Norman family de Clare

Norman family de Clare

The chevrons of the de Clare family can be seen on many civic coats of arms in England and Wales. Our Association of Freemen owe much to this family who have founded freedoms in many boroughs and were instigators of the Magna Carta.

Richard de Clare (1035-1090) a Norman kinsman of William the Conqueror, created a dynasty so powerful as to threaten the king. Their lordships stretched across England into Wales and Ireland.

When Richard ‘Strongbow’ de Clare, prominent Marcher Lord of Striguil (Chepstow) and Earl of  Pembroke, invaded Ireland to become Lord of Leinster, the king attempted to confiscate some of his estates before returning them.

A de Clare connection exists between our ancestral home of Sudbury and that of Gloucester, Cardiff, Pembroke, Haverfordwest and Llantrisant who all owe their freedom from that eminent family. Clare manor, close by Sudbury in Suffolk, was adopted by Richard whose castle mound was the tallest in England. He was firstly lord of Tonbridge, Bienfaite and Orbec in France and Chief Justiciar of England.

His descendants became lords of Cardigan, Netherwent, Dunmow (Barons Fitzwalter) Earls of Hertford, Gloucester, Guardian of England, Lord of Thomond and Chancellor of Ireland. The name of Clare persists in Clare College, Cambridge University, as Claret the popular red wine, the Dukes of Clarence and as Clarenceux, King of Arms.

De Clare’s have been instrumental in bringing ‘freedom’ to many manorial boroughs and market towns who continue to fly their flag today. They were the first signatures to the demands on King John of the Magna Carta. We at Sudbury, toast Richard de Clare, Earl of Hertford and Gloucester as our Patron having given us our land rights and the Freedom of Sudbury Borough.

It is interesting to contemplate the many situations where the freemen of various places would have gone into battle together under the de Clare banner of their lord. Particularly under the leadership of Richard ‘Strongbow’ de Clare of Pembroke whose notable Welsh bowmen won many battles to take the lands referred to as little England in Wales. Richard raised a large army to assist Diarmuid Mac Murchada including the Welsh archers, to regain his lands in Ireland . This resulted in Richard becoming lord of the kingdom of Leinster.

The 6th century hilltop settlement of Llantrisant was seized around 1246 by Richard de Clare who built a castle and established the borough of Llantrisant its royal charter was sealed in 1346. The longbowmen of Llantrisant made up the ‘men of Ghent’ that won a victory for Edward, the Black Prince at the Battle of Crecy.


Pembroke has very early prehistoric origins. The Romans at one time occupied the site before a small religious community took residence. An early Medieval burgh (borough) had its beginnings shortly before the Norman Conquest.

When Rhys ap Tewdwr, the Welsh lord died in 1093, the Norman Roger de Montgomery took control. He built a substantial castle and when Roger’s son Arnulf rebelled it was immediately seized by King Henry I. King Henry developed and established a Royal Borough, inviting settlers from England and Flanders to form an occupation that became known as “little England beyond Wales”.

Much of the old borough layout is clearly visible today. The town and its castle were given by King Stephen to Gilbert de Clare who became first Earl of Pembroke (1138). Gilbert (father of ‘Strongbow’) also held the Marcher lordship of Striguil (Chepstow).

Some of the town arms containing the Chevrons of de Clare.

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