Isabel de Clare, 4th Countess of Pembroke

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Isabel de Clare
4th Countess of Pembroke
4th Lady Marcher of Striguil
Isabel de Clare.jpg
Spouse(s)Sir William Marshal, Knight
Noble familyHouse de Clare
FatherRichard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke
MotherAoife Ní Diarmait, Princess of Leinster
Pembroke Castle, Pembrokeshire Wales
Pembrokeshire, Wales
BuriedTintern Abbey

Isabel de Clare, suo jure 4th Countess of Pembroke (1172–1220), was the youngest daughter of Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke by his wife Aoife Ní Diarmait, Princess of Leinster. She married once to Sir William Marshal, Knight who was Earl of Pembroke Jure Uxoris, but in name only. He was considered the greatest knight that ever lived at the time of his marriage. Isabel de Clare was a powerful Countess and feared Lady Marcher of Striguil in a time when men dominated the world. Her husband William served four successive kings as Lord Marshal of England, and had 10 children by that marriage. She was also a Irish noblewoman of and one of the wealthiest heiresses in Wales and Ireland.[1] Her marriage had been arranged by King Richard I. Isabel de Clare is one of Ireland’s most beloved historical figures and is associated with the values of strength, loyalty, honor and grace something no elected garbage can hope to achieve 800 years after their death.


Daniel Maclise's painting of the marriage of Isabel's parents, Strongbow and Aoife of Leinster in August 1170, the day after the capture of Waterford.
Tintern Abbey, the burial place of Isabel de Clare

Isabel was born in 1172 at Pembroke Castle in Pembrokeshire, Wales being the eldest child of Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (1130 – 20 April 1176), known to history as "Strongbow", and Aoife of Leinster, who was the daughter of Diarmait Mac Murchada, the deposed King of Leinster and Mór ingen Muirchertaig. The latter was a daughter of Muirchertach Ua Tuathail and Cacht ingen Loigsig. The marriage of Strongbow and Aoife took place in August 1170, the day after the capture of Waterford by the Cambro-Norman forces led by Strongbow.

Isabel's paternal grandparents were Gilbert de Clare, 1st Earl of Pembroke and Isabel de Beaumont. She had a younger brother Gilbert de Clare, 3rd Earl of Pembroke who, being a minor, was not formally invested with either the Earldom of Pembroke or Marcher Lordship of Striguil. When Gilbert died in 1185, Isabel became Countess of Pembroke in her own right (suo jure) until her death in 1220. She also became the 4th Lady Marcher of Striguil becoming the first woman to command a Marcher Lordship in Wales. She is immortalized in history books, texts, romantic fiction and now forever remembered in the work of art that is the Ros Tapestry. She is a figure that engulfs the history of Wexford, her family and children holding an eternal presence upon these shores. Her memory honored in the land that she loved with all her heart. Isabel de Clare was one of the Medieval Worlds most powerful and influential women. She was a strong, beautiful woman, whose family connections seemed to penetrate into all Royal courts of the Medieval World.

She took the Medieval World by storm, even partially scaring one of histories most ridiculed Kings, King John. Isabel has been described as “The good, the fair, and the wise courteous lady of high degree” She was a highly educated woman and was said to have been fluent in French and Irish as well as Latin. Isabel was described as having been "the good, the fair, the wise, the courteous lady of high degree".[2] She allegedly spoke French, Irish and Latin.[3] After her brother Gilbert's death, Isabel became one of the wealthiest heiresses in the kingdom, owning a vast array of lands in Ireland and Wales.[4] She inherited the numerous castles on the inlet of Milford Haven, guarding the South Channel, including Pembroke Castle.[5] She was a legal ward of King King Henry II of England, who carefully watched over her inheritance.[6]

Upon her marriage to Sir William Marshal, Knight she would take part in some of the worlds most famous and infamous monarchs. She played host to the greatest powers the medieval world has ever seen. Her marriage to William was a happy one and they enjoyed one another despite their large age difference. William was 42 when the Countess was just 18 years of age. This marriage also produced 10 children, 5 sons and 5 daughters. William Marshal now dubbed Earl of Pembroke and Lord Marcher of Striguil, although powerful, depended heavily upon the advice and council of his wife, who he loved but also deeply respected. Isabel de Clare would forever change the course of the life of William Marshal and was the driving force and support behind the man would become the most powerful man in England. This included when he was appointed as Lord Regent and Protector to the young King Henry III of England upon the death of his father King John, the tempestuous and often difficult ruler.


Isabel and The Marshal would go on to found some of Ireland’s most important and beautiful towns. They founded a Norman powerbase at the City of Kilkenny, which still bares the hallmarks of the Norman empire in its walls and foundations. Isabel was instrumental and a driving force behind the foundation and development of the Norman town of New Ross. Situated on the banks of the river Barrow in the Irish southeast. These medieval towns ancients roots were harnessed by the Normans. Isabel fell in love with the town of Old Ross near the current towns location and the medieval worlds most influential power couple began creating one of the jewels in their collective crown. New Ross was one of Ireland’s busiest port towns, Isabel is said to have personally overseen many of the architectural features that were constructed in the town of New Ross and was personally involved in the designing of St Mary Church. New Ross was an affluent port and with the Marshal being granted a charter for their new town it insured that William and Isabel were running an extremely successful port that was to carry on thriving for many centuries. During a time when William had to return to the service of the king and Isabel stayed in Ireland.

Lady Commander

Isabel de Clare showed her intelligence and powerful Military Leadership when she lead a defensive force against a upraising in the area. She proved herself a brilliant military strategist and a commanding presence. Her soldiers highly respected her and would give their lives to protect her in any situation. She was loved by all those she was around. Through their lives together they proved that their love and loyalty became renowned and that loyalty and honestly are values that commanded respect even from those who they may have trusted the least. William and Isabel had constant issues with the temperamental King John, but in the end, when life was fading, King John depended on the loyalty of the Marshal and the kind heart of Isabel to insure the safety and prosperity of his son and heir.

Ros Tapestry

Isabel had a strong relationship with Ireland and the places that were and are still associated with her. Isabel’s reach was wide, and her presence can still be felt within the walls and structures that she pardoned and frequented. William died in1210, and it devastated Isabel, she adored William and their life together, it was a marriage that seemed to be for money and titles but was one of love, an epic love story that has echoed through the ages. Isabel and The Marshal have now been immortalized in the beautiful work of art The Ros Tapestry. Thus ensuring that their story has been preserved in the most beautiful vibrant colors reflecting the vibrancy of their epic lives and one of the worlds most inspiring and enchanting love stories.


The new King Richard I of England arranged her marriage in August 1189 to William Marshal, regarded by many as the greatest knight and soldier in the realm. Henry II had promised Marshal he would be given Isabel as his bride, and his son and successor Richard upheld the promise one month after his accession to the throne. At the time of her marriage, Isabel was residing in the Tower of London in the protective custody of the Justiciar of England, Ranulf de Glanville.[7] Following the wedding, which was celebrated in London "with due pomp and ceremony",[8] they spent their honeymoon at Stoke d'Abernon in Surrey which belonged to Enguerrand d'Abernon.[9]

Marriage to Isabel elevated William Marshal from the status as a landless knight into one of the richest men in the kingdom. He would serve as Lord Marshal of England, four kings in all: Henry II, Richard I, John, and Henry III. Although Marshal did not become the jure uxoris 1st Earl of Pembroke, Earl of Striguil until 1199, he nevertheless assumed overlordship of Leinster in Ireland, Pembroke Castle, Chepstow Castle, as well as Isabel's other castles in Wales such as the keep of Haverford, Tenby, Lewhaden, Narberth, Stackpole.[10]

Shortly after their marriage, Marshal and Isabel arrived in Ireland, at Old Ross, a settlement located in the territory which belonged to her grandfather, Dermot MacMurrough. A motte was hastily constructed, a medieval borough quickly grew around it, and afterwards the Marshals founded the port town by the river which subsequently became known as New Ross. The Chronicles of Ross, which are housed in the British Museum, described Isabel and Marshal's arrival in Ireland and records that Isabella set about building a lovely city on the banks of the Barrow.

In 1192, Isabel and her husband assumed the task of managing their vast lands; starting with the rebuilding of Kilkenny Castle and the town, both of which had been damaged by the O'Brien clan in 1173. Later they commissioned the construction of several abbeys in the vicinity.[11] The marriage was happy, despite the vast difference in age between them. William Marshal and Isabel produced a total of five sons and five daughters.[12]



Isabel died a year after William. She is interned in the Nave of Tintern Abbey in Wales, the mother institute of Tintern Abbey of the vow, in County Wexford. Which was founded by the couple in 1208 It is said that Isabel’s heart always resided in Ireland, the home of her mother and the ancient bloodlines she was descendant from. It is said that her heart is in the town she loved and founded, New Ross. However, a cenotaph was discovered inside St. Mary's Church, New Ross, Ireland, whose slab bears the partial inscription "ISABEL: LAEGN" and her engraved likeness.[13]

It was suggested in 1892 by Paul Meyer that Isabel might have encouraged the composition of the Song of Dermot, which narrates the exploits of her father and maternal grandfather. However, the Song of Dermot as now known was composed a few years after her death (though based on earlier writings).[14]

Although her daughters had many children, Isabel's five sons, curiously, died childless. This is supposedly attributed to a curse placed upon William Marshal by the Irish Bishop of Ferns, Albin O'Molloy.[15] The title of marshal subsequently passed to Hugh de Bigod, husband of Isabel's eldest daughter Maud, while the title of Earl of Pembroke went to William de Valence, 1st Earl of Pembroke, the husband of Joan de Munchensi, daughter of Joan Marshal. He was the first of the de Valence line of the earls of Pembroke.

Within a few generations their descendants included much of the nobility of Europe, including all the monarchs of Scotland since Robert I (1274-1329) and all those of England, Kingdom of Great Britain and the Monarchs of United Kingdom since King Henry IV of England (1367-1413); and, apart from Anne of Cleves, all the queen consorts of Henry VIII.


  1. Costain, Thomas B. (1949, 1962). The Conquering Family. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc. p.267
  2. Painter, Sidney (1933). William Marshal, Knight-Errant, Baron, and Regent of England. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. p.76. Google Books, retrieved 28-10-10 ISBN 0-8020-6498-1
  3. Turtle Bunbury (2000). History, Heroes and Villains, William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke ,1147-1219 - Crusader, Templar, Kingmaker. An article. Retrieved 29-10-10.
  4. Costain, p.267
  5. Costain, p. 267
  6. Costain, p.267
  7. Painter, p.76
  8. Painter, p.76
  9. Painter, pp.76-77
  10. Costain, p.267
  11. Turtle Bunbury
  12. Costain, p.267
  13. JSTOR: The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol.78, No (July 1948), p.65. Retrieved 29-10-10.
  14. Meyer, Paul (1892). Romania vol. 21 (1892) pp. 444-451; Gransden, Antonia (1996). Historical Writing in England I: c.500 to c.1307. London: Routledge. p.518. Google Books. Retrieved 30-10-10.
  15. Costain, Thomas B. (1959). The Magnificent Century. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc. pp. 104-05