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On this day date in History: February 18, 1478, the execution of George, 1st Duke of Clarence in the Bowyer Tower of the Tower of London. The Duke of Clarence was executed for treason on the orders of his brother Edward IV. He was 28 years old. Tradition states that George was executed by being drowned in a barrel of Malmsey wine – a method of execution chose by George himself. Both his surviving children – Edward Earl of Warwick, and Lady Margaret Pole – were later executed by the Tudors.


George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, 1st Earl of Salisbury, 1st Earl of Warwick KG (October 21, 1449 – February 18, 1478) was the third surviving son of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, and Cecily Neville, and the brother of English Kings Edward IV and Richard III. He played an important role in the dynastic struggle between rival factions of the Plantagenets (House of Anjou) known as the Wars of the Roses. Though a member of the House of York (a cadet branch of the House of Anjou Plantagenet) he switched sides to support the Lancastrians, (House of Lancaster) before reverting to the Yorkists.

In 1477 Clarence was again a suitor for the hand of Mary, who had just become duchess of Burgundy. Edward objected to the match, and Clarence, left the court. The arrest and committal to the Tower of London of one of Clarence’s retainers, an Oxford astronomer named Dr John Stacey, led to his confession under torture that he had “imagined and compassed” the death of the King, and used the black arts to accomplish this. He implicated one Thomas Burdett, and one Thomas Blake, a chaplain at Stacey’s college (Merton College, Oxford). All three were tried for treason, convicted, and condemned to be drawn to Tyburn and hanged. Blake was saved at the eleventh hour by a plea for his life from James Goldwell, Bishop of Norwich, but the other two were put to death as ordered.

This was a clear warning to Clarence, which he chose to ignore. He appointed Dr John Goddard to burst into Parliament and regale the House with Burdett and Stacey’s declarations of innocence that they had made before their deaths. Goddard was a very unwise choice, as he was an ex-Lancastrian who had expounded Henry VI’s claim to the throne. Edward summoned Clarence to Windsor, severely upbraided him, accused him of treason, and ordered his immediate arrest and confinement.

Clarence was imprisoned in the Tower of London and put on trial for treason against his brother Edward IV. Clarence was not present – Edward himself prosecuted his brother, and demanded that Parliament pass a Bill of Attainder against his brother, declaring that he was guilty of “unnatural, loathly treasons” which were aggravated by the fact that Clarence was his brother, who, if anyone did, owed him loyalty and love. Following his conviction, he was “privately executed” at the Tower on 18 February 1478, by tradition in the Bowyer Tower, and soon after the event, the rumour gained ground that he had been drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine.

Clarence married his wife Isabel Neville in Calais, at that time controlled by England, on July 11, 1469. Together they had four children:

* Anne of York (c. 17 April 1470), born and died in a ship off Calais.
* Margaret, 8th Countess of Salisbury (August 14, 1473 – May 27, 1541); married Sir Richard Pole; executed by Henry VIII.
* Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick (February 25, 1475 – November 28, 1499); the last legitimate Plantagenet heir of the direct male line; executed by Henry VII on grounds of attempting to escape from the Tower of London.
* Richard of York (October 6, 1476 – January 1, 1477); born at Tewkesbury Abbey, Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire; died at Warwick Castle, Warwick, Warwickshire, where he was buried.