Isabel de Clare, 4th Countess of Pembroke

Isabel de Clare, suo jure 4th Countess of Pembroke and Striguil (1172–1220), was a Cambro-Norman-Irish noblewoman and one of the wealthiest heiresses in Wales and Ireland.[1] She was the wife of William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, who served four successive kings as Lord Marshal of England. Her marriage had been arranged by King Richard I.

Isabel de Clare
suo jure Countess of Pembroke and Striguil
Pembrokeshire, Wales
Pembrokeshire, Wales
Noble familyDe Clare
Spouse(s)William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke
FatherRichard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke
MotherAoife of Leinster

Family inheritance

Isabel was born in 1172 in Pembrokeshire, Wales, the eldest child of Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (1130  20 April 1176), known to history as "Strongbow", and Aoife of Leinster, who was the daughter of Diarmait Mac Murchada, the deposed King of Leinster and Mór ingen Muirchertaig. The latter was a daughter of Muirchertach Ua Tuathail and Cacht ingen Loigsig. The marriage of Strongbow and Aoife took place in August 1170, the day after the capture of Waterford by the Cambro-Norman forces led by Strongbow.

Isabel's paternal grandparents were Gilbert de Clare, 1st Earl of Pembroke, and his wife Lady Isabel de Beaumont. She had a younger brother Gilbert de Striguil who, being a minor, was not formally invested with either the earldom of Pembroke or of Striguil. It is unlikely that his father could have passed on the title to Pembroke as he himself did not possess it. When Gilbert died in 1185, Isabel became Countess of Pembroke in her own right (suo jure) until her death in 1220. In this way, she could be said to be the first successor to the earldom of Pembroke since her grandfather Gilbert, the first earl. By this reckoning, Isabel ought to be called the second countess, not the fourth countess of Pembroke. In any event, the title Earl was re-created for her husband. She also had an illegitimate half-sister Basile de Clare, who married three times. Basile's husbands were: Robert de Quincy; Raymond Fitzgerald, Constable of Leinster: Geoffrey FitzRobert, Baron of Kells.

Isabel was described as having been "the good, the fair, the wise, the courteous lady of high degree".[2] She allegedly spoke French, Irish and Latin.[3] After her brother Gilbert's death, Isabel became one of the wealthiest heiresses in the kingdom, owning besides the titles of Pembroke and Striguil, much land in Wales and Ireland.[1] She inherited the numerous castles on the inlet of Milford Haven, guarding the South Channel, including Pembroke Castle.[1] She was a legal ward of King Henry II, who carefully watched over her inheritance.[1]


The new King Richard I arranged her marriage in August 1189 to William Marshal, regarded by many as the greatest knight and soldier in the realm. Henry II had promised Marshal he would be given Isabel as his bride, and his son and successor Richard upheld the promise one month after his accession to the throne. At the time of her marriage, Isabel was residing in the Tower of London in the protective custody of the Justiciar of England, Ranulf de Glanville.[2] Following the wedding, which was celebrated in London "with due pomp and ceremony",[2] they spent their honeymoon at Stoke d'Abernon in Surrey which belonged to Enguerrand d'Abernon.[4]

Marriage to Isabel elevated William Marshal from the status as a landless knight into one of the richest men in the kingdom. He would serve as Lord Marshal of England, four kings in all: Henry II, Richard I, John, and Henry III. Although Marshal did not become the jure uxoris 1st Earl of Pembroke, Earl of Striguil until 1199, he nevertheless assumed overlordship of Leinster in Ireland, Pembroke Castle, Chepstow Castle, as well as Isabel's other castles in Wales such as the keep of Haverford, Tenby, Lewhaden, Narberth, Stackpole.[1]

Shortly after their marriage, Marshal and Isabel arrived in Ireland, at Old Ross, a settlement located in the territory which belonged to her grandfather, Dermot MacMurrough. A motte was hastily constructed, a medieval borough quickly grew around it, and afterwards the Marshals founded the port town by the river which subsequently became known as New Ross. The Chronicles of Ross, which are housed in the British Museum, described Isabel and Marshal's arrival in Ireland and records that Isabella set about building a lovely city on the banks of the Barrow.

In 1192, Isabel and her husband assumed the task of managing their vast lands; starting with the rebuilding of Kilkenny Castle and the town, both of which had been damaged by the O'Brien clan in 1173. Later they commissioned the construction of several abbeys in the vicinity.[5]

The marriage was happy, despite the vast difference in age between them. William Marshal and Isabel produced a total of five sons and five daughters.[1]



Isabel died in Pembrokeshire, Wales in 1220 at the age of forty-eight. Her husband had died the year before. She was buried at Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire. However, a cenotaph was discovered inside St. Mary's Church, New Ross, Ireland, whose slab bears the partial inscription "ISABEL: LAEGN" and her engraved likeness.[6]

It was suggested in 1892 by Paul Meyer that Isabel might have encouraged the composition of the Song of Dermot, which narrates the exploits of her father and maternal grandfather. However, the Song of Dermot as now known was composed a few years after her death (though based on earlier writings).[7][8]

Although her daughters had many children, Isabel's five sons, curiously, died childless. This is supposedly attributed to a curse placed upon William Marshal by the Irish Bishop of Ferns, Albin O'Molloy.[9] The title of marshal subsequently passed to Hugh de Bigod, husband of Isabel's eldest daughter Maud, while the title of Earl of Pembroke went to William de Valence, 1st Earl of Pembroke, the husband of Joan de Munchensi, daughter of Joan Marshal. He was the first of the de Valence line of the earls of Pembroke.

Within a few generations their descendants included much of the nobility of Europe, including all the monarchs of Scotland since Robert I (1274-1329) and all those of England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom since Henry IV (1367-1413); and, apart from Anne of Cleves, all the queen consorts of Henry VIII.



  1. Costain 1962, p. 267.
  2. Painter 1933, p. 76.
  3. Turtle Bunbury (2000). History, Heroes and Villains, William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, 1147-1219  Crusader, Templar, Kingmaker. An article. Retrieved 2010-10-29.
  4. Painter 1933, pp. 76-77.
  5. Turtle Bunbury
  6. JSTOR: The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol.78, No (July 1948), p.65. Retrieved 2010-10-29.
  7. Meyer, Paul. Romania, 1892, Vol. 21. Forgotten Books. pp. 444–451. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  8. Gransden, Antonia (1996). Historical Writing in England: c. 500 to c. 1307. Historical Writing in England. Routledge. p. 518. ISBN 978-0-415-15124-5. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  9. Costain 2012, pp. 104-105.


Peerage of England
Preceded by
Gilbert de Clare, 3rd Earl of Pembroke
Countess of Pembroke
Succeeded by
William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke

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