Earldom of Pembroke

Henry I held on to Pembroke for the rest of his life but, when he died in 1135, civil war broke out. William Adelin, Henry's only legitimate heir, had drowned when the vessel White Ship sank in the English Channel in 1120; and despite securing oaths of allegiance to his daughter Matilda, Henry's succession was disputed. The new king Stephen granted earldoms to gain support and Pembroke was one of these. The Earldom of Pembroke was created in 1138.



Gilbert de Clare was created first Earl of Pembroke by the disputed King Stephen. He was a strong and powerful ruler loyal to the crown. The Earl was given palatinate powers; this meant that “Neither had the king of England, as king only, anything to deal or meddle within the said county, but the Earls were free and absolute princes within themselves”.

The First Earl appointed the son, William, of the current castellan Gerald de Windsor (who married Princess Nest), as steward of the castle, and together their forces were able to keep Pembroke intact during repeated attacks by the Welsh. For Gilbert's fighting prowess he was to earn the monicker "Strongbow".



1148 Richard de Clare "Strongbow" became Rhe 2nd Earl and inherited his father's nickname. Together with the Geraldines (that is, the sons of Nest and Gerald) of Pembroke, he led the conquest of Ireland in 1169 in support of King Diarmaid of Leinster.

Richard's success incurred the wrath of Henry II who later went to Ireland, visiting Pembroke Castle en route. In 1171 the 400 strong English fleet was at the time the largest-ever gathering of warships in the Milford Haven estuary.




In 1176 , on the death of Richard Strongbow, Pembroke castle was taken under crown control. Richard left an infant daughter named Isabel who became a royal ward, and married at age 16 to the the man widely-regarded as the greatest knight in the land, William Marshall.




William gained fame and fortune as a Tournament star; and Isabel with her accompanying inheritance was a reward for his service to the Crown.


A great figure of the time, William Marshall spent little time in Pembroke, yet still managed to give a lasting legacy. Under his direction, the castle was enlarged further to resemble its present form, with the addition in 1200 of the Great Keep or Donjon.Donjonenhanced.jpg



In 1247 William De Valence made Pembroke his main seat of power and took back much of the land lost to the Welsh during a rebellion led in the late Twelth Century by Prince Llewellyn ap Iorwerth ('Llewellyn the Great'). Following the end of these Welsh Wars of Independence, a period of calm descended on Pembroke and under de Valence's rule the town prospered and grew. He made Pembroke Castle his main residence and embellished it further. On his death, William was succeeded by his son Aymer, who was declared Earl of Pembroke following the death of his mother Joan who, so it would seem, had played a major part in the administration of the Earldom.



Aymer's death in 1324 with no issue, meant the passing of the Earldom to Lawrence Hastings, grandson of de Valence's sister. He did not spend much time in Pembroke, becoming a national hero fighting in the Hundred Years War when he captured the French fleet in 1347.



Lawrence Hastings left an infant son, John, to inherit the Earldom in 1350 on reaching age 21. John's quest for glory in France ended in disaster and he was to die in captivity at only 29, again leaving an infant son, also named John. He tragically died in a tournament at the age of 17, killed by his best friend; and with John died his title.

Pembroke Castle formally reverted to the Crown and was granted to a succession of people. These were years of decline but the castle was again garrisoned in 1405 when Pembrokeshire was invaded by the French allies of Owain Glyndwr. However the rebel army did not attack the castle and the rebellion ended in defeat for the Welsh.