The Small Town of Clare

Clare before the
Norman Conquest

The Clare Lordship

The Castle

The Medieval Town

Borough and Manor

The Parish Church

The House of Austin Friars

The Woollen Industry

The Town in the
Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

Early Nonconformity

Schools and Charities

Later History of the Town




The Clare Lordship

After the Norman Conquest Richard de Bienfaite, sometimes called Richard de Tonbridge and once Richard de Clare, who was a supporter and friend of William the Conqueror, was rewarded for his part in the Conquest by the gift of 175 estates; 95 of these were in Suffolk and among them Clare with its market must have been of particular value, with the possibility of trading development. Like other Normans the Clare lords were devout, and generous in their gifts to the Church and to religious foundations. A small priory of secular canons which had already been founded by Aluric the Saxon was given in 1090 by Gilbert fitz Richard, the second Clare lord, to the monks of Bec; it was then said to be within the castle site. In 1124 Gilbert’s son Richard removed the cell to Stoke by Clare, (where in the early fifteenth century it was changed into a college of secular priests). As will be seen, a later Clare lord founded a house of Augustinian friars in Clare itself.

Clare became the administrative centre of the great aggregate of manors known as the Honor of Clare, which included land in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and other counties. From that time, until 1314, when the last of the male line was killed at the battle of Bannockburn, the Clare lords were among the greatest in the kingdom. After 1141 they became Earls of Hertford, and later, by marriage, Earls of Gloucester. In 1215 Gilbert of Clare was one of the twenty-five barons appointed to carry out the provisions of Magna Carta. His son, Richard of Clare, and his grandson, another Gilbert, called "the Red", played leading parts in the long struggle between Henry III and his barons. Edward I’s daughter, Joan of Acre, married Gilbert "the Red ", and it was their son, yet another Gilbert, who was killed in 1314. His sister, Elizabeth de Burgh, inherited the Clare lands, and her granddaughter married Lionel of Clarence, son of Edward III. The lands passed thence to the Mortimer family, and at the end of the fifteenth century became Crown possessions.


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