After a failed revenge plot, George, Duke of Clarence, was charged with high treason, imprisoned in the Tower of London and executed, all on the orders of his older brother.
George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, was the sixth son of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, and Cecily Neville, and the brother of English kings Edward IV and Richard III. He died on this day 545 years ago — February 18, 1478 — having been sentenced to death for committing high treason. Legend says the Duke of Clarence was drowned in a barrel of malmsey wine, a peculiar demise that partly came as a result of a brotherly rift.
George was the younger brother of King Edward IV, who ruled over England from March 4, 1461, to October 3, 1470, and then again from April 11, 1471, until his death in 1483.
He first helped his brother take the crown from Henry VI in the Wars of the Roses, and George was therefore appointed Duke of Clarence and later Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
However, as with many during the Wars, George was a repeat turncoat, often switching sides in an attempt to seize power for himself.
After Edward’s accession, the Duke chose to side with his father-in-law, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who had also helped Edward become King, but their plot failed.
Legend has it the Duke of Clarence was drowned in a barrel of wine instead of being beheaded
The Wars of the Roses were a series of civil wars fought over control of the English throne
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The Earl of Warick then formed an alliance with Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI’s wife, and successfully launched an invasion of England, ultimately putting Henry back on the throne. However, his second reign did not last long.
Having been shunned by Richard, George returned to his brother’s side and fought for the Yorkists at Barnet and Tewkesbury, aiding Edward in his reclaiming of the throne in 1471.
His grateful brother made George the Earl of Salisbury and later Earl of Warwick — following Richard Neville’s death in 1471 and by right of his wife, Isabel Neville — and welcomed him back into the fold. He was also rewarded with the position of Great Chamberlain of England and seemed to have been influential at court, also regularly attending Parliament.
George and Isabel had four children together: Anne of Clarence; Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury; Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick and Richard of Clarence. However, only Margaret and Edward survived their parents.
In December 1476, two months after giving birth to their short-lived son Richard, Isabel died. The effect of his wife’s death on George was said to be profound; from this point, his mental state deteriorated.
George, Duke of Clarence died on this day 545 years ago
George grew increasingly bitter about the influence his older brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, (later Richard III) had at court. And when his request to marry the Duchess of Burgundy was rejected by King Edward, his brotherly relations were further strained.
Throughout the 1470s, the tempestuous relationship between George and Edward only worsened, with the King becoming exasperated with his brother and frequently siding against him.
The arrest of one of the Duke of Clarence’s staff, astronomer John Stacey, led to his confession under torture that he had “imagined and compassed” the death of the King using the dark arts. He was convicted and sentenced to death; a clear warning to George.
However, ever the rebel, the Duke chose to ignore it. He appointed someone to read Stacey and one of his accomplice’s declarations of innocence given on the scaffold, enraging the King who summoned his brother to upbraid him, accusing him of treason and ordering his immediate arrest and confinement.
Richard III (L) and Edward IV were both brothers of George, Duke of Clarence
In January 1478, George was imprisoned at the Tower of London and put on trial for treason against King Edward IV.
Edward denounced his brother for “most serious [misconduct]… in contempt of the law of the land and a great threat to judges and jurors of the kingdom”.
He prosecuted his brother himself and demanded that Parliament pass a bill of attainder against George, declaring he was guilty of “unnatural, loathly treasons”.
Following his conviction and attainder, he was “privately executed” at the Tower on February 18.
The circumstances surrounding George’s death are shrouded in mystery. While some have said he was beheaded secretly, others claimed he was murdered by his brother Richard. The most widely circulated belief is that he was drowned in a butt of malmsey wine, as it is chillingly portrayed in Shakespeare’s Richard III and Philippa Gregory’s novel, The White Queen.
The exhumed body of the Duke of Clarence was found to be intact
While the official record at the time speaks of a private execution in the Bowyer Tower, the exhumed body of the Duke of Clarence was found to be intact — he had not been beheaded, as was the traditional execution of a nobleman.
In her book, Ms Gregory wrote: “The headsman does it, leaving his axe to one side but wearing his black mask over his face. He is a big man with strong big hands and he takes his apprentice with him. The two of them roll a barrel of malmsey wine into George’s room and George the fool makes a joke of it and laughs with his mouth open wide as if already gasping for air, as his face bleaches white with fear.”
The author runs with the rumour, claiming George — a supposed heavy drinker — requested this death himself.
In Shakespeare’s Richard III, George is stabbed and subsequently drowned in a vat of Malmsey wine.
Another possibility is the Duke’s body was sent to Tewkesbury Abbey, which overlooked the final battle of the civil war between the Houses of Lancaster and York, in a barrel of wine for burial.
However, any evidence to shed clearer light on the circumstances of George’s death is yet to be found.
Source: EXPRESS CO UK