George, Duke of Clarence was born on October 21, 1449 at Dublin Castle in Dublin, Ireland to Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York (21 Sep 1411-30 Dec 1460) and Cecily Neville (3 May 1415-31 May 1495). George has lived in infamy because of his horrible end: George, the Duke of Clarence, drowned in wine.
This was a time when Richard, Duke of York, was beginning to challenge King Henry VI for the crown.
George was the third of the four sons of Richard and Cecily who survived to adulthood. Following his father’s death and the accession of his elder brother, Edward, to the throne, George was created Duke of Clarence on June 28, 1461 and became a Knight of the Garter. From February 1462 to March 1470, he was Chief Governor of Ireland, and on May 20, 1471 he became Great Chamberlain of England.
On July 11, 1469, George married Isabel Neville (5 Sep 1451-22 Dec 1476) at Calais, which was controlled by England at that time. Isabel was the daughter and co-heiress of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and Salisbury, and his wife Anne Beauchamp.
George had actively supported his elder brother Edward’s claim to the throne, but when his father-in-law the Earl of Warwick deserted Edward to ally with Margaret of Anjou, King Henry’s consort, George, along with his pregnant wife, followed him to France.
Their firstborn, Anne, was born on April 16, 1470 on a ship off Calais, only to die shortly afterward while still on board the ship.
Henry VI rewarded George for his loyalty by making him next in line to the throne after Edward of Westminster, justifying the exclusion of Edward IV either by attainder for his treason against Henry or on the grounds of his alleged illegitimacy.
After a short time, George realized that his loyalty to his father-in-law was misplaced. Warwick had his younger daughter, Anne, marry Edward of Westminster, King Henry VI’s heir. Since it now seemed unlikely that George would be replacing Edward, George again allied with his brother King Edward and regained his favor.
Although George was made Earl of Warwick on March 25, 1472, he did not inherit the entire Warwick estate as his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, would marry the widowed younger sister of his wife, Anne Neville.
Anne had become increasingly concerned with her sister Isabel and how she must be coping with these hostilities. Isabel was expecting another child. She had already borne two children, their daughter Margaret (14 Aug 1473-28 May 1541) and their son, Edward (25 Feb 1475-28 Nov 1499), who was later also Earl of Warwick. Edward passed the greater part of his life in prison and was beheaded in 1499.
Being close to the king, the Woodvilles were under scrutiny, and Richard had witnessed their self-serving and underhanded ways and knew it was best to avoid them. It was well known that George had always loathed the Woodvilles. To him, they were usurpers who achieved their ends through manipulation and control.
Clarence had suspicions about the validity of the marriage of Elizabeth Woodville and did not hesitate to say so. Having been informed that a certain lady of high breeding had caught Edward’s eye, George took further notice. She was was of good morals and would not lose her virtue, even to the King, so the King had a private wedding ceremony before he had married Elizabeth Woodville. George made sure to tell the people through whom the story would travel to Burgundy and the ears of Louis XI, and James III of Scotland.
The Woodvilles became aware of the allegations and planned Clarence’s downfall to protect their positions from being threatened.
Isabel was late in her pregnancy and was staying at Warwick Castle when a lady named Ankarette Twynyho professed to be a midwife and offered her services. Things looked good at first as Isabel gave birth to a boy who they named Richard (6 Oct 1476-1 Jan 1477). Richard was a sickly child and both of his parents worried for his welfare.
Isabel seemingly recovered well from the birth. The midwife, having told them she was good with herbs for healing, also told them she could nurse the baby back to health. Both George and Isabel having believed her claims, allowed her to remain until Isabel suddenly fell ill after drinking ale. In panic, the midwife fled and Isabel died in agony two months after giving birth to Richard who lived only about three months, and they were buried together at Tewkesbury Abbey in Gloucestershire.
Clarence truly believed his wife had been murdered. He wanted whoever was responsible for his wife’s murder brought to justice, and he refused to eat and drink as if he suspected attempts to poison him as well.
Today, most historians believe Isabel’s death resulted from either childhood fever or consumption. Clarence was convinced she had been poisoned by Ankarette Twynyho, and in revenge he had her murdered in April of 1477, by having her arrested, and strong-arming a jury at Warwick into convicting her. She was one of two hanged immediately after the trial with John Thursby, a fellow defendant.
A petition regarding the events states:
“That whereas the said Ankarette on Saturday, 12th of April 17 Edward IV (1477), was in her manor at Cayford (ie Keyford, Somerset) and Richard Hyde late of Warwick, gentleman and Roger Strugg late of Bekehampton, co Somerset, towker, with drivers riotous persons to number of fourscore by the command of George, duke of Clarence, came to Cayford about two of the clock after noon and entered her house and carried her off the same day to bath and from thence on the Sunday following to Circeter (Cirencester) co. Gloucester, and from thence to Warwick, whither they brought her on the Monday following about eight of the clock in the after noon, which town of Warwick is distant from Cayforde seventy miles, and then and there took from her all her jewels, money and goods and also in the said dukes behalf, as though he had used King’s power, Commanded Thomas Delalynde, esquire, and Edith his wife, daughter of the said Ankarette, and their servants to avoid from the town of Warwick and lodged them at Stattforde upon Aven that night, six miles from thence and the said duke kept Ankarette imprison unto the hour of nine before noon on the morrow, to wit the Tuesday after the closing of Pasche (ie Easter) and caused her to be brought to the Guildhall at Warwick before divers of Justices of the peace in the County then sitting in sessions and caused her to be indicted by the name of Ankarette Twynyho, late of Warwick, widow, late servant of the duke and Isabel his wife, of having at on 10 October, 16 Edward IV, given to the said Isabel a venomous drink of ale mixed with poison, of which the latter sickened until the Sunday before Christmas, on which day she died, and the justices arraigned the said Ankarette and a jury appeared and found her guilty and it was considered that she should be led from the bar there to the gaol of Warwick and thence should be drawn through the town to the gallows of Myton and hanged till she was dead, and the Sheriff was commanded to do execution and so he did, which indictment, trail and judgement were done and given within three hours of said Tuesday, and juror for fear gave the Sheriff was verdict contrary to their conscience, in proof where of divers of them came to said Ankarette in remorse and asked her forgiveness, in consideration of the imaginations of and her good disposition, the King should ordain that the record, process, verdict and judgement should be void and of no effect, but that as the premises were done by the command of the said duke, the said justices and Sheriff and the under-Sheriff and their ministers should not be vexed, The answer of the king. So it fait come il est desire (“ Let it be done as the petitioner”)
George had known that it was the work of Elizabeth Woodville that was behind Isabel’s death and he was determined to prove to all that Elizabeth Woodville was behind it all. Elizabeth reinforced with Edward that George must be silenced for the sake of children, including the heir.
At first Edward was reluctant to turn against his brother, not caring much for his wife or her family. But George had turned his attentions to Edward, and managed to anger Edward sufficiently that he decided to act. Clarence was arrested for treason and and attempted necromancy against the King.
Wishing to look into the acts of Clarence George further, Edward summoned him to appear before him at the place of Westminster. He accused Clarence of pursuing vigilante justice and then had his guards escort Clarence to the tower. Meanwhile, a messenger brought Richard the news that Clarence was locked up in the tower and having read the charges, Richard realised that George had walked into a trap set by the Woodvilles trap and was therefore at the mercy of the King.
Richard sent a letter to Edward requesting that his own servants look after George in the tower and he had also asked Edward if he could look after George’s children. Having obtained permission, Richard journeyed to Warwick. He dispatched sent George’s most trusted servants to the tower.
By October, 1477, Richard was actively pleading for Clarence since he’d become aware that the Woodvilles were seeking Edward’s signature on a death warrant. Richard hoped that George would beg for forgiveness and promise to remain loyal to Edward.
Upon seeing George, Richard realized he was prepared to die rather than even hint at submission to the Woodville family. Richard pleaded with Edward to allow him to try to persuade George, and Edward promised not to sign the death warrant.
Having been arrested, one of Clarence’s retainers, confessed under torture that he had ‘imagined and compassed’ the King’s death using the black arts. He implicated two others and they were all tried for treason, convicted, and sentenced to be drawn and hanged at Tyburn. One was saved at the eleventh hour by a plea for his life by the Bishop of Norwich, but the other two were executed.
Clarence chose to ignore this ominous warning.
Edward had Clarence brought to Windsor, accused him of treason, and ordered his arrest and imprisonment. Clarence was held in the Tower of London and put on trial for treason against his brother Edward IV. Edward prosecuted his own brother, demanding that a Bill of Attainder be passed by Parliament. Clarence was executed at the Tower of London on February 18, 1478.
He was laid to rest at Tewkesbury along with his wife and son.
The legend grew that Clarence had drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine, possibly having evolved from a joke about his being a heavy drinker. What was believed to be the body of Clarence was later exhumed and it surprisingly showed no indications of beheading, which was the traditional method of execution for those of nobility. It could also be possible that George’s remains were transported to the abbey in a barrel of Malmsey.
In Shakespeare’s play, “Richard III”, George is portrayed to have been drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine.
- Kings and Queens of England – The Plantagenets, The Royal Family online [http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/Page58.asp].
- Foundation for Medieval Genealogy online [http://fmg.ac/].
- Kings and Queens of England – The Plantagenets, online [http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/Page58.asp].
- “George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence”; Wikipedia.org; [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Plantagenet,_1st_Duke_of_Clarence]
- “The Demise of George, Duke of Clarence”; Historum.com; http://historum.com/blogs/crystal+rainbow/831-demise-george-duke-clarence.html