Royal Roots

Strongbow is also the name of the 2nd Earl of Pembroke. His name is Richard de Clare, who lived from 1130 to 1176. He was known as Strongbow and was the son of Gilbert de Clare, 1st Earl of Pembroke and Isabel de Beaumont. De Clare was an Anglo-Norman lord notable for beginning the Norman conquest of Ireland. His father Gilbert died when he was about eighteen years old, and he inherited the title Earl of Pembroke, but not at that stage his father’s lands in the Welsh marches.

When Diarmuid MacMorrough, King of Leinster, sought help from King Henry II to regain his kingdom, he was pointed in the direction of Richard de Clare and other Welsh Marches barons and knights, together with Welsh archers — hence the name “Strongbow”. (It is as a result of Welsh settlers remaining behind after this expedition that certain Irish surnames such as “Walsh” and “Wogan” are said to originate.) This army took Wexford, Waterford and Dublin in 1169 and 1170, and Strongbow joined them in August 1170.

The day after the capture of Waterford, he married MacMorrough’s daughter Aoife of Leinster. When MacMorrough died, Strongbow claimed the kingship of Leinster in the right of his wife. Henry II was concerned about his barons’ new lands in Ireland and summoned them back to England in 1171 to extract their fealty and to prepare for his own invasion of Ireland that year to create the lordship of Ireland. In 1173, Henry’s sons rose against him in Normandy; Strongbow’s support for Henry led to him being made Henry’s governor of Ireland. Richard also held the title of Lord Marshal of England.

Strongbow died of an infection in his foot in 1176 during a rebellion by the Irish and was buried in Dublin – his tomb can be viewed in Christ Church Cathedral. He left a young son Gilbert who died in 1185 while still a minor, and a daughter Isabel. King Henry II promised Isabel in marriage to William Marshal together with her father’s lands and title. Strongbow’s widow, Aoife, lived on to 1188, when she is last found in a charter.