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New publication examines the early history of Clare Castle

Clare, its Lords and its Castle in the 11th Century, by Anne Davies
Clare, its Lords and its Castle in the 11th Century, by Anne Davies

Clare Ancient House Museum has published an illustrated pamphlet by Anne Davies about the early history of Clare Castle.

‘Clare, Its Lords and Its Castle in the 11th Century’ begins before the Norman Conquest in 1066, with the Anglo-Saxon nobleman, Ælfric Wihtgarsson who owned the land and may have located his burh there.

He owned a considerable number of other nearby estates, but Clare was one of his largest.

His son Wihtgar inherited it and owned it at the time of the Conquest, when it was given by William I to his cousin the Norman Richard de Bienfaite, ancestor of the de Clare family.

The book reveals what we know about Ælfric, Wihtgar and Richard, who died about 1090, leaving Clare Castle and manor to his son Gilbert.

Documentary evidence for this period is scarce, but there are intriguing details in the great inventory of England known as the Doomsday Book of 1086.

From that we know that the Anglo-Saxons had established a college of secular canons in the grounds of the Castle.

The Normans changed this into a house of monks of the Benedictine order, and eventually a later Richard de Clare in 1124 moved them to Stoke by Clare where they thrived.

Much remains to be understood about the history of the Castle, which did not reach its most impressive for some time.

Its stone keep, of which the ruin still stands on top of the highest motte in the county, was late 12th or early 13th century, and it was at its most important in the time of Elizabeth deBurgh in the 14th century.

We still speculate about exactly why the Castle’s location was chosen, but a real possibility is that Ælfric’s estate too had been cited there.

It will be sold at the Museum for £3 and Harris and Harris Books for £3.25.

The author will be talking about the book at the Clare Historical Society’s next meeting on Friday, February 2, at 7.30, at Clare Old School Community Centre. Visitors are welcome. Entry is £2.

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