If the object had been merely to get the highest proofs of distinction for the lineage, it would have been an easier and a more decisive path to have followed its Norman history; and after identifying itself, as it does to investigation, with the line, and the legitimate line, of Rollo, the ne plus ultra of most kinds of fame might have then been reached.
But it is of far more interest to watch it as it mixes with what may be called, descriptively enough, the ruck of England's nobility, and with its commoners and people.
As much as such things can be now detected, struggling against thousands of difficulties, there was hardly a house of English historic nobility which had not some connection with the Ryes, the Corboiles, the Sinclairs, the Granvilles, or whatever other variety of appellation this one lineage has in the lapse of time received.
The youngest son of the duke of Normandy was their common ancestor; the eldest son of which same duke was the ancestor of Charles II, as he and his authorities settled in a time when genealogies and successions to properties were things of the severest science.
Had fees not been partible, even to kingdoms, and had the Salique law been preserved (both solvents avoided in matters of private estate to wonderful extent), the monarch of England now would be of this lineage, as the legitimate heir to Henry I, the last male of the Norman dynasty on the throne. The Plantagenets, Tudors, and Stuarts were, on principles of just primogeniture and true male consanguinity, interlopers.
Since Henry schemed for his daughter Matilda, the crown of England has been the prize of adventurers, and not too high type even of that class.
The Fulcs or Plantagenets were a lot of Gallic robbers, not of the gallant viking, but of the common thief complexion; the Tudors were the fruit of a mesalliance of a queen of England, daughter of a French mad king, to a little brewer of Wales (and they have left sufficient proofs of their Welsh low origin by essentially weak cruel immoral Celtic tyrannical inefficiency, Elizabeth, the greatest by far of them being, in all human if not legal probability, not Celtic at all, but an energetic English London Bullen); the Stuarts were underling, provincial, and upstart, in the exact meanings of those words; but the Scandinavian Rollo line were royal time out of mind, and their conquests have been all of the royal order.
The Norse hero was in some respect even less than his ancestors.
Dudo, the chronicler, says of his agreement at St.Cler in 912, with Charles, king of France, for Normandy and Britanny, that
‘Rollo put his hands into the king's hands, which never his father, grandfather, or great-grandfather did to any one’.
The Heimskringla is the Skaldic ancient authority which tells of this and other historic events.
Kingdoms distinguished themselves, like the Sicilies, by getting ruled by such manly pink of men.
Nothing better than, nothing equal to, them, has ever walked or “ganged” the globe; and their sincerity of simplicity in all matters of thorough and genuine rule, stamped them above competition as kings among the comites or peer chiefs of the peoples.
Should huxtering ever again become of second interest, and higher things call upon the best class of men to best action, there are, breathing the old spirit of valour for energetic deeds, heirs still in this kingdom to the traditions and very blood and bone of the strongest European family.
Most are hidden by local names, but some of the lineage are clear.
The extremities of the island, like its centre, were wealthy, and are not wanting yet in gallant representatives of Rollo Rich (for this is the earliest surname of all), the duke of Neustria, son of Reginald Rich, jarl of Maere, says the Heimskringla, and of Raumdahl, in Norway, and prince of the Orkneys, in Dudo of St.Quentin's words, Senex quidam in partibis Daciae.
Jonathan Duncan, B.A., paid particular attention in his List of the Norman Barons who fought at Hastings, to the localities in Normandy whence Sinclairs came. He says,
‘Saint-Clair is an arrondissement of Saint-Lo. The remains of the old baronial castle are still visible near to the church’.
Around St.Lo all the blood-related families of Thorigny, Granville, Rye, had their shares of land as the Saint-Clairs increased, the lords of the arrondissement, whence the general name; though it is to be noticed that they carried this local name earlier from the Vexin, as the Corboil earls did their title from Picardy.
These relations of the reigning dukes ultimately made their home near the Norman centres of Caen and Falaise, and this fully explains their whole ante-English Neustrian history. Indeed, St.Cler in the Vexin, and Corbie or Corboile on the Somme, about where Agincourt and Cressy battles were fought, had something of foreign or of pioneering in them, and only in the region of Caen could the joy of national life be fully felt.
St.Lo grew around their castle, and the province of Coustance was largely if not altogether in the possession of this branch of the Rollo lineage, the earl of St.Cler being their head, but not their wealthiest member, at the conquest of England in 1066.
Their prevalence is suggested by Mark Antony Lower's reference in his Patronymica Britannica, which has some good paragraphs on the name.
‘Three places called St.Clair occur in the Itin. de Normandie, in the arrondissements, severally, of St.Lo, Havre, and Yvetot. The widely-spread importance of this family is shown by the fact that about twenty coats of arms are assigned to the name’.
But he knows only the Scottish branch, and of them alone there are many more coats than these.
Under “Saint Clair, Saint Clere”, he writes,
‘This name, usually corrupted to Sinclair, is of French origin, and springs from the great family De Sancto Claro, in France’.
He gives the right account of William of Roslin, and notes that “Richard de Sent Cler occurs in the Domesday of Norfolk”.
He quotes from Father Hay's Genealogie of the Sainte Claires of Rosslyn,
‘William Saintclair was second son to Walderne, earl of Sainctclair in France, whose mother was daughter to Duke Richard of Normandy, father to William the Conqueror. He was sent by his father to Scotland, to take a view of the people's good behaviour. He was able for every game, agreeable to all company, and styled the “seemly Saintclair”. The report of his qualifications came to the queen's ears, who desired him of her husband because of his wisdom. The king made him her cup-bearer …. He got also of the king and queen the barony of Roslin’.
A work could be written on the Sinclairs of Normandy and of France. Even in very modern times there have been distinguished men of the lineage who, in all essential points of birth, language, and action, were entirely French. In 1820 Charles Ferdinand, the baron de St.Clair, colonel de cavalerie, figured remarkably about the assassination of the duc de Berry, “Je suis assassine”. He protested to the chamber that he had warned the very highest authorities, police and other, of the conspiracy; but that these, being themselves involved in it, had arrested and imprisoned him for his loyalty to his Bourbon prince. His papers are published in book form, and there are many references to his extraordinary military career, aux bords du Rhin, dans l'armee de Conde, en Angleterre, aux Antilles, en Hollande, en Egypte, en Italie, en Espagne, en Portugal, en Russie, et en Allemagne. He had seen twenty-three years' service, got eighteen wounds, and gained innumerable decorations. His enemy, M. Decazes, minister of police, afterwards count, put him into great difficulty, because he accepted the cross of the legion of honour which one of the Bourbons offered him, through the prince of Conde, two years before the twenty-five years of service formally needed were expired. The book is of historic interest as to a curiously unsafe time.
The baron does not scruple to tell M. Decazes his mind,
‘He was not an upstart like him, but a descendant of the dukes of Normandy by his mother's side [as well as his father's], and of the earls of the Orkneys and the Hebrides; a descendant of John, earl of St.Clair, who in 1649 preferred to be despoiled of a condition in life the most brilliant rather than recognise Cromwell; a descendant of Henry, count of Saint Clair, who in 1689 was the only member of the British parliament who dared to make an energetic protest against the coming of William, prince of Orange, to the throne of the Stuarts; the grandson of John, Lord Sinclair, who in 1715 sacrificed immense property, and was obliged to leave his country for his strong devotion to the same cause; the son of Charles Gideon, baron de St.Clair, colonel commanding the royal Swedish regiment, who after having consecrated his life to the service of the kings of France, was sacrificed at Dijon 29th January 1793, the victim of his devotion for Louis XVI.’. The name seems to have a trick of being in at the chief events, and these extremely characteristic Frenchmen, though of the Scottish branch, are so European in their relationships to persons and history, that they may have footing wherever the lineage is discussed, and they throw some light on English doings undoubtedly.
David Sinclair, professor of mathematics in the university of Paris, was a stirring figure from 1600 till 1622. There are some Latin tracts of his extant, one of them forming sixteen quarto pages of hexameters, celebrating the coming of James I to the English throne in 1603, and finishing appropriately with an astronomical diagram of the king's horoscope. There survive also thirteen Latin pages of his criticism of Euclid and Archimedes. His skill of drawing gets him from one of his admirers the title of eruditissimus Apelles, while Le Sieur de Philethe, Disciple de Monsieur de Sainct-Clair, Conseiller et Professeur du Roy es sciences mathematiques attempts the squaring of the circle under his auspices. In 1607 David addresses Latin verses to the queen of France, Margaret of Valois, on high political ground.
Two lines of a poem by A.M. in his own praise may complete notice of this distingue:
‘Ergo te (Sanclare) manent tua debita laudis.
Praemia; et ingenio debita palma tuo’
Longfellow in Hyperion tells of some mediaeval or earlier Abraham de St.Clair who recorded the fish-sermon of St.Anthony, and Goethe, besides the male character of one of his fictions, has a literary lady of the name among his court amateur actors; but the searches would be endless of such kind.
The Franciscus de St.Clara of the Bodleian Library was only a Sinclair as alias of his real name of Davenport, the author of the famous book of the seventeenth century, Deus et Gratia.
The great Cardinal Hugo Sancto Charo of the thirteenth century, who first put the Bible into verses, and who wrote perhaps the longest and ablest commentary upon it done by a theologian, is one of the lineage, the Italian pronunciation accounting for the slight difference in the spelling of the name. To this it might be added, for problem, whether the real saint, if such have been, the St.Clare lady whom St.Francis of Assisi encouraged with success to escape from her friends for the religious life, was not a representative. Shakespeare in Measure for Measure speaks of the strict restraint “Upon the sisterhood, the votarists of St.Clare”.
The violent Protestant, Anthony Munday, in his English Roman Life, published in 1590, tells with amusing wrath of the pilgrimages which were then made to Mount Falcon “to see the body of St.Clare”. As climax he says,
‘There is likewise by her a glass of tears that she shed daily in remembrance of the bitter passion of our Saviour; which tears, they say, are as fresh and sweet as they were on the first day’. But there can be going too much afield in getting to Italy, France itself being enough for illustration.
One of the most interesting passages is Stanislas the king of Poland's information to Sir John Sinclair, the agriculturist, when on his European tour, that there were then three noble families of Sinclairs known to him in Sweden.
There are families still existing of the name in France (though the famous Turgots got their lands in Normandy probably by marriage), Germany, Russia, Denmark, and Norway; and much distinctive could be gathered of them, their numbers being always few compared with the distances they are spread and the deeds they some way or other come to do or to be near when done.
A Chevalier von Sinclair is one of the notable German dramatists.
To enter other field, however, now than the political and social, would bring down an avalanche of new matter, and the present purpose will not admit of such.
Delivered from all further digression or addition, the list of the arms of the different English families may close the subject.
St.Clere [Suffolk], gold background, a red lion rampant
St.Cleer [Dorsetshire], blue background, a red lion rampant in a border black crusally gold.
St.Clere [Cornwall and Essex], blue background, a gold sun in its glory, on a canton red a silver lion passant St.Clere [Essex], red background, a fesse between three lions' heads erased gold.
St.Clere [Suffolk], gold background, a red lion rampant, tail forked and nowed collared silver St.Clere [Suffolk], gold background, a red lion rampant, tail forked collared silver St.Cleere, blue background, a sun in his glory.
St.Cler, gold background, a red lion rampant within a black bordure charged with eight bezants.
St.Clere, silver background, two red bars Crest, a fox current ppr.
St.Clere, blue background, a gold star of sixteen points; on a red canton a silver lion passan St.Clere, gold background, a red lion rampant, tail forked collared of the field.
St.Clere, gold background, a red lion rampant within a black bordure St.Clere, gold background, a lion ramp, within a black bordure charged with cross crosslets of the field.
St.Clere, silver background, a black cross engrailed voided of the field.
St.Clere, blue background, on a silver chevron between three gold suns, three black mullets pierced St.Clere, blue background, three gold suns, two and one.
St.Clere [Devon], per pale gold and blue the sun in his beams counter-changed. (Hulls of Lackbeare).
St.Clere, blue background, three suns within a bordure engrailed gold.
St.Clere, red background, a fesse between three silver boars' heads St.Clere, blue background, a gold sun in its glory.
St.Clere [Sussex], blue background, gold sun in splendour (viscounts Gage).
St.Clere, per pale gold and blue a sun counterchanged.
St.Clere, gold background, a red lion rampant collared silver St.Clere gold background, St.Cleere, silver a black saltire Seyncle [Essex], red background, a fesse between three lions' heads erased gold.
Seyncler, red background, a fesse between three lions' heads erased silver Sonclere gold background, St.Clere [Devonshire], per pale gold and blue three suns counterchanged.
Sonnclere, blue background, on a silver chevron between three gold suns, three red mullets pierced Sonneclere, per pale blue and gold, three suns counterchanged.
Sinclair, silver on a cross black three crescents in fesse gold.
The secret working of English life for centuries after the Norman Conquest cannot be understood witliout full realisation of the closeness of family ties between the Norman dynasty and their chief nobles. The political usefulness and craft (learnt from violent ambitions of kin long before 1066 in Neustria) of encouraging local instead of lineage names, hid the actual nepotism which was the genuine note of those centuries as to rule. The habit has also hitherto obscured beyond recognition to historians the best class of facts by which to illustrate our national history.
A new departure, full of hope and pregnant with result, can now be made. What was fashionable with the royal and first families of the land, spread by imitation through the kingdom; and the smallest proprietors who divided their fee or fees, produced as many fresh surnames as they had sons to provide for. Extremes meet, and this system became as difficult to realise truth from, without scientific as well as fortunate enlightenment and especial study, as the exactly opposite plan of naming whole clans by the same surname. An endless series of places is nearly, at first sight, as unmanageable as a string of Johns, Donalds, Thomases, Jameses ad infinitum, all with one and the same conclusion, or without it as with the Welsh.
Stubbs in his Constitutional History, who realizes the value of Norman nerve to England more generously than any of the Oxford school of historians, of which he is a substantial member, says that nearly all the Norman nobility were of the stock of Rollo; and, with the further explanation of the necessity of hiding the family oligarchy it was, from the conquered and envious Saxons, it will be seen that there was far more of the blood of the dukes of Normandy in ruling and landed ranks than the usual writers had a dream of. The same state of things, as applied to the Sinclair branch of the ducal stock, gives the valuable inference that, under many and most varied local names, it makes up a valuable contingent of what Shakespeare writing of the English in Richard II patriotically and poetically called “this happy race of men”.