Gilbert de Clare, The Red Earl

Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl of Hertford, 7th Earl of Gloucester, 3rd Lord of Glamorgan, 9th Lord of Clare, was a terrible person, greedy and heartless to the point of psychopathy, so he did very well in the Middle Ages. (Psychopaths do well for themselves in almost any era, really.) He was known as the Red Earl, perhaps because he was ginger, but more likely because he had red hair and a bloody temper.

the red earl gilber de clare in stainglass

Gilbert was the eldest surviving son of the son of Richard de Clare, Earl of Hertford and Gloucester, who claimed the Lordship of Glamorgan thanks to late 12th century Anglo-Norman invasions of Wales. Born in the autumn of 1243, when he was only ten years old de Clare was married to Alice de Lusignan, a niece of Henry III through the oldest of the king’s Poitevin maternal half-brothers, Hugh XI of Lusignan. This marriage would already be an unhappy one by the time de Clare became the Earl of Gloucester in 1262.

Although he was one of the most powerful and wealthy of the Marcher Lords, de Clare was nonetheless dissatisfied about how much HE was getting from the crown. He didn’t like the fact King Henry III’s half-brothers, the Lusignans, were marrying heiresses and gaining lands and castles. De Clare especially resented that he wasn’t getting as much as the Lusignans, even though he was married to one of their heiresses.  So de Clare joined in a coalition of rebels under the leadership of another Marcher Lord, Simon de Montfort, in the Second Barons’ War.

The first thing de Clare did for de Montfort was to slaughter the Jews of Canterbury in April 1264. Montfort and others, including de Clare, owned a lot of money to Jewish bankers, and they decided it was their “Christian duty” to wipe out the infidels … and their debts at the same time. This royally irked Henry III, in spite of harsh measures he had taken against the Jews himself, and on 12 May 1264 both de Clare and de Montfort were named as traitors to the crown.

Just two days later King Henry III was captured by de Clare and de Montfort at Battle of Lewes. The rebel earls were also able to take his son, Prince Edward (the future King Edward I), hostage when Edward tried to save his father. The king was to was forced to sign the Mise of Lewes, which made Simon de Montfort the ruler of England in all but name.

The tide would soon turn against de Montfort, though. On 20 October 1264 the rebel barons, including Montfort and de Clare, were excommunicated by Pope Clement IV, and their lands placed under an interdict. Meanwhile, Prince Edward had escaped and was gathering an army to free his father.

With the Pope against them, Prince Edward on the warpath, and the earl’s own petty resentment that de Montfort was in command to spur him on, de Clare decided the time was ripe to change sides. With no conscience to burden him, de Clare made an admirable turn-coat. He demonstrated his new loyalty to Prince Edward by destroying de Montfort’s ships at the port of Bristol, as well as those anchored near the bridge over the River Severn near Gloucester. De Clare then joined Prince Edward’s victorious troops at Kenilworth on 16 July 1265, and again on 4 August at the Battle of Evesham. De Montfort died at Evesham, and in October 1265 de Clare was rewarded for his support by being granted the titles to Abergavenny and Brecknock.

De Clare was never foolish enough to rebel against King Edward I, knowing that Edward would have chewed him up and spit out the bones. The earl’s martial inferiority to the king was confirmed in 1282 when de Clare led English forces against the Welsh at the Battle of Llandeilo Fawr, where de Clare was trounced. De Clare was able to win his way back into Longshank’s good graces, though, and after the earl’s marriage to Alice de Lusignan was annulled in 1285, he was given the hand of Edward’s daughter, Joan of Acre, in marriage on 30 April 1290. However, to wed Joan he had to agree that should the union be childless his lands would be forfeit to his widow … and thus the crown.

Edward also made de Clare learn to place nice with the other earls in exchange for marrying a princess. When de Clare started a private war with Humphrey de Bohun, 3rd Earl of Hereford, about land rights, the king imprisoned them both and they were each “sentenced to having their lands forfeit for life and de Clare, the Earl of Gloucester, as the aggressor, was fined 10,000 marks, and the Earl of Hereford 1,000 marks.They were released almost immediately and both of their lands completely restored to them – however they had both been taught a very public lesson and their prestige diminished and the King’s authority shown for all.”

Afterwards, conflicts between de Clare and Thomas de Cantilupe, Bishop of Hereford, and Godfrey Giffard, Bishop and Administrator of Worcester Cathedral (and formerly Chancellor of England) about hunting rights were settled less dramatically in court. De Clare also signed the Barons’ letter to the Pope swearing their submission to the king, and “on 2 November, surrendered to the King his claim to the advowson of the Bishopric of Llandaff.”

De Clare and Joan were only married a little over five years, but they managed to produce four children in that time, all of whom lived to adulthood. The firstborn and only son, Gilbert, Earl of Hertford and Gloucester, inherited his father’s title when de Clare died at at Monmouth Castle on 7 December 1295, but his mother Joan kept the custody of the family’s lands, and paid homage to the king in her son’s name.

Gilbert de Clare, 8th Lord of Gloucester, was killed at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 while serving in the army of his first cousin, King Edward II. Since de Clare had no surviving offspring, the family’s estates were divided among his three sisters, Eleanor, Margaret (the widow of Piers Gaveston) and Elizabeth. However, Eleanor’s husband, Hugh Despenser the Younger, a favourite and suspected lover of King Edward II, tried to get the whole pie for himself. Unlike his father-in-law, Despenser didn’t know when to fold on a bad hand, and his greed got him killed.

One thought on “Gilbert de Clare, The Red Earl

  1. Killing one’s creditor is a good way of getting rid of debts!!

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