In 1834 the Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire. The architect Charles Barry was chosen to design the new Houses of Parliament and a competition for the decoration of the new building was announced by the newly-formed Fine Arts Commission. This competition called for cartoon drawings ‘executed in chalk or charcoal…illustrating a subject from British History, or from the works of Spencer, Shakespeare, or Milton’.
The final selection of artists included Daniel Maclise (1806-1870), Charles Cope (1811-1890), John Calcott Horsely (1817-1903), and William Dyce (1806-1864). They were commissioned to create easel paintings and frescos for the building. Maclise’s contribution, which ended up dominating twenty years of his life, consists of four frescos; The Spirit of Chivalry (1847); Spirit of Justice (1849); The Meeting of Wellington and Blucher after Waterloo (1861) and The Death of Nelson (1865).
Maclise painted The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife as a study for another fresco in this series that was to be located in the Painted Chamber in the Houses of Parliament. He found fresco to be a difficult and tiresome medium and hoped that the Fine Arts Commission would accept the oil painting in lieu of a fresco. The painting was favourably received when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1854. It was given the very long title of Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, surnamed Strongbow (sometimes also called Earl of Chepstow, or of Stighul) receives the hand of Princess Eva, from her father, Dermot McMurrough, King of Leinster, in fulfilment of his compact with that Lord, and with promise of succession to his throne (RA, 1854, no.379). The Fine Arts Commission offered Maclise £1,500 for the painting, but they also requested that the fresco version be completed. Maclise was not pleased with the price, or with the suggested location for the fresco, and so decided to sell the painting to Lord Northwick who had offered him £4,000. Following Lord Northwick’s death in 1859 the painting was sold at auction, along with Northwick’s extensive art collection.
In 1879 Sir Richard Wallace purchased the painting at Christie’s, London. Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess of Hertford, owned a vast collection of art and was a trustee of the National Gallery, London, and a member of the Board of Governors and Guardians of the National Gallery of Ireland. He presented the painting to the Gallery, stating in a letter to Henry Doyle, Director 1869 - 92, that he hoped the painting would find a home on Irish soil.