Duke Richard I of Normandy had many illegitimate children – Godfey, the eldest of the the duke’s natural children received Brionne from his father – demonstrating the practice of using illegitimate children to build a network of loyalty. Godfrey died in about 1015 and Brionne passed to his own son Gilbert but the county of Eu which Godfrey received from his half-brother Duke Richard II passed to William, one of Duke Richard I’s other children.
Gilbert became increasingly important during the rule of William the Conqueror’s father Robert and adopted the title Count of Brionne. He continued to agitate for the return of Eu which he gained in 1040 with William’s death. Unfortunately for Gilbert he was assassinated the same year and his own sons Richard and Baldwin fled to Flanders. Brionne as well as Eu was lost.
The FitzGilberts took part in the Norman conquest of England and did very nicely out of it. Baldwin can be found as the Sheriff of Devon and held Exeter, Okehampton and many other manors in the West Country. Richard was even more influential. He served as chief justices with William de Warenne in 1075 and received large amounts of land including Clare in Suffolk which comprised something like 127 knights’ fees as well including estates in Essex, Surrey and Kent The Conqueror even found his kinsman a wealthy bride in the shape of Rohese Gifford – her dowry included lands in Huntingdon and Hertfordshire (I think they married before the conquest in about 1054?) The marriage to Rohese continued to pay dividends for the de Clare family as they eventually received half of the Gifford estates.
Richard built castles at Tonbridge in Kent, Clare (the Victorians tried to put a train line through it) and Bletchingly in Surrey. Richard FitzGilbert was called Richard de Clare after the vast honour of Clare but also known as Richard of Tonbridge after his castle in Kent – this was the Domesday’s Book preferred name for Richard. However, following William I’s death in September 1087 de Clare joined with his feudal overlord (and potential half-brother but let’s not go there) Bishop Ovo to rebel against William Rufus in order to place Rufus’s older brother Robert Curthose on the throne.
Tonbridge was besieged for two days and de Clare was forced to surrender. Tonbridge did not come out of the experience well. Rufus had it burned. de Clare was sent off to live in the monastery at St Neot’s in Huntingdonshire where he died in 1090-91. He and Rohese re-founded the priory shortly after the Norman Conquest.
After Richard died his estates were divided between his two sons – one held the land in Normandy whilst his younger son inherited the English estates – thus avoiding the difficulties of owing allegiance to both William Rufus and Robert Curthose.
Gilbert FitzRichard did not necessarily get on well with William Rufus but when King Henry I ascended the throne in 1100 following an unfortunate accident in the New Forest the de Clare family fortunes looked rather more rosy. One of the possible reasons for this hypothesised by various writers was that Walter Tirel who ‘accidentally’ shot William Rufus was married to Gilbert’s sister Adelize – there is no positive proof that there was a plot. It’s all very circumstantial but the de Clare did well out of Henry I’s reign.
Altschul, Michael. A Baronial Family in Medieval England: The Clares, 1217-1314. (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2019)
Round,J. H., ‘The Family of Clare’, The Archaeological Journal, Vol. 56 2nd series Vol 6 (1899)
C. Warren Hollister, ‘The Strange Death of William Rufus’, Speculum, Vol. 48, No. 4 (Oct., 1973), pp. 645-46