Pembroke history story



“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”.

Henry I held on to Pembroke for the rest of his life but when he died in 1135 civil war broke out.  His only legitimate heir had drowned in the "white ship" and despite securing oaths of allegiance to his daughter Mathilda, her succession was disputed.  and Stephen was appointed king.  In order to gain support and secure his kingdom, the new king Stephen granted earldoms. Pembroke was one of these. The Earldom of Pembroke was created in 1138.


Gilbert de Clare "Strongbow"

Gilbert de  Clare was created first Earl, a strong and powerful ruler loyal to the crown. The Earl was given palatinate powers “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 Earl appointed Gerald's son William as steward of the castle and they were able to keep Pembroke intact in the Welsh rebellion when the sons of Gruffydd ap Rhys reconquered much of West Wales. For his fighting prowess he was to earn the name "Strongbow"


Pembroke Castle was very different from the stone structure of today: it was a wooden stockade enclosing timber buildings.  Everyone lived and slept in a Great Hall with a fire in the middle and there would also have been a Chapel.


1148 - 1177

Earl Gilbert de Clare died in 1148 during an argument with King Stephen. His son Richard de Clare inherited the Earldom of Pembroke and also inherited his nickname “Strongbow”

Strongbow and the Geraldines of Pembroke (sons of Nest and Gerald) mounted an invasion of Ireland with the deposed King Diarmid which was documented by Nest’s grandson Gerald de Cambrensis or Gerald the Welshman.  it was a campaign of great savagery.  Richard married Diarmid's daughter and was crowned king on his death. His success incurred the jealousy of Henry II but Strongbow recognised him as sovereign.

Henry forthwith journeyed to Ireland to claim his new territory, stopping at Pembroke Castle en route.  A great royal fleet was amassed in the Haven for the final invasion, 18th October 1172.   Henry was acknowledged as the supreme Overlord of Ireland, offered tribute, and Ireland was thus absorbed into his empire.

Strongbow was created Governor of Ireland but did not live very long to enjoy it.  On the 1st June 1177 he died leaving an infant daughter Isabel as heir to the Earldom of Pembroke. 


Gerald de Cambrensie by George Lewis


The Norman stronghold of Pembroke was always threatened by the rightful heirs of the land - the Welsh, or to be more correct, the Cymry.  Gruffydd ap Rhys had recovered much of his inheritance from the conquerors but Henry II with the Earl of Pembroke's force had won much of it back from his son Rhys.  However, Henry's alarm at Strongbow's growing power with the Geraldines led him into an alliance with Rhys.  Henry received Rhys at Pembroke in 1171 and won him over, making him Justice of South Wales 'Lord of Lords'.

However, when Henry II died in 1189, Rhys immediately lauched a successful attack to recover his lands, although Pembroke as ever, stood firm and remained in Norman hands.  The Lord Rhys died in 1197 - his tomb and effigy can be seen in St David's Cathedral.

The Lord Rhys' tomb at St Davids Cathedral photo L Asman The Lord Rhys' tomb at St Davids Cathedral photo L Asman


When Strongbow died in 1177 little Isabel inherited the Earldom of Pembroke and was made Ward of Court by Henry – her fate was to be a prize, married off to whoever was to win royal favour.  That man was William Marshall, and through her he gained the title of Earl of Pembroke. Their marriage appears to have been a happy one: they certainly produced a great many children.




William Marshal's life would make a wonderful film - amazing that he is not better known. A heroic life, he rose from relatively obscure beginnings to become the hero of the age, the epitome of chivalry, mentor of kings and finally Regent of England.

He was the David Beckham of his day gaining super stardom from his skill on the tournament circuit. Apprenticed to William de Tancarville’s household in Normandy, he was a quick learner in the ways of the medieval martial man.  When, in a melee at a tournament in Maine, the young William gained the capture of 3 knights through his own prowess, he saw the way his life was to run.  As in real battle, it was ransom that could make or break a man’s fortune. With the money and horses William won that day he was able to join the ever growing number of knights who wandered around Europe from tourney to tourney making full use of their fighting skills to amass wealth and increase their own prestige.  These roving warriors attracted other such men to their side, and grew into a force of professional military men who came to form the backbone of many of mediaeval Europe’s armies. 

As Earl of Pembroke he recaptured the lands recovered by the Lord Rhys and was West Wales' leading landowner.  This hold was maintained through his five sons, each becoming Earl. He was much more concerned with affairs of state in the role of royal advisor and was an author of Magna Carta - his name appears on the top. When John died in 1216, William was unanimously elected Regent for John's nine year old son, Henry III.

William spent little time in Pembroke but he has given us a lasting legacy. Under his direction, the castle was enlarged further to resemble its present form, with the addition the Great Keep or Donjon in 1200.



 William Marshal died in 1219 having served as Regent for the young Henry III after the death of John. An unseemly quarrel took place over the corpse: the Irish Bishop of Ferns declared that the Earl had robbed him of two manors, for which sin he had been excommunicated.  As the body could not be buried it was sewn up in a bull’s hide until the King intervened and obtained a provisional absolution so that Marshall could receive a proper burial.


O, William, that here liest wrapped in the bonds of excommunication, if that thou hast injuriously taken away be restored by the king, or thy heirs, or thy friends, with competent satisfaction, I absolve thee.  Otherwise I ratify thy sentence, that being wrapped in thy sins thou mayest remain damned in hell for ever.”


When the body was laid safely to rest in the Temple Church,  the new Earl, William Marshal II laughed the Irish bishop to scorn and kept his manors.  The churchman retaliated by cursing the family of Marshal, prophesying that each son in turn should go to his grave childless and that a stranger should claim their inheritance.


William must have laughed at this – what? Five brothers? No way.  But sure enough they all died childless, the inheritance passing to the female line, to Joan who married William de Valence.


1247 -1296

De Valence made Pembroke his main seat of power and took back much of the land lost to the Welsh during Prince Llewellyn ap Iorwerth’s rebellion.

Following the end of the Welsh Wars of Independence, a period of calm descended on Pembroke and under de Valence's rule it prospered and grew in the ensuing peace .  He made Pembroke Castle his main residence and embellished it further.

On his death, he was succeeded by his son Aymer. He was declared Earl of Pembroke after the death of his mother Joan, who it would seem, 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 DeValence's sister's grandson, Lawrence Hastings.

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. His quest for glory in France ended in disaster and he was to die in captivity at only 29, again leaving an infant son, John Hastings II. He tragically died in a tournament at the age of 17, killed by his best friend, and with him 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.  The army did not attack the castle and the war ended in defeat.











Through the Ages




Round House
Iron and Rome


Celtic pattern
Dark Ages




Earldom of Pembroke


Medieval Pembroke


Tudor Rose
Wars of the Roses


Henry VII


Religious and political change


Stuart & Civil War


18th Century


Pembroke-Tenby Railway
19th Century


Modern Times