Military Wiki

George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, after Nicholas Hilliard, c. 1590

Sir George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, KG (8 August 1558 – 30 October 1605) was an English peer, as well as a naval commander and courtier in the court of Queen Elizabeth I.[1]


Brougham Castle, where George Clifford was born, was a residence of the Clifford family since the late 13th century.[2]

Clifford was born at Brougham Castle in Westmorland.[3] Son of the 2nd Earl of Cumberland, Henry Clifford, he was orphaned by his father's death in 1570. Clifford subsequently succeeded to his father's titles. His guardianship was granted to the second Earl of Bedford, who married the young Clifford to his daughter Lady Margaret Russell in 1577. The Clifford family was traditionally based in the north with lands in Westmorland; however, life at court meant that George Clifford spent an increasing amount of time in southern England, away from his family's estates. As a result Brougham Castle, one of his properties in the north, was neglected and abandoned.[4] At least one courtier commented on his northern upbringing, Charles Chester wrote to the steward of the Earl of Essex that he disliked George Cifford as 'the rudest Earll by reson of his northerly bringen up.'[5]

Life at court

Arms of George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland

Portrait of the family of Anne Clifford, artist unknown. This portrait includes the sons of George Clifford. Sir Robert Clifford and Francis Lord Clifford, both of whom died before age 5.

Clifford rose in the world as an accomplished jouster, becoming Queen Elizabeth's second champion on the retirement of Sir Henry Lee. She made him a Knight of the Garter in 1592 and he sat as a peer in the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots. He turned to sailing as a career at some point, commanding a ship in the Anglo-Spanish War. He had little success during the war but was later renowned for his naval battles against the Spanish fleet, and particularly Spanish shipping, in the Caribbean. He help to set up an expedition with Walter Raleigh which led to the capture of the very rich carrack Madre de Deus off Flores in 1592. He had his own 38-gun ship built, the Scourge of Malice. He is famous for his short lived 1598 capture of Fort San Felipe del Morro, the citadel protecting San Juan, Puerto Rico. He arrived in Puerto Rico on 15 June 1598 but by November of that year Clifford and his men had fled the island due to harsh civilian resistance. His buccaneering earned him quite a lot of money, but it seems that he lost so much at jousting and horse racing that he was eventually obligated to sell his inherited lands.

Clifford was involved in the formation of the East India Company.[6]

Clifford died at The Savoy in Middlesex. Although he had two sons, Robert and Francis, they died before reaching the age of 5. He had only one surviving child, his daughter Anne Clifford, who inherited the barony and to whom he left £15,000 at his death. He left the vast majority of his estate to his brother Francis Clifford, who also inherited the earldom. His tomb is in Holy Trinity church, Skipton, adjacent to the family seat at Skipton Castle.

Miniature by Hilliard

A cabinet minitaure by Nicholas Hilliard, c. 1590, commemorates Clifford's appointment as the Queen's champion, showing him in tilting attire with the Queen's glove as her favor pinned to his hat.

Sir George Clifford's tournament armour

Tomb of George Clifford in Holy Trinity church, Skipton


George Clifford's tournament armour survives; it is considered the finest surviving garniture from the Tudor period. Holding the title of Queen's Champion, Clifford's armour would have to have been unrivaled in beauty. It was made at the Greenwich workshop originally established by King Henry VIII, and a drawing of it is included in the Jacob Album, a book of designs for 29 different armors for various Elizabethan gentlemen. Clifford's armour, as it is part of a garniture, includes many pieces of exchange, including a grandguard, an extra helmet, a shaffron and several lance guards. These extra pieces allowed for Clifford to modify his armour for different forms of tournament combat. The armour is of blued steel and etched and inlaid with elaborate gilded designs, incorporating columns of alternating Fleurs-de-lis and Tudor roses, as well as the letter E (for Queen Elizabeth I.) it is currently located in the Armor Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, next to the two armour of Sir James Scudamore which were also made at the Greenwich armory.

In literature

In Virginia Woolf's novel "Orlando: A Biography", The 'Earl of Cumberland' discovers Orlando and his lover asleep amongst his cargo; he believes them to be ghosts sent to punish him for his buccaneering. In his terror, the Earl vows to mend his ways and, in repentance, founds a row of almshouses. Although not explicitly stated, the period of the episode in the novel (shortly after the death of Queen Elizabeth I) would suggest that the Earl referred to is the 3rd Earl.



  1.  "Clifford, George". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  2. Summerson 1999, p. 46.
  3. Summerson, Trueman & Harrison 1998, pp. 33.
  4. Summerson, Trueman & Harrison 1998, pp. 3–4.
  5. G. Dyfnallt Owen, ed., HMC, Manuscripts Marquess of Bath, vol. 5 (London, HMSO, 1980), p. 257: Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine, vol. 18 (1879), p. 279
  • Summerson, Henry (1999). "Brougham and Brough Castles". London: English Heritage. ISBN 1-85074-729-6. 
  • Summerson, Henry; Trueman, Michael; Harrison, Stuart (1998). "Brougham Castle, Cumbria". Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society. ISBN 1-873124-25-2. 
Political offices
Title last held by
The Earl of Huntingdon
Lord Lieutenant of Cumberland,
Northumberland and Westmorland

Title next held by
The Earl of Cumberland
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Henry Clifford
Earl of Cumberland
Succeeded by
Francis Clifford
Baron de Clifford
Succeeded by
Anne Clifford

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