CLARE FAMILY, the name of a famous English family. The ancestor of this historic house, "which played," in Freeman's words, "so great a part alike in England, Wales and Ireland," was Count Godfrey, eldest of the illegitimate sons of Richard the Fearless, duke of Normandy. His son, Count Gilbert of Brionne, had two sons, Richard, lord of Bienfaite and Orbec, and Baldwin, lord of Le Sap and Meulles, both of whom accompanied the Conqueror to England. Baldwin, known as "De Meulles" or "of Exeter," received the hereditary shrievalty of Devon with great estates in the West Country, and left three sons, William, Robert and Richard, of whom the first and last were in turn sheriffs of Devon. Richard, known as "de Bienfaite," or "of Tunbridge," or "of Clare," was the founder of the house of Clare.
Richard derived his English appellation from his strongholds at Tunbridge and at Clare, at both of which his castle-mounds still remain. The latter, on the borders of Essex and Suffolk, was the head of his great "honour" which lay chiefly in the eastern counties. Appointed joint justiciar in the king's absence abroad, he took a leading part in suppressing the revolt of 1075. By his wife, Rohese, daughter of Walter Giffard, through whom great Giffard estates afterwards came to his house, he left five sons and two daughters. Roger was his heir in Normandy, Walter founded Tintern Abbey, Richard was a monk, and Robert, receiving the forfeited fief of the Baynards in the eastern counties, founded, through his son Walter, the house of FitzWalter (extinct 1432), of whom the most famous was Robert FitzWalter, the leader of the barons against King John. Of this house, spoken of by Jordan Fantosme as "Clarreaus," the Daventrys of Daventry (extinct 1380) and Fawsleys of Fawsley (extinct 1392) were cadets. One of Richard's two daughters married the famous Walter Tirel.
Gilbert, Richard's heir in England, held his castle of Tunbridge against William Rufus, but was wounded and captured. Under Henry I., who favoured the Clares, he obtained a grant of Cardigan, and carried his arms into Wales. Dying about 1115, he left four sons, of whom Gilbert, the second, inherited Chepstow, with Nether-Gwent, from his uncle, Walter, the founder of Tintern, and was created earl of Pembroke by Stephen about 1138; he was father of Richard Strongbow, earl of Pembroke (q.v.). The youngest son Baldwin fought for Stephen at the battle of Lincoln (1141) and founded the priories of Bourne and Deeping on lands acquired with his wife. The eldest son Richard, who was slain by the Welsh on his way to Cardigan in 1135 or 1136, left two sons Gilbert and Roger, of whom Gilbert was created earl of Hertfordshire by Stephen.
It was probably because he and the Clares had no interests in Hertfordshire that they were loosely and usually styled the earls of (de) Clare. Dying in 1152, Gilbert was succeeded by his brother Roger, of whom Fitz-Stephen observes that "nearly all the nobles of England were related to the earl of Clare, whose sister, the most beautiful woman in England, had long been desired by the king" (Henry II.). He was constantly fighting the Welsh for his family possessions in Wales and quarrelled with Becket over Tunbridge Castle. In 1173 or 1174 he was succeeded by his son Richard as third earl, whose marriage with Amicia, daughter and co-heir of William, earl of Gloucester, was destined to raise the fortunes of his house to their highest point. He and his son Gilbert were among the "barons of the Charter," Gilbert, who became fourth earl in 1217, obtained also, early in 1218, the earldom of Gloucester, with its great territorial "Honour," and the lordship of Glamorgan, in right of his mother; "from this time the house of Clare became the acknowledged head of the baronage." Gilbert had also inherited through his father his grandmother's "Honour of St Hilary" and a moiety of the Giffard fief; but the vast possessions of his house were still further swollen by his marriage with a daughter of William (Marshal), earl of Pembroke, through whom his son Richard succeeded in 1245 to a fifth of the Marshall lands including the Kilkenny estates in Ireland. Richard's successor, Gilbert, the "Red" earl, died in 1295, the most powerful subject in the kingdom.
On his death his earldoms seem to have been somewhat mysteriously deemed to have passed to his widow Joan, daughter of Edward I.; for her second husband, Ralph de Monthermer, was summoned to parliament in right of them from 1299 to 1306. After her death, however, in 1307, Earl Gilbert's son and namesake was summoned in 1308 as earl of Gloucester and Hertford, though only sixteen. A nephew of Edward II. and brother-in-law of Gaveston, he played a somewhat wavering part in the struggle between the king and the barons. Guardian of the realm in 1311 and regent in 1313, he fell gloriously at Bannockburn (June 24th, 1314), when only twenty-three, rushing on the enemy "like a wild boar, making his sword drunk with their blood."
The earl was the last of his mighty line, and his vast possessions in England (in over twenty counties), Wales and Ireland fell to his three sisters, of whom Elizabeth, the youngest, wife of John de Burgh, obtained the "Honour of Clare" and transmitted it to her son William de Burgh, 3rd earl of Ulster, whose daughter brought it to Lionel, son of King Edward III., who was thereupon created duke of Clarence, a title associated ever since with the royal house. The "Honour of Clare," vested in the crown, still preserves a separate existence, with a court and steward of its own.
Clare College, Cambridge, derived its name from the above Elizabeth, "Lady of Clare," who founded it as Clare Hall in 1347.
Clare County in Ireland derives its name from the family, though whether from Richard Strongbow, or from Thomas de Clare, a younger son, who had a grant of Thomond in 1276, has been deemed doubtful.
Clarenceux King of Arms, an officer of the Heralds' College, derives his style, through Clarence, from Clare.
See J.H. Round's Geoffrey de Mandeville, Feudal England, Commune of London, and Peerage Studies; also his "Family of Clare" in Arch. Journ. lvi., and "Origin of Armorial Bearings" in Ib. li.; Parkinson's "Clarence, the origin and bearers of the title," in The Antiquary, v.; Clark's "Lords of Glamorgan" in Arch. Journ. xxxv.; Planche's "Earls of Gloucester" in Journ. Arch. Assoc. xxvi.; Dugdale's Baronage, vol. i., and Monasticon Anglicanum; G.E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage.
(J. H. R.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)