Robert Fitz-Hamo, lord of Thorigny and Estremeville, and the earl of Corboil, in Normandy, lord marcher of Wales generally and of the lordship of Glamorgan in particular, was lord of Tewkesbury in Gloucester also. He was the earliest Sinclair in this county, but enough has already been said of him as the “knight of Rye” of the first two Norman kings' reigns. Carte the historian usually calls him Robert de Thorigny.
The History of Cambria, translated in 1584 from Blanch Parry's Welsh MS., a gentlewoman of the queen, is full of his story; and certainly not the least interesting part of it is the account of the rise of the famous Cecils, through this Robert Sinclair's favour to the first of them, Robert Cecil, who came to Wales with him for the conquest so celebrated. The writer of the history says he gathered the details faithfully from records in custody of the right honourable Sir William Cecil, knight of the garter, the lord Burghley, and lord high treasurer of England, the well-known minister of Queen Elizabeth. These Cecils were the earls of Salisbury, of whom the conservative marquis is now the representative.
But Robert Fitz-Hamo was succeeded by no son, his daughter Maud, married to Robert, the son of Henry I, Beauclerc, getting his lands in the west; and her son accumulates under his earldom of Gloucester no fewer than 230 knights' fees. That some of Fitz-Hamo's own lineage found their homes in these border lands the frequent record of their name of Sancto Claro amply testifies. They may have been the descendants of his brother, William of London, to whom he gave the castle of Ogmor and the four knights' fees in South Wales in 1091. The whole region on both sides of the Severn, “Sabrina fair, virgin, daughter of Locrine”, half way up to its source, was well under the sway of the Sancto Claro gens; though they held most on the Welsh side, as far as Pembroke. The king's son Robert, and John Lackland afterwards, swallowed up much of it for want of male heirs, or rather by skill of marriages.
Fitz-Hamo's other brother Richard, however, is certainly the ancestor of some of the name in these counties. He got as his share of the Welsh conquest the castle of Neth and three knights' fees, the properties of both him and his brother William being large and frequent in various parts of England besides. Richard took his local name of Granville from a side estate of Thorigny in Normandy, to which he was made heir, and it had variations such as Greenfield, Grandeville, Greenvil, according to the fashions of time or place. Much has not been discovered of members of his family as actually possessing estates in Gloucester, their chief situation being in Devon and Cornwall, as will appear.
There is a Thomas Sinclair, among the “additional charters”, British Museum, of Kyngeswoode, near Bristol, the scene of Wesley's first foundation of methodism in 1739. He claims lands in the town of Durham, Gloucester, 39 Edward III (1346).
In the Placita de Quo Warranto of Edward I, Johannis de Sancto Claro in
‘Com. Glouc. Cir. Langetr’ is one of those swearing in favour of John Maltravers as to his right, against the king's challenge, to Wodecester. John Sinclair was himself a Gloucestershire holder, and, as it would seem, of Staverton, and of a St.Clare which is long out of local memory.
Staverton, of 287 acres, with a rental of 1575, between Cheltenham and Gloucester, was held in the Returns of Owners of Land, 1873, by Capt. Louis St.Clair, but he may or may not be of the ancient house of Richard.
The Exon The Domesday Book has already been quoted to show that Britel Sinclair, the brother of Richard and of William, all three the sons of Walter, earl of St.Cler, held property in Somersetshire shortly after the Conquest:
‘And from the half hide which Britel Sinclair held the king has no tax’. This was in the Bolestane hundred. Reference has also been made to a signature of his to the charter of the foundation and endowment of the priorate of Montacute, Somerset, and to two of his fellow-witnesses, Robert Bruce and Jordan de Barneville. Bruce was probably his nephew or brother-in-law, from the marriage of his sister Agnes Sinclair to Bruce of Bramber, Sussex, and of Brecknock, Wales. The Barnevilles were not only closely connected with Britel, but with the Aeslingham Sinclairs of Kent and Essex, who were directly Hamoes, Robert and others of Barneville appearing in the Rochester register and the Monasticon. They held land in Kent as well as in Somerset.
Britel Sinclair does not occur, with his surname, in any of the ancient records except the Exon The Domesday Book; but the Exchequer Domesday, after the fashion of the time, gives a Britel, without other indication, an immense number of holdings in the south-western counties, especially under his blood-relation, William, earl of Moreton, half-brother to the Conqueror. There can be little doubt that this is he, and that he knew the value of Adam Sinclair's system of underholding, in preference to the incapiie, particularly from those of the royal lineage. That Ralph Sinclair, the castellan of Norwich, Adam's brother, was the steward of the earl of Morton, goes to show the same. It would hardly be safe, however, to assume as proved that this is the only Britel of the large magnitudes; but it is extremely near a proof, compared with the proofs usually possible of such antiquity.
The question arises, Was he the ancestor of the Somersetshire family who are so frequent in the documents of all the reigns down to the sixteenth century, or were they of the “Hamo” Sinclairs ? Was Richard of Granville, the son of Hamo of Normandy, their ancestor, as he was that of the Devon family and of the Cornwall ? The brother of Eichard, king's chamberlain, ancestor of the Bradfields and Aldhams of England, and brother also of William, dapifer to Queen Margaret Atheling of Scotland, ancestor of the Roslins, the princes of Orkney, dukes of Oldenburgh, and a whole series of other noble branches, Britel is more difficult to fix as an ancestor. Indeed, what evidence there is from Somerset seems to point that he died without issue, though this cannot for a moment be asserted.
Describing the parish of St.Clare, Cornwall, the Complete Parochial History of Cornwall has a passage that, if founded on good authority, might help to settle the question:
‘From this parish was denominated an ancient family of gentlemen surnamed De St.Cleare, from, whence are descended the St.Clears of Tudwill in Devon, who, suitable to their name, gave for their arms, in a field azure, the sun in its glory, shining, or, transparent; of which tribe was that Robertus de Sancto Claro qui tenet decem libratas terrae in hundredo de Mertock in comit. Somerset’. With apparent mistake, such as that the parish gave the men their name instead of the men the parish, some of this seems as well-grounded as it will be found illustrative.
If Robert of Martock was of the Cornwall family, then the Somerset people were the descendants of Richard Sinclair of Granville, brother of Robert Fitz-Hamo, Hamo Dapifer, and William Sinclair. Britel's successors in Somersetshire, if he had any, are forever in the hades of antiquity, it must be feared, should corroboration of this quotation come. One thing is at least gained, namely, that the unity of the lineage of the “knight of Rye” with Sinclairs is fully settled by this account of matters in itself, if there had been no other evidence. In the face of the Parochial History it is hardly possible to credit Britel with the chief Somersetshire house, and one of the Hamoes seems the only other ancestor for it.
The author of The Norman People, however, finds that Britel was the ancestor of a Dorsetshire family, and this clears up many if not all difficulties. It is not perhaps fair to suspect his research, because he makes William, the dapifer of the English Margaret, queen of Scotland, one of Britel's Dorsetshire descendants, though he is certainly as wrong in this as the industrious Stow was in making William the Lion on his ransom take the Sinclairs to Scotland.
The Bolestane estate in Somerset was only one of many in several counties, as was the Norman system of tenure then, and Britel may have had no more connection than such particular one with Somerset.
There is, in the most absolute state records, various reference to a Dorset high family; and this author, being an enthusiast for Norman things generally, is more than likely to be right, and to have had facts for his statement that Britel founded it.
In the Magnum Rotulum Sccacarii of 31 Henry I (1131) under “Nova Placentia 7 Nov Conventiones” this occurs: 'Dorseta: In pdon bi R Willo de sco Claro vj s 7 viij d,' and in another entry 'xix s.'. These sums as taxes represented considerable property in this county alone.
As far as times and places are concerned he could quite well have been the son of Britel, and it is he probably whom the author of The Norman People sent wrongly to Scotland. It is true there is not much subsequent trace of him, or of any descendants of his, unless those in the neighbouring county of Hampshire were his branch.
Winchester had great attraction in the earlier periods. The Chronica of John of Oxford mentions a William de St.Cleer engaged in important money business with the bishop of Winchester, 19 Edward I (1291).
A William de St.Clare appears prominently in papers about Edward I's Welsh, Scottish, and French wars; and in a charter of lands in the Monasticon to the abbey of Tichfield, Southampton, by Edward II, Dominus William de Sancto Claro is a witness, Stanewoode being part of the grant. This Lord William had a Geffrey de Sancto Claro of Southampton, Hampshire, as one of his antecessors, who is noted as holding some land from the counts of the island, the Brians of the Isle of Wight, in 7 Henry III (1222). It is he who is mentioned in the Rotuli Litterarum Clausarum, in Turri Londoniensi as holding land in the counties ruled by the viscount or sheriff of Winchester and Dorsetshire,
‘The seventeenth year of King John (1216): It was commanded the sheriff of Winchester and Dorset, that he give to Philip Brito or Britel, the land which belonged to John de Boneville or Bameville, and to Geffrey de Sinclair, held in his bailliwicks or provinces of jurisdiction, to be held as long as the lord the king shall please: at Reading, 7th April’. If the Britoes could be identified with the descendants of Britel, no more distinguished race is there in English history; but such a possibility would open endless worlds of inquiry. The carta of Walter Brito for Henry II gave him as holding 15 knights' fees in Somerset as from the earl of Mortaine, from which Britel held most of his lands in the Conqueror's time. John of Boneville would seem to be one of the Barnevilles so much connected with Britel Sinclair and the Sinclairs near Rochester on both sides of the Thames. Another curious thing which might connect this Geffrey Sinclair with the Hamo Sinclairs of Stapleton, Somerset, if indeed these were not, after all, Britel's people, is the fact that in 9 Henry IV (1408) Sir William Boneville held a part of the lands of the Somerset family, as the half of the manor of Stapleton and Sayes Place in Martock. He is the descendant of the John of Boneville of the record.
But this will have further light upon it in the account of the family, for whom it is difficult to settle origin decisively as from Richard, the brother of Robert Fitz-Hamo, or Britel, the third son of Walter of Medway, earl of St.Cler in Normandy.
On the whole, it is safe to leave Lord William Sinclair of Dorsetshire as the representative of the line of Britel.
The Somersets may be reckoned, on preponderating grounds, the descendants of Richard Sinclair of Granville, the founder not only of this branch but of the Devonshire and Cornwall Sinclairs,
The Aldham Sinclairs of Kent and Sussex held largely also in this county of Somerset. In 4 Edward III (1331) John, the son of John, was possessed of Chiselbergh manor. In 17 Edward III (1344) his wife Alicia died seized of it. It seems to have come with Alicia, for it was by the death of John Daubernoun it went to the Aldhams, and as Alicia was a widow she may have had it through her first husband.
Much has already been said of this manor in describing the Aldham-St.Cleres.
In 9 Edward III (1337) this John died, and the Inquisitions after Death find him possessed in Somersetshire of not only Chiselbergh manor with the feoda appertaining, but of West Chinnock manor, Tenne, and, in one feoda, Chilterne, Dunmere, and Michell Weston, with Norton of Taunton manor. The greater portion of these came to him by his father John's marriage to Joan Aldham, who brought him much of the Aldham properties, and, through her mother, of the Montacute or Montagu estates. The Montacutes, the earls of Salisbury, were a Somersetshire family, and it was at their castle of Montacute, Somerset, Britel Sinclair signed its lord's charter to the priory of Montacute near the castle, and such signatures were usually a fair presumption of affinities.
The Aldham Sinclairs held large footing in the county till they became extinct in the male line, 1434, their three co-heiresses dividing these among the other properties to their husbands.
In 10 Richard II (1387), John Sinclair, chevalier, and his wife Maria had Norton, Wele, Pennard, Chiltern, Chiselbergh, with the advowson. West Chinnock manor was given to her as part of his widow's provision, 11 Richard II (1388). Sir Philip Saintclere has it in 9 Henry IV (1408).
But the Somersetshire estates were regular part continuously of the Aldham-Sinclairs' estates, and enough has been written of them under their other lands. They, in any case, were later holders in the county than the original descendants of the Hamo family, and their origin and history belong in greater degree to the districts near London.
One further general line of inquiry may be suggested. In the List of the Norman Barons who fought at Hastings this is,
‘William de Moyon, with several manors, received Dunster Castle, in Somersetshire, which became the principal abode of his successors. His grandson, also called William, was created earl of Dorset, by the empress, Matilda, on account of the services he rendered her in the war against King Stephen. The barons Mohun, of Okehampton, were descended from him, and this branch was not extinguished before the commencement of the eighteenth century’. Among the Harleian MSS. the Oxford visitation of 1574 has a description of the first William, who came from Moyon, near St.Lo, which became his local surname:
‘William de Mohun or Moyne came into England with the Conqueror, and was the most noble of all his host, having clivers noblemen under him as St.John, St.Cleere, and others.… He was earl of Somerset’. It is a question where this St.Cleere settled; and it is also discussible whether William, “the most noble of all his host”, was not of the same male Rollo descent as this nobleman who, with forty-four others of rank, followed him to England. The Mohuns, Yorke says (and Vincent cannot contradict him, he confesses), were earls of Somerset and Dorset together.