Edward II and the Clare Sisters

Gilbert, 10th Earl de Clare was only 23 years old when he was killed at Bannockburn in 1314. Gilbert did not have any children and so his death brought an end to the male line of the Clare family. The estates should have been immediately divided between Gilbert's three sisters, Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth.

At first, Edward II refused permission for the sisters to inherit this land. The king knew that these estates would give great power to the women's husbands. It was only when Edward was convinced that these men would support him in his struggle with his barons, that he gave permission for the women to inherit the estates.

In the 14th century it was common for the king to be involved in selecting husbands for the daughters of his most powerful barons. Eleanor, the eldest daughter, was only 14 years old when she was forced to marry the king's main adviser, Hugh Despenser, in 1306. As Eleanor was married to one of his most loyal subjects, Edward was willing to allow her to inherit her share of the Clare estates.

Margaret was more of a problem as she was a widow when Gilbert was killed at Bannockburn. In 1307 Edward II had arranged for 14 year old Margaret to marry his favourite knight, Piers Gaveston. Five years later Gaveston was murdered by the king's opponents. Before Margaret was allowed to inherit her share of the Clare estates in 1317 she had to agree to marry Hugh de Audley, one of the king's loyal knights.

Elizabeth de Clare, the youngest daughter, was also a widow in 1314. Elizabeth married John de Burgh, son of the Earl of Ulster, when she was 14 but he died five years later. While Elizabeth was waiting for her inheritance, the marcher lord, Theobald Verdun kidnapped her and took her to his castle at Alton where he married her against her will. However, Theobald Verdun died six months after the wedding.

Edward II decided to keep Elizabeth in custody at Bristol Castle. The following year, she was granted her share of the Clare inheritance when she agreed to marry Roger Damory, another one of the king's supporters.

In 1322 Roger Damory changed sides and fought for the Earl of Lancaster at Boroughbridge. Damory was captured during the battle and was later executed for treason. Elizabeth had remained loyal to Edward and she was allowed to keep her estates. The king now decided it would be better if Elizabeth remained a widow.

In 1326 Eleanor's husband, Hugh Despenser, was captured and executed by barons opposed to the king. The following year Eleanor was kidnapped and raped by a knight called William la Zouche. The punishment for rape was death but as Zouche was one of Edward's most loyal knights, the king refused to take action against him. Eleanor was forced to accept William la Zouche as her husband.

Eleanor de Clare
Eleanor de Clare