In 1047 when Eudo's father at the castle gate of Rye gave the command,
‘Fait sei Hubert: “Dreit a Faleise”,’
to his three brave eldest sons, to whom he had entrusted the safety of their prince in extreme personal danger, it may be guessed how Eudo mourned his youthfulness, like another David.
He could not have been more than ten or twelve, and he does not count in the passage from the Chronique des Ducs de Normandie,
‘Le vavassors aveit treis fils,.
Chevaliers bons, proz, e hardiz’
Radulph, Hubert, and Adam were the vigorous youths who swore that their equally vigorous and youthful duke should reach his castle of Falaise if it cost them their lives a thousand times, or, more rational possibility, if it cost the lives of as many of his deadly pursuers. Perhaps Eudo got his farewell kiss from Duke William before mounting the fresh horse which his faithful vavasseur had provided for him. The memory is keen with regard to the incidents of a dangerous time; and the ruddy cheek, no doubt wet with a tear of sorrow that he was too young to help, of the boy destined for a noble future, may have long and effectually haunted the mind of his gallant sovereign. Sure it is that the tale of the midnight ride was hallowed by a breathless repetition in the presence of, and it may be by, the youngest of these four sons. There are numbers fresh enough of heart to picture the yellow-haired lad near his anxious but shrewd father, watching the swift departure of those four chevaliers bons, proz, e hardiz, with his heart almost bursting because he also is not stretched at their soldierly gallop. His admiration of his father's skill in, not long after, putting the foam-covered cavalier conspirators on the wrong road for their purpose, may also be imagined. The intellect of the man he became, we may be certain was already well open; and if he had keener troubles than a duller boy might have, the joys were exquisite proportionately. It is easy to go too far, however, with probabilities; and it may be quite enough to imagine that Duke William then first saw and liked the future greatest subject of Normandy and England.
The usual knightly training was his, within among the ladies, and without among the soldiers and nobles, of the castle of Rye. Of this period of his life nothing perhaps has survived. It is at the court of William in Normandy that we get note of him. No personal danger to the duke then gave chances of distinction; he had wholly triumphed over his own and perhaps still more his mother's foes. Eudo got the usual knightly place of sons of favoured vassals, and it is possible had relish of life and enjoyment too strong in him to be greedy yet for office and fame. His first great stroke of fortune, which it may well be called, seems to have sought him rather than he it.
William Fitz-Osborn was then dapifer of Normandy, an office which included the duties and honours of seneschal and constable. The Chronique des Ducs de Normandie has defined it once for all by saying that the dapifer was in all things next the king. The civilisation of that period also, like ours, seems to have held dining to be one of cultivated man's most distinguished actions. So far was this carried then that none but gentlemen of nobility could serve as much as a spoon to a sovereign. The duke of Normandy was a stickler for perfection in this kind. William Fitz-Osborn, as highest authority, was responsible that all should be right for prince and for guests, from whatever lands. He was neglectful, and no doubt repeatedly.
The crisis came. A special festal day had to be enjoyed. The dapifer, who had his greatest of offices, like royalty itself in this, from hereditary succession, of his Bretulensian forefathers, failed in his supervision. The flesh of an uncooked bird, in such a state , was placed before the very king, and easily guessing how the others were being served he utterly lost his temper. Fitz-Osborn had position of honour near him, and Eudo Sinclair, by favour, or less possibly only by chance, was also beside him. The king struck at the dapifer, but Eudo had more than his father Hubert's wit to be equal to occasions, and he saved his master, and as it will appear his personal friend Fitz-Osborn, from a chance that could not but have with such men fatal consequences, if years should have to pass first. He received the blow, and if the tear put on his cheek in childhood has no historical foundation, the chronicler of his manhood in this trying scene makes tears fall freely, though the record also takes care to state unwillingly. If during the height of Greek periods of gallantry it was considered no virtue, as with moderns and the Red Indians, to bridle too much nature's impulses, so it may have been with the chivalrous Normans. It is more probable, however, that both the physical pain from the angry hand of him whose bow no one but himself could bend, and the rush of charged feeling at the sight of his friends engaging in what was tragical beyond measure, both as to that moment and the future, were the causes of Eudo's generous weakness.
His stern history is none the worse of this bit of early tenderness. Lachrymosity has not been put to the account of the Normans by the most depreciatory of their virulent critics. Matters could not with men of such proud stomach be arranged. The king was thankful exceedingly for Eudo's presence of mind, but William Fitz-Osborn could never stand again his right-hand man. His hereditary claims availed nothing with the iron will of him who was every inch a king; he was stripped of his office without appeal. But the best of the tale appears in the special and pressing message of the fallen Fitz-Osborn, that the young Eudo, and none else, if it please the duke, be appointed in his room. The loyalty of Hubert, the father of Eudo, and the promises to him, may have made it easy for the prince to make his selection; but it can safely be inferred, from the favours of other kind which came afterwards to the erring but leal major domus regiae, that his recommendation had decisive influence.
Henceforth Eudo was mayor of the palace. For him also the dapifership of Normandy was made hereditary, which his family history will afterwards exhibit. No faux pas of uncooked goose or swan, it maybe easily asserted, occurred under his able rule of the roast, or it should certainly have been chronicled; and from management of the national exchequer to executing justice to all men, oven the meanest, his action in Normandy was of similar soundness. The conquest of England, its greatest good fortune, was probably accomplished by Eudo Dapifer and the duke's lieutenants like the brave Fitz-Osborn, before the Conqueror did it, who has and well deserves the fame of it. The preparation of those sixty thousand warriors, gathered from wide Europe, and their embarkation in perfect equipment, were the victory. It is possible that the supplanting of Fitz-Osborn may have taken place after the conquest, at one of the several periods in which King William had returned to Normandy, and the credit of the collection of such a splendid army in that case belongs to his fame.
In favour of this it may be urged that not only was he a chief leader at Hastings, but that he was the first earl the king made in England. As earl of Hereford, on William's early return to Normandy, he got with Odo, earl of Kent, the king's half-brother, the entire rule of England to hold for their generous sovereign. He does not seem to have been born to succeed, and his son Roger went still farther wide of the mark, rebel and exile being his invited fate. That it was Eudo Sinclair who was at the helm of affairs, practically second only to his soldierly prince, agrees best with the character of the two dapifers. But rivalry not being at all between them in the full friendship that preferred one before another, their claims to this success of all time need not be discussed. It is undoubted that either of them might be, and one of them was by the fact, equal to the glorious necessity of 1066. This, too, was no single, though the greatest, piece of energy required in that masterful period. If Eudo's power came after, he had infinite opportunity of using it; and the pacification of two kingdoms into one, both fiercely troublesome, is abundant proof of his great civil ability. His wisdom and life-long success would suggest that the army led by the pope's consecrated banner of religion was the result of his steadier head rather than the work of the far less politic and skilful William Fitz-Osborn, known in English history as the violent and, certainly with the Anglo-Saxons, unpopular earl of Hereford.
There is a theory quite possible to be hold from the scantiness of historic facts, that Eudo was only dapifer of Normandy under the Conqueror, and thus obliquely the duke's promise to Hubert of Rye had its fulfilment, that himself was to be dapifer of England when in possession. The possibility of the Normandy hereditary officer getting supplanted by any chance whatever, could not have been imagined then, and the earl of Rye must have been more than satisfied by the position his son had gained so honourably. Indeed, it is to be said, that the refinement and fame of the French dukedom, if not the wealth and influence also, altogether outshone the comparative barbarism of the turbulent kingdom of the Angles.
Madox in his History of the Exchequer, which is in substance the history of the division of the duties of king and dapifer, has his mind greatly exercised by the fact that there seemed to be two contemporary dapifers, namely, this Eudo and a Hamo. He risked the guess of another writer: Eudo was dapifer of Normandy as Hamo was that of England. He is right.
But even as late as Domesday Book three dapifers, all of unmistakable highest rank, appear; and the word being also applied to county, hundred, and even abbey officers, more than a dozen dapifers altogether appear there as landholders. There can be no mistake as to the comparative insignificance of all except the three, and their positions are quite fixable.
Goderic Dapifer was a Saxon whom the Conqueror so far recognised that he gave him the sheriffship of several of the eastern counties as a compensating sphere of rule for what he lost. Of all the Anglo-Saxons, he retained most steadily and safely the wide lands of which the “good King Edward”, as they invidiously were apt to call him, left them possessed.
Who Hamo Dapifer was is a much more difficult inquiry. That he held the rule of England under William I, and for considerable period, is quite certain, but by what condition is not fixed. It may be rash, but there are grounds for supposing that he was dapifer-substitute, so to put it, for Eudo, whose presence was required alternately in both divisions of the kingdom.
An accumulation of facts, not altogether decisive yet, but extremely assuring, goes to show that Hamo was also a Sinclair; and as the chief dapifer's relation, nepotism being then no terror, even if Eudo and not the king made the appointment, he was the right person for the intimate duties of such a position. Contiguity of their properties in Domesday Book is evidence not quite to be cast aside. The recurrence of the name Hamo, at a near period, in a family of Sinclairs related to Eudo, about which later national records give absolute statement, is at least suggestive. The circumstances of what Palgrave calls “the bourgade of Rye”, in Sussex, almost make the pleading good, that Hamo Sinclair, the reputed dapifer of England, was in reality the near relation and under-dapifer of Eudo of Normandy and England, William's vicar in the full sense, as he by stricter record was so under the two succeeding kings. Hamo, a scion of Hubert's house of Rye on the Norman shore of the Channel, would be the natural founder of a Rye on this English side. He could quite well have been the cousin of Eudo.
Again and again it will be noticed that Sinclairs, like most chief Normans, were as careful to erect religious houses as they were to have defensive castles. In Rye the ancient chapel of St.Clare testifies more to the existence of such a family once there, than to memorial devotion to the well enough known religieuse, St.Clare, who was foil to the ecstatic St.Francis. She was revered first at Assisi and then throughout the Christian world more or less to this day. The frequent naming of churches and chapels from the neighbouring lords is a thing stamped on the very soil of the island.
Sussex had in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and later, Sinclairs very difficult to recognise now through the few relics left by the storms of civil and other war, and by the usual wasting of time. Arms of the dimmest kind belonging to the name in such churches as Eckingham of this county, do not give but the slightest clue. In records, which are a far more fruitful field however sparse, Sinclairs appear; but it is as difficult to know whence they have come as whither like ghosts they have gone. Hamo of Rye, dapifer, had no children, else that might explain several of such mysterious wanderers on this southern shore who once were its gallant lords. Little has been discovered about him, says Palgrave, except that he was a kinsman of the Conqueror, and followed him here. It is quite a probable way of things that he owes some obscurity to the greatness of his relative Eudo. To take account of a great man's friends is often unwisely considered to be quite as needless as lighting candles in sunshine. Perhaps this delusion accounts for the over-prevalent saying that geniuses never have geniuses for sons or relations.
We know of Hamo's brother. He was the Robert, “knight of Rye”, who got much favour from William Rufus. Eudo in this reign was in full power, and with him chief at court it could be understood how the “knight of Rye” became lord of Glamorgan and Montgomery, and also had the earldom of Gloucester, so much coveted and so famous afterwards. Most of this was granted by the Conqueror to Matilda his queen. Henry, his youngest son, to whom he had only given £5000, contended bitterly for his mother's lands and their titles with his brother Rufus and Robert Fitz-Hamo, “knight of Rye”, but the strife ended very happily.
There is a pedigree of Robert Fitz-Hamo among the Cottonian MSS. which gives him daughters, one being the heiress Maud, Sinclair inferentially. She marries Robert Consul, a natural son of Henry I; the earl of Gloucester who built Bristol Castle and fought gallantly for his sister the Empress Matilda against Stephen. Their son is William Consul. This William's eldest daughter, whose mother was daughter of the earl of Leicester, became queen of England, but was divorced on the plea of consanguinity by King John. She afterwards married a Mandeville earl of Essex, who will appear again in these researches, and lastly Hubert de Burgh, earl of Kent. His second married Gilbert, earl of Clare, who, through her, there being no brother, ultimately became the first earl of Gloucester of the descendants of the Conqueror's greatest warrior, Richard of Tunbridge and Clare. This Gilbert was followed by Gilbert; Richard; the Gilbert who added Hereford to the other earldoms; Gilbert, the husband of Joan Plantagenet, sister of Edward I; Gilbert; and, last of his race, the gallant young Gilbert (heir to such traditions as the conquest of Ireland and many another civil and military success) who, fighting against the son of one of the ladies Clare, King Robert Bruce, his own near relation, on the battlefield of Strivelinge, as the MS. calls Bannockburn, put the period by his death there in 1314 to perhaps the noblest race of men England's soil has yet borne.
But returning to Hamo of Rye, all that can be said yet is that his prosperity may have attracted collateral relations to Sussex, which might account for the isolated later appearances of the name. The records of Seaford, near Rye, have entries of struggles between the burghers and Sinclair lords of the soil as to rights. Fishings were at all periods, on both coasts, a valuable interest, and about property of this and other kinds disputing is not to be avoided always by any skill. Nothing can be much made out of such references to a long-extinct name in Sussex helpful to the proof that Hamo Dapifer was Hamo Sinclair. With these probabilities the question may be left for further, and not too hopeful, investigation, considering the darkness eight hundred years can draw over the most distinguished persons and facts. The two contemporaneous dapifers of William the Conqueror's reign, if not later also, is an acknowledged difficulty with the antiquarians and historians.
Contributions to the discussion, if not successful wholly in themselves, ought to have frank welcome when ingenuity gives chance of resolving what has been always interesting to those who have toiled in these first pages of our real history.