Elizabeth de Clare

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Elizabeth de Clare
11th Baroness of Clare
Painting of Elizabeth de Clare in the mid 14th century
Baroness of Clare1314-1360
PredecessorGilbert de Clare
Husband1st John de Burgh
2nd Theobald de Verdun
3rd Roger d'Amory
William de Burgh
Isabel de Verdun
Elizabeth d'Amory
Titles and styles
Lordship of Usk
Lordship of Caerleon
FamilyHouse de Clare
FatherGilbert de Clare
MotherJoan Plantagenet
Born16 September 1295
Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, Kingdom of England
Died4 November 1360
Ware, Hertfordshire, Kingdom of England
BuriedFriary of The Minoresses Without Aldgate
OccupationEnglish Nobility

Elizabeth de Clare, 11th Baroness of Clare (1295–1360) was the youngest daughter of Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl of Hertford by his wife Joan Plantagenet, Princess of England (1272-1307), daughter of Edward "Longshanks" IV, King of England and Eleanor of Castile, Queen Consort of England.[1][2] She was the heiress to the Honor of Clare in Suffolk, Kingdom of England and Usk in Wales.[3] She married three times and had three children by those marriages. She is often referred to as Elizabeth de Burgh, due to her first marriage to John de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster (1286–1313).[4][5]

Armorial Bearings

The Coat of Arms used by Elizabeth de Clare until her death in 1364
Armorial bearings are also known colloquially as a Coat of Arms. They are the principal part of a system of hereditary symbols dating back to early medieval Europe, used primarily to establish identity in battle.[6][7]They are still used today by royalty, nobility and knights to cover, protect, and identify the wearer; to denote their decedents, property ownership and their profession.[6][7] Armorial Bearings belong to specific individuals not families as there is no such thing as a family Coat of Arms or a family crest. [8][9]

Elizabeth de Clare's Armorial Bearings were devised to make use of elements of the Armorial Bearings of her de Clare ancestors impaled with those of her first husband John de Burgh: Or three chevrons gules (for Clare), impaling, Or a cross gules (for De Burgh), all within a bordure sable charged with golden drops.[10] The lady’s arms are to the dexter, she having been of the greater estate. In this case the bordure dates from Lady de Clare's lifetime, having been added as a sign of mourning in her widowhood.


Little is known of the childhood of the de Clare sisters. She was eleven when her mother Joan Plantagenet, Princess of England died in April 1307. Her uncle Prince Edward Plantagenet acceded to the throne shortly afterwards and unlike her sister Eleanor de Clare, Elizabeth de Clare was never close to her uncle, King Edward II, though she was a good friend of her aunt Eleanor of Castile, Queen Consort of England. On 30 September 1308, just two weeks after her thirteenth birthday, Elizabeth married John de Burgh at Waltham Abbey, in the presence of her Uncle King Edward and Queen Isabella. John was the eldest son and heir of Richard de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, though little else is known about him. He was probably born sometime between 1285 and 1290, and became his father's heir when his elder brother Walter de Burgh died in 1304. At the same time, Elizabeth's seventeen-year-old brother Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl of Hertford married John de Burgh's sister Maud de Burgh. John de Burgh's other sister Elizabeth de Burgh would become Queen of Scotland. These two families were highly involved in the affairs of one another during the late 13th century. Due to Elizabeth de Clare's age, she remained at Amesbury Priory in Wiltshire with her Aunt Mary, who was King Edward II's sister and a Nun at the Priory, as her husband ventured forth to Ireland after their marriage.


Elizabeth de Clare left England on 15 October 1309, aged fourteen and one month, to embark on married life Ireland alongside her husband. Her beloved sister Margaret de Clare, Countess of Cornwall (1293-1342) was living in exile in Ireland at the time with her wanted Husband Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall (1284–1312). Once in Ireland Elizabeth mostly disappears from the records. Her father-in-law the Earl of Ulster granted them lands and manors in, among other places, Antrim, Coleraine and Portrush, and a few manors in Connacht and Munster. Elizabeth founded an Augustinian friary in Ballinrobe, now in County Mayo. John and Elizabeth's only child, William de Burgh was born on 17 September 1312, the day after Elizabeth's seventeenth birthday, two months before his cousin Edward III was born, and three months after the murder of Elizabeth's brother-in-law Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall. John de Burgh died on 18 June 1313 in Galway, in obscure circumstances, though it's possible that he was murdered by his own retainers. Elizabeth was now a widow at seventeen. She would have had to adjust to the fact that she would not now become Countess of Ulster.[11]

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In late 1315, Edward II ordered her back to England. Perhaps he already had a husband in mind for her; as she was a rich heiress, naturally he was determined that she should marry a man he could trust, as her lands would give her husband a great deal of power and influence (Eleanor de Clare's lands, which her husband Despenser used as his route to power, being a clear example). In early 1316, while King Edward II was at Parliament at Lincoln, Theobald de Verdun, 2nd Lord of Verdun (1278-1316) abducted Elizabeth de Clare from Bristol Castle where Edward had accommodated her, and married her, on 4 February 1316. He was seventeen years her senior, born September 1278, and had previously been married to Roger Mortimer's sister Maud, who died in 1312. Whether Elizabeth consented to the marriage or not is uncertain, but it's probable that she did. Verdon was Justiciar of Ireland and they may have arranged their marriage while there, as Verdon later told Edward II. There's no record of Elizabeth claiming otherwise. Edward II was furious, and fined them a large sum (for the king to fine the nobility for marrying without his permission was perfectly normal in the Middle Ages). No doubt, a lot of faces fell when the news was announced; an incredibly eligible heiress was off the marriage market.

In an ironic twist, Theobald de Verdun, 2nd Lord of Verdun died less than six months after their illicit wedding, on 27 July 1316, leaving three daughters by Maud Mortimer and a pregnant Elizabeth de Clare who was widow for a second time by the age of 20. She gave birth to her daughter Isabella at Amesbury Priory in March 1317, eight months after Verdon's death. King Edward II was determined to marry her to his current favourite, Sir Roger Damory - indeed, this may have been his intention as early as 1315. Verdon's funeral took place in September 1316; even before this, Edward was writing to Elizabeth, trying to cajole her into marrying Damory, even describing her as his 'favourite niece', which certainly wasn't true.

House de Clare Estates

The Coat of Arms associated with House de Clare
The seal of Gilbert de Clare. The edge says, ""Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Hertford." See the words round the edge saying "Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Hertford".

The de Clare lands were finally partitioned in November 1317. As was customary, the sisters' husbands took control of the lands, and performed homage to King Edward II for them. Elizabeth and Damory received Usk and Caerleon in South Wales, lands in Ireland, many manors in East Anglia, and other lands in Kent, Essex, Norfolk, Dorset, Hertfordshire, Somerset, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire. Edward II continued to shower Damory with gifts of lands, money and wardship. Although Elizabeth was only twenty-two and would remain married to Damory for almost four more years, this would be her last child, and it's possible that she had a very difficult birth and was unable to have more children. Damory very probably had several illegitimate sons, but little Elizabeth would be his only heir. Even if their marriage was unhappy, Damory - like all medieval landowners - needed a son, so it's hard to imagine that he didn't perform the necessary Marital Duty, his relationship with Edward II notwithstanding.[11]

After 1318, Elizabeth's brother-in-law Despenser began his rise to power via Edward II's wayward affections; despite the fact that Edward had known him most of his life and had never shown the slightest hint of liking for him before, Despenser somehow managed to make Edward infatuated with him. Damory was slowly pushed out of favour, though he accompanied Edward to France in the summer of 1320. Despenser's land-grabbing is well-known, though Damory and Elizabeth weren't his victims at first. However, Despenser's actions in Wales threatened and alarmed Damory; as the Vita states, he "could have no affection for his deadly rival". Damory was still on good enough terms with Edward II to be allowed to hunt in royal forests in January 1321, but by March had moved into a position of opposition to Edward and alliance with the Marcher lords, which led to his death a year later. Whether Elizabeth supported his actions or not, or to what extent she might have encouraged him, is not of course known.[11]

In March 1322, Damory was captured at Tutbury, Staffordshire, and sentenced to death for his part in the Marcher campaign. Edward II respited the death sentence, but Damory died anyway on 12 March, of wounds sustained in fighting against the royal army. Edward allowed him to be buried honourably at Ware in Hertfordshire. Elizabeth de Clare was a widow for the third time at the age of twenty-six; she was captured at her castle of Usk a few days before Damory's death, and imprisoned at Barking Abbey, with her children. By her uncle. She heard of Damory's death while at Barking.

Later that year, Elizabeth was freed and her lands restored to her - unlike her sister Margaret, who had pleaded successfully with Edward II for the life of her husband Hugh Audley, and spent the rest of his reign imprisoned at Sempringham Priory. However, Elizabeth's troubles were far from over. Hugh Despenser's appalling treatment of wealthy widows, and more particularly his sister-in-law Elizabeth, is well-documented elsewhere, so I won't go into it here, except to reiterate that Edward II's toleration and even encouragement of Despenser's treatment of his (Edward's) own niece reflects extremely badly on him. Despenser's quasi-legal chicanery in depriving Elizabeth of much of her rightful inheritance was typical of his methods, and it says much about Elizabeth's strength of character and determination that she did her best to stand up to him and her uncle.[11]


Edward invited Elizabeth to spend Christmas 1322 with him at York. However, it soon became clear that this was not out of a desire for her company, or to restore her dower and jointure lands, as she hoped. Edward's aim was to try to force Elizabeth to exchange her lordship of Usk (worth £770 a year) for Despenser's lordship of Gower (worth £300 a year; Despenser's determination to gain control of Gower in 1321 was the main cause of the Despenser War). Elizabeth fled York in fear, but some of her council members were arrested, and she returned. Edward told her that if she refused the exchange, "she will hold nothing of him" - a potent threat by a man so infatuated with one person he was prepared to disinherit his own niece and anyone else who got in Despenser's way, a man who had lost all sense of reality and fairness, a man consumed by harsh vindictiveness. Edward II's behaviour - towards Elizabeth, and many other people - was shocking and completely unjustifiable. And it's worth noting that in 1324, Elizabeth also lost Gower to Despenser. Even so, she suffered far less than many others in and after 1322, perhaps because of Edward's remembered fondness for Damory, perhaps because Elizabeth's powerful father-in-law the Earl of Ulster was still alive. She never lost her English lands, presumably because Hugh Despenser wasn't much interested in owning lands in England, instead concentrating his efforts on his empire-building in Wales.[11]

Lordships in Wales

Her lordship of Usk was restored to her in February 1327, by her friend Queen Isabella; in this, she was luckier than Isabella's aunt Alice de Lacy, some of whose lands were granted to Mortimer. After 1330, until her death in 1360, Elizabeth lived the life of a very great lady, travelling between her vast estates, helping the poor, being visited by a large number of noble men and women. After 1330/31, she appears to have had no contact with her sister Eleanor, Despenser's wife - perhaps inevitably. Although she and their other sister Margaret sometimes wrote to each other, there's little evidence of visits, or closeness - surprisingly, as Margaret was also a Despenser victim. Elizabeth cared for their half-brother Edward de Monthermer for years, arranged his funeral, and had a strong sense of family: clearly not a vindictive woman, she was close to her Despenser nieces and nephews and did a great deal for them, not taking out her hatred of their father on them. In December 1327, when she attended Edward II's funeral, she left her young daughters in the care of Isabella Hastings - Despenser's sister.[11]

Later life

After Damory's death, Elizabeth de Clare never remarried and styled herself the 'Lady of Clare' after her principal estate in Suffolk. She also had a residence at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire, Great Bardfield, Essex, and in 1352 she built a London house in the precinct of the Franciscan convent of Minoresses, Aldgate. A good idea of her lifestyle in the last 25 years of her life can be taken from the extensive survival of her household and other records.[12] These threw light on the activities of and provision of food and drink for the household (numbering up to 100 people) of one of the richest and most influential women of the fourteenth century. Amongst the records are the work of her personal goldsmith in 1333, and she also lists her alms giving and the patronage towards her favourite religious houses, the priories at Clare, Anglesey, and Walsingham, and Denny Abbey. Her most important and long-lasting foundation was Clare College, Cambridge.[3]This began when she was asked to support University Hall, founded by Richard de Badew, in 1336. When Richard handed over his rights as patron to Elizabeth in 1346, she made further grants and it became known as Clare Hall.[3]


Elizabeth de Clare married three times and had three children by those marriages; one by each husband. Her family life was fraught with death, uncertainty and despair. Her first marriage was to John de Burgh on 30 September 1308. Only a year later, her husband John de Burgh was unexpectedly killed in a minor skirmish. A widow, Elizabeth remained in Ireland until the death of her brother, Gilbert de Clare, at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Elizabeth had one son by this marriage:

  • William de Burgh (1312-) married Maud of Lancaster (1310–1377) he inherited the Barony of Clare and became the 12th Baron.

Her second marriage was to Theobald de Verdun, 2nd Lord of Verdun (1278-1316) having one daughter by that marriage. Her second husband died six months after their marriage of Typhoid making Elizabeth twice a widow. He left behind three daughters from a prior marriage and Elizabeth, who was pregnant, fled to Amesbury Priory, where she stayed under the protection of her aunt Mary de Burgh, who was a nun there, and where Theobald's daughter, Isabel de Verdun (named for the Queen), was born on 21 March 1317.[13]

  • Isabel de Verdun (1317-1349); Married Henry Ferrers, 2nd Baron Ferrers (1303-1343)

Just a few weeks later after Isabel de Verdun's birth, King Edward II married Elizabeth de Clare Roger D'Amory, Lord D'Amory, Baron of Amory in Ireland. Elizabeth was caught up in the political upheavals of her uncle's reign. She gave birth to another daughter, Elizabeth, in May 1318. Roger was reckless and violent, and made a deadly enemy of his brother-in-law, Hugh the younger Despenser]. D'Amory switched sides, joining the Marcher Lords led by Roger Mortimer and Thomas, Earl of Lancaster in the rebellion known as the Despenser War. He died of his wounds at Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire on 12 March 1322, having been captured by the royalist forces at the Battle of Boroughbridge where the rebels were soundly defeated. Elizabeth was captured at Usk Castle and imprisoned at Barking Abbey with her children by the victorious faction. She had one daughter by this marriage:

  • Elizabeth D'Amory (1318-1360) married John Bardolf, 3rd Lord Bardolf (1311–1363).


Elizabeth de Burgh died on 4 November 1360 and was buried at the convent of the Minoresses. Her tomb has not survived but must have been elaborate. Her will with its extensive bequests is published along with her household records.[3] Elizabeth de Clare's eldest daughter, Isabel de Verdun married Henry de Ferrers, 2nd Lord Ferrers of Groby, and her younger daughter, Elizabeth d'Amory, married John Bardolf, 3rd Lord Bardolf of Wormegay, Knight Banneret (1314–1363). Her son William, 3rd Earl of Ulster married Maud of Lancaster, by whom he had a daughter, Elizabeth de Burgh, 4th Countess of Ulster. Elizabeth became the future wife of Edward III's second son Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence. William had been murdered in Ireland in 1333, 27 years before her own death on 4 November 1360.


Many thanks to Kathryn Warner for so much of this wonderful information.
Warner, K. (2014). Edward Ii: The Unconventional King. Amberley Publishing Limited.


  1. Richardson, D. (2011). Magna Carta Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families (2nd ed.). Seattle, WA: Createspace. ISBN 9781461045205.
  2. Altschul, A. (2004). A Baronial Family in Medieval England: The Clares, 1217–1314. Baltimore, MA: The Johns Hopkins Press. ISBN 978-0-404-61349-5
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Nicolas, N. H. (2012). Testamenta vetusta: being illustrations from wills, of manners, customs, &c. as well as of the descents and possessions of many distinguished families. From the reign of Henry the Second to the accession of Queen Elizabeth (Vol. 2). Nichols & son. ISBN 978-1130690033.
  4. Browning, C. H. (2009). The Magna Charta Barons and Their American Descendants (1898): Together with the Pedigrees of the Founders of the Order of Runnemede. Genealogical Publishing.
  5. Richardson, D., & Everingham, K. G. (2005). Magna Carta Ancestry: A Study in Coloncial And Medieval Families. Genealogical Publishing.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Woodcock, T., & Robinson, J. M. (1988). The Oxford guide to heraldry (Vol. 116). Oxford University Press.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Fox-Davies, A. C. (2007). A complete guide to heraldry. Skyhorse Publishing Inc.
  8. College of Arms (2015) The United Kingdom College of Arms. Retrieved from http://www.college-of-arms.gov.uk/
  9. The Court of the Lord Lyon of Scotland (2015). About Coats of Arms. Retrieved from http://www.lyon-court.com/lordlyon/216.181.html
  10. Chesshyre, H., & Woodcock, T. (1992). Dictionary of British Arms: Medieval Ordinary (Vol. 3). Society of Antiquaries of London.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 Warner, K. (2014). Edward Ii: The Unconventional King. Amberley Publishing Limited.
  12. Ward, Jennifer, ed. (2014). Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of Clare (1295-1360) : household and other records. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84383-891-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. The Complete Peerage, vol XII, p. 252.