de Clare

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House of Clare
Noble House
CoA Gilbert de Clare.svg
Country Duchy of Normandy
Lordship of Glamorgan
Kingdom of England
Lordship of Ireland
Estates Various Earldoms, Baronies and over 190 Manorial Lordships
Titles Various
Style(s) Earls, Barons, and Knights
Founder Richard fitz Gilbert
Ethnicity Norman

The Clare family of Norman lords were associated with the Welsh Marches, Suffolk, Surrey, Kent (especially Tonbridge) and Ireland. They were descended from Richard Fitz Gilbert, 1st Lord of Clare (1035-1090), who accompanied William the Conqueror (1028-1087) into England during the Norman conquest of England. In the paternal line they were descendants of the House of Normandy, through one of Richard I, Duke of Normandy's sons, Geoffrey de Brionne, 1st Count of Eu, 1st Count of Brionne. They became one of the most powerful and influential noble families of their time in England, Wales, and Ireland.


Stained glass window in Tewkesbury Abbey depicting Lord Gilbert de Clare.

The Clare family descends from Gilbert de Brionne, 2nd Count of Eu, 2nd Count of Brionne, whose father Geoffrey de Brionne was the eldest of the illegitimate sons of Richard I, Duke of Normandy by an unknown mistress. Gilbert de Brionne was one of the guardians of William II, who became Duke of Normandy as a child in 1035. When Gilbert was assassinated in 1039 or 1040, his young sons Baldwin de Meules et du Sap and Richard de Bienfaite et d'Orbec fled with their guardians to Baldwin V, Count of Flanders; they returned to Normandy when William married Baldwin's daughter in 1053, and William took them into high favour. After the conquest of England Richard received huge estates including Clare and Tonbridge, the estate whose name was normally coupled with his.

According to Richard Mortimer, he was "the founder of the English, Welsh, and Irish baronial family which historians usually call 'of Clare'."[1] Historical sources are vague and sometimes contradictory about when the name Clare came into common usage, but Richard fitz Gilbert (of Tonbridge) is once referred to as Richard of Clare in the Suffolk return of the Domesday Survey.[2] Baldwin de Meules was left in charge of Exeter on its submission (1068) and made sheriff of Devonshire. Large estates in Devonshire and Somersetshire are entered to him in Domesday as "Baldwin of Exeter" or "Baldwin the Sheriff".[3]

Elizabeth de Clare, 11th Lady of Clare, founder of Clare College, Cambridge

On his death, Richard's English estates passed to his son Gilbert de Clare, 2nd Lord of Clare (1055-1117) who was the first to use the surname Clare instead of fitz after the Barony of the same designation. Gilbert's eldest son Richard de Clare, 3rd Lord of Clare (1090-1136) was the ancestor of the earls of Hertford and Gloucester. Gilbert's younger son Gilbert, establishing himself in Wales, acquired the Earldom of Pembroke and Lordship of Striguil, while a younger brother of the elder Gilbert, Robert Fitz Richard, would give rise to a lineage that became Barons Fitzwalter. The elder line obtained the Earldom of Hertford, and were thenceforth known as earls of Hertford and of Clare.[3]John Horace Round suggested that it was probably because Gilbert de Clare had no interests in Hertfordshire that they were loosely and usually styled the Earls of (de) Clare.[3]

In the Dictionary of National Biography he stated that investigation showed that the claim that they were "styled earls of Clare" before they were earls of Hertford was not true; they were alternately called Hertford or of Clare.[4] On the other hand, Frank Barlow places Gilbert de Clare as Earl of Hertford in the group of barons given earldoms between 1138 and 1142, and states that they all had "substantial local interests".[5] Ralph Henry Carless Davis states that Gilbert was a witness as Earl of Hertford at Christmas 1141, and it is generally believed that he had been Earl since 1138; but that there is no prospect of clarifying the matter because of the others of the same name. He notes also that "In a military capacity earls figure largely in the capacity of defenders of their counties in the chronicles of Stephen's reign." He therefore argues against the title as a personal dignity at that period.[6] The general scholarly view is now that the title earl of Clare was self-assumed.

In 1217–20 Gilbert de Clare, 4th Earl of Hertford, 5th Earl of Gloucester (died 1230), inherited the estates of William Fitz Robert, 2nd Earl of Gloucester (died 1183), including the earldom and honour of Gloucester and the lordship of Glamorgan. Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (died 1176), known as Strongbow, had no sons and with his death this line came to an end, his many Irish and Welsh possessions passing to his daughter Isabel, who married William Marshal, (c. 1146 – 14 May 1219) who then became known as William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke.[4]

Coat of arms[edit]

Arms of Richard de Clare II, Earl of Hertford and Gloucester, Founders book of Tewkesbury Abbey, c. 1525

The coat and shield with the three chevrons was probably first used at the end of the 12th century.[7] The stained glass window above is not earlier than Gilbert de Clare, 4th Earl of Hertford, 5th Earl of Gloucester, the first Clare to be buried in the chancel of Tewkesbury Abbey.

Genealogical tree[edit]



  • J. C. Ward, "Fashions in monastic endowment: the foundations of the Clare family, 1066–1314", Journal of Ecclesiastical History, vol. 32 (1981), p. 427–451.
  • J. C. Ward, "Royal service and reward: the Clare family and the crown, 1066–1154", Anglo-Norman Studies, vol. 11 (1988), p. 261–278.
  • Michael Altschul, A Baronial Family in Medieval England: The Clares, 1217–1314, The Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1965. See online summary.


  1. ^ Richard Mortimer, Clare, Richard de [Richard fitz Gilbert] (1030x35–1087x90), magnate, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online by subscription.
  2. ^ Suffolk return of the Domesday Survey (c. 1086) (ed. A. Rumble, Suffolk, 2 vols (Chichester, 1986), 67 ~ 1
  3. ^ a b c Round 1911.
  4. ^ a b Round 1887.
  5. ^ Frank Barlow, The Feudal Kingdom of England, 1042–1261 (4th edition 1988), p. 213.
  6. ^ R. H. C. Davis, King Stephen (1977), p. 136, and p. 129.
  7. ^ The Archaeological Journal, Article 51, pg 43- published under the direction of The Council of The Royal Archaeological Insutute of Great Britain and Ireland, available at Google books online at

External links[edit]