Elizabeth de Burgh (Burgo) nee de Clare

Photo:Elizabeth deBurgh by Eward Harding

Elizabeth deBurgh by Eward Harding

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Photo:Joan of Acre

Joan of Acre

Unknown - google photos

Photo:Wax Impression of the Abbey Seal Ballinrobe

Wax Impression of the Abbey Seal Ballinrobe

Averil Staunton

Ballinrobe's first patroness later founded Clare College at Cambridge University

By Averil Staunton

Elizabeth de Burg (nee de Clare 1295-1360), who lived at the old castle in Ballinrobe with her husband John de Burg was the youngest of the three daughters of Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl & Countess of Gloucestershire & Herford. Her only brother was also called Gilbert.

Family Tree

Her mother Joan, of Acre (1272-1307) was born in the Holy Land while her parents were on crusade; she a princess, and daughter of King Edward 1 of England (1239 –1307), also known as Edward Longshanks and Queen Eleanor of Castile. Elizabeth was exposed to royalty and leading figures in both Ireland and England from an early age.

Wedding to John deBurgh (Burgo)

In 1308 Elizabeth accompanied her brother Gilbert to Ireland for their double Irish wedding to two siblings: the son and daughter of the Earl of Ulster. Elizabeth married on 30th September 1308. Her husband was the heir to the Earl and she would be a countess in due course. She gave birth to their only child, a son, in 1312 at only 17 years at the headquarters of the de Burgs in the Ballinrobe region. This son, William would later be known as William Donn de Burg, 3rd Earl of Ulster.

Endowing the Abbey of Ballinrobe

In celebration of his successful birth Elizabeth and John de Burg endowed the Abbey of Ballinrobe. The ruins of this establishment still stand on Abbey Street to-day, although sadly on a far smaller site than its original acreage. This Abbey was also associated with St John’s House, an establishment of the Knights Templars of Jerusalem in Ballinrobe located nearby and likely connected to the deBurg’s activities on the Crusades. It was the only Templars’ House in Connaught.

A Widow

Only a few years later, her husband was unexpectedly killed in a minor skirmish. Being a widow, Elizabeth remained on in Ireland by choice with her son until the death of her brother, Gilbert, at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 at only 23 years of age. She inherited part of his estate three years later.

Pawn in Marriage Stakes

Now a wealthy young widow she was compelled to return to England when her maternal uncle, King Edward II recalled her so he could select a husband for her. She had become a valuable pawn in the marriage stakes. Sadly she had to leave behind her only son William to be raised by the de Burg clan.

Two more Marriages

Elizabeth married twice more before deciding she was no longer prepared to be used as a pawn and retired from the marriage market. Her two successive husbands had been Theobald de Verdun m 1315 with which she had a daughter Isabella de Verdun b 1316.  Roger d’Amory was her third husband whom she lost at the age of twenty-six; they had one daughter Elizabeth. She took a vow of chastity after Roger's death, effectively removing herself from the aristocratic marriage market.

Finally Free

Medi­eval women, expected to be weak, irrational and subordinate, were at a great disadvantage when faced with a determined king and powerful, ambitious lords but not so our Elizabeth when she took herself out of the marriage stakes. Elizabeth de Burgh daughter of one of the most powerful earls in England and niece of Edward II, spent the rest of her life as a very wealthy widow in total freedom to do as she pleased, while running her own estates and exercising considerable influence.

Elizabeth was an intelligent and educated woman who later established herself at Clare, which became her main administrative centre for her estates in East Anglia, Dorset and South Wales. She enjoyed a very comfortable lifestyle, was lavish in her hospitality to family and friends, and even entertained Edward III in 1340.

Foundation at Clare College Cambridge

She displayed her piety through her patronage of religious houses and her foundation of Clare College in Cambridge but no doubt remembered her first husband and son and her contented days in Ballinrobe where she remained for as long as she could after her husband’s death. Elizabeth de Burgh died on 4 November 1360.

Further Reading:

Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of Clare (1295–1360), Household & Other Records. Edited by Jennifer Ward, Suffolk Records Society, Boydell Press, 2014, PP xxx, 186

This page was added by Averil Staunton on 19/08/2019.

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