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THE AESLINGHAM GROUP

When Thomas a Beckett fled to France in 1163, he began to excommunicate all those who had thwarted his plans. First to fall under his fulminations were John of Oxford, Richard of Ilchester, Jocelin of Baliol, Ranulph of Broc, Thomas Fitz Bernard, and Hugo de Sancto Claro. He gives particulars as to the crimes of the last two. "Excommunicavimus etiam Hugonem de Sancto Claro et Thomam filium Bernardi, qui ejusdem ecclesiae Cantuariae bona et possessiones absque conniventia nostra occupaverunt". We have also excommunicated Hugh de St.Clair and Thomas Fitz Bernard, who have taken possession of the goods and properties of the same church of Canterbury without our permission". Hugh and his fellow-excommunicates had been guilty of taking lands which the Archbishop had probably gripped from them. In the Red Book of the Treasury of Henry II, with reference to Normandy, there is noted under this heading - "Hi sunt qui nec venerunt nec miserunt nec aliquid discerunt". These are they who neither came nor sent nor said anything - Hugo de Sancto Claro, who is specially mentioned as holding lands in Algia or Auge or Ou. In the Report of the Historical Manuscripts Commission he appears in Normandy as witness - Hugo de Sancto Claro - together with the chief men in Henry the Second's Court, to the endowment of a religious house. there by a Norman noble. In the Textus Rossensis there is a double entry of a charter to the Lord of Aeslingham, as it calls Hugo. The Bishop of Rochester grants a free chapel to Hugo within his manor of Aeslingham as recompense for the many benefits by him and members of his family to St. Andrew's, Rochester. To this valuable charter the signatures are: Hugo de Sancto Claro (himself), Philip Gruer de Sancto Claro, Robert de Clovilla, William Richard de Clovilla, another Hugo de Sancto Claro, Robert de Sancto Claro, Roger de Sancto Claro, and some others. Roger is mentioned as his brother. Hugo is given by Ralph of Ingulstadt as one of the signatories to King Stephen's charter in 1136, but Hamo - as others have it - is more likely to be correct, the date being early for Hugh. (The Hugh and Philip Gruer above were monks of Rochester)

In the time of Henry II Robert de Sancto Claro held two knights' fees from Walter de Meduana (Medway), and John St.Clair another two, while William de Clovilla held three and Ralph of Cloville half a fee. Hugh seems to have left descendants in Essex, where, in 1196, a William de St.Clair pays of the second shield-money for Richard I, and in 1202 pays 30 shillings of third scutage [shield-money]. The manor of St.Clere in Danbury was owned by the gens. Following William is one John, as Palgrave's Rolls from the King's Court show, as holding a fee from William Munchesni in Kent, while Dunleia in the county was also his, as is proved by the Rotuli Chartarum, 9 and 10 John (1208-9). There is among these rolls a charter of confirmation to Henry of Cobham of a whole tenement at Dunleia in gift and grant from John St.Clair. Sylvester St.Clair appears as the brother of John in signing a document of the Textus Rossensis, but of his lands or doings nothing more has been found. A Robert signs an undated charter of Henry of Cobham to Rochester Church, and later, on to a charter of lands given to a Cobham in 30 Henry III (1246), Dominus William de Sencler is a signatory. William de St.Clare was governor of Rochester Castle, and successfully defended it against Simon de Montfort till relieved by the arrival of King Henry [1264]. He died the same year. In the official guide the following is to be found: "Henry the Third entrusted William St.Clare with the custody of this castle, whose ancient seat was at Woodlands in Kingsdown parish, in this county". His son was (it seems) the William de Sancto Claro indicted at Chelmsford in 1255 for having knight's fees and not being knighted. For siding with de Montfort he lost his lands, as appears from the Curia Scaccarii of 51 Henry III, 1267, two years after the battle of Evesham. "Willielmus de Sancto Claro: Extents terrarum suarum quas occasione transgressionum, sibi impositarum rex dederat Baldewino de Akeny". William de St.Clare: The extent of his lands which by reason of transgressions charged against him the king had given to Baldwin of Hackney. The Great Rolls of Henry III give further information. The sheriffs took possession of his lands in East Tilbury soon after the battle of Evesham at the instance of the Earl of Gloucester, but he made a settlement with the Earl, by which he retained his lands. This is confirmed by the Patent Rolls in the Tower of London, 1267: "The King has restored to William de St.Clare all his inheritance". He died the same year, and the Calendar of Inquisitions after Death gives the list of his inheritance under the heads of Estilberry, Danigsbury, and the lands and liberties of the castle of Rochester. He was succeeded by another William, who is enumerated in the Quo Warranto of 2 Edward I, 1274, as holding from William Mountchesney in the hundred of Shamele, Kent, half a knight's fee in Merston and another half in Higham. In 1266 be had acquired from Cicely St.Clair, wife of Ralph of Osvth, Chichridell and other manors near St.Osyth, Essex, and also some property of hers at East Tilberry. In 1279 he was sheriff of Essex and Hereford. He died, II Edward I, 1283, possessed of Danehoberry Park alone, in Essex. He had married, in 1270, Felicia, daughter and one of the co-heiresses of Nicolas le Boteler, with whom he got many lands. North Walsham he got as himself heir to the half of Sir Richard Butler's lands, there (Blomfields History of Norfolk), and in 1273 conveyed it by fine to William the younger of Heveningham, "to be held of him and his heirs by the service of a sparrowhawk". He is twice referred to in the Inq. ad q.d., of 18 Edward I, 1290: "Johannes filius Simonis executor testamenti Willielmi de Sancto Claro pro capella de Danigbury", and again, "Willielmus de Sancto Claro pro cantaria facienda Danigsberry terr. Essex."

William de St.Clare was apparently succeeded by Robert de S.Claro or St.Clere. He appears in the Placita de Quo Warranto of 21 Edward I (1293), com "Kanc" as Robert de Sancto Claro, miles; and, again, as Sir Robert de Seynt Cler he is engaged in connection with an enquiry on the manor of East Chalk, Kent. Morant has it that in 1301 he possessed the manor of St.Clere's in East Tilberry. To him also came the manor of St.Clere's, Danbury. Both Robert de Seincler and Nicholas St.Clair of Ore appear in support of Ralph Fitz Bernard's title to Kingsdene, Otterdene. The latest notice of Robert St.Clare has to do with Essex in 3 Edward II, 1310, when the Abbot of St.Ann's, Colchester, has to get the concurrence of the whole convent before some land transaction can be completed. There was a St.Clere's manor near Colchester in his possession. Of Nicolas some further reliable items have survived. Hasted states that in 1279 William de St.Clare held Great and Little Okeley, and that soon after these estates were possessed by different branches of this family. Great Okeley, he says, descended to Nicolas, and after some little time Little Okeley also became his. In 1347 Little Okeley was possessed by John St.Clare, Who paid aid for making the Black Prince a knight in that year. In Magna Britannia (by the Rev. Thomas Cox, the antiquary) it is stated that this John held them united, and that he also held Merston manor, and a quarter of a knight's fee in the same district as from Swanscombe Castle of the Montchesnies. They had other properties like Oare in Kent; but John came also into possession of the Essex properties, being holder of them in 1334. He married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Anthony Colepepper of Bedgeberry, and died without issue. There is a John St.Clare of Hardaness, Kent, mentioned frequently in the Report of Hist. MSS Commision especially in connection with the endowment of a chapel of St.Clare on the Hardaness property, and also a William, of whom only one scanty note survives in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, among the codices manuscripti of Roger Dodsworth, vol.30.:

"Carta inter Will de Sancta Clara & Jo Sutton militem de jure advoc Ecclesiae de Tendring facta apud Colcestr." 2 Edward III (1329). William and John must be of near kin to the John of 1334. Passing from him to a namesake, John de St.Clare is found coroner of Kent ante 1272. He is in succession to Thomas of Aeslingham manor. In the Textus Rassensis there is a charter of the prior and convent of Rochester, to which Thomas de St.Clare is a witness. Nicholas of Ore, the brother of Sir Robert of Estilberry and Merston (contiguous to Aeslingham) also signed this document. To the chapel for which Hugo got the notification and grants of privilege from the Bishop of Rochester, Hugo left a charter, which is confirmed by Thomas in 1289. The church of Frindsbury or Aeslingham must have been this same chapel. He granted Nelefield, Kent, to it. Hasted has it that John, the second Bishop of Rochester, dedicated St.Peter's Church, Aeslingham, as part of other favours, to Hugo St.Clare, who paid liberally in return. Dominus John de Seint Cler, Coronator, is frequently noticed in the Quo Warranto Rolls and Hundred Rolls" In 25 Edward I, 1297, he appears as Magister Johannes de Sancto Claro, and signs Letters of Protection of the Clergy with the King at Langley. On 11th October 2 Ed I, the King challenged the coroner of Kent - Dominus Johannes de Sancto Claro. He married Nicolaia, daughter of Dominus William de Camville of Clifton. He appears as one of the signatories to the returns from the Bishop of Rochester's feu at Dartford.

His nearest successor is difficult to discover, but next to him was Thomas de St.Clair, noticed as holding the Essex properties in 1384, of whom there is an earlier notice as acquiring the manor of Frothewick with the pertinents in Chicheridell, St. Osyth, Crustwich, Chiche, Comitis, and Chichesrethwick in 1364. Some account of the younger descendants of the Coroner may be given before returning to his direct line. In the Easter Issue Rolls of 30th June 1450, it is noted that disbursements were made to Alexander Eden, sheriff of Kent, and others, by inter alia John Seyncler, and on 8th June 1456, there is, in the acts of the Privy Council, note of a letter from King Henry the Sixth himself to "John Saintcler, squier" and other knights and squires of Kent calling on them to meet at Maidstone and see that the Kings justice be done in reckoning with rebels. In the digested report of the recent Historical Commission the list of pardoned in the matter of this same John Mortimer, or John Cade, begins with John Sencler, lord of Feversham, Kent. Another of the name occupied a lower position. "Hic jacet Rogerus Sentcler quondam [the deceased] serviens Abbati et Conveutui de Lesnes qui obiit primo die mensis Januarii, 1425, Cujus anime.. " and the Issue Rolls of the Privy Purse tell of a court doctor, Rauffe Sentcler, and give the interesting information that the royal medical fee was then (Henry VII's reign), at the palace of Sheen, the sum of £1.

Hasted in his History of Kent, under "Woodland", has most difficult account of no fewer than four of the surname holding it, the last of whom was Thomas, whose descendants passed it away at the end of Henry the Seventh's reign. In 9 Edward III (1336), John, son to John St.Clere, enjoyed Woodland, and was succeeded by a Thomas, who died 4 Henry IV, 1403. The wife of a Philip St.Clare, Margaret, is also recorded as its holder, I Henry IV (1423). In the Calendar of Inq. after Death, 1476, there is: "Thomas Seinclere, armiger, 15 Edward IV; null tenuit terr'neque ten'in comitat Essex". A Robert de St.Clair had properties near Dover, and especially the manor of Hastingleigh in the neighbourhood of Ashford. In 1331 he was married to a Joan, and he had four sons, Robert, William, Richard, and Thomas. Jeake's Charters, page 49, show that a Guy St. Clere held the then perhaps most coveted position in the kingdom, Constable of Dover Castle, and Warden of the Cinque Ports. He held them separately and together, and may have been of this Hastingleigh family.

At the funeral ceremonies of King Edward the Fourth in 1483, first at Westminster Abbey, and then at Windsor, Sir Thomas St.Claire took a leading position.

To the Essex properties John Seyntclere added the manor of Coldhall, Great Bromley, in the Tendring hundred. Till his death on the 26th August 1493, he resided at Hedingham Castle, and the chief possessions were its pertinents, with Chichridill, St.Cleres, Frodewick, Fenhouse, Danbury, and Cold-Hall. To him succeeded his son, noted in 1512 as "John Seyntclere of St. Osith's, alias Chicheridill, sheriff of Essex and Hertford". In 1513 he had by king's appointment the same sheriffship, which he demitted on 23rd January 1515. He was a Commissioner of Peace for Essex, and in Brewer's Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry the Eighth he appears knight of the body in the royal household as early as 1516. In 1523 and 1524 he is a subsidy commissioner in Essex, and in 1525-26 and 30 has fresh grants of commission of the peace in that county. About these years he had returns from his lands of Newington in Kent. In the Harleian charters of the British Museum is preserved an "Indenture between Sir John Seyntcler, knight, and George Harper and Thomas Colepepper, son and heir to Sir Alexander Colepepper, declaring void a bond for 200 marks": Cum. Sig., 34 Henry VIII He took part in the suppression of the monasteries (see his letter to the lord privy seal in the matter of an interview with the Abbot of Colchester), and was one of the commission of enquiry into the nunnery of Polesworth, From being knight of the household he became master or controller, and died on the 25th November 1546. His son John succeeded him, and in 1554 he passed St.Clere's Hall to Thomas, Lord Danbury, by fine. Of John Seynt Clere, last of Danbury, there is no further account. Almost contemporary with him, however, was a John Sencler, vice-chamberlain and appreciator-general to Cardinal Wolsey. On 28th May 1544, John Seint Clere, esquire, took an inventory of the first Duke of Norfolk's valuables in the castle of Framyngham in Suffolk. In sequence to this valuation, the next Duke (better known as the Earl of Surrey) wrote on 12th July 1526, "My sister will deliver the goods. the corning of Master Synclere shall be nothing displeasant to her". The Dean of Ipswich College, writing to the Cardinal in 1528, acknowledges receipt of nine bukks, "oon from Mr. Sentclere, your grace's servaunt". On the 1st November 1529, Ralph Sadler, the Scottish ambassador, notes that "divers of my lord's servants, Mr. Sayntclere, etc., are sworn the king's servants". But after Wolsey's fall Sayntclere remained friendly, and they had business together about ships on the Thames, Sayntclere then living twelve miles from Oxford, the date of the commission being April 1530. There may have been a permanent Oxford family of the name, for in the list of the gentry of Oxfordshire drawn up by Henry the Sixth's commissioners in 1433 a Johannis Chantclere occurs. As early as the fifth year of this reign, 1514, there is notice of a John Seintcler, armiger, of Kebworth, who bore arms, "The sun in its glory, or"; and the visitation of 1574 found the St. Clare arms in Stafford manor-house, Cornbury Park.

In July 1524, the vice-chamberlain got a lease of the manor of Lammerslie in Essex, and was in 1525 granted the keepership of Tytemauger, Hertfordshire, with so much per diem. On 1st June 1528, Wolsey gave John Sencler the office of keeper of the woods of Brumeham, and a dozen places besides belonging to the monastery of St.Alban's. For this he had a salary.

Capitaine John Seinctclier was in command of "The Jhesus of Lubick", 600 tons burden, and carrying 300 men. She was the second ship in the vanward of the three divisions of the English fleet which had orders to sail in search of the French, 10th August 1545.

In leaden coffins in the chapel at Danbury, five miles from Chelmsford, were buried several knightly St.Clares who had followed the standard of the cross in crusades to the Holy Land. "The hill of Danbury, Essex, by the Thames, beneath London, is a landmark and a tower to this lineage, as it had been for ages to the world's greatest city, and its chapel will always stand fixed to memory as something notable that has been". Another says of them: "All that was highest in marriage, lands, or office, they had in England for nearly a century after the Conquest, and the glow of their fame, and their physical and intellectual powers kept them high for centuries afterwards in a way rare to any one particular lineage".

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