Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – Strongbow – the Invader by Frank Parker

Thanks for joining me again for another posts from the archives and today I am welcoming Frank Parker with his contributions. In this post Frank shares the history of Strongbow whose great-grandfather was a relative of William the Conqueror.

Strongbow – the Invader by Frank Parker

Strongbow as depicted in the Dublinia exhibition

Best known for his exploits in Ireland this distant relative of William the Conqueror is the common ancestor of several Queens of England. He was given the name Strongbow because of his prowess with the long bow. By the time he came to Ireland he seems to have learned that negotiation often proves more successful than violence. Nevertheless he allowed his closest ally to conduct some brutal actions against the native Irish, rewarding him with the hand of his sister.

Strongbow’s great-grandfather was a relative of William the Conqueror and accompanied the latter to England in 1066. Following the conquest he was granted 176 lordships, including those of Tonbridge in Kent and Clare in Suffolk. Usually styled Richard fitz Gilbert (of Tonbridge) he is referred to as Richard of Clare in the Domesday book. He served as joint Justiciar in William’s absence, making him one of the most powerful men in late eleventh century England.

Opposition to William II

When the Conqueror died Richard joined with a number of other barons to oppose the succession of William II to the English throne, supporting instead the claim of the Conqueror’s eldest son Robert Curthose. He retired to a monastery in 1088 and his English lands passed to his second son, Gilbert fitz Richard, Strongbow’s grandfather. The eldest son, Roger, received the Norman lands.

In 1110, Henry I’s former mistress, Princess Nest, by then married to Gerald of Windsor, was abducted by Owain ap Cadwgan. As punishment Henry stripped him of Cardigan and its castle, giving them to Gilbert. Another brother, Walter, was granted the lordship of Nether Gwent which included the castle at Striguil (Chepstow). When Gilbert died, his lands passed to his eldest son Richard.

Support for King Stephen

His second son, Strongbow’s father, also named Gilbert, inherited Norman lands from his uncle Roger and the lordship of Nether Gwent from his uncle Walter. King Stephen created him Earl of Pembroke and granted him lands around Pevensey in Sussex. This man was the first to earn the nick-name Strongbow in recognition of his prowess with the long bow. The sobriquet passed to his son Richard, the subject of this post.

The younger Strongbow’s mother, Isabel de Beaumont, was, like Princess Nest, a former mistress of Henry I. A number of sources suggest that she had a daughter, Constance, with Henry, and that she took this child, still an infant less than one year old, with her when she married Gilbert. Strongbow, Gilbert’s eldest child and only son, was born at Tonbridge in 1130. He and his younger sister Basilia were, therefore, brought up alongside the King’s illegitimate daughter.

Stripped of lands

Strongbow was 40 when he assembled the force that accompanied him to Ireland ahead of his marriage to the 17 year-old Aiofe MacMurrough. He had inherited his father’s lands and titles when the latter died in 1148 although he was stripped of several, including the Earldom of Pembroke, by Henry II on account of the family’s support for Henry’s cousin Stephen. The expedition to Ireland, which Henry supported, secured the restoration of the Earldom of Pembroke as well as adding new land holdings in Ireland.

Isabel’s fate, after the death of Gilbert1, is difficult to establish. I have seen one source which claims she died in 1146, 2 years before her husband. Elsewhere her death is given as 1172 and it is suggested that she married Gilbert’s younger brother Hervey de Montmorency, the man Strongbow sent to Ireland as part of the advance party and who later was appointed Constable of Ireland by Henry II.

Illegitimate daughters

According to Cokayne2 Strongbow had at least one and, possibly, two daughters by an unknown mistress before his marriage to Aiofe. Little is known about either. His legitimate daughter, Isabel, through her marriage to William Marshall, is the common ancestor of several subsequent Queens of England. Her husband governed England as regent to the young Henry III. In this role he masterminded the defeat of the French who had occupied a large part of southern England during the final years of King John’s reign.


1.The phrase “Isabel’s fate after the death of Gilbert” could be taken to refer to Strongbow’s children, named Isabel and Gilbert for his parents. Here, of course, it refers to the parents.

2. George Edward Cokayne, The Complete Peerage; or, A History of the House of Lords and All its Members from the Earliest Times, Vol. X, eds. H. A. Doubleday; Geoffrey H. White; & Howard de Walden (London: The St. Catherine Press, Ltd., 1945)

©Frank Parker 2016

About Frank Parker

I’m Frank Parker and I am a writer. I didn’t used to be. Like many people I always wanted to be. On several occasions during my career as an Engineer I produced stories that I submitted to publishers. I even had a writing job once. It involved talking to small and medium sized businesses and writing up profiles for a regional business magazine. To make any money you had to sell advertising to accompany the articles. Selling is not a skill that comes naturally to me so that job did not last long.

I returned to Engineering, working on chemical plants, refineries and power stations throughout the North and Midlands of England. In 1997 I joined a defence contractor as a project administrator, a job that saw me through until retirement in the autumn of 2006. I came to live in the Irish Midlands so as to be near my son and his family. And, now at last, I have the freedom to write.

So far I’ve self-published 4 novels and two collections of short stories. You can find out more about them here. My stories have also appeared in anthologies published independently in County Laois.


I have also pursued a lifelong interest in politics. Between 1985 and 1991 I served as a councilor in North East Lincolnshire. So you should not be surprised to find posts on my blog commenting on current affairs from a broadly Liberal point of view. The environment and the damage we are doing to it, from agri-chemicals and air and water pollution to climate change, has always been a matter of concern to me. As a councilor I argued the case for the local authority to purchase timber products only from sustainable sources.


Since 2013 I have been studying Irish history in an attempt to gain a fuller understanding of the turbulent relationship between that country and its near neighbour. It began when I discovered that among the leaders of the Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century were a number of individuals with a prior connection to the county in which I was born and grew up, Herefordshire. That discovery lies behind my historical novel Strongbow’s Wife which describes the invasion and its aftermath from the point of the view of the woman who married one of the most powerful of those leaders. You will find articles about some of the people and places involved by clicking the Hereford and Ireland History tab above.

For the past year I have been researching the background to the period in Irish history usually referred to as The Great Irish Famine. This work was prompted by a friend and together we hope to produce a book on the subject.

Books by Frank Parker

The latest book by Frank Parker released on November 17th 2017.

About the book

A layman’s guide to the worst man made disaster to afflict Great Britain, it’s causes and lessons for the future.

Whilst the British elites were celebrating the achievements of Empire, a million people died from lack of food and housing elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
Is it possible for humanity to achieve the Liberal ideal of the greatest good for the greatest number or are Malthus’s predictions about the relationship between population and food production about to come true?

An early review for the book

on 21 November 2017

I was fortunate to receive a free copy of this book. A Purgatory of Misery is an in-depth and well-researched study of the events leading up to the Irish Potato Famine in the latter half of the 19th century. The author has provided an informative, eye-opening, unbiased, and moving account of the plight of the Irish poor during recurring failures of the potato harvest and the inadequacies of government and church to successfully address their needs. I wasn’t aware of the scale of the disaster, or should I say, tragedy? One million of the irish poor died from starvation and disease, and thousands were transported to the colonies.

Politics and religion played their part in the effects of the famine but also the history of Ireland going back eight centuries over which politicians and the clergy had no control. I highly recommend this splendid book to anyone interested in social history or the history of Ireland.

Read the reviews and buy the books:

And Amazon US:

Read more reviews and follow Frank on Goodreads:

Connect to Frank


Thank you for dropping into today and over the next few weeks Frank will be introducing us to more posts on the subject of Irish History.

I am now looking for posts for the run up to the festive season at the end of the year so delve into your archives and check to see if you have one or two posts that might be suitable. Email me on

21 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – Strongbow – the Invader by Frank Parker

  1. Wonderful historic read–I learned a lot that I never knew before and I read a lot of historical of England and Ireland.Frank, congrats on your writing career. For starting late with novels you are catching up fast and they all look like interesting reads.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – Strongbow – the Invader by Frank Parker | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

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  4. Pingback: Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – Henry II – a Right Royal Hypocrite by Frank Parker | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

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