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George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence (October 21, 1449 – February 18, 1478), was a 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 known as the Wars of the Roses.

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Coat of Arms of George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence

George’s father died in 1460. In 1461 his elder brother, Edward, became King of England as Edward IV. In that year George was made Duke of Clarence and invested as a Knight of the Garter, and in 1462 Clarence received the Honour of Richmond, a lifetime grant, but without the peerage title of Earl of Richmond.Despite his youth, he was appointed as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in the same year.

Having been mentioned as a possible husband for Mary of Burgundy, daughter of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, Clarence came under the influence of his first cousin Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, and in July 1469 was married in Église Notre-Dame de Calais to the earl’s elder daughter Isabel Neville.

Here is a side story to the connection of the House of Burgundy and the House of Plantagenet. In 1454, at the age of 21, Charles the Bold was looking to marry a second time. Charles the Bold’s first wife was Catherine of France (1428 – 13 July 1446) was a French princess and the fourth child and second daughter of Charles VII of France and Marie of Anjou. Catherine fell ill with violent coughing in 1446 and died with what was likely tuberculosis.

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Mary, Duchess of Burgundy

For his second marriage, Charles the Bold wanted to marry Margaret of York, daughter of his distant cousin Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York (a sister of Kings Edward IV and Richard III of England), but under terms of the Treaty of Arras of 1435, he was required to marry another French princess. His father, Philippe III the Good of Burgundy, chose Isabella of Bourbon, who was Charles the Bold’s first cousin being the daughter of his father’s sister, Agnes of Burgundy and Charles I, Duke of Bourbon. Agnes of Burgundy and Charles of Bourbon both were very distant cousins of Charles VII of France, the father of Charles the Bold’s first wife, Catherine. Charles the Bold and Isabella of Bourbon were the parents of Mary of Burgundy, potential bride of George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence.

Isabella of Bourbon died September 25, 1465, and July 3, 1468 Charles the Bold finally married Margaret of York as his third wife. As Duchess of Burgundy Margaret acted as a protector of the duchy after the death of Charles the Bold in January 1477.

Now back to George, Duke of Clarence…

Though a member of the House of York, he switched sides to support the Lancastrians, before reverting to the Yorkists. Clarence had actively supported his elder brother’s claim to the throne, but when his father-in-law, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known as “the Kingmaker,” deserted Edward IV to ally with Margaret of Anjou, consort of the deposed King Henry VI, Clarence supported him and was deprived of his office as Lord Lieutenant. Clarence joined Warwick in France, taking his pregnant wife. She gave birth to their first child, a girl, on April 16, 1470, in a ship off Calais. The child died shortly afterwards. Henry VI rewarded Clarence for his loyalty by making him next in line to the throne after his own son, justifying the exclusion of Edward IV either by attainder for his treason against Henry VI or on the grounds of his alleged illegitimacy. After a short time, Clarence realized that his loyalty to his father-in-law was misplaced.

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George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence

In 1477 Clarence was again a suitor for the hand of Mary, who had just become Duchess of Burgundy in her own right. Edward IV 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, which led to his confession under torture that he had “imagined and compassed” the death of the King, and also implicated Thomas Burdett and Thomas Blake, a chaplain at Stacey’s college (Merton College, Oxford). All three were tried for treason, convicted, and executed.

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 of Commons 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 IV summoned Clarence to Windsor, severely upbraided him, accused him of treason, and ordered his immediate arrest and confinement.

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Edward IV, King of England and Lord of Ireland

Clarence was imprisoned in the Tower of London and put on trial for treason against his brother Edward IV. Clarence was not present – Edward IV 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 and attainder, he was “privately executed” at the Tower on February 18, 1478, by tradition in the Bowyer Tower, and soon after the event, the unfounded rumor gained ground that he had been drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine.

Richard III biographer Paul Murray Kendall believes that the reason Edward was so harsh with his brother was that he had discovered from Bishop Robert Stillington of Bath and Wells that George had let slip the secret of Edward IV’s marriage precontract with Lady Eleanor Talbot, which would mean that Edward IV’s marriage with Elizabeth Woodville was null and void, making their children illegitimate. Although legend claims Richard III had brought about his brother’s death, the opposite may be true: he tried to prevent it.

* A bill of attainder (also known as an act of attainder or writ of attainder or bill of penalties) is an act of a legislature declaring a person or group of persons guilty of some crime and punishing them, often without a trial.