The De Clare family – royal relations.

clare1So who are the de Clare family from yesterday’s post who seemed to be loitering in the New Forest when William Rufus met his end? Complicated – that’s what rather than who. Richard son of Gilbert arrived with the Conquest.  Gilbert was a son of the Count of Brionne.  Gilbert was actually one of Duke William’s guardians during his childhood and was killed in a bid to control William.  Richard fled Normandy along with his brother only returning when Duke William was able to control the duchy. He was also one of Duke William’s extended family (Gilbert’s father was one of Duke Richard of Normandy’s illegitimate sons).


Richard Fitz Gilbert was with the Conqueror in 1066 and did rather nicely from the whole affair, acquiring more than 170 holdings including Tonbridge in Kent and Clare in Suffolk.  The Domesday Book identifies him as a very wealthy man indeed.  Not only rich but trusted by William who left him in England with the justicar role while he returned to Normandy in 1073. It was in this capacity that Richard helped to suppress the so-called Earls Rebellion in 1075.


Whilst more of Tonbridge Castle stands today than the castle at Clare in Suffolk, it was at Clare that the family chose to make their administrative seat- hence the de Clare element of the name.  All that remains today of the castle is the motte – the mound of earth on which the wooden keep once stood.  It must have been an impressive sight given that the motte is over 60ft tall today and can be something of a surprise to a casual visitor to the town.  In the thirteenth century the wooden keep was replaced with a stone  shell keep structure.


Rather interestingly, after William  the Conqueror died Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare (to give him his full name) was one of the Norman lords who rebelled against William Rufus in favour of Rufus’s older brother Robert Curthose.  He died in 1090 having retired to the priory at St Neot’s in 1088. He and his wife had re-founded the priory in the years after the Conquest and it should be noted that the de Clares were important monastic patrons wherever they held land.

Despite his retirement from worldly affairs Richard de Clare left a tribe of powerful sons.  There were at least six of them as well as two daughters, not to mention a wife, Rohese Gifford, who owned land in her own right.  The de Clare family were well placed for power – they were related to the ruling house and were extremely wealthy. They were marriageable and therefore families sought alliances with the de Clares – which meant it wasn’t long before they were related to most of the other powerful Anglo-Norman families in the country adding to their political power.

Roger, the eldest son, inherited the Norman de Clare land. Gilbert who was the second of the de Clare sons inherited the English estates.  In 1088 Gilbert and his brother Roger rebelled against William Rufus at Tonbridge.  William promptly turned the motte and bailey castle into rubble – let’s not forget it was a wooden structure at the time. Gilbert and Roger were captured.   Interestingly the family despite having rebelled against the king; being suspected of being involved with Bishop Odo’s conspiracies in 1083; and were undoubtedly part of Robert de Mowbray’s conspiracies against William Rufus, kept hold of their lands.

Gilbert turns up in William Rufus’s army fighting the Scots.  The de Clare brothers appear at William’s side as part of the hunting party in August 1100 when he was killed.  Had it been an ordinary hunting party it would have been evidence that the de Clares were reconciled with William but since William suffered his rather nasty accident it is almost inevitable that historians point out the earlier hostility as circumstantial evidence of a conspiracy.   In 1101 Gilbert was at court with Henry I.  It could all be perfectly innocent but  there are rather a lot of coincidences – sadly all without the necessary documentary evidence to suggest conspiracy.


Gilbert remained hugely wealthy and influential.  He founded Cardigan Priory having been given the area around Cardigan by Henry I (no thought was given to what the local population might think- essential you have the land providing you can keep hold of it!).  Gilbert did secure Cardigan and Aberystwyth.  It is almost impossible to write about Welsh Castles without mentioning the de Clare family.


Brother Robert, another of the hunting party was the Baron of Little Dunmow and steward to Henry I. Walter de Clare would found Tintern Abbey.  He was a marcher lord in South Wales having been granted land by Henry I near Chepstow.

Between the brothers there were many children ensuring that de Clares married into important families, acquired land and a name for themselves but that’s an entirely different story which should include Richard de Clare, the Earl of Pembroke better known to History as “Strongbow.”  His daughter married William Marshal.  The two families would intermarry thereafter.  The Earls of Gloucester were de Clares and stood surety for the Magna Carta. Eventually the de Clares would marry back into the royal family with the 7thEarl of Gloucester – another Gilbert de Clare- marrying Joan of Acre, the daughter of Edward I ensuring that the family were knee deep in the Scottish Wars of Independence and Edward II’s familial difficulties over the Despensers.  This must have caused some head scratching as Hugh Despenser the Younger’s wife, Eleanor, was another member of the de Clare family.

Eleanor was the 8thearl’s sister.  She and her two other sisters became co-heiresses after the 8thearl died at Bannockburn. She was sent to the Tower when Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer deposed Edward II.  Three of her daughters were forced to become nuns at that time.  Eleanor’s story is a complicated and cruel one  – she escaped only by signing over most of her de Clare inheritance to the Crown.  It was only when Edward III took control of his throne that Eleanor was able to regain her lands (she’s going to get a longer post another day.)


Whilst we’re at it let’s not forget Walter Tyrel the man who is supposed to have shot William Rufus – he was Richard de Clare’s son-in-law. All of which brings us back to the starting point – was William Rufus’s death an accident? Yes – it still might have been but when you start to look at the de Clare family and their previous relationship with William you do have to wonder.

And before I forget Gilbert Fitz Richard’s son was also called Gilbert.  His wife was Isabel de Beaumont.  The Beaumont family had also fought at the Battle of Hastings but more important to this post is the co-incidence that Isabel was a mistress of Henry I – what a tangled web.


12 thoughts on “The De Clare family – royal relations.

  1. De Hastings Du Clare and Montegu are all my family tree main support.Seem Clare own that priory up near Glascow.HE is blessed with a noble wife too. I have no one of worth or love. Baronet is not high enough to attract real blood lines as my mother had in Neville and Du Clare. My pater had no real interest in history but gave me a castle now owned by National trust robbery debt. i came abroad in hatred for my loss at Government hands and that financial services act that hid all sins. Court said it is immoral it is wicked and is seen as a sin by God but what it is not is illegal now today. Wicked Government in the act of cleaning up that industry of assurance and insurance and the work of Quango departments that run old England dry passed the bill that robbed us of 69 properties in one day. Mine just number 40 in that trickery act

  2. Specifically, Geoffrey, Count of Brionne, was an illegitimate son of Duke Richard I “the Fearless” whose daughters Emma and Hawise married Aethelred II of England (and then Knut the Great) and Geoffrey I of Brittany, respectively.

    Richard Fitz Gilbert, Ranulf Flambard and Count Alan Rufus shared Great Funtley in Hampshire.

    Odo’s antics in 1082/3 stranded Alan and his men in hostile territory, surrounded by French knights out to prove their mettle. The experience (reputedly lasting 3 years, during which several of the Conqueror’s favourite knights were ambushed and slain) cannot have helped relations between the Bishop and the Count.

    In 1088, Alan remained loyal, but the greater magnates all rebelled. Months of hard fighting ensued. The English wanted the rebels (especially Odo) hanged, William II was like-minded but dissuaded, probably by the ever-conciliatory Alan. So, Odo was exiled to Normandy, while others were restored for the good of public administration.

    William II reneged in his promise to recompense the loyal and victorious English Fyrd, but in 1089 he did not oppose Alan’s foundation of the first English “High Court of Parliament”, officially opened by Alan’s brother Count Stephen of Tréguier.

    • I love your comments. I always read them and come away feeling that I have learned something worth knowing. Thank you.

      • Thank you dear lady it makes one feel wanted and thanks for reading my blogs . Big one next Sunday will blow the lid of known facts. Dealt with Bolivian and Argentina Embassies for facts of this blog still writing now.

    • A pleasure – the de Clares are a fascinating family aren’t they? Meanwhile keeping track of the various names and titles that one man or woman could go by is rather a challenge on occasion.

  3. Hi. You wrote “Brother Robert, another of the hunting party”. This is important to me for a book I am currently writing about the death of Rufus. I can find no reference anywhere to substantiate that brother Robert was on the hunt. Where do you know this from? Thanks.

      • Thanks for that. My info is that the only Clare’s on the hunt were Gilbert and elder brother Roger.

      • Ok I’ve gone back over my notes – according to my material Walter Tirel who was part of Richard’s extended family was part of the hunting party rather than Robert being present himself – which is what I’ve written in the previous post. The likely candidate for any additional information is “The Strange Death of William Rufus” by Hollister in Speculum 1973 but I can’t print that information out and I know I printed the article because it seemed to me to be something that I wanted to look at further as it not only discussed the de Clares but also the Gifford family. And then we arrive at a problem – I filed the article in the proverbial safe place and followed it up by decorating and sorting out all my files…it may be longer than the week end but I think that is the most likely candidate and I think that I shall have to amend this post to mention Tirel’s connection with Robert because in none of the primary sources does it mention Robert as being present. Hope that helps – though it’s no consolation to me as I am going to have to wade through a mountain of paper to find the original article.

      • Dear JuliaH. Worry not and thanks for your efforts. I already have a full transcript of the Hollister article so no worries there. Tyrell was, of course, the brother-in-law of the Clare brothers, being married to their sister Adelize. What is more, Walter GIfford, Rufus’s chancellor, also present in the New Forest lodge but probably not actually hunting was the boys uncle. Do you have an email address you could send me as in the spring i would like to send you the press release for my book which hopefully will be ready to go then. I hope to hold two launch parties, one in Lyndhurst at the Visitor Centre and one in Sheffield Hallam University Library.

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