Richard De Clare, Strongbow

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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De Clare, Richard, Earl of Pembroke and Strigul, surnamed Strongbow, was born about 1130. He succeeded his father in his title and estates in 1149. The extensive ruins of his castle at Chepstowe would alone attest his possessions and influence; but having wasted his substance by extravagance, and being out of favour with Henry II., he eagerly seized the first opportunity that offered of retrieving his broken fortunes. This came in King Henry's licence to Dermot MacMurrough, permitting him to seek assistance in England to establish his claim to the throne of Leinster.

MacMurrough offered Strongbow extensive territories in Ireland, and the hand of his daughter Eva, if he would enter into his plans. The intrepid Earl threw himself heart and soul into the enterprise, and in May 1169 sent forward an expedition under FitzStephen, Raymond le Gros, and De Marisco, with whose assistance MacMurrough was reinstated in his kingdom. Henry II. was alarmed at the success attending their arms, and interdicted further expeditions to Ireland until he should have leisure to proceed thither in person. Strongbow, whose preparations were made, went to Normandy in 1170, obtained an equivocal permission from Henry, and embarked a small army of 1,200 men at Milford Haven. After a favourable passage, he landed near Waterford on the 23rd August 1170. Next day, being joined by Raymond le Gros and his forces, he marched to the attack of the city, which was bravely defended by the Danish and Irish inhabitants. Even after the walls were scaled and the city occupied by the small band of Anglo-Normans, some of the garrison held out in Reginald's Tower.

The nuptials of Strongbow and Eva were immediately celebrated, and having established his power in Waterford and the surrounding districts, he pushed on through Ferns, and by the coast road to Dublin — the more direct route by the Barrow and Kildare being barred by levies hastily collected by the Irish chiefs. Dublin was taken by assault after great slaughter, its Danish king, Asculf, and "the better part" of his followers embarking with their valuables, and setting sail for the Isle of Man and the Western Islands.

The capture of Dublin was followed by expeditions into Meath and other parts of the island, under the guidance of MacMurrough. Upon the death of the latter, which took place in a few months, Strongbow succeeded to the throne of Leinster. Already Milo de Cogan had defeated an effort made by the Northmen and Irish to recapture Dublin; but a more formidable confederacy was now formed by Roderic O'Conor, aided by the Danes of the Hebrides and Man. They commenced operations by investing Dublin — Roderic taking up his position at Castleknock, O'Rourke and O'Carrol at Clontarf, O'Kinsellagh at Irishtown, and the Prince of Thomond at Kilmainham, while Godred, King of Man, blockaded the harbour.

After a siege of two months, the distress of the Norman garrison was increased by the news that FitzStephen was besieged in Ferry Carrig Castle, near Wexford. They therefore opened negotiations with Roderic; but his terms were so humiliating that they could not accept them, and a desperate sally in the direction of Finglas was headed by Strongbow, Raymond le Gros, Milo de Cogan, and Maurice FitzGerald, with small bodies of men-at-arms. The Irish troops, disorganized by the assurance of a speedy surrender of the town, offered but a feeble resistance to the redoubtable Normans, and were cut down in multitudes.

The siege of Dublin was raised, and vast stores of provisions fell into the hands of the invaders. Strongbow next proceeded to the succour of FitzStephen — too late, however, to save him from falling into the hands of the native princes. On the march south he encountered a vigorous resistance near Carlow. From Wexford he proceeded to Waterford, and thence back to Ferns, where he assumed almost regal state. Meanwhile he received news of Henry II.'s great displeasure at his precipitancy, and sent Raymond le Gros to proffer his submission, and reassure the King as to his loyalty. He then followed in person, and found Henry at Newnham, in Gloucestershire, making preparations for a personal visit to Ireland. After some demur, Strongbow's homage and oath of fealty were accepted, and he was confirmed in his Irish estates (Dublin and the seaport towns being reserved by the King), and also in his English possessions, which had been confiscated. Henry thought it more prudent to keep him by his side, until, having collected a considerable army, he landed in person at Waterford, 18th October 1171.

The following year, when Henry returned to England, Strongbow accompanied him; but great disasters falling upon the Anglo-Norman colonists, he returned in 1173 as Lord-Warden, or Justice of Ireland. A quarrel ensued between him and Raymond le Gros, who was the beloved of the army, and whose good will was necessary to the further carrying out of Strongbow's plans of conquest. Raymond retired to England, but before long Strongbow was glad to secure his aid by giving him the hand of his sister Basilia, which Raymond had long coveted. Harassed by constant hostilities with the Irish, Strongbow's position was by no means an easy one, and he died in Dublin, after a lingering illness, in the year 1176 or 1177, aged about 47. Raymond le Gros was absent at the time, and the safety of the Dublin garrison almost depended upon Basilia's concealing even the illness of her brother; so that she could convey the intelligence to her husband only in the following form: "To Raymond, her well-beloved lord and husband, Basilia wisheth health as to herself. Be it known to your sincere love, that the great jaw-tooth which used to give me so much uneasiness has fallen out. Wherefore, if you have any care or regard for me, or even for yourself, return with all speed."

Strongbow is thus described by Giraldus Cambrensis: "His complexion was somewhat ruddy and his skin freckled; he had grey eyes, feminine features, a weak voice, and short neck. For the rest, he was tall in stature, and a man of great generosity and of courteous manner. What he failed of accomplishing by force, he succeeded in by gentle words. In time of peace he was more disposed to be led by others than to command. Out of the camp he had more the air of any ordinary man-at-arms than of a general-in-chief; but in action the mere soldier was forgotten in the commander. With the advice of those about him, he was ready to dare anything; but he never ordered any attack relying on his own judgment, or rashly presuming on his personal courage. The post he occupied in battle was a sure rallying point for his troops. His equanimity and firmness in all the vicissitudes of war were remarkable, being neither driven to despair in adversity, nor puffed up by success."

Strongbow was buried in Christ Church, Dublin, which he had helped to rebuild. There his reputed monument may be seen. [See DESMOND, 8th EARL OF.] He is supposed to have left a son, who died a few years after him, and a daughter, Isabel, given in marriage by Richard I. to William Marshal, who succeeded to his title and estates. A building on the site of the present Royal Hospital at Kilmainham was founded and largely endowed by Strongbow as a preceptory for the Knights Templars. Several notices of Strongbow's family — the De Clares — will be found in Notes and Queries, 1st Series.

Note from Addenda:

De Clare, Richard — It was Maurice, not Raymond FitzGerald, that accompanied FitzStephen. Queen Victoria is said to be descended from Strongbow and Eva's daughter Isabel. Strongbow's daughter by a former marriage became the bride of Robert de Quincey, who fell in battle with the Irish.[233]

Sources

5. Anglo-Normans, History of the Invasion of Ireland by the: Gerald H. Supple. Dublin, 1856.

52. Burke, Sir Bernard: Dormant, Abeyant, Forfeited, and Extinct Peerages. London, 1866.

134. Four Masters, Annals of Ireland by the: Translated and Edited by John O'Donovan. 7 vols. Dublin, 1856.

148. Giraldus Cambrensis: Topography, and History of the Conquest in Ireland: Forester and Wright. London, 1863.

174. Ireland, History of, Lectures on the: Alexander G. Richey. 2 vols. Dublin, 1869-'70.

233. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.

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