised much or at all in favour of his cousins. His character, certainly, from his youth upwards was of gallant type, and something must have been barrier to larger favour of Richard and Britel with a master so profuse of gift to himself. Had we writings earlier than The Domesday Book, which was drawn up during the six years from 1080 to 1086, we might however find both of them in high office, and in possession of wider lands than this record shows. They may have been involved with the rebellions which occurred so frequently during the reign, and have suffered the usual stripping from them of all or most they had. There can be no doubt about the difficulty there was of ruling such men.
It was William's dying words to his son to hold the hardest possible hand upon the lords of Normandy, and it is not likely their tempers suddenly sweetened in this island's climate under the invidious difficulties connected with the sharing of great offices and wide possessions. It is more than possible that there should be thankfulness for the lands Domesday Book does show as being in their possession. If they, like many of the best of his followers, were among those who fain would have cast off his rule, especially after his nature seems to have grown embittered, against Saxon and Norman almost equally, they may not at all have had reason to wonder at limited prosperity under William I. It would be a great mistake, and possibly a sheer injustice to the king, who was of most manly, and to his relations most forgiving, nature, not to remember that the entries in the renowned two volumes of his survey take little account of surnames.
The name Richard occurs with lands in every county, and it is quite probable that this son of Walderne, earl of St.Clare, is hidden under the frequency of its appearances. The fact that his full name is twice entered, while it has very special interest, is also cause of embarrassment. It seems to limit his property to where his surname has been written, though this cannot be fixed either for a moment, the habits of naming being different in the special counties, and the survey itself the labour of several independent commissioners, whose styles of work are quite distinguishable from each other. The wisest course is not to fix any quarrel at all between the great captain of his age, either personal or family, and his heroic warrior of Senlac battlefield. He could not possibly be the only Richard who got lands, even if Richard of Tunbridge, Fitz-Gilbert as he was called, is kept apart. On the whole, he must have had part of the lands mentioned simply under “Richard”, and this is all that the state of the facts will allow or demand. Whether luckily or not is very doubtful, but there can be absolute security of his possession of lands in two counties. If it could be shown that these were all he ever had, then, in comparing his rewards with those of others, inferiors in rank and distinction, he would have deep reason to grumble. It was common among these four hundred chief Norman followers to have pluralities in the way of estates by dozens, nay, by hundreds, and it is almost absolute that Richard fared likewise; but this kind of facts cannot be supported except on documentary evidence, and it is scanty in all such antiquities as are being discussed. There would hardly be excuse for wishing that so unique a boon to descendants as Domesday Book had been fuller or more consistent throughout with regard to its Richards, were it not itself the cause of thus whetting the curiosity.
From its Suffolk part this comes:
‘Hartsmere hundred: Richard de St.Clair holds Wortham from the king’. In Norfolk county he appears with Hugh Bigod, earl of Norfolk, and with William of Noies, as to lands etc. confiscated from the burghers of Norwich because of their rebellion. His entry in Norwich is “1 house Ric'ard de sencler”; and underlordship as his, he takes one of the runaway burgesses, who nearly all filed out of Norwich, where Richard probably resided in his own house there often. Blomfield's History of Norfolk has several valuable references to Richard, and he finds also that Hubert Sinclair of Rye, castellan of Norwich, was married to the daughter and heiress of a Domesday Book magnate, Radulph de Bello Sago. But besides his careful search of this record, he finds from the register of the monastery of Castleacre that Richard de Sancto Claro or St.Cleer gave the monks of Castleacre his rights over their monastery as founder, in free alms for ever, for the health of his own and his wife's souls, with those of his ancestors and heirs. Such a survival goes far to prove that Richard was one of the leading men of his time, and evidence may arise further of what he was. Mention has been made of his cousin Hubert's governorship of Norwich Castle. This is the Norwich house with lands Richard got after aiding him in a most trying time, and his Suffolk estates being near the borders of Norfolk gave him opportunity to be further useful should it be necessary. No greater hotbed of disaffection was there than in the district around Norwich, and it might not be assuming too much to hazard the statement that Richard was both put there as a faithful vassal of special ability in war, and that could we see through the millstone that so many Richards make for the eyes, he would be found as great a favourite as most of the select courtiers of the king.
Much the same difficulties arise about Britel. In this, the Exchequer Domesday Book, there are many Britels, particularly in the districts which we know from other sources to have been the spheres of his action. In the south-western counties a Britel holds numerous lands under the earl of Moreton, brother of the Conqueror, and the greatest sharer of his bounty. It is, from relationship and position and name, a likely theory that this was Britel, the third son of Walderne, earl of St.Clair. In the charter of the foundation of the priorate of Montacute, near the castle of the earl of Moreton, and of his successors, the Montacutes, who became earls of Salisbury and princes of the Isle of Man, three signatures among several other Somersetshire ones are remarkable, namely, Britel de Sancto Claro, Jordanis de Barnavilla, and Robert de Bruis.
But before showing the reason why, it is best to substantiate Britel in what locality it is still possible to discover. With his surname, he is not to be found in the great Exchequer Domesday Book, like his brother; but in the Exon Domesday Book, which was brought to light at Exeter from among ancient gatherings in the famous city, and which is, from the number of Anglo-Saxon names in it supposed to be earlier than the other, the name and surname, the latter in its best known documentary form, authenticate him as steadily as record can. In the hundred of Bolestane, Somersetshire, he held land. The translation is, “And from the half hide which Britel de St.Clare holds the king has no tax”. Those who work in old records know the pleasure of finding seemingly so small and unimportant an entry as this, but there is often wonderful fruitfulness in the shortest, where darkness may be said to be the rule and not the exception. If we take Hallam's guess as fairly accurate, here are only sixty acres of land as a possession, but they are arable, and these only were counted at that time. They are truly “representative” acres. The same writer has valuable remarks as to the extraordinarily small portions in culture on the manors then the largest in the country. As for Britel, it is not even possible that this could have been all the land he possessed. The Britel of the great The Domesday Book is only not to be fixed by reason of the same misfortune of naming whose trouble meets us at every turn. That he shares there largely, both as holding in capite, or directly from the king, and by under-tenantship to some of the great earls, is as certain as anything can well be that is not absolutely registered. This will appear the more when his descendants, especially those among the Cornishmen, come to have their stories told.
But it is suitable to take up again the question of the three signatures which awaited discussion. That of Britel de Sancto Claro substantiates, by the proximity of one of his homes to Montacute in Somerset, the Exon Domesday Book; though this is, perhaps, painting the lily and gilding refined gold. It is notable that the Jordans were a Devonshire family, and afterwards, it will be seen, they entered into afiinities with Devonshire Sinclairs, who are of the Britel descent.
Robert de Bruis is one of the great Norman family who became of high account in England and Wales, before they reached the royalty of Scotland. Bramber in Sussex and Brecknock with its castle in Wales were their earliest homes in this island, and it is to them it must be looked for this Robert Bruce. To him Agnes Sinclair the sister of Richard and Britel married some writers say; and this has its hints with regard to signature thus in common at Montacute. It does not go far, for there is nothing more noticeable than the width between the various estates then of the same man, and the consequent visits which must have been constantly kept up from one of them to another. The inference of knowledge of each other is certainly implied, and such a tie by marriage explains a good deal.
This account of Agnes, however, is not the only one. All agree that she was married to the head of the Bruces then in England. Collins in his Peerage says that
‘Agnes, the daughter of Waldron, earl of St.Clare, was married to Philip Bruce, the grandson and heir of William, lord of Breos, Normandy, and of Bramber, Sussex’. If so, it was not her husband who signed the charter; and this would show at that early period additional intimacy of Bruces and Sinclairs. They were friends, it is more than likely, in their native land before they reached their Canaan. This William was also husband to one of these Sinclair ladies, the daughter and rich heiress of Johel Sinclair of Totness and Barnstaple, for which Jones in his History of Brecknock is authority, Johel being, as shall be seen later, brother of Walter of Medway.
Any account of the Bruces which forgets their Welsh and western history cannot but be deficient. In England they were best known by their quarrel with King John. The wife of a William de Bruce refused to give her sons as hostages to, as she said, the murderer of his own nephew, and the troubles of the English Bruces began. They were not wiped out; they had too much skill and determination for that; and they gradually struggled back into importance, chiefly through marriage ties with the great Clares, those earls of Pembroke, Hertford, and Gloucester, to whose fame and lineage, by the mother, William Marshall the greatest earl of Pembroke succeeded.
But this in closing what has to be said of Agnes, whom we may leave as the lady of Bramber, Sussex, or, if it should so be proved, that of Brecknock Castle, Wales, or of both. Philip Bruce of Sussex has the name of being the most subtle man of his time. To be the chosen companion of one of those Bruces was distinction, even to her, who was their superior in rank, traditions, and blood.