A quotation from Colinson's History of Somerset, printed in 1791, gives some knowledge.
‘A little to the northwest of Ash is Stapleton, which for a number of successions belonged to the family of St.Clare or De Sancto Claro. In 6 Henry III (1221) Robert de St.Clare held of the king in chief ten pounds a year of land in Stapleton, by the service of finding an armed servant with a horse in the king's army for forty days at his own cost. He was succeeded by his son Robert, who, 7 Henry III (1222), paid ten marks for his relief of the land which he held here of the king by serjeanty. This Robert died 2 Edward II (1308), being then certified to hold the manor of Stapleton of the crown in capite, by the service of holding a towel before the queen at the feasts of Easter, Whitsuntide, and Christmas, and likewise at the king's coronation. Robert de St.Clare, his grandson, succeeded to the manor of Stapleton, of which he died seized 10 Edward III (1337), leaving issue another Robert, his son and heir. Which last-mentioned Robert held only a moiety of this manor, of which he died seized 33 Edward III (1359), and was succeeded by Richard, his son and heir. The other moiety was held 42 Edward III (1368) by Ralph Seyncler (as the name was sometimes written), who died without issue, as also did the above-mentioned Richard and Margaret his wife, upon which the manor reverted to Robert de St.Clare, a cousin of the above-mentioned lords, who died 46 Edward III (1372), and Sibill his wife had an assignment of the third of this manor for her dower, remainder to Sir William Bonville, knt., and his heirs, 9 Henry IV (1409). Sir William Bonville held a moiety of the manor of Stapleton, and a messuage and one carucate of land in Martock, called Sayes-Place (after the family of Say), from the earl of Somerset. At this time there was a chapel in Stapleton, which seems to have been built by one of the St.Clares. It was subservient to the church of Martock, but has long since been destroyed, and nothing further appears memorable of it or the place’.
Colinson's conclusion is rather too absolute, but he deserves all commendation for what he has preserved. In the will of Sir Wm. Bonville, who was generally described as of Shute, Devonshire, which he made on 13th August 1407, in the time of Edward III, he gave, among an extensive list of benefits to friends, priests, etc., £20 to his daughter Dame Catherine Cobham, £20 to his daughter Elizabeth Carewe, and to Raulyn Sayncler, to purchase a corrody for his life, £20. Whether Raulyn was of the Somerset or Devon Sinclairs there is not anything to show.
There are considerable records existing which are safe to keep the memory of this family to indefinite periods, and Stapleton was only one of their several manors.
A calendar of old documents has, under the heading of “Dorset and Somerset”, Richard I, 1195-6,
‘Ralph de Seincler owes forty marks for having recognisance of 5.5 knights' fees, of which his father was possessed in the day when he took the garb of religion, by the pledges of Herbert Fitz-Herbert and Henry de Alneto’.
Among what are called new promises by Hubert, archbishop of Canterbury, is the pipe roll extract, dated 7 Richard I (1196),
‘William de Seincler accounts for twenty marks for having plenary seizin of his land of Stapleton, and he has delivered them into the treasury, and is quit’.
An early notice is
‘In the third year of John, A.D. 1202: rolls of aids or offerings: Somerset: Walter of Esselegham gives to his lord the king 60 marks silver as the peace-offering because he arraigned Ralph Sinclair, and because he remanded him, and that he did not use, as regards the rest, except what Walter had of his right of office’. It could well be that this sheriff Walter was a son of Hugo Sinclair, pincerna, of Aeslingham; and that Ralph got free in the rebellious year of some of the barons, on 60 marks, is possibly owing to his relationship to the sheriff.
This is confessedly difficult to infer about, but it is quite possible that Ralph had reason to be among the rebels at the beginning of John's reign. His treatment of the queen, Isabella of Gloucester, by divorcing her after he had secured by her most of the lands of her grandmother Matilda or Mabel Sinclair, daughter of Robert Fitz-Hamo, was one private cause that the Somerset family should have no love for him, and there was enough public cause besides. But they do not seem to have been ruined by Ralph's course, whatever it was in the full light of his time.
There must have been two or three antecessors of his before Richard of Granville or Britel, the ancestor, could be reached; and here is the only difficulty of tracing, to unusual fulness. The successors are plain.
At the beginning of Henry III's reign the baron Robert held Stapleton as the caput baroniae to his other manors.
On 18th October 1264, in this monarch's reign, there is a Somersetshire inquisition made in virtue of a writ dated Canterbury 3d October, on Saturday, St.Luke's, by command of W. de Wenlige, the king's escheator citra Trent, before Robert de Sancto Claro, escheator of the county of Somerset, regarding the age of Hugh Lovel for proof of heirship to the barony of Kari Lovel, worth £150. Lady Eva Lovel being dowered in tierce.
The escheator's son was one of the king's courtiers, and held various lands by serjeanty the tenure sought after as the most honourable, because testifying to a family's personal services or relationship to the crown.
Richard de Sancto Claro died in this same year possessed of Mertock, Stapleton, and other lands. In the Rotuli in Curia Scaccarii of Henry III, Edward I, and Edward II, he appears with his wife, under Somersetshire:
‘Somerset: Richard Sinclair and Margaret his wife give ten pounds for license to acquire two parts to the two, of the divisions of the manor of Stapleton, with its followings’.
Of Robert, his son, The Hundred Rolls have notices, and it is to be remembered that this valuable survival has not its fame by showing the best side of men, being Edward I's challenging of the rights all round of landholders in England. In the hundred of Martock, Somersetshire, the jurati have their statement thus:
‘ Dicunt et quod Robs de Sender Rict de Bolougne etc peipuunt et retinuit avia de astraura set nesciunt quo waro’.
In the Hundred Forinsec de Sumton: com Soms, concerning subtractions made, or supposed to be made, from the crown's possessions, he occurs again:
‘And Robert Sinclair has taken possession of a part of the hundred for twelve years past, which part his predecessors were accustomed to pay for, and this section was possessed in the time of Thomas de Perham, fee-farmer of the manor and hundred of Somerton’.
This is evidently bordering land which from paying some rent went by purchase, heirship, gift, or other accident into possession of the lords of the manor, and the king would know, or his commissioners, that no parchments or particular grants could be shown for the possession; and hence the crown's opportunity, so widely and often unjustly exercised by Edward I.
Another Robert Sinclair had a deal of trouble of this kind. In the Quo Warranto records, which are an account of the following up of the knowledge gained by The Hundred Rolls, as to whom attack should be made upon, he appears several times, and especially about some disputed parts of his manor of Somerton. He was summoned to answer as to his rights in a court in Somersetshire; but the most valuable account of him is his being summoned by William of Chiselham, the king's commissioner, to Exeter, to state his rights to parts of the properties which he held. The piece at Somerton in particular had to be fought for. Says the record,
‘Robert Sinclair came and said that Richard le Bure, his grandfather, had it with certain tenements, as gift from Ralph de Huse or Hussey’. These le Bures were his lineage, who had taken this name first in Normandy and then in Essex; and the curious corroborative thing is that branches of them were on the Thames in close local and other connection with the Sinclairs there, showing the universal knowledge Sinclairs had of each other then all over England. The Bures afterwards, too, became dukes of Dorset, which is another fact binding the south-western counties, in themselves, and also to Kent and Essex.
Sir Francis Palgrave's Rotuli Curiae Regis throws considerable light on these antique but piquant relationships. In 1199-1200, for example, Hugo de Bures and Hugo de St.Clare are arbiters about lands in Tilbury, Essex, belonging to Sibilla, aunt of John of Wirre field in that county. Jordan de Bures was a donor to St.John's Abbey, Colchester, of which Eudo St.Clare was founder, and the Jordans were a Somerset family as early as the Jordan who signed the Montacute priory charter with Britel Sinclair. The Huses or Husseys are also of similar connections in old records with the Bures, Topesfield, Essex, having two of its manors in their possession, Gerebert St.Clair's family being its regularly accepted proprietors.
The Brocs, of Canterbury fame, early lords of Cobham, had Ilcestre, Somerset, as one, perhaps their original, seat, situate exactly between Somerton and Martock, belonging to these Somerset Sinclairs.
“Simon”, the pet name of the earls of Huntingdon, Northampton, Lincoln, and, had they pushed their rights, of Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmoreland, was a favourite also with the Bures.
But this Robert Sinclair who appeared at Exeter, must have been the son of the Robert of The Hundred Rolls, 1274, and he died in 1309.
The Richard Sinclair mentioned was one with Richard le Bure.
The name Robert, from Robert Fitz-Hamo's fame, became popular even above their ancestor Richard's. It is Robert, a grandson, that dies in 1337, the successor of the Robert who died in 1309. He was possessed of Stapleton manor, Andredseye, Saltmore, Bergham, and indefinite moor and pasture lands.
In passing, it might be inquired if Walter de Stapleton, bishop of Exeter and high-treasurer of England in the reign of Richard II, was one of the lineage.
When Queen Isabella and Mortimer got the Spencers upset and hanged, and the king dethroned, Walter, whom Richard had left guardian of London for him, was beheaded in 1326 by the populace.
‘He was a great benefactor to Oxford, founded and endowed Exeter college, and built Hart hall. The reason of the mob's fury against him was that, being the treasurer of the kingdom, he had persuaded the king's council to cause the itinerant justices to sit in London, who finding that the citizens had offended in many things, deprived them of their liberties, fined some, and inflicted corporal punishment on others’. He gives Walsingham as his authority.
Rapin says of him as a churchman,
‘Walter Stapleton, bishop of Exeter, was eminent for his learning and capacity in the administration of the public affairs; and particularly for loyalty to Edward II, his sovereign, for which he lost his life’. Tindal notes that,
‘With him maybe joined Walter of Merton, bishop of Rochester, and founder of Merton college in Oxford in 1267’. But this were opening too wide a field, the Stapletons being of themselves a great English family, whatever their further consanguinity.
Before leaving Edward I's searches for anything which had no charters, mention must be made of an Everard Sinclair who in the hundred of Stane, county Somerset, was challenged as to some payments and possession of tenements said to be subtracted from the hundred and added to his lands in Allberry. He was a side member.
Robert died possessed of Stapleton, Somerton, etc, and also of Budelege manor. This is another of the same to Buddleigh in Devonshire, which binds these Stapletons to Richard Sinclair of Granville more closely. In 18 Edward III (1345), Elizabeth Seincler had at her death Stapleton and its pertinents. In 1352, a Robert holds these manors, who died in 1360, leaving two sons, Richard and Ralph, between whom there was a division of the lands. Richard married a Margaret, but died without issue, as also died Ralph in 1369, the properties being left to their cousin Robert, showing that there were several branches in the county.
In the Rolls of the Court of the Treasury is account of Richard put in possession of his parts of Stapleton:
‘Somersetshire: It was commanded to John of Bekington, escheator of the king in the county of Somerset, that having received security from Richard, the son and heir of Robert Sinclair, dead, of a reasonable sum, he may make full possession to Richard of two parts of the manor of Stapleton near Martock, which he holds of the king in capite by the service of half one knight's fee’.
The same escheator, who had also Dorset county under his jurisdiction, has business of settling estates heired through an “Edithe Seintelere”.
The manors of Athelardeston, Hywyssh, Chanflour, with returns and advowsons, were of her right in Somersetshire, and Podyngton and West Chikerill, with the pertinents, in Dorsetshire.
There is a dateless entry in these rolls referring to a Robert which is worth transcribing:
‘The king, for five marks which Thomas Warrene paid, granted to Robert Sinclair that he may give two parts of the manor of Stapleton with the pertinents, etc., to Thomas the aforesaid, to be held for his whole life as fee-farm’. This may mean the much earlier Robert who had connections with a Thomas who farmed Somerton manor as already referred to.
Of the present, the cousin Robert, there is a charter preserved in the British Museum, dated 29 Edward III (1356), having devices on a shield on the still attached seal. He is Robertus Saincler de Somerton et de Stapleton, and his parchment conveys a gift of lands to the famous abbey of Glastonbury in his own county of Somersetshire. The chief men of the kingdom were the granters of such, and this would be some evidence of the position of these lords of manors if there were not any more facts. He died in 1372, and his wife Sibilla Sentcler next year. His manors were Stapleton, Botecle, Coker, Somerton, etc., mentioned 1352.
In the escheator's Account and Inquisitions from 6 Edward III (1333) to 1 Richard II (1377) in the national record office, Fetter Lane, London, where worlds of information are lying dead, or as good as dead, in stores of ancient MS., Sibilla Sentcler, Co. Somerset, was the subject of an inquisition after death. Her properties were put in list by the escheator, William de Cheyne. She had the third part of Stapleton, Milton, Fauconberge, part of Lymington manor, Todenham manor, Somerton manor, Compton manor, Dowden, etc.
After this the family became even more numerous in the county, and the consequent divisions of fees impoverished the branch gradually, till they passed, chiefly under local names, which were the fashion, among the body of the great English nation, which owes much to the decline of its nobility into the stream of energetic everyday life.
But there were good branches who long held lands.
Sir John Sinclair of the Aldham Sinclairs, Kent, had the custody of Estham for the heir of the wife of William Sinclair of Kyngswoode in Edward III's time, and the beginning of that of Richard II, Laetitia, dying in 1377. Besides Estham she had part of the manor of Castlecary, with the advowson of the chapel on it.
In 20 Richard II (1397), William Seyntclere held Ashebrutell manor, and at the same time Robert held Andredseye manor.
There is a mention of a William Seint Cler in the Rolls of the Treasury, Henry III, Edward I and II, and also of a Nicholas, his brother, as of Somerset. They had a cause at Westminster about land, and Ivo of Ashelond was their fellow defendant.
John of Legyh and Isabella, the wife of Nicholas de Helmunden, recovered some lands from the three in Croukhern. They are not dated closely enough to be fixed in pedigree, and indeed they may be an indirect branch of the main Somerset Sinclairs.
There is much yet to be gathered of these westerns of the Hamo or perhaps, though less likely, of the Britel blood; but for the present their tale must end with Nicolas Seyntcler, miles, who had Alicia as wife, the Calendars of Inquisitions after Death of 19 Edward IV (1480) state. This is forty-six years after the extinction in the male line of the Aldham Sinclairs of Kent, Sussex, and also of Chiselbergh and other manors in Somerset.
Sir Nicolas Sinclair, in all probability, left heirs to his three properties of Pokeston, Cammelerton, and Churchill. He would, however, by the manors he held, seem to have been of yet another side branch from that in which the Roberts were so numerous.
It is difficult to do sufficient justice to these holders by serjeanty and men of distinction, on the materials yet made available, of which there is good further abundance lying undisturbed, in Fetter Lane and elsewhere, awaiting shape.