Joan de Clare

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Joan de Clare
Countess of Fife
De Clare.png
Coat of Arms Associated with House de Clare
HusbandDuncan MacDuff III, 11th Earl of Fife
Noble familyHouse de Clare
FatherGilbert de Clare
MotherAlice de Lusignan
Tonbridge Castle, Kent, Kingdom of England
BuriedKingdom of England

Joan de Clare, Countess of Fife (1264-1322) was the second daughter of Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl of Hertford (1243-1295) by his wife Alice de Lusignan, also known as Alice de Valence. She married Duncan MacDuff III, 11th Earl of Fife and had two children by that married before her husband was murdered. Her life was fraught with chaos and controversy both in England and Scotland.


Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl of Hertford had arranged the marriage Joan de Clare (his second daughther) - but not his elder daughter Isabel de Clare, oddly. Around 1284, when she was between about seventeen and twenty, Joan de Clare married Duncan MacDuff III, 11th Earl of Fife, who was born in about 1262/63. Whether the marriage was satisfactory is impossible to say, but the Chronicle of Lanercost said of Duncan that:

"As a young man he was cruel and greedy beyond all that we commonly have seen."
— Chronicle of Lanercost

Death of Husband

Duncan MacDuff III, 11th Earl of Fife was one of the Guardians of Scotland after the death of Alexander III in March 1286, and was murdered on 25 September 1288 [1289 according to some reports], by Sir Patrick de Abernethy, Knight and Sir Walter de Percy, Knight, still only in his mid-twenties. The reasons for his murder are unknown, but may have something to do with the growing unrest in Scotland; in 1288/89, little Queen Margaret, the Maid of Norway, was still in her native country, and the Bruces and Baliols, claimants to the throne, were becoming restless.


Joan de Clare was now a widow with two children: her daughter Isabel MacDuff was born in 1286, and her son, also Duncan, in 1288. The younger Duncan was probably posthumous, and succeeded his father as Earl of Fife. Joan de Clare seems to have enjoyed good relations with King Edward I of England. However, she supported her son who sided with Robert the Brus during the reign of King Edward II of England and was classed as an: 'Adherent to the Scots'.[1] Good relations with the King of England were restored by 1323 and by 1327 she was supported by the Exchequer.

Joan de Clare in Scotland

In Scotland, Joan de Clare's extraordinary adventures continued. She complained to King Edward I of England in 1299 that, on her way back to England to save her possessions from the Scots, she was abducted by Sir Herbert de Morham, Knight between Stirling and Edinburgh. She refused to marry him, so he imprisoned her and stole horses, clothes and jewels from her, to the enormous value of £2000. [Morham was executed at the Tower of London on 7 September 1306, for allegiance to King Robert Bruce of Scotland.] Joan de Clare married, sometime before 1302, Gervase Avenel, 2nd Baron of Eskdale, a Scots nobleman. They declared fealty to King Robert Bruce of Scotland, so King Edward I of England declared her lands forfeit.

Later, King Edward II of England confirmed the forfeiture of Joan de Clare's estates in England - which she had been granted by her father as a marriage portion when she married the Earl of Fife - and gave them to her brother-in-law, Hugh le Despenser the Younger. Gervase Avenel, 2nd Baron of Eskdale died in 1322. The date of Joan's death is unknown, but she outlived him. In 1322, she was in her mid to late fifties. Her sister Isabel de Clare, Baroness of Berkeley, died either in 1333 or 1338, when she was in her seventies. She had spent only about ten years of her life as a married woman, and her husband was imprisoned for five of those.

Joan de Clare's son Duncan MacDuff, the young Earl of Fife, was growing up at the English court, and may have been a companion of the future Edward II. In 1306, King Edward I arranged Duncan's betrothal - to Mary de Monthermer, daughter of Joan of Acre, and Edward's granddaughter. For Gilbert's children by Joan of Acre, this meant that their half-sister married their half-nephew! [Got to love those medieval family trees.] The papal dispensation for the marriage was granted on 4 November 1307, and presumably the wedding took place soon afterwards. Duncan would have been about eighteen, Mary only ten.


Joan de Clare married Duncan MacDuff III, 9th Earl of Fife and had two children by that marriage:


  1. Seabourne, G. (2013). Imprisoning medieval women: the non-judicial confinement and abduction of women in England, c. 1170-1509. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd..