House de Clare

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House de Clare
Noble House
De Clare.png
Coat of Arms Associated with House de Clare after 1200 C.E.
CountryNormandy Duchy of Normandy
Glamorgan Lordship of Glamorgan
England Kingdom of England
Lordship of Ireland Lordship of Ireland
EstatesIreland, England, Wales, Normandy
Parent houseHouse of Normandy
TitlesEarl and Countess, Baron and Baroness, Knights
FounderRichard Fitz Gilbert, 1st Baron of Clare
Final rulerHistorical House de Clare
Gilbert de Clare died 1314
Elizabeth de Clare died 1360
Current headNatalie de Clare
EthnicityNorman Danes
Cadet branchesIrish Branch House de Clare
Dunmow Branch House de Clare
This Noble House followed Agnatic Primogeniture

House de Clare is a Norman Noble family whose name originates from Clare in Suffolk where their first castle, Clare Castle; and the seat of their barony, was situated: the Honor of Clare. The de Clares were one of the great baronial families of the 12th, 13th and early 14th century England, holding wide estates 22 English counties and Marcher Lordships in Wales. The de Clares also briefly held estates in Ireland and took part in the Scottish Wars for Independence. They were descended from Richard Fitz Gilbert, 1st Baron of Clare (1035-1090), who accompanied William the Conqueror (1028-1087) into England during the Norman conquest of England.

Coat of Arms

Coat of Arms used by House de Clare until 1200 C.E.
Coat of Arms used by House Montfichet.
Coat of Arms used by House Monmouth.
Coat of Arms used by House Fitz Walter.
Coat of Arms used by the Lords de Avene.

There is a lot of uncertainty about the origins of the de Clare Coat of Arms - three red chevrons on a gold background. In terms of heraldry, the chevron (or chevronals if more than one is present) is an upturned V-shaped symbol which resembles the roofline of a house and has given rise to the tradition that it was granted to, or adopted by, those ho had distinguished themselves in the building of castles and churches. This Coat of Arms was in use by the early 13th century because it appears on seals, in books, pedigrees, on church documents, buildings, artwork and genealogical charts of the period.

Heraldry is all about identification and enabled soldiers to recognize friend from foe on the battlefield. The earliest recognisable Coat of Arms used by the de Clare family is a wax seal of Gilbert de Clare, 1st Earl of Pembroke which shows an armed knight carrying a shield with six chevrons. Gilbert de Clare's sister Rohese de Clare married the Earl of Lincoln and her seal shows multiple chevrons making this the earliest example of a woman using a Coat of Arms.

It was Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke that had the chevrons reduced to three. There is a now lost record that had three chevrons which predated his death in 1176 confirming it was him who made the change or the change happened during his lifetime where he adopted the three chevrons with a gold background henceforth. It is therefore probable and most accurate to say that by 1200 the three chevron Coat of Arms was firmly established and associated with the de Clare family.[1]

Other families associated with the de Clare family used similar designs such as House Fitz Walter, House Montfichet, and House Monmouth. When the Welsh rulers of Afan in Glamorgan were known os the Lords de Avene and adapted the de Clare Coat of Arms to create their own - three silver chevrons on a red background. this design became the Lordship of Glamorgan Coat of Arms henceforth. The de Clare Coat of Arms remained virtually unchanged through the centuries passing from father to son and so forth. After the Battle of Bannockburn the use in English, Irish, and Welsch society declined significantly over the centuries to its complete disuse today. Lady Markland's Coat of Arms use elements of various arms associated with the de Clare's and their time as leaders in the history of this region.

House de Clare Origin

The de Clare family descends from Gilbert de Brionne, 2nd Count of Eu, whose father, Geoffrey de Brionne, 1st Count of Eu, was the eldest of the illegitimate sons of Richard I, Duke of Normandy. The early Normans followed the Viking custom of marriage called more danico, which they considered a legitimate form of marriage.[2] However, the Christian Church considered this the same as concubinage, hence making Geoffrey de Brionne an illegitimate child.[3][4] They became one of the most powerful and influential noble families of their time in England, Wales, and Ireland.

Gilbert de Brionne was one of the guardians of William II of Normandy who would become the Duke of Normandy in 1035. When Gilbert de Brionne was assassinated in 1039, his young sons Baldwin Fitz Gilbert, Baron of de Meules et du Sap and Richard Fitz Gilbert, 1st Baron of Clare, who was sometimes called Richard de Bienfaite, Baron of Bienfaite and Orbec, fled with their guardians to Baldwin V, Count of Flanders. They returned to Normandy when William married Baldwin's daughter in 1053, and William took them into high favour. After the conquest of England Richard received huge estates including Clare and Tonbridge by which he became the founder of House de Clare.[5] Richard Fitz Gilbert (of Tonbridge) was once referred to as Richard of Clare in the Suffolk return of the Domesday Survey in 1086.[6]

Use of the de Clare Surname

The first of the de Clare line in England to establish himself was known as Richard Fitz Gilbert, which means Richard fils de (son of) Gilbert. On his death, Richard Fitz Gilbert, 1st Baron of Clare's English estates passed to his son Gilbert de Clare, 2nd Baron of Clare (1055-1117) who was the first to use the surname de Clare permanently. This method of adopting a name after a landholding was common practice in medieval Europe though by no means universal. Many of the Normans who arrived in the train of William the Conqueror were known by surnames derived from their ancestral estate or from their place of birth. Whatever the reason for the hereditary surname change, it was not used consistently by medieval scribes who recorded their exploits. Richard Fitz Gilbert's descendants were variously styled 'Fitz' or de Clare and sometimes even hybrids of both. For the sake of clarity, this Wiki Project lists all members as 'de Clare' except for the founder who remains 'Fitz Gilbert.'

House de Clare in England

Arms of Richard de Clare II, Earl of Hertford and Gloucester, Founders book of Tewkesbury Abbey, c. 1525

The de Clares arrived in England along with other Norman Warlords in the wake of William the Conqueror's bid for the throne of England in 1066. They were rewarded for their service with vast estates in Suffolk and Kent where they built major castles at Clare and Tonbridge in order to defend and administer their new lands. Within three generations the de Clare family would become the wealthiest and most powerful secular Lords in Medieval England feared even by the King's of England. By 1140 they had acquired the Earldom of Pembroke and Hertford, and had been allowed to seize lands in the Marches of Wales where they ruled in a manner tantamount to Kings. In the 12th century their influence and power moved into Ireland where they acquired the Earldom of Gloucester giving them lands which stretched from the Irish Channel to the North Sea.

Gilbert de Clare, 2nd Baron of Clare's eldest son Richard de Clare, 3rd Baron of Clare (1090-1136) was a powerful and commanding ancestor of the Earls of Hertford and Gloucester. Gilbert's younger son, another Gilbert de Clare, established himself in Wales, acquiring the Earldom of Pembroke and the coveted Marcher Lordship of Striguil. The elder line obtained the Earldom of Hertford, and were thenceforth known as Earls of Hertford and Lords of Clare. [7][8] It should be noted that there was never an Earl of Clare as the Honor of Clare was a Baronial Honor, not an Earldom, but for some reason there are historical documents where some of the de Clare Lords would style themselves as the Earl of Clare which referenced the caput of their initial honor of Clare as they were the Earls "of" Clare (or from Clare) not "the Earl of Clare."

On the senior branch of the House de Clare it was Richard de Clare, 3rd Earl of Hertford (1153–1217) who was head of the House de Clare for over four decades until his death in 1217. His greatest, and now forgotten, achievement was to add to the already considerable wealth and landed endowment of his line. In 1189 at the beginning of Lord de Clare's reign he received a grant of half of the Lordship of the Giffard from the Earls of Buckingham, which had escheated to the crown over twenty years before, following the death of Walter de Giffard, 2nd Earl of Buckingham (1100-1164). In 1195 Lord de Clare made another substantial, though less perhaps important, addition to the de Clare family inheritance when he obtained the feudal honor of St Hilary for which Lord de Clare offered £360 to the Crown, it included lands in Norfolk and Northamptonshire. He would later go on to marry a Countess from a powerful noble family and inherit vast estates.

After Geoffrey de Mandeville, 2nd Earl of Essex died in 1216 she was once again the sou jure Countess of Gloucester, but when she died in 1217, and her estates passed to Amicia (FitzWilliam) de Clare wife of Richard de Clare, 3rd Earl of Hereford, who would have became 5th Earl of Gloucester by right of marriage, but Richard de Clare survived Isabel de Clare by only six weeks and did not live to secure formal possession of her estates and title thus, their son, Gilbert de Clare, inherited the Earldom in 1217 and became the 5th Earl of Gloucester and 4th Earl of Hereford.

House de Clare in Wales

Caerphilly Castle in Wales.
Caerphilly Castle as seen from the West

Gilbert "the red" de Clare, 7th Earl of Gloucester, 6th Earl of Hertford, 9th Lord of Clare, 4th Lord of Glamorgan (1243-1295) was a powerful Norman English noble who became involved in the turbulent English politics of the 1260s. At the time of his father's death Lord de Clare was a minor, though he was given possession of the Earldom of Gloucester estates in 1263. To begin with, Gilbert continued in good terms with his powerful neighbor, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Aberffraw and Lord of Snowdon (1223-1282). However, over the next few years a series of military and political events was to completely change this situation; the building of Lord de Clare's masterpiece Caerphilly Castle, (below) can be seen as the last and most dramatic episode in this story.

The end of the Baronial revolt of the 1260s left H.R.H. Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd as the only potential enemy of His Majesty King Henry III of England. Prudently, Prince Llywelyn decided to make peace, and by the Treaty of Montgomery (1267) he was recognized as "Prince of Wales," and as the feudal Lord of the other Welsh Princes. Already in 1266 Gilbert de Clare had seized upland Senghennydd from the local ruler, Gruffydd ap Rhys, since King Henry III had given the earl authority to take over the lands of those Welshmen in Glamorgan who had supported Llywelyn. Consequently, on 11 April 1268, Gilbert's workmen began building at Caerphilly, only a few months after the Treaty of Montgomery had been sealed. The young earl was just 25 at the time, yet the scheme for the stronghold at Caerphilly was one of the most ambitious ever to have been conceived in the kingdom.


During the summer of 1268, Prince Llywelyn's forces invaded upper and northern Senghennydd. A truce was arranged by the King and the dispute dragged on for two years, until Prince Llywelyn finally lost patience and burnt some of the fortifications at Caerphilly, on 13 October 1270. Gilbert de Clare recommenced building on 1 June, and Llywelyn prepared for outright war, but the crown intervened and rince Llywelyn reluctantly accepted the promise of future arbitration over the ownership of Caerphilly. This never materialized, and as Lord de Clare began to gain allies Prince Llywelyn was forced back into Brecon, leaving Lord de Clare to complete his massive building project at aerphilly By 1287 Gilbert de Clare had cleared the road to Brecon and had begun another castle on his new frontier at Morlais near Merthyr Tydfil. Here he came into conflict with Humphrey de Bohun (1249-1298), 4th Earl of Hereford, who disputed possession both of the land and the castle at Morlais.

Lord de Clare was to experience further difficulties just a few years later. In the Autumn of 1294, the Welsh broke in revolt under Prince Madog ap Llywelyn, Lord of Meirionydd mainly against the actions of new royal administrators in north and west Wales. The uprising quickly spread to Glamorgan, where it was led by Morgan ap Maredudd, a local Welsh ruler dispossessed by Lord de Clare in 1270, and attacks were directed against the de Clare estates. Morlais Castle was captured, and half the town of Caerphilly was burnt - although the castle itself held out. Eventually the rebels surrendered, not to Lord de Clare but to the King himself. Lord de Clare died at the age of 52 in December 1295, and his estates were administered by his widow until her death in 1307. In a strange coincidence, the senior branch of the de Clare family, in the manner of their predecessors in the Gloucester title, would come to an end in the battle of bannockburn in 1314, after the death of the last Earl, in the succession of three daughters and coheiresses and the partition of the family estates between them.

House de Clare in Ireland

For a while the senior branch, based at Tonbridge (Kent), was eclipsed in fame and fortune by a brilliant junior branch which established itself in South Wales and the Welsh Marches. The leader of this junior branch was Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (1130-1176) who was also Lord of Leinster (1130-1176), son of Gilbert de Clare, 1st Earl of Pembroke (1100-1148) and Isabel de Beaumont (1105-1172). He married Princess Aoife MacMurrough (1145-1188), daughter of Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster (1110-1171).[9] Of the many titles, lands and estates held by the de Clare family, there would be only a handful that would last for many generations. This Noble House is associated heavily with the Earldom of Pembroke, of Hereford, and of Gloucester respectively as well as the Barony of Clare and Lordship of Glamorgan. They held hundreds of individual Manorial Lordships and brought many riches to the English Economy as well as being loved and admired by those they ruled over.

Richard "Strongbow" de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke and Lord of Leicester was a powerful Norman lord whose invasion of Ireland in 1170 initiated the opening phase of the English conquest in King Henry Plantagenet II’s (1133-1189) reign.[10]The King granted him the Lordship of Leinster in 1171, but unfortunately, this cadet branch became extinct in the male line on the death of Lord de Clare's son Gilbert de Clare in 1185. Then the Earldom passed to Richard de Clare’s eldest child and daughter Isabel de Clare, 3rd Countess of Pembroke (1172 - 1220) and then to her husband William Marshal, the 1st Earl of Pembroke (1146-1219) of the Noble House of Marshal upon their marriage.[11]

Magna Carta

Two prominent de Clare's were at the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 and would leave their mark on history for centuries to come. Father and son, Richard de Clare and Gilbert de Clare, were active participants on the baronial side in the civil war that followed in the wake of King John’s rejection of Magna Carta. In an ironic twist, Gilbert de Clare fought with the French at the battle of Lincoln in May 1217 and was taken captive by William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke the Regent, whose daughter, Isabel Marshal, he was later to marry which would thus, united the two houses de Clare in the early 13th century. In 1225 Gilbert de Clare was a witness to Henry III’s definitive reissue of Magna Carta. In 1230 he accompanied King Henry III on his expedition to Brittany, but died on the way back. The Lord de Clare's body was taken to Tewkesbury, where he was buried before the high altar of the great abbey. A monument, now lost, was erected to his memory by his widow. His son, Gilbert "the red" de Clare would become the most powerful Earl in the English Kingdom and secure vast lands in Wales including the construction of the larges castle to ever be construct in the British Isles - Caerphilly Castle.

Estate Management

In order to manage the widely scattered demesne lands effectively, the estates were grouped together into a number of Bailiwicks for administrative purposes. By the middle of the 13th century the estates in England seem to have been controlled from the Bailiwick of Tonbridge and that of Clare. The Earldom of Gloucester was administered from the Bailiwick of Tewskesbury and Cranborne. In Wales the estates were divided into two units, the small Lordship of Usk and the large Lordship of Glamorgan. Both of these were were administered from Cardiff Castle and in 1269 when the de Clare family acquired the Lordship of Caerleon in Gwent it too was administered from Cardiff Castle.


Each Bailiwick was under the jurisdiction of a Seneschal who was responsible for income, expenses, keeping daily records of all costs and expenditure and ensuring that staff salaries where paid, bills were delivered, taxes accounted for and that whatever remained went into the household wardrobe. The Senechal was major executive officer within the Bailiwick in all matters of administrative and justice matters. The Senechal would preside over the courts, hear pleas, issue writs to bailiffs to take necessary action, and on occasion would issues charters in the Earl's name, using his seal to authenticate documents.


House de Clare also relied on the sevices of Stewards whose duties sometimes corresponded to that of a Seneschal, but where mostly used to for the administrative purposes of running the household and domestic staff. Just like other Noble Families of the time, the de Clare family had a number of advisors, chancellors who were drawn from household Knights who would eventually evolve into a permanent household council they relied on heavily to advise and manage their estates.

The estate management of a great Baronial family was a highly structured and complex matter in which various levels of responsibility were undertaken by paid offierces of proven ability and experience. many of these officials were employed for life by the de Clare family and they became a fundamental working through the generations where the officials who advised their fathers and mothers became their advisors and chancellors and that of their children after they were deceased.

End of the Male Lineage

In a strange twist of fate, the male line of the de Clare family would come to an end in the battle of bannockburn in 1314.[12] After Gilbert de Clare's death in 1314 his sister became the sou jure 11th Lady of Clare and would establish Clare College which today is the second oldest of Cambridge’s thirty-one colleges. It was founded in 1326, and generously endowed a few years later by Lady Elizabeth de Clare who was also a granddaughter of King Edward I. In 1336 King Edward III granted licence to Lady de Clare to establish a collegium. It became known as Clare Hall in 1339. The original endowment consisted of estates at Great Gransden and Duxford, and provided for the maintenance of a maximum of fifteen ‘Scholars’ (subsequently to be called ‘Fellows’), of whom no more than six were bound strictly by priestly orders. By the 15th century the de Clare name had effectively faded into history and all the titles were held by various other noble families of the realm. By the 16th century the seat of the Honour of Clare would fall into disrepair and be abandoned for centuries. All their estates, lands, titles and accomplishments for England, Ireland and Wales would pass into other families while the de Clare legacy would become nothing more than a passing page in the mists of time. The blood, sweat, sacrifices, and tears were all for nothing because the world today is, as Lady Markland (2015) states, "...fraught with the disease of republicanism."

House de Clare Today

For expository simplicity, a Noble House is an aristocratic family usually associated with one or more hereditary titles, the most senior of which will be held by the "Head of the House." The concept is comparable with that of an aristocratic clan such as those in Scotland and Ireland. The primary responsibility for promoting the family's prestige, aggrandizement, fortune and future assets falls upon whomever is head of the house even if there are no riches, no lands and no titles. Natalie de Clare is the only known living legitimate nobility in the world today who has referred to her small family as House de Clare and has done so for nearly two decades. Even her Coat of Arms incorporates elements of the Medieval de Clare Coat of Arms from which she descends and in order to do that with a Coat of Arms one must prove beyond doubt to be a legitimate descendant. Intriguingly, almost every lineage, both paternal and maternal, trace back to a Medieval de Clare family member. Even if she does not claim to be head of the original House de Clare her noble house would still be referred to as House de Clare by her hereditary surname alone.

Thus, since there has not been, nor is there, any official claims by any other European Nobility to House de Clare then she is within her right as the only legitimate European nobility to have official claim to this ancient Noble house and even if she does not take it over she can legitimately establish a cadet branch in her own right. Even if a more legitimate suiter with claims to House de Clare is located in the centuries to come their claim does not invalidate her right to the ownership of House de Clare under international law since she has used the term legally for over two decades in multiple countries and is now protected by law in many countries thus, any unauthorized use by someone not authorized by a current House de Clare member is subject to legal penalties. Thus, it is her responsibility to preserve, protect, and promote not only the history of the House de Clare, but to do so with poise and grace. After two decades of use without objection from world nobility or royalty, any claims by anyone else henceforth are void.

Junior Branches of House de Clare


  1. The Archaeological Journal, Article 51, pg 43- published under the direction of The Council of The Royal Archaeological Insutute of Great Britain and Ireland, available at Google books online at
  2. Reynolds, P. L. (1994). Marriage in the Western Church: the Christianization of marriage during the patristic and early medieval periods (Vol. 24). Brill. ISBN 90-04-10022-9
  3. Crouch, D. (2006). The Normans: the history of a dynasty. A&C Black.
  4. Stenton, F. M. (1971). Anglo-Saxon England (Vol. 2). Oxford University Press.
  5. Richard Mortimer, Clare, Richard de [Richard fitz Gilbert] (1030x35–1087x90), magnate, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online by subscription.
  6. Rumble, A. (Ed.). (1986). Domesday Book, 34, Suffolk.
  7. Altschul, M. (1965). A baronial family in medieval England: the Clares, 1217-1314. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Publishing
  8. Barlow, F. (2014). The feudal kingdom of England: 1042-1216. Routledge.
  9. Llywelyn, M. (2012). Strongbow: The Story of Richard and Aoife. The O'Brien Press.
  10. Leask, H. G. (1948). A Cenotaph of" Strongbow's" Daughter at New Ross, Co. Wexford. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 65-67.
  11. Murphy, P. (2010). A Medieval Power Couple: Isabel de Clare and William Marshal. History Ireland, 14-17.
  12. Maxwell, H. (1914). The Battle of Bannockburn. The Scottish Historical Review, 233-251.

External links