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George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence (October 21, 1449 – February 18, 1478), was the 6th 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 now known as the Wars of the Roses.

Though a member of the House of York, he switched sides to support the Lancastrians, before reverting to the Yorkists. He was later convicted of treason against his brother, Edward IV, and was executed. He appears as a character in William Shakespeare’s plays Henry VI, Part 3 and Richard III, in which his death is attributed to the machinations of Richard.

Life

George was born on October 21, 1449 in Dublin at a time when his father, Richard, the Duke of York, had begun to challenge Henry VI for the crown. His godfather was James FitzGerald, 6th Earl of Desmond.

George was the third of the four sons of Richard and Cecily who survived to adulthood. His father died in 1460. In 1461 his elder brother, Edward, became King of England and Lord of Ireland as Edward IV and George was made Duke of Clarence. Despite his youth, George was appointed as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in the same year.

Having been mentioned as a possible husband for Mary, 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.

Clarence had actively supported his elder brother’s claim to the throne, but when his father-in-law (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 of Ireland.

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 by making him next in line to the throne after his own son, justifying the exclusion of Edward IV both by attainder for his treason against the House of Lancaster as well as his alleged illegitimacy.

After a short time, Clarence realized that his loyalty to his father-in-law was misplaced: Warwick had his younger daughter, Anne Neville, Clarence’s sister-in-law, marry Henry VI’s son, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, in December 1470.

This demonstrated that his father-in-law was less interested in making him king than in serving his own interests and, since it now seemed unlikely that Warwick would replace Edward IV with Clarence, Clarence was secretly reconciled with Edward.

Warwick’s efforts to keep Henry VI on the throne ultimately failed and Warwick was killed at the battle of Barnet in April 1471. The re-instated King Edward IV restored his brother Clarence to royal favour by making him Great Chamberlain of England.

As his father-in-law had died, Clarence became jure uxoris Earl of Warwick, but did not inherit the entire Warwick estate as his younger brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, had married (c. 1472) Anne Neville, who had been widowed in 1471, when her husband, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales died at the Battle of Tewkesbury.

King Edward IV intervened and eventually divided the estates between his brothers. Clarence was created, by right of his wife, first Earl of Warwick on March 25, 1472, and first Earl of Salisbury in a new creation.

In 1475 Clarence’s wife Isabel gave birth to a son, Edward, later Earl of Warwick. Isabel died on December 22, 1476, two months after giving birth to a short-lived son named Richard (October 5, 1476 – January 1, 1477).

George and Isabel are buried together at Tewkesbury Abbey in Gloucestershire. Their surviving children, Margaret and Edward, were cared for by their aunt, Anne Neville, until she died in 1485 when Edward was 10 years old.

Death

Though most historians now believe Isabel’s death was a result of either consumption or childbed fever, Clarence was convinced she had been poisoned by one of her ladies-in-waiting, Ankarette Twynyho, whom, as a consequence, he had judicially murdered in April 1477, by summarily arresting her and bullying a jury at Warwick into convicting her of murder by poisoning.

She was hanged immediately after trial with John Thursby, a fellow defendant. She was posthumously pardoned in 1478 by King Edward IV. Clarence’s mental state, never stable, deteriorated from that point and led to his involvement in yet another rebellion against his brother Edward.

In 1477 Clarence was again a suitor for the hand of Mary, who had just become Duchess of Burgundy. 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 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.

Clarence 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 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 IV 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 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, a rumour spread that he had been drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine.

A reason for Edward IV to have his brother executed may have been that George had “threatened to question the legality of the royal marriage” and he may have discovered from Bishop Robert Stillington of Bath and Wells that George “had probably let slip the secret of the precontract” for Edward’s marriage with Lady Eleanor Talbot, although others dispute this.