father was Gilbert fitz Gilbert de Clare, lord of Orbec and Bienfaite,
lord of Striguil (Chepstow), and earl of Pembroke. Gilbert was a younger
son of Gilbert fitz Richard de Clare, earl of Tonbridge and Clare and
lord of Ceredigion, the Marcher lordship of Cardigan. Strongbow's mother
was Isabel (Elizabeth) de Beaumont, sister to Robert earl of Leicester
and Waleran count of Meulan. Isabel had been the youngest mistress of
King Henry I, and their liaison resulted in a natural daughter, Isabel
(Elizabeth), born c.1129/30. When Isabel de Beaumont married Gilbert in
1130, she took this daughter with her. Strongbow was born before the end
of 1130; thus he was raised with the natural half-sister of the Empress
has been debate about the name "Strongbow" ascribed to both
Richard and his father Gilbert. In a charter in The Chronicle of Melrose
issued by Richard's grandson, Richard Marshal, both Richard and Gilbert
de Clare are named as "Strongbow". The men of Netherwent
(Gwent) were known for their skill and use of an unusually long and
strong bow; both Gilbert and Richard held the lordship of Netherwent.
Since Gilbert de Clare's seal shows him holding a long arrow in his
right hand, historians assume that the ability and skill to use this
type of bow earned both Richard and his father Gilbert their nicknames.
father, grandfather, uncles and great-uncles were men favored by both
King Henry I and King Stephen. On the death of Roger de Clare without
legal heirs in 1130, King Henry I granted Gilbert de Clare his lands of
Orbec and Bienfaite in Normandy. With the death of King Henry I in 1135,
Strongbow's father, Gilbert, supported Stephen as king, and was an
active military commander for Stephen during the "anarchy".
When Gilbert's uncle Walter de Clare died in 1138, King Stephen granted
Gilbert the lordship of Netherwent, including the castles of Chepstow
and Usk. Stephen also granted Gilbert the comital title and lands of the
earldom of Pembroke the same year. Gilbert and Strongbow supported King
Stephen against Matilda until c.1146. In 1146 King Stephen held Gilbert
fitz Richard de Clare, earl of Hertford, as a hostage for the "good
behavior" of his uncle Ranulf, earl of Chester. (This Gilbert was
also the nephew of Gilbert, earl of Pembroke.) When Ranulf changed sides
and began to support the Empress Matilda, King Stephen forced Earl
Gilbert of Hertford to surrender his castles and lands. This action
immediately drove Gilbert to support Matilda, along with his uncle Earl
Ranulf. Stephen, in anticipation of Earl Gilbert of Pembroke following
his nephew, took the earl's lands and castles. This enraged the earl of
Pembroke so that he also changed sides, following his nephew to the side
of Empress Matilda and taking his sixteen-year old son, Richard, with
earl of Pembroke died circa 1148, and at the age of eighteen, Strongbow
inherited all of his father's lands, including Orbec and Bienfaite in
Normandy, the lordship of Striguil and the earldom of Pembroke.
Strongbow first appears in official records as "comes de
Penbroc" in the Treaty of Westminster, November 1, 1153, but this
is the last occasion in any royal document that Strongbow signs as earl
of Pembroke. From this point in extant records, Strongbow signs his name
as "comes de Striguil" or "comes Richardus". The
records indicate that King Henry II refused to recognize Richard's right
to the title and lands of Pembroke. The title of earl and the earldom of
Pembroke did not come back into Richard's family until after the
marriage of his sole heir, Isabel de Clare, to William Marshal in 1189.
It was King John who "belted" William Marshal in 1199 creating
him earl of Pembroke.
have proposed different answers to the question of why King Henry II
refused to recognize Richard's right to the title and lands of Pembroke.
Some have believed that Henry did not trust Richard de Clare, or blamed
him for holding too long to the cause of King Stephen. Some historians
have stated that Henry II was determined to not recognize any claim to
land based on tenure granted during the anarchy. The answer to this
question may never be discovered, but the results of Henry's actions
definitely contributed to Strongbow's reasons for accepting the offer of
Dermot MacMurchada, king of Leinster. With King Henry denying Strongbow
the title and lands of the earldom of Pembroke, and Strongbow finding
himself in debt to Aaron the Jew of Lincoln, Dermot's proposal was a
chance to reclaim fortune and glory.
MacMurchada, king of Leinster, had been deposed in Ireland, and he went
to Henry II in 1168 to seek aid in reclaiming his kingdom. According to
Gerald of Wales, Henry II issued a writ telling the men who held of him
in any of his lands that they were free to aid Dermot in his quest.
Dermot proceeded to Bristol to seek men, and he found them. Dermot
offered Strongbow his daughter Eve (Aoife) in marriage as well as the
kingdom of Leinster on Dermot's death, if Strongbow helped Dermot regain
his kingdom. [For a complete discussion of the legality of this offer by
Dermot, please see M. T. Flanagan's Irish Society, Anglo-Norman Settlers
and Angevin Kingship included in the bibliography.] The Anglo-Normans
who participated in the invasion of Ireland with Strongbow were an
inter-connected group of men. These men were bound together by family,
land and fealty; many tied to Wales by family and fiefs. They were men
used to war and trained to take and defend frontier lands. Many had
fought for King Henry in the Welsh wars of 1164/65 and lost their lands
and/or their office as a result of Rhys ap Gruffyd’s successes.
Maurice and William fitz Gerald, Meiler fitz Henry, Robert fitz Stephen
and Raymond le Gros were all related through Nest, daughter of Rhys ap
Tewdwr of Deheubarth. Hervey de Montmorency and Robert de Quinci were
tied by blood and/or land to the de Clares.
first contingent arrived in Ireland in May 1169; and with Dermot, who
met them at Bannow, they took the city of Wexford. In May 1170, Raymond
le Gros arrived, followed by Strongbow in August. Strongbow had
collected men from Striguil, Gowerland and Haverfordwest, and he arrived
at Waterford with 200 men-at-arms, and about one thousand archers. They
met Dermot and the other Anglo-Normans and took Waterford on St
Bartholomew's Eve (August 28, 1170). Strongbow and Eve were married in
the Cathedral of Waterford, and after the marriage, the army immediately
moved toward Dublin arriving September 21, 1170. They came with over
3000 Anglo-Normans and some 1000 Irish troops. While the city leaders
were negotiating with Dermot and Strongbow through archbishop Lawrence
O' Toole, Roderick (Rory) O'Connor withdrew his army and left the field.
A small group of the besiegers broke the truce and took the city,
causing Asgall Mac Torquil to take to his ships and flee to the Scottish
the capture of Dublin, King Henry II, perhaps seeing the possibility of
palatine lordships in Ireland, issued a writ. This writ ordered that no
ships from any of the lands subject to Henry II could carry men or
supplies to Ireland and that all of "his" men who had gone to
Ireland must return by Easter (March 28,1171) or risk forfeiture of
their lands. Dermot MacMurchada had died at Ferns in May 1171, and
Strongbow had assumed the kingship of Leinster in right of his wife.
Perhaps in reaction to Strongbow's action and the forays of
Anglo-Normans into other Irish kingdoms, Roderick O' Connor, Domnall Mor
O Brien of Munster and Magnus MacDunleavy gathered an army and besieged
the city of Dublin. Strongbow, de Cogan and their men were trapped
inside the city. When O' Connor would not accept Strongbow's offer to
hold Leinster and all of his conquered lands in Ireland of O' Connor as
high king, Strongbow sent 600 of his men out from Dublin to attack O'
Connor's camp at Castleknock. The success of this strategy confused and
routed the entire Irish army and freed Dublin.
then turned to the problem of Henry and his writ and sent his uncle
Hervey to King Henry II. Hervey returned and urged his nephew to go in
person. Strongbow crossed over to England and met King Henry at Newnham
in Gloucestershire (or at Pembroke as Henry was preparing to depart for
Ireland according to Robert of Torigny). Strongbow and Henry settled
their differences, with Strongbow giving up Dublin and all its adjacent
lands, the maritime towns and castles to Henry. The rest of the lands
that Strongbow held by conquest and marriage he gave to Henry and
received them back as lands-in-chief of the king and his heirs. Henry II
also acknowledged Strongbow's comital status, though not his right to
Pembroke, and from this point Strongbow signed his name as 'comes
Richardus' or 'comes de Strigoil'.
October 18, 1171, Henry arrived in Waterford with 400 ships, 500
knights, 4000 men-at-arms and several thousand archers. With Henry were
his own familiares and men of his household, including William fitz
Audelin, Hugh de Lacy, Robert fitz Bernard, Philip de Braose, and
Bertrum de Verdun. Henry placed Waterford in the custody of Robert fitz
Bernard, and then he proceeded to Dublin taking the fealty and oaths of
the kings of Cork, Limerick, and Ossory on his way. Henry spent
Christmas at Dublin, organized the synod at Cashel for the
ecclesiastical reform demanded by the Pope, and left on February 2, 1172
to return to Wexford. Between March 26 and April 16, 1172, Henry II
moved to protect the royal interests in Ireland and limit Strongbow's
power. He placed the city and land of Dublin in the custody of Hugh de
Lacy and created Hugh lord of Meath. He gave the custody of Waterford
and Wexford to Robert fitz Bernard and William fitz Audelin. Henry
separated Strongbow from his most important military commanders by
placing fitz Stephen, Maurice fitz Gerald, Milo fitz David, and Meiler
fitz Henry in the garrison of Dublin. Henry put fitz Audelin, de Braose
and de Hastings with thirty knights in charge of Wexford, and fitz
Bernard, de Bohun and de Gundeville with forty knights in charge of
Waterford. Though Henry recognized the value and need of his barons, he
wanted no palatine lordships in Ireland as he had inherited in Wales.
April 1173, Henry's sons began a rebellion, and Henry called Strongbow
to aid him in Normandy. Strongbow defended Gisors for Henry II, was at
Breteuil, and in August he was part of the relief of Verneuil. At Rouen
August 10, 1173, Henry II named Strongbow governor (royal justiciar) of
Ireland, gave him the city of Wexford, the castle of Wicklow, and made
him constable of Waterford and Dublin. Henry II then sent Strongbow back
to Ireland. On reaching Ireland Strongbow sent back fitz Bernard, fitz
Stephen and others to aid the king in England and Normandy in Henry's
war with his rebellious sons.
the end of 1174, due to the rebellion of the Irish, Strongbow had been
pushed from Limerick back to Wexford by David of Limerick. Strongbow
sent for le Gros to return as commander of his armies; Gerald of Wales
says it was because Strongbow's men would not follow Hervey and demanded
the return of Raymond. (There had been a disagreement between Strongbow
and le Gros earlier when Robert de Quency, husband of Strongbow's sister
Basilia, had died.) Whatever the true reason, le Gros returned to
Ireland and was given Basilia in marriage, custody and wardship of her
daughter Maud de Quency, the constableship of Leinster, and lands in
Fothard, Idrone and Glasskarrig. During this same time period, two more
members of Strongbow's family married into the fitz Gerald family.
Strongbow's daughter Alina married William, son of William fitz Gerald,
and his uncle Hervey married Nest, daughter of Maurice fitz Gerald.
(There are no known records of the mother of Alina; historians can only
presume that Alina was a natural daughter of Strongbow because Flanagan
states that Strongbow was not married before Eve MacMurchada.) This
marrying of Strongbow's family to the Geraldines may have been an
attempt to lessen the strife between their families and strengthen
alliances of the Anglo-Normans in Ireland.
October 1175 Strongbow was in England for the Treaty of Windsor between
Henry II and O'Connor of Ireland, and this may have encouraged the Irish
princes to begin another revolt. Strongbow returned to Ireland by the
beginning of 1176. In April 1176, Strongbow sent le Gros to relieve
Dermot Macarthy, prince of Desmond. After restoring Dermot to Desmond,
le Gros headed for Cork. On the way he received a letter from Basilia
" . . . that huge grinder which gave me so much pain has fallen out. . . ."
This was a coded message telling le Gros that Strongbow had died April 5, 1176 (June 1, 1176) of some type of infection ("a mortification of his foot" according to The Annals). After le Gros reached Dublin, Strongbow was buried with great ceremony at Holy Trinity Church with Lawrence archbishop of Dublin presiding. [There is no mention of Strongbow's widow or of his children for this time.]
left a widow, Aoife (Eve), a minor son Gilbert, and a daughter Isabel.
According to records, Gilbert died a minor in 1185. On Strongbow's death
Henry II took his lands into royal hands, with William fitz Audelin as
administrator in Ireland and Eve holding dower rights, and possibily the
lordship of Striguil, until as late as 1185/86. Henry II protected
Isabel, Strongbow's daughter and heir; one of Henry's last acts was to
promise Isabel and all of her father's lands to William Marshal in 1189.
are many years in Strongbow's life for which there are no known records.
Little is known of his early years and of his life with his father
during the wars between Matilda and Stephen. His time in Ireland is only
seen through the eyes of a few sources and the charters and writs
Strongbow issued and/or witnessed. Strongbow was generous in
ecclesiastical grants; founding the preceptory of Knights Hospitallers
at Kilmainham outside of Dublin, and helping to build the choir of the
cathedral at Dublin with the two chapels of St. Edmond and St. Mary Alba
and St. Laud. He gave charters and lands to St. Mary's in Dublin and to
Dunbrody and founded the priory of Benedictine nuns at Usk.
Cambrensis describes Strongbow as a tall man with red hair, freckles,
grey eyes and a soft (weak) voice.
"In war Strongbow was more of a leader than a soldier. . . . When he took-up his position in the midst of battle, he stood firm as an immovable standard around which his men could re-group and take refuge. In war he remained steadfast and reliable in good fortune and bad alike. . . ."
a man who was Strongbow's contemporary and not overly fond of him could
describe him thus, Strongbow must have been a unique man. Strongbow had
the patience and intelligence not to openly defy King Henry II, despite
being denied what he must have seen as his rightful inheritance. He had
the military skills and abilities of a commander that enabled him to
conquer great lands in Ireland and the sagacity of a diplomat that
allowed him to offer those conquests to his king and vassal lord, Henry
II. On Strongbow's death at the age of forty-six, King Henry II guarded
and protected his widow, his heir and his vast fiefs which leads to the
belief that Strongbow had earned Henry's respect and perhaps even his
affection. When Isabel de Clare married William Marshal in 1189, she
brought with her the inheritance of her father. Isabel brought to
Marshal the lordship of Striguil (Chepstow) in Wales, the lordship of
Leinster in Ireland, fiefs in some nine shires in England, and the
claims to the earldom of Pembroke and one half the barony of Earl
Giffard in England and Normandy. Richard Strongbow de Clare would have
approved of King Henry's choice for his son-in-law, a man who made his
own place in his world. William Marshal would have respected his
father-in-law for the loyal knight and vassal he was to King Henry II
and to the Angevin Crown.
Please note that no part of this article may be re-published without the written permission of the author, Catherine Armstrong, and the original publisher www.castlewales.com to whom I am indebted for their permission to publish in this site.
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