Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Earl Gilbert de Clare’s Occupation of London in 1267

by Darius Stransky

Gilbert de Clare (1243 to 1295), also known as ‘Gilbert the Red’ because of his hair colour and fiery disposition, was the seventh earl of Gloucester and sixth earl of Hertford. He was born at Christchurch, Dorset, on 2nd September 1243, the eldest son of Richard de Clare, earl of Hertford and earl of Gloucester (1222–1262).

Gilbert de Clare

The Clare’s owed their leading position in the English nobility to royal favour, inheritance, profitable marriages and a certain belief in the adage that ‘Might is Right’.

In 1252 and ambitious to increase his family's standing and encouraged by King Henry III, who wished to strengthen relations between the crown and the nobility, Gilbert’s father arranged the marriage of Gilbert to the king's niece Alice for a dowry of 5000 marks (that’s around £800,000 in today’s money). In the spring of the following year Earl Richard and William de Valence, the king's half-brother, accompanied Gilbert, then aged nine, to Poitou to solemnize the marriage.

King Henry III

As you can see, Gilbert was born with more than a silver spoon in his mouth; he had a complete silver service clamped between his young jaws!

In 1262 aged twenty, Gilbert inherited his father's estates and took on the titles, including Lord of Glamorgan.

The Second Baron’s War saw Gilbert ally himself with Simon de Montfort and in April 1264, Gilbert emulated his leader by massacring the Jews at Canterbury, (just as Simon de Montfort had done in Leicester).

Not being best pleased with the young impetuous earl, King Henry took Gilbert’s castles of Kingston and Tonbridge but Henry allowed de Clare's wife Alice de Lusignan, who was in the latter, to go free. On the 12th of May 1264, de Clare and de Montfort were declared traitors.

Two days later, on 14th May, Simon de Montfort knighted Gilbert and on that fateful day at Lewes the battle between Barons and Royalists commenced.

In theory King Henry and his illustrious son Lord Edward (the future Edward the First) should have won the battle of Lewes. Gilbert commanded the central division of the Baronial army, Lord Edward the right wing of the Royalists. When Edward left the field in pursuit of Montfort's routed left wing, comprising of Londoners, the King and Earl of Cornwall were thrown back to the town. Henry took refuge in the Priory of St Pancras, and Gilbert accepted the surrender of the Earl of Cornwall, who had hidden in a windmill. Montfort and Earl Gilbert were now supreme with both the King and his son under arrest. Simon de Montfort was now the de facto King of England.

King Edward I

To put it into context, Gilbert had at first supported the King then he changed sides. Not a man to be trusted eh?

In November the same year (1264) Gilbert removed his metaphorical Baronial hat and put on the Royalist one when he changed sides yet again to support Henry and Lord Edward.

So it was that on August 4th 1265 at the battle of Evesham, Gilbert led the left wing of Lord Edward’s army and de Montfort was slain. Gilbert certainly knew how to pick a winner didn’t he?

The battle of Evesham was also known as ‘the murder of Evesham’ as Edward went against the rules of chivalry and slaughtered even those attempting to surrender – Gilbert did his fair share of blood-letting. This second baron’s war didn’t end at Evesham as rebels held out all over the land.

In September 1265 at the Parliament of Winchester the rebels were disinherited and their lands given to royal supporters.

In April 1267 a certain Sir John de Deyville [1] and his men would not accept the dictum of Kenilworth [2] proclaimed on 31st October 1266 (this stated that the rebels had to pay their dues for their part in the wars). But Sir John needed a backer and guess who rode to his rescue? Correct: Gilbert de Clare!

Our recalcitrant Earl changed side again and took his troops to London in defiance of King Henry and Lord Edward. Gilbert had the idea that whoever controlled London (and especially the Tower) controlled the realm.

Model of 13th Century Tower of London

King Henry was at Cambridge and Edward at Windsor when news reached them that Gilbert had entered London. The Londoners had no love for Henry and thought themselves a cut above the rest of England’s populace. Gilbert was welcomed with open arms and once again rebellion reared its ugly head.

To be fair to Gilbert, his stated aim was to lighten the burdens imposed on the rebel knights and barons. He sought to use his occupation of London as a bargaining tool. Some say he had delusions of grandeur and thought to start another full-blown rebellion but, personally, I think his intentions were true.

A certain Cardinal Ottobuono (Papal Legate) [3] occupied The Tower of London at the time and Gilbert set about laying siege so as to gain the Tower and cement his hold on London. Gilbert also tore down houses and set up defences on the South bank of the Thames at Southwark for he assumed that Edward would attack from this direction. Eventually Cardinal Ottobuono relinquished the Tower and set up residence at Stratford some miles East of the city.

With the Tower in his control Gilbert naturally assumed his demands for reform were a certainty but – there’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there – he hadn’t taken the behaviour of Sir John Deyville in to consideration.

If we accept that Gilbert’s occupation of London was undertaken with the best of intentions; to seek redress for the Disinherited knights and Barons, to right what he considered a wrong in their treatment then Sir John Deyville’s intentions were completely the opposite.

Sir John and his men basically ran amok through London. He even occupied Henry’s favourite Palace of Westminster and, not content with plundering anything of value that could be moved he even took away doors and windows! When King Henry heard about this he vowed dire revenge on the avaricious knight.

Even the Londoners complained about Sir John and his followers who took drink, food, lodgings and even the local women of easy virtue without paying for them; the Londoners were becoming disaffected; the tide was turning.

Then came news that the Royal army was on its way. Gilbert expected a direct attack but King Henry and Lord Edward took their forces to the Abbey of St Mary's, Stratford Langthorne where they met up with Cardinal Ottobuono.

With an army almost on their doorstep the Londoners realised the game was up and supporters drifted away from Gilbert. More men flocked to the Royal banner at Stratford where, unbeknown to Gilbert, Lord Edward had taken charge and Edward wanted a fight.

It was then that Henry’s brother, Richard of Cornwall came up with a plan he hoped would end this rebellion without bloodshed when he spoke words similar to this to King Henry;
“Let it be known that those disinherited subjects can once again return to their lands. That they must pay any monies and fines to you until full reparation has been achieved. Thus, at a stroke of the pen, the reason for this dispute will evaporate like the morning mist.”
Once this communication was handed to Gilbert and the turncoat earl had thought long and hard on his rapidly deteriorating situation he accepted the offer from the King which also included a Royal Pardon for himself (personally I would have hanged him!)

On Saturday June 18th 1267 on the Feast day of St Mark (Marci) and St Marcellian a victorious Henry and Lord Edward rode into London to the sight of a cheering populace (they had to cheer for Henry had even offered them a pardon!)

As Gilbert left London there was a final ignominy for him to endure. He had to relinquish Tonbridge Castle and/or his daughter and pay a fine of ten thousand marks.

And Sir John Deyville? He was eventually pardoned and went on to redeem himself.

Did Gilbert de Clare ever change sides again I hear you ask? Well not specifically. He did promise to accompany Lord Edward on Crusade but never actually fulfilled his pledge. He was constantly falling out with Edward and sailing close to the wind in his dealings with royalty (it was rumoured Edward had a dalliance with his first wife Alice but that’s another story).

Gilbert was the first to accept Edward as King when Henry died in 1272 whilst Edward was on crusade. So that was a good move.

Eventually Gilbert married Edward’s daughter Joan of Acre [4] but even then Edward had the last laugh for it was written that when Gilbert died all his lands and property would revert to Joan and thus back to the Crown.

Gilbert Died: 7th December 1295 at Monmouth Castle, Monmouth.

In conclusion: It is my opinion that Gilbert’s occupation of London in 1267 did indeed achieve his aims and that further opposition to the Crown was defused thanks to the changes he obtained.

References: (1) Sir John Deyville (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography) 
(2) Dictum of Kenilworth
(3) Cardinal Ottobuono (ODNB)
 (4) Joan of Acre

[All above images are in the public domain]


Darius Stransky wrote weekly columns and articles for prestigious UK media groups for many years. He then immersed himself in thirteenth-century English studies and thus was born ‘The King’s Jew’ series.
Stransky’s ‘The King’s Jew Quartet’ is an adventure, a love story and a tale of intrigue and passion set against the backdrop of Edward the First and spans sixty-seven years of Cristian’s and Edward’s life together. Importantly, the life of the medieval Jew and the common man is not overlooked in this sweeping saga.
Information on Books One and Two and worldwide purchase options are available here at his book page 
Paperback available HERE 
Connect with Darius at his website


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