Winter 2009

Winter 2009

Welcome to the first newsletter from the Sinclair genealogy website. I've sent you a copy because you’re either a descendant of the Newry Sinclairs, someone I have been in touch with during my research, or you have an interest in the history of the Sinclairs. The aim of the newsletter is simply to tell you a little of their story, and keep you up to date with research - whether my own or by other genealogists. But have no fear, it won't be produced often! If you prefer not to receive any more, just unsubscribe here

With good wishes for the New Year, Peter  

Scotland and Ireland

State records confirm that William Sinclair of Roslin settled in Ireland in 1620, taking with him his second wife, Janet Dobie, and at least two of their children. William left Rosslyn Castle, the chapel and his lands to Sir William Sinclair of Pentland, his first son. His wife, Jean Edmondstone, died soon after their son was born. William Sinclair was no angel. He left Scotland after many years of acrimonious exchanges with the local kirk, debts incurred rebuilding the castle and difficult relationships with some of his neighbours. King James's offer of 1000 acres in the Ely O'Carroll plantation was probably the only way he could provide a better life for Janet and their children. He had a house built, which he probably didn't live in, preferring the safety of Dublin. He might have died in 1627 because the estate was sold to Viscount Baltinglas, and the following year to William Parsons, another local planter. If so, his children will have been well provided for, staying on in Ireland to create a new branch of the Roslin Sinclairs.

William's Scottish descendants ended with William St. Clair, the 'Last of the Roslins', who died in 1778. The title, castle and what was left of the Roslin lands passed to another branch of the Sinclairs, and then by marriage to the current owners, the Erskines. Rosslyn Castle is let by the Landmark Trust and Rosslyn Chapel, made even more famous by The Da Vinci Code, is run by its own trust.

It has never been clear when the Sinclairs first appeared in Scotland. The Saintclair genealogy compiled by Father Hay around 1689 referred to an earlier account that a William de St. Clair arrived soon after the Norman conquest. Hay could find no evidence that this was true, and as far as I know, nor has anyone else. Yet it is often repeated. Instead, it seems far more likely the St. Clairs came from England in the twelfth century, where they had established themselves by 1120.


The early history of the Sinclairs in England was published by an anonymous author in 1887. It was an incredibly detailed account of families whose names appeared in Domesday and in the later Pipe Rolls. However, he made the basic error of mixing fact and fiction, drawing conclusions that had no foundation in reality.

But one thing is sure, several branches of the family held lordships across southern England during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, principally in Norfolk and Suffolk; Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Essex; Kent and Essex; and Somerset, Dorset and Devon. Although St. Clairs continued to hold land well into later centuries, most failed in the male lines and vanished from history.


Genealogists usually cite Walderne de St. Clair as the father of three sons who joined William the Conqueror in England (or William the Bastard as he was called by contemporaries). We only know for sure that there was one St. Clair at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and that might have been Richard, the eldest. A chronicler described a scene from the battle where Hugh de Mortimer and three other knights, Auviler, Onebac and Saint Cler, charged the English who had fallen back on rising ground, and slew many of them:

Dunct puist Hue de Mortemer
Od li sire d’Auviler;
Cil d’Onebac e de Saint Cler
Engleiz firent mult enverser.

This hero could also have been Bretel if the land he received in the south west of England was substantially more than Richard's in Norfolk and Suffolk. But neither received as much as would have been expected for a family of similar standing in Normandy. The reason was doubtless because their father had rebelled against Duke William in 1047 and was killed at the battle of Val-es-Dunes. The St. Clairs held lands near Bayeux and St. Lo, centred on Saint-Clair-sur-l'Elle, but the only evidence of their castle is a reference to a mound and some stonework in the nineteenth century, which is almost impossible to identify today.
Walderne also had a daughter, Agnes, who married a member of the de Bruis (Bruce) family in England. As yet, there is no evidence of William, the youngest son, in England or Scotland, but Hubert appears in the Domesday survey of 1086 and must certainly have been another brother or a son. 

The Newry Sinclairs

My interest in the Sinclairs started in my parents' kitchen many years ago, where I found some cutlery with a crest engraved on the handles. I was intrigued, but they couldn't tell me anything, other than that they had inherited them from my father's parents. Although the crest was very worn, I just made out a swan with a crown around its neck, to which a chain was attached. Years later I found out that it was the crest of the Sinclairs of Mey. Finding it set me on a road that led to numerous visits to Ireland - especially in the nineties - during which I met many relatives I had no idea existed. After my grandfather left Belfast to marry Nellie, his Welsh bride, in 1901, almost all contact between his English children and their Irish cousins was lost.

Although my visits have made it possible to share information about ourselves, it now seems unlikely that it will be possible to rebuild any strong family connections, which is a shame. Still, I hope this website will help a little.



Dedicated to John Walker Sinclair Irwin (1913-2004)


Peter Sinclair, 41 High Street, Barkway, Hertfordshire, SG8 8EA

This is an occasional newsletter published by the Sinclair genealogy website. It provides information about new research and recent historical discoveries in Normandy, England, Scotland and Ireland.