Winter 2010

Winter 2010

Welcome to the second newsletter from the Sinclair genealogy website (you can see the first here). You've received 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 last year or so has been spent researching the Anglo-Norman Sinclairs who first arrived in England with William "the Bastard", as he was called by his compatriots. This has meant visits to churches, abbeys and castles across southern England and Normandy in the hope that I could find some interesting features connected with the family. After Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII, local people who filched stones for building material, wars, the weather, and the Victorians, it's amazing there's anything left - but there is!

In Domesday (1086), three Sinclairs are recorded as having held land in England: Richard, Bretel and Hubert de Sancto Claro. Richard settled in East Anglia, where he had a manor at Wortham in Suffolk and a house ('tenement') in Norwich. Bretel had 26 holdings and Hubert 4, all in Dorset, Somerset and Devon.

Montacute, Somerset

Bretel's manor here was called Bishopston, still the name of the main street in Montacute. He gave his land to the Priory of Montacute when it was founded about 1102. The gatehouse of the priory has survived and is now part of a private residence. The Normans built a castle on the top of St Michael's hill, to the right behind the priory, but it had fallen into disrepair by the sixteenth century. The Victorians built a tower there, which provides fantastic views of the surrounding countryside.

A tale has survived linking Montacute with Waltham Abbey: before William landed in 1066 a black flint cross (the 'Holy Rood') was discovered on top of the hill. It was put in a wagon drawn by six red and six white oxen, but they refused to move until the Saxon owner cried, 'Waltham'. They started, and didn't stop until they reached Waltham in Essex, where the Saxon built an abbey. The relic became an object of veneration, pilgrimage and celebration, and was said to be the origin of the Saxon battle cry of 'The Holy Cross' at Stamford Bridge and Hastings. It's a nice coincidence that my mother's great great grandmother is buried within the abbey's precinct, a few metres from King Harold, who is said to have been brought there after Hastings.

Kingstone, Somerset

Hubert de Sancto Claro held the lordship of Kingstone, and he is particularly important for the history of the Sinclairs. It was almost certainly his descendants who joined the Scottish king, William 'the Lion', on his return to Scotland after being released from prison in Normandy in 1174. These 'Seyntcleres' (note the anglicised spelling of the name), most likely the sons or grandsons of Hugh de Sancto Claro, were given land at Herdmanston and later at Roslin, establishing two important branches of the family - the Lords Sinclair of Herdmanston, and the cadet branch, the Sainteclaires of Rosslyn. Kingstone, or Allowenshay as the manor was later called, was held by the St Clares directly from the Crown and then by their descendants, the de Lanvaleis and de Burghs.

Colchester, Essex

Hamon de Sancto Claro married Margaret, the daughter of Robert Fitz Walter, the sheriff of Norfolk. In 1127, he became the sheriff of Essex and was bailiff of Colchester in 1128-30 - clearly a case of 'it's not what you know, it's who you know'! Hamon obtained many of Eudo the steward's manors after he died in 1119, probably because he was related to him and Eudo had held their lands in Normandy after they lost them to duke William. Hamon and his descendants became a new class of Norman administrator, dedicated to extending the king's justice and, of course, looking after themselves. Hawise, his great great great granddaughter married John de Burgh, the son of Hubert de Burgh, justiciar of England, and Margaret, the sister of Alexander II, king of Scotland, so his descendants remained well connected for many years.

Walkern, Hertfordshire

Hubert de Sancto Claro, Hamon's son, held Walkern as his chief lordship. He died courageously in 1164 when he stepped in front of a Welsh arrow destined for Henry II during a castle siege at Bridgenorth. It appears that Clemencia, Hubert's wife, was a daughter of Gilbert de Clare, who had been created the first earl of Pembroke by Henry's predecessor. Clemencia's brother, Richard Strongbow, gained notoriety in Ireland when he crushed resistance to the king of England and then posed a serious threat to Henry himself. Richard married Eva, the daughter of Dermot, king of Leinster. She lived out her life at Weston in Hertfordshire, adjacent to the manor of Newberry where Clemencia remained after Hubert died. Hubert and Clemencia's only daughter, Gunnore, was given in marriage to William de Lanvalei by Henry. The Purbeck marble statue in the church at Walkern is probably that of William de Lanvalei III, their great grandson.

St Osyth, Essex

The house here is called St Clere's Hall, and is a rare example of an aisled hall still in private hands. It is a beautiful building, carefully renovated and preserved by its recent owners. The great central hall dates from the fourteenth century when the St Clere's were living there. The hall provided a place for eating, and afterwards the servants would have slept on rushes around a central fire, whose smoke escaped through a hole in the roof. The manor of St Osyth was originally held by Roger de Vilers, a brother of Hamon de Sancto Claro, who was then bailiff of Colchester, about 10 miles away. The St Cleres had their own side chapel at the parish church, opposite the Priory of St Osyth. The priory was destroyed by Henry VIII, but a beautiful gatehouse has survived.

Danbury, Essex

Another St Clere manor was at Danbury. The name has survived here, but the building with which it is associated is Victorian. The church, though, is very special and has strong links with the St Cleres. The northern aisle was most likely the family chapel, separated from the rest of the church by a screen. A 'squint' allowed the family's priest to raise 'the host' at the same time as the priest at the main altar. But more important are the three wooden effigies. Two are in recesses built into the northern wall, suggesting they date back to the time the church was built and thus may be effigies of St Clere knights. A third effigy has also survived. Astonishingly, in 1779 a lead coffin was unearthed in the north aisle which contained a man's preserved body! No one knew how old it was, but a lost brass plaque from a large flat stone in the north aisle was dedicated to Sir Gerard de Braybroke, who died in 1422. It is also quite possible that it was William de St Clere, who died in 1279.

Rochester, Kent

The St Clares were long associated with Kent. Hugh de Sancto Claro was one of Henry II's household knights and implicated in the king's dispute with Thomas Becket. In fact, Becket excommunicated Hugh in 1166 for taking property owned by the see of Canterbury. Hugh held the manor of Eslingham in the parish of Frindsbury, just across the River Medway from Rochester Castle. Another William de Sencler was constable of the castle in 1264 when it was besieged by rebel lords, but died soon after. Hugh's family established themselves at East Tilbury, a short ferry journey across the Thames from East Chalk, a manor held by William de Sancto Claro that passed to his brother Hamon and then to the de Lanvaleis. A St Clere Hall survived at East Tilbury until the twentieth century, but was pulled down to make way for a BATA shoe factory - which has also gone now!

Knights Templar

In the sixteenth century, the Rosslyn Sinclairs acquired a manuscript that was said to have been found in an oak box under the high altar of the Templar church in London soon after the suppression of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem in 1540. It was dated 1312 and transcribed in 1784. The original manuscript and transcription have both been lost. Fortunately a hand-written copy survived and was published in 1913. Detailed analysis of the text may confirm its authenticity, but in the meantime it has been added to the website for anyone interested in possible links between the early Sinclairs and the Knights Templar.

Sinclair songs

Although I have been adding photographs and text to the website, you can find music there as well! At The Moorlough Shore, there's an extract of Sinéad O'Connor singing a traditional Irish folk song referring to 'Sinclair's castle'. From my research, Sinclair's castle was the home of the Holy Hill Sinclairs near Strabane in County Tyrone. The other is Sinclair's ballad. It is sung by Eivør Pálsdóttir, a Faroese singer, and is about the death of Captain George Sinclair at Kringen in Norway in 1612. He was part of a company of mercenaries on their way to help the Swedish king. Both are lovely songs, so have a listen!


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.