The origins of the earldom

Pembroke is a town within the county of Pembrokeshire in Wales, deriving its name from the Welsh cantref of Penfro which was seized by Roger of Montgomery in 1093 who built a castle there to consolidate his grip on the area. The cantref of Penfro became the Marcher Lordship of Pembroke and Pembroke Castle became one of the main centres of Norman power in south Wales.

Around the year 1107 one Gilbert Fitz Richard was given the right to take Ceredigion (if he could) by Henry I. Ceredigion lay to the north and east of Dyfed where Pembroke lay, but following the death of Gerald of Windsor in 1116 Gilbert took over control of Pembroke and its castle as well and became the leader of the Norman forces in south-west Wales.

The first Earls of Pembroke

The title 'Earl of Pembroke' was first created in the year 1138 by king Stephen and conferred upon Gilbert de Clare the son and successor of the aforementioned Gilbert Fitz Richard, effectively recognising Gilbert as the most senior Norman baron within Wales.

This Gilbert de Clare held the title for ten years before his son Richard de Clare commonly known as Richard Strongbow, succeeded in 1148. Richard witnessed the Treaty of Westminster in 1153 in his capacity as Earl of Pembroke.

Unfortunately for Richard the weakness of the English crown during the reign of Stephen together with the efforts of Rhys ap Gruffudd had severely reduced the extent of the de Clare estates within south-west Wales. To make matters worse, when Henry II became king in 1154 he refused to confirm the grant of the title to Richard and hence Richard did not refer to himself after that date as 'Earl of Pembroke' but rather as 'Lord of Striguil', referring to the Marcher Lordship of Striguil or Chepstow. (Which lay to the south east on the England/Wales border and therefore reasonably safe from the attentions of Rhys ap Gruffudd.)

Richard therefore sought fame and fortune elsewhere, in Ireland as it happens, where he succeeded in establishing himself as Lord of Leinster. He married Aoife daughter of Dermot MacMurchada but when Richard died in 1176 his son Gilbert, generally known as Gilbert of Striguil inherited but was only three years old at the time and subsequently died, still a minor in 1185. Gilbert's sister Isabel therefore became 'Countess of Pembroke' and an extremely valuable heiress.

Marshals and their curse

William Marshal served as the guardian of the young prince Henry, the eldest son of Henry II, and even supported the prince in his rebellion against his father in 1173. The rebellion proved abortive and prince Henry died in 1183, but William Marshal managed to work his way back into the royal favour, and when Richard I came to the throne in 1189 he received his reward in the form of Isabel de Clare and all her lands in marriage.

William Marshal thus got his hands on the Marcher Lordships of Pembroke and Striguil in Wales as well the de Clare holdings in Ireland. He was fortunate as regards Pembroke in that, following the death of Rhys ap Gruffudd in 1197, the various sons of Rhys began squabbling over their inheritance. William was thus able to take advantage of this lack of unity to reclaim some of the old de Clare holdings in Wales and rebuild the authority of the earldom.

Now whilst in Ireland, the elder William Marshal had taken possession of some land claimed by the Bishop of Ferns and refused to return it. The disappointed bishop is then said to have laid a curse on the family to the effect that all of William's sons (he had five) would die before they had in children.

As it turns out this is precisely what happened; although William Marshal was succeeded by his son William Fitz William Marshal in 1219, when the younger William died in 1231 he was followed in relatively quick succession by his four brothers, none of whom managed to produce any heirs, male or otherwise. Hence with the death of Anselm in December 1245 the Marshal line became extinct and the Marshal-de Clare inheritance was divided up between the five daughters of the original William Marshal with the earldom of Pembroke reverting to the Crown.

de Munchesni and de Valence

The actual castle and lordship of Pembroke went to one of the Marshal daughters, Joan who had married one Warren de Munchesni. Warren therefore held the earldom and following his death his son William inherited but was killed during the siege of Dryslwyn castle in 1289.

As William died childless, Pembroke passed to his sister Joan de Munchensi who was married her off by Henry III to one William de Valence. This was understandable as William was Henry's half-brother, from his mother, Isabel's second marriage to Hugh de Lusignan.

William de Valence lived to the ripe old age of 71 before being killed in battle in France in 1296 and the title passed to his son Aylmer de Valence (Who should not be confused with his uncle Aylmer of Valance who was Bishop of Winchester.) Aylmer however died in 1324 whilst on a diplomatic mission in France having singularly failed to produce any children in the meantime.

Hastings, Plantaganet and de la Pole

A gentleman named John Hastings, who derived his name from the barony of Hastings that he held, had earlier married Isabella the daughter of William de Valence. This John Hastings had interests in Wales as he had inherited the Marcher Lordship of Abergavenny through his mother Joan Cantilupe, who as it happens was a great-grandaughter of the William Marshal mentioned above.

Isabella died in 1305 and John Hastings followed a few years afterwards around the year 1312. Indeed his son, another John died in 1325, but his grandson Laurence Hastings was able to leverage his family connections and succeeded in obtaining the title of Earl of Pembroke in 1339. Laurence Hastings was duly succeeded by his son John in 1348 who passed the title onto his son, the imaginatevely named John.

This final John Hastings, the 3rd Earl, married a daughter of John of Gaunt but was accidentally killed at a tournament at Woodstock in Oxfordshire on the 13th December 1389 at the tender age of eighteen. The earldom of Pembroke therefore reverted to the crown, and as it happens Richard II kept hold of it for himself for the next eight years before he decided to confer it on his wife Isabella.

When Richard II was deposed in 1399, his successor Henry IV granted Pembroke to his son John the Duke of Bedford. John held it until his death in 1435 when it passed to his brother Humphrey Duke of Gloucester. When he died in 1447 it was granted to William de la Pole who was Earl and later Duke of Suffolk and practically running the country at the time. William however took the blame for English defeats in France, and was imprisoned and sentenced to five years banishment in 1450 but was mysteriously killed by persons unknown.

Tudor, Herbert and Plantaganet

With the death William de la Pole, Henry VI conferred the title on his illegitimate half brother Jasper Tudor in 1452. From this point onwards matters become a little complicated as the fate of the title becomes emeshed with the final stages of the War of the Roses.

As his half brother Jasper Tudor was naturally a supporter of Henry VI and became one of the most active leaders of the Lancastrian cause within Wales. His main opponent and leader of the Yorkist party in Wales, was a gentleman named William Herbert. This 'William Herbert', who was actually named William ap William, but had adopted the surname of 'Herbert', was the son of one William ap Thomas, a member of the minor Welsh gentry who through service to the Duke of York and a well placed marriage became a person of some importance in south Wales.

In 1461 the Yorkists gained the ascendancy and Henry VI was replaced by Edward IV and Jasper was striped of his title, after which probably in 1465, Jasper's property and title of Earl of Pembroke were granted to William Herbert. William was executed in 1469 after the battle of Banbury and Jasper Tudor was briefly restored during the period 1470-1471 when Henry VI returned to power, but following another change of fortune that placed the Yorkist Edward IV back on the throne in 1471, he was again stripped of his title.

It seems reasonably certain that some time after this William Herbert's son, another William Herbert became Earl of Pembroke in turn, as in 1479 he is recorded as having surrendered the title in exchange for that of the Earl of Huntingdon. This he did at the request of king Edward IV, that he could confer the title on his son, the future Edward V.

Of course Edward V did not as it turned out, have much of an opportunity to reign as king as his uncle Richard, the Duke of Gloucester seized hold of him before he could be crowned, and locked him in the Tower of London, which is the last anyone saw of him. Richard duly became Richard III but by 1485 he was dead and Jasper Tudor was back and by virtue of his nephew's position as the king Henry VII reclaimed his title and lands.

As far as the new Tudor dynasty was concerned, all acts of the previous regime were null and void and therefore Jasper Tudor had always been Earl of Pembroke, and hence a later tendency to 'forget' all about Edward V and the first set of William Herberts. In any event Jasper died in 1495 without issue and although Anne Boleyn did hold Pembroke as Marchioness between the years 1532 and 1536, the title again fell into disuse for a while.

More Herberts

As it so happens William Herbert the 2nd Earl of Pembroke (before 1479) and 1st Earl of Huntingdon (after 1479) died in 1491 without any male heir. However, although William Herbert died without legitimate issue, he did have an illegitimate brother who went by the name of Richard Herbert. Richard despite his family's Yorkist past succeeded in making his way in the world and served as 'gentlemen usher' to Henry VII.

It was this Richard's son, another William Herbert who, despite killing a man in a brawl in Bristol, and fleeing to France to escape punishment, that later succeeded in becoming a favourite of Henry VIII and benefited from the Dissolution of the Monasteries by receiving the lands of the former Wilton Abbey near Salisbury in Wiltshire.

Naturally William desired a title to go along with his new found wealth and what better title than that held by his grandfather; hence the vacant title of Earl of Pembroke was conferred upon William Herbert in 1551. Since the old Marcher Lordship of Pembroke had just been abolished, and William was no relation of his immediate predecessor as earl, this William Herbert received merely the title and no lands within Pembroke itself. Accordingly he and the subsequent Herbert Earls of Pembroke have no connection whatsoever with Pembroke per se.

This also gave rise to the confusing situation that there are in fact two different William Herberts, both of whom are correctly referred to as the '1st Earl of Pembroke'; they are distinguished by referring to the fifteenth century first earl as 'of the first creation' with the sixteenth century naturally being 'of the second creation'.

The Herberts duly built themselves a fine house at Wilton, and took their place amongst the English aristocracy. As a family they have been remarkably successful at keeping the line going for the past 450 years; they continue to live at Wilton House, (which is open to the public), and the current earl Henry Herbert, the 17th of the line has an heir, another William Herbert ready to take over in due course.

A note on the numbering of Earls

Rather obviously the first person to hold a title is described as the 1st Earl with his successorm as the 2nd Earl and son on. The convention is that when a particular line becomes extinct, i.e. a holder of the title dies without a male heir to succeed, the next holder of the title begins again as the 1st Earl etc. (Technically this is because the title reverts to the crown when there is no heir and then has to be re-created a new.) This is the convention adopted below.

Not everyone however follows this convention and attempt to number Earls in sequence from beginning to end. This is all very well and good but unfortunately due to the political changes over the past thousand years or so, it is quite easy to miss out certain holders of the title. (It is also possible to have technical disagreements over the validity of any particular claim on a title.) Hence the same people may be being shown as the 12th, 13th or 14th Earl of X in different sources.


De Clare Marshal de Munchesni de Valence Hastings Plantaganet de la Pole Tudor
  • Jasper Tudor, 1st Earl of Pembroke (1452-1461, 1470-1471, 1486-1495))
Herbert, of the first creation Plantaganet
  • Edward V, 1st Earl of Pembroke, (1479-????)
Herbert of the second creation


The starting point was the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica entry for 'Earl of Pembroke' ( which unfortunately has a large section missing from the middle. Entries on the 'Tudor Period' and 'William de Valence' helped fill some of the gaps as did the entry for Pembrokeshire in "A Topographical Dictionary of Wales" by Samuel Lewis (1833 ) found at

Also of assistance were various articles by Catherine Armstrong on the website on William Marshal and Richard Strongbow as well as information gleaned from, with information on the Herbert family taken from and

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.