Richard Fitz Gilbert, 1st Baron of Clare

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Richard Fitz Gilbert
1st Baron of Clare
1st Baron of Bienfaite
1st Baron of Orbect
1st Baron of Tonbridge
Fitz Gilbert de Clare.png
The Coat of Arms used by the de Clare family
Lord of Clare1066-1090
SuccessorGilbert de Clare
SpouseRohese de Giffard
Titles and styles
Grand Justiciary of England
FamilyHouse de Clare
FatherGilbert de Brionne
Brionne Castle, Duchy of Normandy, Kingdom of France
Saint Neots Priory, Huntingdonshire, Kingdom of England
BuriedSaint Neots Priory, Huntingdonshire, Kingdom of England

Richard fitz Gilbert, 1st Baron of Clare (1030-1091), was a Norman Lord who participated in the Norman conquest of England in 1066, and was styled "de Bienfaite", "de Clare", and of "Tonbridge" from his various estates in England, but he never called himself Richard de Clare or used de Clare as his surname. It was his eldest child and heir that would be the first to be officially called "de Clare" after their Honor of Clare.[1][2][3] He was one of the many Norman nobles who were handsomely rewarded by the Duke of Normandy after they conquered England. [4]


He was the son of Gilbert de Brionne, 2nd Count of Eu in Normandy.[2] Gilbert was a guardian of the young duke William and when he was killed by Ralph de Wacy in 1040, his two older sons Richard and Gilbert fled to Flanders, finding safety at the court of Baldwin V, Count of Flanders. When cousin William the Conqueror married Count Baldwin's daughter, he restored Gilbert's sons to Normandy, although he did not invest them with either Brionne or Eu or a comital title. William granted the Lordships of Saint-Martin-de-Bienfaite-la-Cressonnière and Orbec to Richard fitz Gilbert.[5][5] In 1066, Richard came into England with his kinsman William the Conqueror, and received from him great advancement in honour and possessions.[2] The Dictionary of National Biography and other sources are vague and sometimes contradictory about when the name de Clare came into common usage, but what we do know is that Richard fitz Gilbert (of Tonbridge), the earliest identifiable progenitor of the family, is once referred to as Richard of Clare in the Suffolk return of the Domesday Book.[6][7]

In exchange for the land granted by William of Normandy, Richard Fitz Gilbert had to promise to provide the newly anointed King with sixty knights. In order to supply these Knights, Barons divided their land up into smaller units called Manors hence "Manorial Lordships" came into being. These Manors were then passed on to men who promised to serve as knights when the king needed them. Richard built castles at Tonbridge (Kent), Clare (Suffolk), Bletchingley (Surrey) and Hanley (Worcester). His Knights normally lived in the Manor that they had been granted. Once or twice a year, Richard Fitz Gilbert would visit his Knights to check the Manorial accounts and to collect the profits that the land had made. The Normans were very impressed with Richard's castle at Tonbridge. After a while people in Kent began calling him Richard of Tonbridge. Other people called him Richard of Clare, after the castle and large estates he owned in Clare in Suffolk.


He was rewarded with 176 lordships and large grants of land in England, including the right to build the castles of Clare and of Tonbridge.[8] Richard fitz Gilbert received the lordship of Clare, in Suffolk, where parts of the wall of Clare Castle still stand.[9] He was thus Lord of Clare. Some contemporaneous and later sources called him Earl of Clare, though many modern sources view the title as a "Style". He served as Joint Chief Justiciar in William's absence, and played a major part in suppressing the revolt of 1075. He traded the County of Brionne in the Duchy of Normandy for Barony of Tonbridge. He later built Tonbridge Castle. William the Conqueror trusted Richard de Clare and appointed him as a member of his ruling council. Richard was also given the title Chief Justiciar. This meant that Richard took over the running of the government when the king was making one of his many visits to Normandy. In this post he played an important role in the suppression of the revolt against William in 1075.

Rebel Baron

Richard was in arms with William de Warenne against the rebellious lords, Robert de Britolio, Earl of Hereford, and Ralph Waher, or Guader, Earl of Norfolk and Suffolk, and behaved with great gallantry in 1076. On the Conqueror's death, Richard and other great Norman barons, including Odo of Bayeux, Robert, Count of Mortain, William FitzOsbern, 1st Earl of Hereford and Geoffrey de Montbray, led a rebellion against the rule of William Rufus in order to place Robert Curthose on the throne. However, most Normans in England remained loyal. William Rufus and his army successfully attacked the rebel strongholds at Tonbridge, Pevensey and Rochester.[10]After a two day siege at Tonbridge Castle, Richard de Clare was forced to surrender to William Rufus. Richard was punished by having his castle and the town of Tonbridge burnt to the ground.


He married Rohese de Giffard, daugther of Walter de Giffard, Baron of Longueville (1010-1084) by his wife Agnes Ermentrude Fleitel (1014-1113), and had eight children by that marriage:

Death and Burial

Lord de Clare was buried in Saint Neots Priory in 1091. His widow was still living in 1113. His lands were inherited by his son, Gilbert de Clare, 2nd Baron of Clare. There is nothing left today of his Priory.


  1. Domesday Map website - image of Betchworth's entry and transcription in summary retrieved 2012-10-30 Normally de Tonebridge in Surrey
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 G. E. Cokayne, The Complete Peerage, Vol. III (The St. Catherine Press, London, 1913), p. 242
  3. Detlev Schwennicke, Europäische Stammtafeln: Stammtafeln zur Geschichte der Europäischen Staaten, Band III Teilband 1 (Marburg, Germany: J. A. Stargardt, 1984), Tafel 156
  4. Ward, J. C. (1981). Fashions in monastic endowment: the foundations of the Clare family, 1066–1314. The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 32(4), 427-451.
  5. 5.0 5.1 J.H. Round, 'The Family of Clare', The Archaeological Journal, Vol. 56 2nd series Vol 6 (1899), p. 224
  6. The Suffolk return of the Domesday Survey (c. 1086) (ed. A. Rumble, Suffolk, 2 vols (Chichester, 1986), 67 ~ 1)
  7. Darby, H. C. (1935). The Domesday Geography of Norfolk and Suffolk. The Geographical Journal, 85(5), 432-447.
  8. Fleming, R. (2003). Domesday Book and the Law: Society and Legal Custom in Early Medieval England. Cambridge University Press.
  9. The Royal Ancestry Bible Royal ancestors of 300 American Families By Michel L. Call ISBN 1-933194-22-7 (chart 1696)
  10. A Baronial Family in Medieval England: The Clares, 1217–1314 by Michael Altschul (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins, 1965)