Duke of Clarence (1462-1478)
Earl of Salisbury and Earl of Warwick (1472-1478)
Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland (1461-1470 and 1472-1478)
Born 1449 Died 1478

George was one of three surviving sons of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, by his wife Cicely Neville, daughter of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, and born in Dublin on the 21st of October 1449.

George's father Richard harboured designs on the throne and was one of the primary instigators of the Wars of the Roses, and although Richard met an untimely end at the battle of Wakefield in 1460, his claim was pursued with some vigour by George's elder brother Edward against the incumbent king Henry VI. Edward succeeded where his father had failed; Henry VI was placed under lock and key whilst his wife Margaret of Anjou fled back to her native France with their son Edward. With Edward now king, George received his due recognition as a younger brother of the new monarch when he was granted the title Duke of Clarence and appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at the coronation in June 1461.

Of course at the time of his elevation to the peerage George was only twelve years old, but as he became of age George appears to have become disenchanted with his brother. The causes of this disaffection seem numerous and not entirely clear but appear to have included the undue favouritism shown by Edward to his numerous Woodville relations and that he was generally not being given the proper consideration sue to a prince of the royal blood. (Noting that until the birth of the future Edward V in 1471, George was the heir presumptive to the crown.) More specifically he was annoyed that Edward would not allow him to marry Isabelle Neville, daughter and potential heiress of the wealthy Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and neither would he allow him to go to Ireland to exercise any actual authority as Lord-Lieutenant.

As it happens Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick was similarly disenchanted with Edward IV. Neville, who was at the time probably the richest magnate in England had been Edward's chief advisor during the early years of his reign and was much put out to see his influence diminished due to the advancement of the Woodville family from 1464 onwards. So Richard Neville and George formed the idea of removing Edward and replacing him with George himself. In the July of 1469 George left the country and married Isabelle Neville at Calais before returning to England with his new father-in-law.

They rapidly returned to England and proceeded to take control of the government, but Edward gradually re-established his grip on power and the two conspirators fled to France in disgrace. There they made contact with Margaret of Anjou (wife of the deposed Henry VI, who was still languishing in prison at the time) and in the September of 1470, returned with an army, freed Henry VI from captivity and restored him to the throne.

Although George was then formally recognised by Henry VI as the next in line to the throne after Henry's son Edward of Westminster, this was not quite what George had in mind. George had fully expected that the alliance with Margaret of Anjou was purely a temporary affair, designed to win French support for their enterprise, which would be cynically jettisoned once Edward had been deposed.

Thus disatisifed with his position under the new regime George was soon reconciled with his brother Edward. When Edward returned to England in the spring of 1471 George abandoned Neville and was publicly reconciled with his brother at Banbury, and fought on Edward's side at both the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. The end result being that Richard Neville was killed, Henry VI deposed and Edward restored as king.

With the Earl of Warwick now dead, George moved quickly to seize control of the Earl's estates, which he now regarded as rightfully his by virtue of his marriage to Isabelle. Unfortunately Richard Neville had a second daughter named Anne, who had briefly been married to Edward son of Henry VI, but was now a widow following the death of her husband at the battle of Tewkesbury. George was therefore much discomforted to learn that his younger brother Richard, the Duke of Gloucester had designs on Anne.

George made attempts to hide Anne Neville away, but her whereabouts were established and Richard married her despite George's best efforts. A private war was now a distinct possibility, but Edward IV intervened to ensure that conflict was averted. The former estates of the Earl of Warwick were divided up amongst the two brothers George and Richard and in March 1472 George was granted the titles of both Earl of Warwick and Earl of Salisbury (both of which had been held by his father-in-law) and reinstated to the office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland as some kind of compensation.

George was not however entirely pacified and became increasingly jealous of both the influence of the Woodville family and his brother Richard, who had stayed faithful to the king throughout the troubles of 1470-1471, and who was now given preference by the king. When his wife Isabelle Neville died in 1476, George soon cast around for a replacement his eye fell on Mary, the heiress to the Duchy of Burgundy but Edward refused his consent to this match much to George's annoyance and he left the court in a huff.

For the next couple of years George made a nuisance of himself; he had one of the queen's servants arrested and executed; she retaliated by having one of his servants arrested and executed. As a result George began throwing around accusations regarding the king's paternity, his fitness to rule etc etc. By this time Edward had clearly had enough of George and had him arrested and thrown into the Tower of London, and had clearly become convinced that his brother was aiming at his throne.

George was a loose cannon who had already demonstrated once before his capacity for disloyalty and Edward decided to be rid of him. A list of charges against him were laid before Parliament where he was accused of "new treasons to exalt himself and his heir to the regality and crown of England". The necessary Act of Attainder was passed on the 8th February 1478 and George forfeited all his estates and titles and was condemned to death for treason. He was executed privately within the Tower of London on the 18th February 1478 and buried at Tewkesbury Abbey where his skull and a few bones are on display in a wall niche near the high altar.

George was survived by two children; a daughter Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, and a son Edward, Earl of Warwick, both of whom were fated to also die as condemned traitors.

The strange death of the Duke of Clarence

As every reader of 1066 And All That will recall, the Duke of Clarence famously met his end drowned in a butt of malmsey wine, a tale that is often dismissed as being a colourful invention or a piece of Shakespearean dramatic licence.

Fortunately the tale is most likely the truth.

The Great Chronicle of London recorded that George "about twelve of the clock at noon made his end in a rondolet of Malmsey" and almost without exception all other contemporary sources corroborate this information. The fact was that George, in common with many of his contemporaries was a heavy drinker and his favourite tipple was Malmsey wine, being the rich dessert version of Madeira. As a condemned traitor, the prescribed method of execution was of course, to be hanged, drawn and quartered, but since George was the king's brother and of royal blood this sentence was commuted to one of beheading, or whatever method of execution selected by George himself. And George simply chose to be drowned in a barrel of fortified wine. Which, given that one imagines that George was given the opportunity to drink a significant proportion of the contents of said barrel beforehand, probably was not that bad a way to go.

It is also worth noting that there exists a portrait of his daughter Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, painted around the year 1530 which shows her wearing a wrist bracelet with a miniature wine cask, which she presumably wore in remembrance of her father.

It is said that Edward IV later came to regret his decision to prosecute his brother and condemn him to death. The real significance of George's death might not have been apparent until some time afterwards; had George still been alive in 1483 would his brother Richard have dared usurp the throne?


The Duke of Clarence is also the brand name of a Madeira wine produced by Blandy`s which is apparently the closest commercially available equivalent of old style Malmsey wine.


SOURCES

  • George, Duke of Clarence from Emery Walker's "Historical Portraits" (1909) reproduced at http://www.britannia.com/bios/lords/geoclarence.html
  • Alison Weir The Princes in the Tower
  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for CLARENCE, DUKES OF
    See http://1911encyclopedia.org/index.htm
  • Dukes of Great Britain at http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/royalty/dukeac.html

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