Eleanor de Clare

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Eleanor de Clare
9th Countess of Gloucester
6th Lady Marcher of Glamorgan
11th Baroness of Tonbridge
Eleanor de Clare Coat of Arms.png
The Coat of Arms of Eleanor de Clare
Born3 October 1292
Caerphilly Castle, Lordship of Glamorgan, Principality of Wales
Died30 June 1337
Resting placeTewkesbury Abbey
Other namesEleanor le Despender
Eleanor de la Zouche
NationalityNorman Dane
ResidenceClare Castle
LocalitySuffolk, Kingdom of England
OfficesWelsh Marcheress
PredecessorGilbert de Clare, 7th Earl of Hertford
Spouse(s)1st Hugh le Despenser the Younger
2nd William de la Zouche
OccupationLady Marcher of Glamorgan

Eleanor de Clare, 9th Countess of Gloucester, 6th Lady Marcher of Glamorgan (3 October 1292-30 June 1337) was the daughter of Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl of Hertford (1243-1295) by his wife Joan Plantagenet, Princess of England. She married Hugh Despenser, 1st Baron Despenser and had nine children by that marriage. She was a granddaughter of King Edward I of England.[1] With her sisters, Elizabeth de Clare and Margaret de Clare, she inherited her father's estates after the death of her brother, Gilbert de Clare, 7th Earl of Hereford at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.[1] She was born in 1292 at Caerphilly Castle in Glamorgan, Wales and was the eldest daughter of Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl of Hertford and Joan Plantagenet, Princess of England.

De Clare Inheritance

The Coat of Arms associated withou the la Zouche family
The seal of William la Zouche, 1st Baron Zouche of Mortimer in 1329, husband of Eleanor de Clare (1292–1337). Inscribed: S(igillum) Will(elm)i La Zouche Domini De Glamorgan ("Seal of William la Zouche, Lord of Glamorgan"). His shield and the caparison of his horse show the Zouche arms bezantée

As a co-heiress with her sisters Elizabeth de Clare and Margaret de Clare, in 1314 she inherited the de Clare estates including the Feudal Earldom of Gloucester following the death of her brother, Gilbert de Clare, 7th Earl of Hertford at the Battle of Bannockburn. The partition was not fully settled until 1317. During this period the family seat of Caerphilly Castle was held by the king under the stewardship of Payn de Turberville of Coity Castle. In protest against Turberville's mistreatment, the Welsh nobleman Llywelyn Bren and his supporters launched a surprise attack on 28 January 1316, and besieged Caerphilly Castle, which successfully held out under the command of "The lady of Clare" (almost certainly Eleanor) and a small garrison until relieved by Sir William Montacute on 12 March 1316.[2]

Marriage to Hugh Despenser, 1st Baron Despenser

In May 1306 at Westminster, Eleanor de Clare married Hugh Despenser, 1st Baron Despenser, the son of Hugh le Despenser, Earl of Winchester by his wife Isabella de Beauchamp. Hugh Despenser, 1st Baron Despenser thereby became the Lord Marcher of Glamorgan Jure Urxis through his wife and House de Clare's holdings. Her grandfather, King Edward I, granted Eleanor a dowry of 2,000 pounds sterling. Eleanor's husband rose to prominence as the new favourite of her uncle King Edward II of England. The king strongly favoured Hugh and Eleanor, visiting them often and granting them many gifts. Eleanor's fortunes changed drastically after the invasion of Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer, following which her husband Hugh le Despenser was executed.

By Hugh Despenser, 1st Baron Despenser Eleanor de Clare had nine children:


In November 1326, Eleanor de Clare was confined to the Tower of London.[1] The Despenser family's fortunes also suffered with the executions of Eleanor's husband and father-in-law. Eleanor and Hugh's eldest son Hugh le Despencer, 2nd Baron le Despencer (1308–1349), who held Caerphilly Castle against the queen's forces until the spring of 1327, was spared his life when he surrendered the castle, but he remained a prisoner until July 1331, after which he was eventually restored to Royal Favour. Three of Eleanor de Clare's daughters were forcibly veiled as nuns against their will. Only the eldest daughter, Isabel, and the youngest daughter, Elizabeth, escaped the nunnery, Isabel because she was already married and Elizabeth on account of her infancy. In February 1328 Eleanor de Clare was freed from imprisonment. In April 1328, she was restored to possession of her Marcher Lordshipd and Earldom of Gloucester, for which she did homage until her death.[1]

Marriage to William de la Zouche

In January 1329 Eleanor de Clare was abducted from Hanley Castle by William la Zouche, 1st Baron Zouche of Mortimer, who had been one of her first husband's captors and who had led the siege of Caerphilly Castle. The abduction may in fact have been an elopement; in any case, Eleanor de Clare's lands were seized again by King Edward III of England, and the couple's arrest was ordered. At the same time, Eleanor de Clare was accused of stealing jewels from the Tower of London. Sometime after February 1329, she was imprisoned a second time in the Tower, and was later moved to Devizes Castle. In January 1330 she was released and pardoned after agreeing to sign away the most valuable part of her share of the lucrative de Clare inheritance to the crown. She could recover her lands only on payment of the enormous sum of 50,000 pounds in a single day.

Within the year, however, the young future King Edward III of England (Eleanor's first cousin) overthrew Queen Isabella's paramour, Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, and had him executed. Eleanor de Clare was among those who benefited from the fall of Mortimer and Isabella. She petitioned King Edward III for the restoration of her lands, claiming that she had signed them away after being threatened by Roger Mortimer that she would never be freed if she did not. In 1331 King Edward III of England granted her petition "to ease the king's conscience" and allowed her to recover the lands on the condition that she should pay a fine of 10,000 pounds, later reduced to 5,000 pounds, in installments. Eleanor de Clare made part-payments of the fine, but the bulk of it was outstanding at her death in 1337.

Eleanor's troubles were by no means over, however. After Eleanor's marriage to William la Zouche, 1st Baron Zouche of Mortimer, John de Grey, 1st Baron Grey de Rotherfield claimed that he had married her first. In 1333 Lord de Grey was still attempting to claim marriage to Eleanor de Clare and the case was appealed to the Pope several times. Ultimately, Lord la Zouche won the dispute and Eleanor de Clare remained with him until his death in February 1337, only a few months before Eleanor's own death. By William la Zouche, 1st Baron Zouche of Mortimer Eleanor de Clare two children:

Tewkesbury Abbey Renovations

Eleanor de Clare began the renovations to Tewkesbury Abbey, a foundation of her ancestors, which transformed it into one of the finest examples of the decorated style of architecture surviving today. The famous fourteenth-century stained-glass windows in the choir, which include the armour-clad figures of Eleanor de Clare's ancestors, brother and two husbands, were most likely Eleanor's own contribution, although she probably did not live to see them put in place. The naked kneeling woman watching the Last Judgment in the choir's east window may represent Eleanor de Clare.

Fictional portrayals

Eleanor is a supporting character in Les Rois maudits (The Accursed Kings), a series of French historical novels by Maurice Druon. She was portrayed by Florence Dunoyer in the 1972 French miniseries adaptation of the series, and by Angèle Humeau in the 2005 adaptation. Eleanor de Clare features in the 1975/1976 two-part novel, Feudal Family: The De Clares of Gloucester, by Edith Beadle Brouwer. She is the heroine of Susan Higginbotham's 2005 historical novel The Traitor's Wife: A Novel of the Reign of King Edward II of England.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Lewis, M. E. (2008). A traitor's death? The identity of a drawn, hanged and quartered man from Hulton Abbey, Staffordshire. antiquity, 82(315), 113-124.
  2. 'The Rebellion of Llywelyn Bren', J. Beverley Smith in Glamorgan County History Volume III: the Middle Ages, ed. T. B. Pugh (Cardiff, 1971), pp. 72–86
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