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Copyright © 1999 by Catherine Armstrong
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Richard fitz Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Pembroke and Lord of Leinster, was the father of Isabel de Clare, wife of William Marshal. Richard was the son of Gilbert fitz Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, and Isabel de Beaumont, sister to Waleran Count of Meulan and Robert Earl of Leicester. Richard, like his father, was known as "Strongbow" for his skill and use of the long bow of the men of Gwent. Richard and his father supported King Stephen in the civil war between Stephen and the Empress Matilda for the throne of England until c1141 when King Stephen took Gilbert's lands and castles on the suspicion that Gilbert might join his nephew, Gilbert Earl of Clare, and Ranulf Earl of Chester on the Empress's side.
Gilbert Earl of Pembroke died in 1148, and Richard at the age of eighteen took seisin of his father's lands, castles and titles. In the Treaty of Windsor of 1153, King Stephen recognized Henry Duke of Anjou as his heir to the throne of England, and Richard witnessed the Treaty as "comes de Penbroc." However, once Henry became King Henry II of England in December 1154, he did not recognize Richard's right to the title or the lands of Pembroke [inherited by his father from his uncle Walter de Clare and granted by King Stephen] nor as lord of Orbec and Bienfaite in Normandy [inherited by his father from his uncle Roger de Clare and granted by King Henry I]. Whatever Henry's reasons for denying Richard his lands and titles [there are no definite proven reasons or justifications of this act of Henry's], Richard was a knight and baron of one of the oldest and greatest families of the Conqueror's time who found himself without his rightful inheritance.
At the age of thirty-eight and still unmarried due to a lack of royal favor, Richard was ready for the arrival and proposal of Dermot MacMurchada Lord of Leinster in 1168/69. Dermot arrived in Bristol, along with his daughter Aoife, and went to the home of Robert fitz Harding, a wealthy merchant, money-lender, and favorite of King Henry's. Dermot had gone to King Henry in Normandy and gained permission to recruit knights from Henry's lands in Wales and the Marches for his battle to regain his own lordship of Leinster in Ireland. It is possible and probable that fitz Harding, to whom de Clare may have owed money, recommended Strongbow to Dermot as a good candidate to be recruited. Dermot offered Strongbow lands in Ireland, his daughter Eve in marriage, and the lordship of Leinster on Dermot's death. Dermot offered Strongbow a gamble, a chance, on winning lands, a royal wife, wealth, and knightly fame. He accepted the chance on the proviso that he obtained permission from King Henry, his lord and king. Strongbow went to King Henry and obtained his permission, although Henry would later deny that he had given it except in a jesting manner.
Strongbow arrived in Ireland in August 1170; he had already sent many of his vassals from Wales to Ireland in 1169. Strongbow met Dermot and the Anglo-Norman knights, who were already there, with 200 men-at-arms and over one thousand archers. They took Waterford on St. Bartholomew's Eve [August 28, 1170], and a day later, he and Eve MacMurchada were married in the cathedral in Waterford. [There is a painting of the marriage of Strongbow and Aoife by Maclise in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.] Soon after the marriage, Strongbow, Dermot and their knights marched to Dublin and took that city and the adjacent surrounding lands. Strongbow and the other Anglo-Normans quickly took control of the cities of Dublin, Waterford, and Wexford and much of the southeastern land of Ireland.
King Henry II became alarmed at the success of his knights and fearing their growing strength and possible motives, he ordered all his knights in Ireland to return to England on pain of forfeiture of their lands in England, Wales and Normandy. Strongbow met Henry at Newnham in Gloucester in July 1171. At this meeting Strongbow gave Henry, Dublin and its adjacent lands, the maritime towns and the castles, and his own lordship of Leinster. Henry kept Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, and the castles, and granted back to Strongbow the other lands, including the lordship of Leinster, as lands he now held by right of King Henry. In effect, this meant that King Henry took from Strongbow most of the lands that Strongbow himself had either conquered or gained by his marriage and granted them back to Strongbow as lands held by the grace of the king. Henry II was determined that he would not have a repeat of the palatine lordships of Wales in Ireland, nor strong mini-kingdoms on his own left flank. Henry's expedition to Ireland in 1171/72 was to enforce his own rule on the Anglo-Normans who had invaded Ireland, and gain recognition from both Anglo-Normans and Irish that he was King and overlord of the already conquered lands and the lands to be conquered. He achieved his purpose, but he was not totally reassured until the April 1173 rebellion of his sons in Normandy.
When this rebellion began Henry called his leading knights and barons from Ireland to assist him in putting down this revolt in Normandy. Strongbow came with most of the leading barons in Ireland. He proved his military skills and his fealty at Gisors, Breteuil, and Verneuil. Henry recognized Strongbow's loyalty and actions by granting him the governing of Ireland, the city of Wexford, the castle of Wicklow, and the constableship of Waterford and Dublin. Henry ordered Strongbow back to Ireland to control it as the king's representative and to send back to Normandy more knights from Ireland and Wales.
Strongbow returned to Ireland and did his best to control the rebellion that had arisen while the major knights were in Normandy. He served the king's interest and his own in Ireland, and he did well in trying to control and modify the constant warring factions. He was in England for the Treaty of Windsor in 1175 between King Henry II and Rory O'Connor, high king of Ireland. There is very little contemporary record of Strongbow's last year or two in Ireland. The "Song of Dermot" ends sharply in 1174/75, and Giraldis Cambrensis' record, "Expugnatio Hibernica" is concerned with recording the deeds of his own family rather than de Clare's.
Below: Chepstow Castle in southern Wales
Strongbow died in June 1176 of some type of infection in his leg or foot. He was buried in Holy Trinity Church in Dublin with his uncle-in-law, Lawrence bishop of Dublin, presiding. He and Eve had a son Gilbert, who died still a minor in 1185, and a daughter Isabel, who would become Strongbow's sole heir. King Henry II took all of Strongbow's lands and castles into his own hands and placed a royal official in charge of them. He guarded well the inheritance of the young girl, Isabel. Eve was given her dower rights and possibly held Striguil [Chepstow] as part of those dower rights until the Welsh rebellion of 1184/85. There is a record of Eve confirming a charter in Ireland in 1188/89 as "comtissa de Hibernia".
There are no known extant records of the personal lives of Strongbow and Eve. We know that this young red-haired son of Gilbert de Clare Earl of Pembroke survived the years of being deprived of his rightful inheritance. He took the gamble that Dermot MacMurchada offered. By his skills as a warrior/knight and wise lord, he conquered and re-constituted his inherited lordship of Leinster, married the golden-haired Eve, and re-gained the respect and affection of his lord and king, Henry II. Two interesting questions arise for which there is no known extant contemporary records. Did Strongbow perhaps meet the man who would be his daughter's husband in the 1173 rebellion of the young King Henry? Would Strongbow have approved of the knight William Marshal who married his daughter Isabel and not only regained all the land, castles and titles that Strongbow should have inherited, but added greatly to them, and cared for them all as a true knight and lord should do?
This essay is part of a series (listed below) written by Catherine Armstrong focusing on the life and times of William Marshal and his father-in-law Richard fitz Gilbert de Clare.
John fitz Gilbert (Marshal's father)
Richard fitz Gilbert de Clare, Strongbow (Marshal's father-in-law)
The parents of Isabel de Clare (Marshal's wife)
The Children of William Marshal and Isabel de Clare
Catherine Armstrong has Master's degree in Professional Writing from Kennesaw State University. Her field is medieval English history. Her specific field is William Marshal, his fiefs and "familiares". Her concentration is on the lands and people bound to Marshal by blood and marriage, by feudal tenure, and by "affinity". She can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Other essays by Catherine Armstrong
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