Elizabeth de Clare

Elizabeth de Clare (September 16, 1295 – 1360) was the heiress to the lordships of Clare, Suffolk in England and Usk in Wales. She was one of three daughters of Gilbert de Clare, 7th Earl of Hertford and Joan of Acre, and sister of the infant fourth earl, also Gilbert de Clare. She accompanied her brother Gilbert to Ireland for their double wedding to two siblings: the son and daughter of the Earl of Ulster. Elizabeth married John de Burgh on September 30, 1308.

He was the heir to the Earl of Ulster, and Elizabeth could expect to be a countess. She gave birth to their only child, a son, in 1312; he would become William Donn de Burgh, 3rd Earl of Ulster. Only a year later, her husband John was suddenly killed in a minor skirmish. Now a widow, Elizabeth remained in Ireland until another family tragedy demanded her return.

Her brother Gilbert was killed at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 aged only 23 and, as he left no surviving issue and had no brothers, his property was equally divided between his three full sisters, Elizabeth, Eleanor and Margaret. Suddenly Elizabeth was one of the greatest heiresses in England. Her uncle, King Edward II, recalled her to the land of her birth so he could select a husband for her. She left Ireland in 1316, leaving behind her young son, William. Elizabeth never returned.

Edward II placed her in Bristol Castle, but his plans to marry her to one of his supporters were dashed in February 1316, when Elizabeth was abducted from Bristol by Theobald II de Verdun, the former Justiciar of Ireland. He and Elizabeth had been engaged before she was called back to England. She was Lady Verdun for only six months however, for Theobald died on July 27, 1316, at Alton, Staffordshire, of typhoid. He left behind three daughters from a prior marriage and Elizabeth, who was pregnant. She fled to Amesbury Priory, where she stayed under the protection of her aunt Mary de Burgh, who was a nun there, and where Elizabeth's posthumous daughter, Isabella de Verdun, named after the Queen, was born in February 1317. Just a few weeks later, Edward II married Elizabeth to Sir Roger D'Amory, Lord D'Amory, Baron of Armoy in Ireland.

D'Amory had been a knight in her brother's service who rose to prominence as a favourite of Edward II. Now married to him, Elizabeth was caught up in the political upheavals of her uncle's reign. She gave birth to another daughter, Elizabeth, in May 1318. Roger was reckless and violent, and made a deadly enemy of his brother-in-law, Hugh the younger Despenser. D'Amory switched sides over to Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, and died in March 1322, having been captured by royalist forces. Elizabeth was taken and imprisoned at Barking Abbey with her children by the victorious faction.

At this time she became the victim of an elaborate plot by the younger Hugh Despenser with the help of King Edward II. It provides a good example of the abuse of power which eventually led to their downfall. Despenser had received Gower from the king, who had taken it from its previous holder, William de Braose. Elizabeth was forced to exchange Usk for Gower, which was less valuable. De Braose then undertook legal proceedings against her for possession of Gower, which were successful under pressure from the king. Finally, de Braose gave Gower to the Despensers.

Elizabeth supported her friend Queen Isabella when she invaded England, and she benefited greatly from the reign of Isabella's son, King Edward III of England. In January 1327, after the fall of the Despensers, the lands they had taken were returned to her.

She took a vow of chastity after Roger's death, effectively removing herself from the aristocratic marriage market. She enjoyed a long and fruitful widowhood, becoming patroness of many religious houses. Elizabeth is best remembered for having used much of her fortune to found Clare College, Cambridge. The survival of many of her household records has been a boon to medieval scholars, particularly those focusing on medieval women; a study of Elizabeth by Frances Underhill, For Her Good Estate: The Life of Elizabeth de Burgh, is largely based upon these records.

Her daughter, Elizabeth d'Amory, married John Bardolf, 3rd Lord Bardolf of Wormegay, Knight Banneret (1314 - 1363).



  • Fryde, Natalie (1979). The tyranny and fall of Edward II, 1321-1326.
  • Holmes, G. A. (1955). "A Protest against the Despensers, 1326". Speculum 30 207–212.

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