The story of none of the lineage might be more instructive than that of a John Sinclair of Henry VIII's reign, if it could be well revived from the considerable evidence which still exists. It is impossible to state with security whether he was one of the Essex branch. He may have been one of the younger members of some of the landed families who were out of property, though he himself is in possession of lands. But there is no necessity for speculation, and it is best that he should have independent treatment.
John “Sencler”, as Wolsey wrote his name, was his vice-chamberlain and appreciator-general; and when about 1527 the suite of the cardinal-legate contained such men as William Stanley, earl of Derby, Cuthbert Tonstall, bishop of London, Sir Thomas More, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, author of Utopia, and thirty to forty similar names, with 500 horse, as Cavendish writes, to be vice-chamberlain was a post of honour and much business. Tindal has culled from Hall, Stow, and Herbert that when the cardinal went to France to confer with King Francis for Henry the Eighth, he had those named. Lord Sandes, king's chamberlain, Sir Henry Guilford, and others like, with 1200 horse.
Of John Sinclair's doings there are glimpses as early as 1524. On May 28th, John Seint-Clere, esquire, appreciator-general to the most reverend father in God, Thomas, lord legate-cardinal, archbishop of York, and bishop of Durham, takes an inventory of the late Thomas Howard, first duke of Norfolk's goods,
‘plate, Jewells, and quick catell remaining in the castle of Framyngham and thereabout in the county of Suffolk’. On 12th July 1526 there is a letter which seems of the nature of sequence to this valuation, from the reigning duke of Norfolk, son of the first, better known as the earl of Surrey, victor at Flodden Field. Says he:
‘My sister will deliver the goods, and the coming of Master Synclere shall be nothing displeasant to her.’. He writes from Henyngham.
At this time the cardinal was intent on gathering money,
‘ For mine own ends: indeed to gain the popedom,
And fee my friends in Rome.’
The duke of Norfolk was his supporter when, the year before, his raising of money from the people without consent of parliament stirred an insurrection in London. To save himself he got the ringleaders pardoned, barely escaping King Henry's anger at this earlier period of his fortunes. The duke was probably his debtor in some way. But in passing from this suggestive record, the duke's title of “master” to John Sinclair indicates his position as one learned in the law, the word having then a technical force, though not confined always to erudition in law. The foundation of his secular colleges was the stalking-horse by which the cardinal compelled money into his purse. It was he who began the suppression of the monasteries, to get revenues ostensibly for the new institutions. In 1524 Pope Clement VII gave him a bull to suppress St.Frideswid's priory in Oxford, on the site of which to build his college of Christ Church, and another on 11th September to suppress as many monasteries as would make 4000 ducats annually for his colleges. The practical part of these doings was in the hands of John Sinclair, thus a forerunner to his kinsman Sir John, who was so busy a few years after similarly on the greater scale.
It is curious to remember that one of the Simon Sinclairs, earls of Huntingdon, Northampton, and Lincoln, was a generous donor to this same priory, which was in the diocese of Lincoln.
But the institution of Wolsey's heart was the university or college of Ipswich, his birthplace in Suffolk. Its dean, William Capon, writes in 1528 to the cardinal, advising him as to additional improvements, and giving many details of the merrymaking of the season, quite conscious of his lord's sympathy with the subject. He tells of nine “bukks” sent to help the popular mirth, “oon from Mr. Sentclere, your grace's servaunt”; and they were
‘spent on our said Lady's day in your grace's college, and in the town of Gipeswiche’. Not long after this the proud cardinal came into the compass of a praemunire, and “fell like Lucifer, never to hope again”.
Great events occurred the next few years, and John Sinclair took active part in them. He was one of those to whom the papal bull, connected with the divorce of Katharine of Arragon, Henry VIII's first queen, was first read in solemn assembly, 31st May 1529; and he had his responsible share in the arrangement by which the bishops of Lincoln and Bath, after oath taken, were appointed to summon the king and queen to appear on June 18, between 9 and 10 o'clock A.M., in the parliament chamber, Blackfriars, London. Cardinal Wolsey's opposition to Anne Bullen caused his overthrow. Ralph Sadler, who played diplomatic and warlike parts then, discerned as early as 1st Nov 1529, that “divers of my lord's servants, Mr. Sayntclere, etc., are sworn the king's servants”.
This “master's” traditions were his king in preference to the clergy. But John was friendly with Wolsey after his fall, and they have business together about ships on the Thames, Mr. Sayntclere then living 12 miles from Oxford, the date of communication being April 1530, and the cardinal dying 30th November of the same year.
The heraldic visitators of Oxford of 1574 found the Sinclair arms in Stafford manor-house, Cornbury Park, now a seat of the duke of Beaufort; and Burke could make nothing of the puzzle it was to him when he found it among the Harleian MSS., where the visitation is. It is worth while suggesting that this John was holder of Cornbury Park, which in Henry I's time was a royal seat, and appears in connection with Hamo and Eudo, the dapifers, and other lineage names, as signatures and otherwise, of which the Chronicle of Abingdon monastery gives details. In the list of the gentry of Oxfordshire, drawn up by Henry VI's commissioners in 1433, a Johannis Chantclere occurs. There must have been a permanent Oxford family, of whom John, the vice-chamberlain of the cardinal was, the fellow-servitor of Thomas Cromwell before both became king's servants. As early as the fifth year of this reign, 1514, there is notice of a John Seinteler, armigerus, of Kebworth, who bore arms, “The sun in its glory, or”; but it is not possible to discover whether he is one with the appreciator-general. Several families of the line used this blazon.
From the Conquest one branch of St.Cleeres held under the Mohuns of Oxfordshire, better known as earls of Somerset. The same Oxford visitation of 1574 testifies to this, and it is probable that the Oxfordshire family's origin may thus be traced:
‘William de Mohun or Moyne came into England with the Conqueror, and was the most noble of all his host, having divers noblemen under him, as St.John, St.Cleere, and others’. Another record says he had forty-five nobles in his troop. “William de Moyon”, Auguste le Provost and Duncan found,
‘was lord of Moyon, three leagues to the south of Saint Lo. The remains of the castle belonging to this family, one of the most distinguished in England under the Norman dynasty, may still be seen’. He fought at Hastings; and his locality of Saint Lo, the home land of Sinclairs, together with his following, would seem to prove him of the ducal lineage. It is only so that such underholding and trooping can be understood.
In July 1524 the vice-chamberlain got a lease of the manor of Lammershe in Essex, which belonged to the countess of Richmond a little before. Wolsey, who was abbot of St.Albans among his many other dignities, gave, 1st June 1528, John Sender the office of keeper of the woods of Brumeham and a dozen places besides belonging to the monastery. For this he had a salary. He had previously, in 1525, been granted the keepership of Tyteinanger, Hertfordshire, with so much a day. These are but specimens of many similar benefits. Of their public relations, “the inventory of all I have, it is the king's”, of Shakespeare's celebration, shows John Sinclair's ordinary work and duties. The means are extant on which something like a biography of him might be made, but more industry in his favour perhaps is not here required.
That there were distinguished kinsmen of his then in England, not necessarily holders of land, may be inferred from a note of “Capitaine John Seinctclier”. King Francis of France had equipped 150 greater ships, 60 smaller ones, 25 from the Levant, and 10 Genoese, to make a descent upon England in 1545. It was all but as formidable an invasion as that of the Spanish Armada in 1585, and the more to be dreaded that at first there were only 60 ships to oppose to them, though afterwards increased to 100. The French made landings on the Isle of Wight and three places in Sussex, and had some severe skirmishing with the English fleet, but nothing was done. The greatest effort of France at sea ended in a siege of Boulogne of the fiasco character, and a peace was patched up. The English fleet when it had orders to sail on 10th August 1545 to find the enemy, was made up of three divisions of 25 ships each. The van ward division was commanded by Sir Thomas Clere, admiral, the second ship of which was Captain Sinclair's, one of the largest. Its name was “The Jhesus of Lubick”, its burden 600 tons, and carrying 300 men.
Out of the landholding ranks it is only incidentally that any lineage in England can be seen. Even the clergy cannot from the records they have left be traced much further than as isolated individuals. The Sinclairs of England grew scarce, but they have not become extinct even in the lineage name. Could the local names be followed with some scientific accuracy, it would be discovered that noble and good branches of the same blood are now flourishing. But certainties must be given that may leave such inferences.
In 1627 Thomas Sinclair was vicar of Broke, near St.Edmundsbury, Suffolk, in the very district some descendants of the Bradfields might be expected.
Dr. Thomas Tanner, bishop of St.Asaph, author of Notitia Monastica and other antiquarian works, writes a letter to Peter le Neve, Esq., Norroy king-at-arms, dated Mar 30, 1704, in which a suggestive final paragraph occurs, the more as being written from Norwich, where he then resided.
‘The gentleman that brings this, Mr. St.Clair, travelled with Mr. Windham, and has since lived in his family; is a well-wisher to English antiquities, and has taken great pains among the old writings at Felbrigge, of which he will be able to give you a good account. He is now going again beyond sea with Mr. Gray. By letting him have a sight of The Domesday Book, or any other old things you have in your custody, you will very much oblige a person of his curiosity; and also, sir, your humble servant, Thomas Tanner.’
A note says that the part of the survey wanted was county of Norfolk, of which Peter le Neve had a fac-simile copy from the original. This Mr. St.Clair is of the Norfolk stock, and seems to have been a learned tutor. His antiquarian temper has had recent example in his kinsman, the genealogist, Alexander Sinclair, H.E.I.C.S., who died in 1877, the second son of Sir John of Ulbster. On all that relates to the Scottish line he is an authority, as the kind favour by his nephew, the earl of Glasgow, of his MSS. for examination, enables to be distinctly stated on real knowledge of his work.
Broomhall manor, Norfolk, was held by Robert St.Cleer in 1721, and he combined the proprietor and clergyman, as a kind of link to plainer lives which some of the name must have lived there.
Another Rev. Robert appears in a bond, preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, among the Rawlinson MSS., in which on appointment to the rectory of Bulphan, Essex, 8 June 1722, he promises to indemnify John Robinson, bishop of London, against all actions. He was, however, the son of William Sinclair, commissary of Caithness, his mother being one of the Inneses of Sandside.
There is a monumental tablet to
‘the good Mrs. St.Clair, who died in 1727, the year terrible for fevers’. She was the wife of Patrick Sinclair, rector of Norfolk livings from 1700 till 1750, to one of which Horace Walpole presented him.
In the Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica there is a monumental inscription taken from Wilford, Nottinghamshire:
‘Near this place are deposited the remains of George Sinclair, M.A., late rector of this parish, who died 12th June 1775) aged 46 years’. The arms are those of the earldom of Caithness, impaling a chevron between three roses, gules, and on a chief as many mullets of the first. It is suggested that this is for the Stevenson Sinclairs, descendants of the baronets of Longformacus. In the parish register his burial is noted as having taken place on 23 June 1775. It is probable that he was not of English but Scottish birth.
There was a Robert Sinclair, recorder of York, who married in 1811 Elizabeth Sothern, daughter of Sothern of Darrington Hall, Yorkshire. He was Irish, if so modern a date is of interest at all.
Other professions might add quotas to such collection as this, but the reading would possibly be less lively than what is desirable.
Thornbury in New and Old London tells of a parliamentary commission inquiring into the evils of farming the Fleet prison even to murder of the prisoners by the officials, and he mentions “the case of Captain David Sinclair, an old officer of courage and honour”, as a very bad one against the lessee Bambridge for wringing guineas out of those in his power.
‘Bambridge, who disliked his prisoner, had boasted to one of his turnkeys that he would have Sinclair's blood. Selecting the king's birthday, when he thought the captain would be warm with wine, he rushed into Sinclair's room with his escort, armed with musket and bayonet, struck him with his cane, and ordered the men to stab him with their bayonets if he resisted being dragged down to the strong-room. In that damp dark dungeon Sinclair was confined, till he lost the use of his limbs and also his memory; and when near dying he was taken into a better room, where he was left four days without food’. This was in 1726.
In one of the rolls of the treasury of Henry III, Edward I, and Edward II, the king gave John Bray, hostianum of the king's treasury, the custody of the heir of John Sinclair, lately keeper of the king's palace, Westminster, and of the gaol of the river of Fleet, on payment of £10 yearly. These offices were then in capite and hereditary. Only men of high quality were given such power over their fellows, and comparisons and coincidences are curious and instructive at interval of four or five centuries.
But Dr. Johnson's Life of Savage has equally melodramatic incident connected with a Mr. James Sinclair. The blackguard verse-writer, Richard Savage, who claimed to be the unacknowledged son of an earl, Rivers, and of the countess of Macclesfield, was roystering in Robinson's coffee house, Charing Cross, and, wounding a servant-girl who tried to stop the quarrel raised by his insulting some gentlemen there, he ran Mr. Sinclair through the body, “when he was not in a posture of defence”, his point held towards the ground, as the evidence bore. Savage was taken to Newgate, and tried at the Old Bailey for murder, but had the king's pardon, through the pleading of the countess of Hertford, Lord Tyrconnel, and Mrs. Oldfield, the actress. It is said the countess of Macclesfield “did all she could to bring Savage to the gallows”. Dr. Johnson, like Lord Tyrconnel and others, noble and simple, was credulous that she was his mother, as he said; and there are many fanciful tales of his birth and upbringing, hidden in the humblest of London scenes; but a drunkard's imagination is apt to be a troublesome one, like his weapon. The tragedy took place in 1727. To be murdered thus in doubtful company by “the bastard”, as he loved to call himself (the greatest monster intellectually, morally, and physically of his time without compare, whether of shoemaker Holborn blood or of the vilest of countesses and earls, whose adulterous shamelessness was sui generis) seems not an enviable fate. The incarnation of ungrateful clever tavern rascaldom, rhymed on this as on all other subjects; and the devil may himself mend, since there are in the lines marks of remorse that he cut off a young man whom he figures as probably doing great things for his country but that he had met with him.
To prevent, howewer, too sudden wandering down to modern times, a short return may be made to Henry VIII's reign, when his business with Scotland brought him into close personal relations with one of the kin, who was as much English as he well could have been, whether native or not. Henry's sister Margaret was queen there, and after the death of her husband in 1513, James IV, at the battle of Flodden, a French and an English party began to develop. Alexander, duke of Albany, a Frenchman by birth and speech, had been declared regent, but did not come from France till 1515. He was the head of the French party, while the English faction rallied around Queen Margaret, aided by her brother Henry VIII's protection and active interference. Alexander was the son of the first duke of Albany, second son of James II, who had first married Lady Catherine Sinclair, daughter of William, prince of the Orkneys and earl of Caithness, but was divorced from her because of nearness of blood, as the church decided, making their son the bishop of Moray illegitimate. The French Alexander was the son of another wife.
Queen Margaret's parallel character to that of her brother, in the matter of marriages and affairs of the heart, complicates the politics inextricably. In 1516 Henry tried to have the regent removed, because it was dangerous that the heir presumptive to the crown should have the guardianship of Queen Margaret's young son, the king. She had married the earl of Angus, and their daughter Margaret was born at Harbottle Castle, Northumberland. Her husband left her then, and her domestic troubles never ceased afterwards. In 1522 Henry again wrote to the parliament to expel the duke of Albany, on the pretence that he wished to marry the queen, his sister; but this also came to nothing, though he sent Lord Dacres to the borders with some troops. Margaret even joined with the regent. Henry, however, sent the earl of Surrey across the borders to get the regency for her.
The duke of Albany Henry tried to seize on his passage from France, but he passed through, and landed with 3200 French soldiers, the French interests being his. Indeed much of the coquetting rather than war on the border was to aid the wars going on in France. The English party made Albany's attempt to meet Surrey futile. Next year the regent was away again, and the queen and her favourite, Hamilton, earl of Arran, stirred up the king, now fourteen, to assume the reins of government, they being the real rulers. Douglas, earl of Angus, her husband, with other nobles, upset this arrangement; and he became regent in the king of England's interest, holding the young king's person, which was the prize of ambition. In 1526 an attempt to seize the boy failed. Queen Margaret had married next to Henry Stuart, and induced the king, her son, so that she might rule again, to escape to Stirling. The Douglases had to retire to England, 1528, Henry VIII agreeing to a truce of five years.
During all this scheming a Patrick Sinclair figured conspicuously. In the State Papers of Henry VIII the references to him are quite voluminous. There are many letters written to, by, and about him in the collection. Queen Margaret commends herself heartily to him in one, and signs her strange literature, “Yours ye know”, Surrey writes Wolsey from the borders, 'Sinclair says that Albany must invade England or send the Frenchmen (6000 upwards) home, for Scotland cannot support them.
As she writes to her brother,
‘Patrick Sinclair was her trusty and true servant, and ever hath been to the king my husband’. At no time was he more of a friend to her than when she was writing to Henry VIII, her “dearest brother”,
‘to preserve your sister's son, who is nearest to you next to your own children’.
In 1526 he was ambassador to the king of England, and many letters testify to his kind reception. One by Cardinal Wolsey is especially remarkable, recommending Patrick Sinclair as “right trusty” to Henry, then at Winchester, and reciting long and faithful services to his sister's party. Bishop Clerk's letter thence telling of the king's imperturbable silence as to what passed privately between himself and Patrick, is a study as to secular wisdom baulking the clerical curiosity of the cardinal-legate's scouts. Master Magnus, the English ambassador at the northern court, writes to Wolsey that Patrick is one of the six nobles then wholly devoted as “right good Englishmen”. He is never tired of praising him as “an honest gentleman”, “our good friend and special lover”, and as “very forward” in the cause.
‘Patrick Sinclair and Mr. John Chisholm are nightly with us’, writes the ambassador. Queen Margaret Tudor's letter to her brother Henry VIII in Patrick's favour, is one of the high historic documents, part of which runs,
‘Wherefore I beseech your grace kindly to be his good prince for my sake, and that you shall give commandment to the earl of Surrey and the lord Dacres, that he may be received and well treated in your said realm, if he has need: And this you will do at my request’.
But Patrick's throne of favour with the lady was not always so steady as this, though he was true to her when the duke of Albany's hard hand gave her, as she writes, “not £1000 Scots” yearly, and when her “cupboard must be pledged”. There are worse clues of Ariadne than the money supply for getting through the labyrinths of monarchical politics. His temporary eclipse is explained by letters between Cardinal Wolsey and the duke of Norfolk, who was earl of Surrey at Flodden. Margaret had complained to the cardinal that Norfolk slighted her in not answering one of her letters; and to the priest's inquiries the soldier writes that Patrick Sinclair and Henry Stuart, who was becoming the favourite, had fallen at variance, and he could not write letters then by Patrick as bearer because Patrick “cannot please her now”. Henry Stuart, he informs the cardinal, is made lieutenant to Lord Maxwell of some two hundred men of special dignity, and
‘he doth put in and out at his pleasure, which Patrick Synclere did before’. He says for final,
‘To please Henry Stuart she quarrelled with Patrick Synclere for not bringing a letter from me’.
By and by Sinclair regained his position, but the Maxwell connection kept up the variance with native bitterness. Margaret's letter-writing was almost as strong a passion with her as Henry's theological books were to him. From 28 Dec 1515 when Lord Dacre received her in great state at his castle of Morpeth, with the lord chamberlain, Archibald Douglas, Will Carmichael, Dan Carr, and, as she writes in a letter of 1520, her “man of law, Pet Synglar”, throughout the entassement of interests she is continually busy. In 1523 she writes to Surrey that she wishes to “steal out of Scotland”, because Albany keeps back her income, and will compel her to sign papers detrimental to her son.
Her marriage to King James IV had brought considerable correspondence between the two parts of the island. Lord Dacre writes Henry, 20th July 1512, from Carlisle, of a huge ship the gallant monarch had built, of which Lord Sinclair was the captain; and few things from these valuable State Papers are more amusing than another letter of 13 April 1513 on the same subject to Henry from his ambassador. Dr. Nicolas West, telling of an interview with James.
‘He talked of his great ship, said that she shot 16 pits of great ordnance on each side, that he had two more ordnance in her than the French kingdom ever had to the siege of any town: which methought to be a great crack’. West speaks of one piece of ordnance three yards long, carried from Edinburgh Castle, which
‘shoots a stone bigger than a great penny loaf’. The ambassador went to see Queen Margaret Tudor at Linlithgow Palace, and was “fetched by Sir John Sinclair on Sunday”.
When she died in 1541 of palsy at Meffen she left no will, but wished the king her son, James V, to be told to be good to the earl of Angus, and to her daughter Margaret Douglas. The attendants were to ask him if this daughter could get all her goods. She had no more money than £2500 Scots, equivalent then to £625 sterling. The king came on the day of her death too late to speak with her, and soon went away, leaving orders that Oliver Sinclair and another member also of his privy chamber should lock up all her goods for his use.
This Oliver seems to have heired Patrick's position and traditions. The jealousy and feud, especially of Lord Maxwell, had their satisfaction next year in the person of this the so-called favourite, who has received so much ignorant abuse. Solway Moss ought to be the scandal of the Maxwells and others who, quarrelling with their king, preferred to be prisoners than to do his just commands. It was not that they refused to war under Oliver. He was of better blood than any in that kingdom, the lords of Roslin, Nithsdale, Newburgh, etc, princes of Orkney and also in Scandinavia. They never questioned his dignity.
He was Oliver Sinclair of Pitcarnis and Whytekirk, a younger son of Sir Oliver of Roslin, and the nephew of the lord Sinclair and earl of Caithness. His grandfather had been lord chancellor of Scotland, prince of Orkney and Shetland, doing homage to the king of Norway, earl of Caithness, lord of Roslin, Pentland, Herbertshire, Nithsdale, etc.; and he himself held the tack of Orkney and Shetland when, for state reasons, they were given to the crown by his family. Because he loved the king, and his nobles hated him, a handful of English cavalry were allowed to disgrace both the sovereign and his first minister.
The death of James V was largely caused by shame at the event, and sorrow for the disobedience of his nobles. Lord Maxwell's yearly income was only £166, 13s. 4d., from the returns Henry VIII got taken of the estates of his prisoners; and he was one of the richest. It could not be much of indignity to serve under Oliver with a pocket of that weight. But the historians are wrong, and Froude as much as the others; it was no matter at all of ignorance of war, inequality of condition, or of plebeian versus patrician. The patricianism was all the other way, as King James knew; and probably he was taught so by his English mother, Patrick's eulogist. James Sinclair and Alexander Sinclair were also prisoners requiring to be ransomed, by that vile day's work of betraying them and their brother. Wolsey, Cromwell, More, Surrey, the Despensers, Buckingham, and even a Gaveston, are ignoble only after they are politically dead. Every little dog can bark complacently and courageously on the bodies of dead lions.
Oliver's daughter's husband, Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh, fought out part of justice from a Linlithgow window for him in the destiny sense. The “favourite” awaits vindication, and he shall yet get it, being as honourable and as brave a man as was in the kingdom. Of his military sufficiency his governorship of Tantallon Castle is proof positive. Sir Ralph Sadler, the English governor of it at one period, had the most careful respect for his warring skill, as his letters to England show still. But more perhaps than enough of this semi-English discursus.
That Henry VIII knew the family well, as of his own people as well as beyond the Tweed, one of his last public acts is testimony, if such could be required when Sir John Sinclair was one of the great men in his household as in his state and clerical affairs, and when John Sinclair was the vice-chamberlain of the cardinal-legate, and fellow king's-servant afterwards with his vicar-general, Thomas Cromwell. In 1546, the year before his death, the king, having his council with him at Guildford, Surrey, writes to the council at London:
‘His Majesty prayeth you also to write to the warden of the Westmarches, that he signify to Olyver St.Cleare (who offereth to come in to redeem his pledge), that whensoever he come to Carlisle, his pledge shall be truly and safely delivered to return at liberty to Skotland’.