Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Plantagenet, George

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PLANTAGENET, GEORGE, Duke of Clarence (1449–1478), was the sixth son, the third surviving infancy, of Richard, duke of York (1412–1460) [q. v.], by Cecily Neville, daughter of Ralph, first earl of Westmorland [q. v.] He was born at Dublin during his father's residence in Ireland as lord lieutenant on 21 Oct. 1449 and baptised in the church of St. Saviour's (Worcester, p. 527; Complete Peerage, ii. 271; cf. Chron. of White Rose, p. 6). After his father's death, in December 1460, he and his younger brother Richard were sent for safety to Utrecht, whence he was brought back on his brother Edward's accession, in March 1461, and created (in June?) Duke of Clarence, a title emphasising the hereditary claims of the House of York, with a grant of many forfeited Percy manors and (September 1462) the honour of Richmond for its support. About the same time he was made knight of the Bath and of the Garter, and in February 1462 lord lieutenant of Ireland.

The commissioners appointed in March 1466 to conclude a marriage between his sister Margaret and Charles, count of Charolais, heir to the duchy of Burgundy, were also empowered to arrange a match for Clarence with the count's only child Mary (Fœdera, xi. 565). But the chief commissioner, Warwick ‘the Kingmaker,’ finding Edward IV bent on throwing off his control, had other plans for the disposal of the younger brother's hand. Clarence, still heir-presumptive and involved in a quarrel of his own with the queen's kinsmen, readily lent himself to Warwick's intrigues, which included the duke's marriage to the elder of Warwick's two daughters who would inherit his vast domains. But this could only be managed by a papal dispensation, for Clarence's mother was both great-aunt and godmother to Isabella Neville, and Edward put every possible obstacle in the way of its being granted. Warwick, however, succeeded in throwing dust in the king's eyes, secretly obtained the dispensation from Paul II (14 March 1468 according to Dugdale, ii. 163), and in July 1469 suddenly summoned Clarence to Calais, where the ceremony was performed on the 11th by Warwick's brother, Archbishop Neville, in the church of Notre Dame. Clarence at once joined his father-in-law and the archbishop in issuing a manifesto to the English announcing their speedy coming, and calling upon all true subjects to assist them in an armed demonstration, nominally to call the king's attention to necessary reforms [see Neville, Richard, Earl of Warwick].

The battle of Edgecot made Edward their prisoner, and, though public opinion compelled them to release him, they were strong enough to extract an amnesty from him, under cover of which they seem to have continued their intrigues. They proceeded with such secrecy that, in spite of the ‘to doo’ made by bills set up by them in London in February 1470, Edward did not apparently in the least suspect that they had any hand in stirring up the Lancastrian rebellion in Lincolnshire (cf., however, Oman, p. 198). He put off his departure to suppress it for several days in order that he might meet Clarence, who, with extreme duplicity, accompanied him to St. Paul's to offer prayers for his success. Clarence remained behind, but a most dutiful letter from him reached the king at Royston in Cambridgeshire on 8 March, offering to bring Warwick to his assistance. Edward was so thoroughly deceived that he authorised the two plotters to raise troops on his behalf, little knowing that, before joining his father-in-law at Warwick, Clarence had had a secret interview with Lord Welles, one of the conspirators (Ramsay, ii. 349). Edward's suspicions were roused by the presence among the rebels at the battle of Empingham of men wearing Clarence's livery, and the raising of the war cries of ‘a Clarence!’ ‘a Warwick!’ He at once sent off an order commanding them to disband their forces and join him with an ordinary escort. Finding the game up, and perhaps foreseeing Sir Robert Welles's confession that Warwick was planning to make Clarence king, they turned north-westward. Followed by the king, who on 23 March deprived Clarence of the lord-lieutenancy of Ireland, they reached Manchester, whence they doubled south, and made their way along the Welsh border. Finally they took ship at Dartmouth for Calais. But Warwick's lieutenant there refused them admittance, and after riding at anchor for some days, during which the Duchess of Clarence, who was on board, gave birth to a son, they sailed to Harfleur, and were afterwards effusively received by the French king.

In September 1470 Clarence returned to England with Warwick, and Edward IV fled the country. The Lancastrian restoration, thereupon carried out with cynical indifference to consistency by Warwick, could not be expected to enlist the enthusiastic support of Clarence. The remote prospect of his succession to the throne if the issue of Henry VI should fail, and even the more tangible sop by which the whole inheritance of his father was settled on him, was poor compensation for the uncomfortable discovery that he had been a mere pawn in the hands of Warwick's ambition. The proposal for him to share with Warwick the joint lieutenancy of the realm in behalf of Henry VI did not soothe his wounded vanity, though he dared not give open expression to his resentment (Polydore Vergil, p. 134; cf. Arrivall, p. 41). In the course of the winter (1470–1), if not before, during his stay in France, his mother and sisters secretly reconciled him with his exiled brother, and obtained his promise to join Edward as soon as he should land (ib.) When that happened in the spring of 1471, Clarence took care to wait until Edward was blockading Warwick in Coventry and he could bring over a force that would give weight to his accession. After, it is said, preventing Warwick from fighting by urging him to wait his arrival, he ordered the four thousand men he had levied for Henry VI to mount the white rose of York and marched them to Edward's camp at Warwick, where the two brothers had ‘right kind and loving language’ between their armies, and swore ‘perfect accord for ever hereafter’ (ib.; Warkworth, p. 15). They fought together at Barnet and at Tewkesbury, where Polydore Vergil (p. 152) represents Clarence as joining Gloucester and Hastings in murdering his brother-in-law, the unfortunate Prince Edward, in cold blood after the battle. The only support the story finds, however, in the strictly contemporary writers is Warkworth's statement that he ‘cried for succour’ to Clarence.

The crime, if crime it was, brought its own punishment in the resolute determination of Gloucester to marry the widowed Anne Neville and share her mother's inheritance with Clarence. The two brothers quarrelled bitterly, and their strife threatened the peace of the kingdom for several years. Clarence did not hesitate to carry off his young sister-in-law, over whom he perhaps claimed rights of wardship, and place her in hiding disguised as a kitchenmaid; but Gloucester discovered her in London, and put her in sanctuary at St. Martin's. The two dukes argued their case in person before the king in council with a skill and pertinacity which astonished even lawyers (Croyl. Cont. p. 557). In February 1472 Clarence was reported to be now willing to let his brother have the lady, but resolved to ‘parte no lyvelod’ (Paston Letters, iii. 38). Not even his creation, jure uxoris, as Earl of Warwick and Salisbury (25 March 1472), nor the post of great chamberlain (20 May), sufficed to remove his opposition to the partition. The act of 1473 resuming crown grants, while protecting Gloucester, gave Clarence further cause of discontent by pointedly omitting to make an exception in his favour, and thus depriving him of Tutbury and other castles. Towards the end of the year Clarence was reported to be ‘making himself big in that he can,’ and the situation was so strained that most of those at court sent for their armour (ib. iii. 98). But Edward seems to have been at last roused to decisive interference, and in the parliamentary session of 1474 a partition of the estates, which the late Earl of Warwick had acquired by his marriage with Anne Beauchamp, between her two daughters and their husbands was ordered; her own rights were thrust aside (Rot. Parl. vi. 100). The bulk of Warwick's Neville estates went to Gloucester, but Clarence received Clavering in Essex and some London property (ib. pp. 124–5). Edward also bestowed upon him the forfeited lands of the Courtenays in the south-west.

Harmony was for a time restored, and Clarence accompanied his brothers in the French expedition of 1475; but it did not last long. Clarence doubtless discovered that his past offences, though forgiven, could not be entirely forgotten, and that he was less trusted by the king than Gloucester or the queen's kinsmen. He sulked and held aloof from court. Mischief-makers carried what each of them said to the other (Croyl. Cont. p. 561). Circumstances soon gave a dangerous turn to his discontent. His wife died on 21 Dec. 1476, and the death of Charles the Bold a fortnight later made Mary of Burgundy, whose hand had once been sought for Clarence, mistress of all Charles's dominions. Clarence at once offered himself as a suitor, and enjoyed the support of her stepmother, Margaret, whose favourite brother he was. But, on political as well as personal grounds, Edward placed his veto on the match, as it would have involved him in difficulties with France, and the queen and her family are said to have pushed the claims of Earl Rivers.

Clarence revenged himself in most high-handed fashion. He had one of his late wife's attendants, Ankarette, widow of Roger Twynyho of Cayford, Somerset, through whom he no doubt wished to strike at the queen, arrested, without the formality of a warrant, on a charge of having caused her mistress's death by ‘a venymous drynke of ale myxt with poyson.’ She was hurried off to Warwick, her native county, and summarily tried, condemned, and executed by the justices in petty sessions, apparently in the presence of Clarence. A writ of certiorari was issued too late to save the unfortunate victim of this judicial murder. Nor was she the only one. John Thuresby suffered on a charge of poisoning Clarence's infant son Richard (d. 1 Jan. 1477), though Sir Roger Tocotes obtained an acquittal (Rot. Parl. vi. 173–4; Deputy-Keeper Publ. Records, 3rd Rep. ii. 214). The court party turned Clarence's weapon against himself by extracting from John Stacy, a reputed wizard, under torture, a denunciation of Thomas Burdet of Arrow in Warwickshire, one of Clarence's confidants. A special commission met (19 May) at Westminster, before which Burdet was vaguely charged with having compassed the death of the king in April 1474; with instigating Stacy and another necromancer to calculate the nativities of the king and Prince of Wales; with predicting the king's speedy death on the eve of his departure for France in 1475; and with circulating just before the trial seditious and treasonable rhymes against the king. Sir James Ramsay suggests that this last may have been the well-known prophecy that the king should be succeeded by one the first letter of whose name should be G. Despite their plea of not guilty, Burdet and Stacy were condemned, and hanged at Tyburn on 20 May. Next day Clarence brought the Franciscan Dr. William Goddard before the privy council to testify to their dying protestations of innocence—an unfortunate choice, for Goddard had preached the restoration sermon of Henry VI in 1470. Clarence's enemies no doubt took care to connect this with the evidence which had been laid before Edward to prove that his brother was once again conspiring to make himself king. Summoning Clarence to meet him in the presence of the mayor and aldermen, he committed him to the Tower. We may suppose that Edward's distrust had been heightened by the recent Scottish proposal for a double marriage—one between the ambitious Albany, brother of James III, and the other between Clarence and their sister Margaret. Contemporary chroniclers, both in this country and abroad, traced Clarence's death to his intrigues with Burgundy (Ramsay, ii. 422).

But they were graver offences of which Edward personally accused his brother in the parliament of January 1478. Ungrateful for the oblivion extended to his former treason, he had slandered him to his subjects as having had Burdet unjustly put to death, and as working by necromancy to poison any who stood in his way; had spread rumours that he was a bastard, and no rightful king; had secretly received oaths of allegiance from a number of the king's subjects to himself and his heirs, exhibiting an exemplification, under the seal of Henry VI, of the act of 1470, securing to him the reversion of the crown on the failure of Henry's issue; and, lastly, had made actual preparations for a new rebellion, and for secretly sending his son to Ireland or Flanders, substituting another child to personate him at Warwick Castle. Edward concluded by declaring his brother incorrigible, and that he could not answer for the peace of the realm if such ‘loathly offences’ were pardoned. The scene is described by the Croyland chronicler (p. 562) as a most painful one no one but Clarence himself venturing to reply to the king, and the few witnesses behaving more like prosecutors than witnesses. What proofs were adduced does not appear. The disturbed state of certain districts in the early months of this year seems to have lent the charges some colour and the repeal in the same session of the succession act in Clarence's favour (1470) was doubtless due to a suspicion that he was ready to take advantage of its terms (Ramsay, ii. 424; Rot. Parl. vi. 191). The imprisonment, shortly before 6 March 1478, of Bishop Robert Stillington [q. v.] of Bath, who, under Richard, claimed to have married Edward to an English lady previous to his alliance with Elizabeth Wydeville, possibly suggests that Clarence had already spread this story abroad (Excerpta Historica, p. 354; Commines, ii. 157). Disregarding the duke's vigorous denials, which he offered to support by personal combat, both houses passed the bill of attainder, and a court of chivalry, presided over by the Duke of Buckingham, passed sentence of death (8 Feb.; Rot. Parl. vi. 195). Edward's own reluctance, or the remonstrances of some of those about him, delayed its execution for more than a week. Sir Thomas More reports that Gloucester opposed his brother's death, though, ‘as men deemed, somewhat more faintly than he that were heartily minded to his wealth.’ This surmise, described by More himself as devoid of certainty, is the only positive foundation for Shakespeare's ascription of Clarence's death to Gloucester. Richard, it is true, benefited considerably by his brother's fall, and the religious foundations he made immediately after have been interpreted as possible marks of remorse (Gairdner, Richard III, p. 45). But Mr. Cokayne assumes too much when he says that Clarence was condemned chiefly through the influence of Gloucester (Complete Peerage, ii. 272).

A petition by the commons for justice on the duke gave the king the appearance at least of yielding to outside pressure in ordering the carrying out of the sentence. He waived a public execution, either from personal scruples and motives of prudence, or at the instance of their mother, the widowed Duchess of York (Commines, ii. 147, ed. Lenglet). It was therefore carried out secretly within the Tower on 17 or 18 Feb. 1478. The well-informed Croyland chronicler, a member of Edward's council, does not mention the manner of his death, implying that various rumours were abroad. But three contemporaries, writing somewhat later—two of them English and one French—agree that he was drowned in a butt of malmsey wine, the much-prized vintage of Malvasia in the east of the Morea (‘London Chronicle,’ in MS. Cott. Vitellius, A. xvi. fol. 136; Fabyan, p. 666; Commines, i. 69, ii. 147, ed. Dupont; cf. Busch, England under the Tudors, Engl. transl. i. 406). It may have been only a London rumour. Lingard (iv. 211) dismisses it rather too contemptuously as a ‘silly report.’ Mr. Gairdner suggests that the choice of this mode of death may have been accidental. Shakespeare represents the murderer as finding the butt of malmsey conveniently at hand to complete his work (Richard III, p. 40). Clarence was buried in Tewkesbury Abbey with his wife.

The king, though now rid of the last of the ‘idols to whom the people had been accustomed to look for revolution,’ did not escape the pangs of remorse for this fratricidal execution; when besought to use his prerogative on behalf of malefactors, he would exclaim bitterly, ‘O unfortunate brother, for whose life not one creature would make intercession!’ (Croyl. Cont. p. 562; Grafton, p. 468). Yet we have no sufficient grounds for holding Clarence guiltless of the ingratitude and treason alleged against him. His previous record of weakness and treachery discourages the more charitable view. In person he shared some of the physical advantages of Edward, but he lacked the conspicuous ability of his two brothers.

By Isabella Neville, Clarence had four children, of whom two only survived infancy: Margaret Plantagenet (afterwards Countess of Salisbury, and wife of Sir Richard Pole, born 14 Aug. 1473) [see Pole, Margaret]; and Edward Plantagenet [see Edward, Earl of Warwick], born 25 Feb. 1475. The son, unnamed, born at sea in the spring of 1470, and Richard Plantagenet, born in December 1476, both died quite young.

[Rotuli Parliamentorum; Rymer's Fœdera, orig. edit.; Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council, ed. Nicolas; William Worcester, at end of Stevenson's Wars in France, in Rolls Ser. and ed. Hearne; Warkworth's Chronicle, Arrivall of Edward IV, and Polydore Vergil (Camden Soc.); Chronicles of the White Rose, 1845; Bentley's Excerpta Historica, 1831; Grafton (embodying More) with Hardyng, and Fabyan, ed. Ellis, 1811–12; Croyland Continuator, ed. Fulman, 1684; Commines, ed. Lenglet du Fresnoy, 1747, and Mdlle. Dupont, 1840; Dugdale's Baronage; Complete Peerage, by G. E. C[okayne]; Ramsay's Lancaster and York; other authorities in text.]

J. T-t.