George, Duke of Clarence. Life, Trial & Execution

George duke of Clarence

George duke of Clarence was a brother of King Edward IV. He was created duke shortly after Edward had taken control of the throne. George played a central and controversial role in the politics and military actions of the Wars of the Roses. The Duke of Clarence allied with the Earl of Warwick during the rebellions of the late 1460’s. He raised an army to fight his brother, though they did not arrive at Empingham in time for the Battle of Losecote Field.

George played a role in the readeption of Henry VI but then changed his allegiance back to his brother and fought in the Yorkist army at the Battle of Barnet and Tewkesbury. george duke of Clarence had already married Isabel Neville by this stage, against the King’s will. He then was involved in a dispute over his younger brother, Richard duke of Gloucester, marrying Anne Neville.

With differences seemingly settled the duke played a role in the 1475 invasion of France. However, following the death of his wife, his actions became erratic. He summarily tried and executed his wife’s midwife, Ankarette Twynyho, then defended one of his men who had been found guilty of treasonable offences. That led to his own arrest and the events that are discussed below.

George, Duke of Clarence: guilty as charged?

The Duke of Clarence’s end frequently turns into a sideshow about Malmsey Wine[i]or Ankarette Twynho. The first is unproven. The second is sad but not the reason George was arrested, tried, found guilty, and executed in private[ii]. Documents exist that show the official reasons for George’s arrest, conviction and execution. The attainder of George Duke of Clarence can be found here. Other sources are cited below and in the following links section:

Other relevant pages: Edward IV, Flight of Clarence and Warwick, Clarence becomes disillusioned, Battle of Empingham/ Losecote Field, Contemporary view on the readeption, Clarence, Gloucester and the marriage to Anne, Attainder of George Duke of Clarence, Trial and execution of George duke of Clarence.

Why was George charged with treason?

It strikes me as very odd that many texts on George’s trial fail to reference the charge that was made. Lengthy discussions of the breakdown in relations between the King and his brother abound. Whilst the number of issues may have contributed to Edward’s frustration with his sibling, were they the given reason? As the extant charge is in existence, it is easy to see what Edward DID say:

“The King is mindful of the many conspiracies against him which he has repressed in the past, and although many of the rebels and traitors have been punished as an example to others yet, as a merciful prince, he spared not only the rank and file but also some of the movers and stirrers of such treasons. Notwithstanding, a conspiracy against him, the Queen, their son and heir and a great part of the nobility of the land has recently come to his knowledge, which treason is more heinous and unnatural than any previous one because it originates from the King’s brother the Duke of Clarence, whom the King had always loved and generously rewarded. In spite of this, the Duke grievously offended the King in the past, procuring his exile from the realm and labouring Parliament to exclude him and his heirs from the crown. All of which the King forgave, but the Duke continued to conspire against him, intending his destruction by both internal and external forces. He sought to turn his subjects against him by saying that Thomas Burdet was falsely put to death and that the King resorted to necromancy. He also said that the King was a bastard, not fit to reign, and made men take oaths of allegiance to him without excepting their loyalty to the King. He accused the King of taking his livelihood from him, and intending his destruction. He secured an exemplification under the great seal of an agreement made between him and Queen Margaret promising him the crown if Henry VI’s line failed. He planned to send his son and heir abroad to win support, bringing a false child to Warwick castle in his place. He planned to raise war against the King within England and made men promise to be ready at an hour’s notice. The Duke has thus shown himself incorrigible and to pardon him would threaten the common weal, which the King is bound to maintain.By the advice and assent of the lords and commons the King ordains that the Duke be convicted of high treason and forfeit his estate as Duke and all the lands he holds by the King’s grant[iii]“.

The charge has several elements to it:

  • Conspiracy, ‘intending his destruction by both internal and external forces’.
  • Inciting unrest through claims of injustice
  • Questioning the King’s legitimacy: which would remove the King’s right to rule, if accepted as being true
  • Sought to enact earlier legislation regarding inheritance of the throne. Again, this raises doubts over the legitimacy of Edward’s rule and that of his son’s right to inherit
  • Plans to raise war against the King


George drew attention to himself through his defence of Thomas Burdett. This act implicated the Duke in a case already tried and sentenced and was the event that triggered the order of his own arrest. Burdett was a member of the Duke’s household who had been tried and executed for sorcery and wishing the King dead[iv].

“in the said town of WESTMINSTER, the aforesaid JOHN STACY and THOMAS BLAKE to fulfil their false and treasonous purpose, falsely and traitorously laboured to calculate by means of the magic art, the black art, and astronomy, the death and final destruction of their king and prince”[v].

That case had been heard at Westminster by the Council. The day after the execution of Burdett, and another man, John Stacy, Clarence had entered the Council and:

“On the following day, the duke of Clarence came to the council-chamber at Westminster, bringing with him a famous Doctor of the order of Minorities, Master William Goddard by name, in order that he might read the confession and declaration of innocence above-mentioned before the lords in the said council assembled; which he accordingly did, and then withdrew[vi].”

Inciting unrest

The inference here is that through Clarence’s open support for a man of his own household who had been condemned and executed, he stated that the King’s courts were unjust. On its own, this may not appear to be incitement of unrest. Placed in the context of George, along with Warwick, having signed a manifesto outlining corrupt and unjust practices in 1470, it is an understandable concern. Yorkists criticism of the Lancastrian regime and the uprisings of the 1450s had cited malpractice at court as a grievance.

Questioning the King’s legitimacy

The charge against George is precise:

“He also said that the king was a bastard, not fit to reign, and made men take oaths of allegiance to him without excepting their loyalty to the king.”

This was a charge that had been laid against Edward during Warwick’s rebellion and the Lancastrian revival. Legitimacy was a critical issue for the Yorkist King. The accusation, especially from one so close to him, would have the potential for unrest. The claim stems from his conception whilst his father was campaigning in France. It is alleged that his mother, Cecily Neville, had an affair with an archer named Blaybourne and that it was he, not Duke Richard, who was the father of King Edward IV.

“Rumours that Edward was a bastard were current at home and abroad. A continental source attributed them to Warwick. This might enable the claims of Edward and his daughters to be set aside in favour of the Duke of Clarence.[vii]

The questioning of Edward’s legitimacy should not be taken in isolation. It was linked to the Burdet case. As John Ashdown Hill noted:

“it is often assumed that the continental story of Edward IV’s own illegitimacy was the sole basis of Burdet’s case…[viii]

Legitimacy, gossip and wishing the King Dead were issues in the Burdet case and again against Clarence.

Sought to enact earlier legislation regarding inheritance of the throne

When the Earl of Warwick negotiated with Queen Margaret in 1470, the ensuing agreement included a provision for the future inheritance of the crown:

“It was agreed that in the event that Anne and Edward had no children, Clarence would have been the heir presumptive. Henry VI was no longer mentally stable and therefore unfit to rule. Prince Edward was to be his regent.[ix]

The charge against Clarence notes this very clearly. The matter was noteworthy, even 7/8 years later. So significant that the issue of readeption statutes was addressed in Parliament, with them being annulled and therefore no longer valid.

“Clarence… was nominated heir of the house of Lancaster while in exile in 1470, his title was ratified at the Readeption parliament, and he had a certified copy or exemplification made of the proceedings, which he had secretly kept ever since.[x]

If Hick’s is correct in that assertion, then it is the case that George had an eye on the throne. Whether or not he did hold a copy, or indeed whether it even existed, as Hick’s acknowledges, is actually hard to determine, though. The readeption Parliament records are either missing or were destroyed, and there are few personal documents available relating to George.

George duke of Clarence: Plans to raise war against the King

A theory is that there was a plan to send Edward Plantagenet, Clarence’s son, to the Duchy of Burgundy for safekeeping. At the same time, it is known that the Duke favoured a future marriage with Mary of Burgundy. This would provide George with the authority and security that he appears to have yearned for. Burgundy was not only wealthy and militarily mighty, but the Dowager Duchess was also Margaret, sibling of the King and Duke.

Edward, however, had disapproved of the match. The Croyland Chronicle summarises the situation:

“Lady Margaret, whose affections were fixed on her brother Clarence beyond any of the rest of her kindred, exerted all her strength and energies that Mary, the only daughter and heir of the said Duke Charles deceased, might be united in marriage with that Duke, whose wife had recently died. So great a contemplated exaltation as this, however, of his ungrateful brother, displeased the King. He consequently threw all possible impediments in the way, in order that the match before-mentioned might not be carried into effect, and exerted all his influence that the heiress might be given in marriage to Maxmillian, son of the emperor; which was afterwards effected.[xi]

Evidence of Clarence contemplating a coup is speculative. It is known that he approached three men to try and plan for his son’s transfer to Burgundy: Roger Harewell, John Tapton and the Abbot of Tewkesbury[xii]. There is little hard evidence that such plans were being formulated. If Clarence had indeed made ‘men promise to be ready at an hour’s notice,’ you would expect there to be a series of arrests, trials and executions about the plot. These simply do not exist.

Was George duke of Clarence Guilty?

The most common suggestion is that his behaviour at Council was simply the last straw. That he had behaved dangerously once too often, and consequently, something must be done about this. The charges against Clarence do not make the sentence apparent. Indeed, it is noted in some studies that he was not arrested on charges of treason, that this element was a later addition. George was to all intents and purposes accused of a long list of matters which had a cumulative effect of causing his demise. He could be charged with all manner of things. The historic wrongdoings from 1469-70 were easy to lay at his door; he was quite clearly guilty of those. George’s behaviours could have been examined in more depth: the Twynho case was clearly known, but the petition was heard later. George’s ‘acting as king’ by acting as he had was apparently not a charge levelled at him. However, it would have been immensely damning and easily proven.

Alternative reasons for why George ‘had’ to go?

In studies of the trial and analysis of the motives that Edward may have had for the permanent removal of Clarence, several theories have been explored:

  • The Burdet affair was tied to the projected marriage of Clarence to Mary of Burgundy
  • Conflict of interests between Clarence and the Woodville family
  • Prophesies
  • His words, if not his actions, were sufficient[xiii]
  • The Queen’s insistence

There are many links between these avenues of reasoning and aspects of the official charges made against Clarence.

The Burdet affair is seen as having a link with the Duke’s attempt at arranging a marriage to Mary of Burgundy. This is backed by the evidence of Clarence having approached three different men, all known to him and previously loyal, to arrange a passage for Edward Plantagenet to the Duchy. This can be seen as a play for the throne itself if it follows that the next step was a coup and/or invasion. With his track record of being involved in a similar scenario, it is not inconceivable that this was true. There is evidence to corroborate elements of the theory. However, if this the primary motivation for having a trial, why not simply make his guilt clear to all? Nobody really stands to gain from hiding elements of this possibility; with George gone, any such plot would have no apparent objective.

Prophesies such as those cited in the Burdet case impacted the views of society at the time. Eleanor Cobham’s case and the fall of Humphrey Duke of Gloucester were not too far removed from public memory. And George’s case has a similarity in the rhymes and prophesy that the sitting King would be replaced by a monarch whose name began with G. In the case of Eleanor Cobham, that was her husband, the Duke of Gloucester. In 1477/8, it was George. It can be viewed as wishing the King dead, a treasonable act and one that was punishable by death. George had pleaded the innocence of a man executed for this very crime, does that in itself make George complicit?

The Duke of Clarence, the Queen, and the Woodville’s

Clarence’s relationship with the Woodville family, the Queen in particular, is worthy of further discussion as a motivation for the King to opt for the ultimate punishment for his brother.

“Notwithstanding, a conspiracy against him, the Queen, their son and heir and a great part of the nobility of the land has recently come to his knowledge, which treason is more heinous and unnatural than any previous one because it originates from the King’s brother the Duke of Clarence.[xiv]

It is made clear from the surviving documents that the charge against Clarence was not just about Edward’s grievances but also about Clarence conspiring against the Queen and their sons. It also refers to the ‘great part of the nobility’. Clarence is therefore plotting against the King, Queen, Princes, and their supporters: which in a court dominated by Woodville appointees and their followers, is the Queen’s family.

And the decisions made by Parliament concerning the session that was called for the trial of Clarence is telling:

“It may be significant that Allington’s closest political links were with the prince of Wales and the Woodville circle around him, given the claim a few years later that the Queen feared that her children would not inherit the throne unless Clarence were removed[xv]“.

Allington was an experienced speaker of the commons. He knew how to manage parliamentary processes, control debates and was a known supporter of the Queen’s court. Clearly, speakers would often come from one faction or another and remain impartial. In a highly charged emotive trial scenario, is the selection of someone so clearly attached to the prosecuting party a coincidence?

Personally, I think not. And it is not the only time that the Woodville family were involved in acting ‘impartially’ in a legal case linked to Clarence.

“Whatever Burdet’s publications contained, on 12th May the King appointed a commission of oyer and terminer to try him, together with Stacy and Blake.20 It was perhaps no accident that this commission was presided over by the Marquess of Dorset, eldest son of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, and that it included other members of the Queen’s family.[xvi]

Why the repeated involvement of the Queen’s family? Is it simply because they were dominant and held so many positions? Or because they needed to control the agenda? There is a suggestion on the matter from Dominic Mancini:

“The Queen then [1477] remembered the insults to her family and the calumnies with which she was reproached, namely that according to established usage she was not the legitimate wife of the King. Thus she concluded that her offspring by the King would never come to the throne unless the Duke of Clarence were removed[xvii]“.

Mancini was writing after the event, at a time dominated by questions of the royal marriage’s legitimacy. As such, his evidence is a little flawed. But it is an avenue that has been looked at by John Ashdown-Hill and Paul Murray Kendall, among others. It opens up an intriguing series of connected events and personal ties that might (and it is a might) reveal that there was a hidden agenda at this stage. It is a line of inquiry with flaws, though…

Did George Duke of Clarence simply know too much?

The Duke of Clarence had a history of wanting to be at the centre of things. He had switched allegiance against his brother to join with Warwick in a bid to have a more central role in government. It had included elevating his position in the line of inheritance. Perhaps he was desperate to seek his brother’s crown. Maybe he was simply frustrated at what he perceived as a role that was becoming less significant as his nephews were born and his sister-in-law’s family were promoted?

But nothing was particularly unusual about George’s role in the mid-1470s. He held the lands to which someone of his rank would be expected to have. His position at court was senior. The Woodville’s role is, in many ways, a simple continuation of the family’s status: it is often forgotten that the Woodville family were of baronial rank before Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage. The Queen’s mother had been married to the heir to the throne in the Duke of Bedford. So, her status alone could result in promotions whether Elizabeth had married the King, or not.

So, in many ways, Clarence was enjoying exactly what a Duke would expect. So why does the issue of the crown keep on arising? A speculative answer to this has been looked at by several historians. John Ashdown-Hill and Paul Murray Kendall being the best known of them, whilst Hicks alludes to it without examining it in any great depth.

The suggestion is that George knew of Edward’s illegitimate marriage. If this is the case, it explains why the Queen and her family would be wary of Clarence. It also explains why Edward IV would prosecute his brother and apply the death sentence. However, it is a line of speculation that is questionable. If George knew this and intended to make a play for the crown, why did he not simply say this in front of the assembled lords during his trial?

Possibly Clarence did not believe that he was in any immediate danger. He had been imprisoned for months and faced charges that, initially at least, were not treason. Therefore, he may have thought that he was likely to be admonished, stripped of a title, fined, imprisoned for a short period or some other token gesture. It would be understandable in the context of the period. Other Dukes had faced charges and not been executed. Why would Clarence expect anything different? By holding his tongue on the matter of the King’s legitimacy, he would choose when to reveal the King’s illegitimacy. Clarence had already been party to one coup that made accusations. Perhaps he had learnt lessons from how those had been made and the failure of that coup?

Could Clarence have had that knowledge?

How was the news of Edward IV’s pre-contract with Eleanor Talbot (Butler) was broken in 1483? Addressing this allows appraisal of any links that Clarence had with those involved and assessment of whether it was viable to hold this information at an earlier date.

In 1483 a sermon was preached that stated Edward had previously contracted to Eleanor Talbot (Butler). As the contract had not been legally set aside, it would remain binding. This then led to the Three Estates determining that the King’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was bigamist, resulting in their marriage being illegitimate and the removal of their children from the line of succession. The priest who officiated over the pre-contract was Robert Stillington. Stillington had held several senior positions during Edward’s reign, including that of Chancellor. He was, in 1483, the Bishop of Bath and Welles.

This article does not concern the truth, or otherwise, of that claim. It is discussed in depth in numerous books, scholarly articles, TV documentaries and blog posts. What is of relevance here is whether Clarence could have been party to the accusation.

The Links

Clarence was arrested after declaring the innocence of Thomas Burdet and John Stacy. These men were convicted of wishing the King dead and sorcery. Burdet was a member of the Clarence household. Both Burdet and Stacy were graduates of the University of Oxford. Bishop Stillington was also a former student of the University of Oxford, and it is known that he retained links with his alma mater.

Clarence and Bishop Stillington’s links are easy to verify. Both held positions of state. They also held lands in the Midlands, and they, or their estate managers, would have cause to meet on occasion. The links were clear, meetings would be regular, and a route by which gossip, news, or secrets could be passed to and fro is quite apparent.

“12th May the King appointed a commission of oyer and terminer to try him [Burdet], together with Stacy and Blake. It was perhaps no accident that this commission was presided over by the Marquess of Dorset, eldest son of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, and that it included other members of the Queen’s family.[xviii]

Earlier cases involving the area and the Burdet family were heard by the Sheriff of Gloucester or Mayor of London because of the nature of crimes and locations. Whilst the charge in 1477 is more serious, the regional landholders, other than the Duke of Clarence, were the Duke of Gloucester and the Bishop of Bath and Welles. Both held high enough office to head a commission. The precedent was not followed, and a lower-ranked Marquess was appointed for a more serious crime. In times of war or urgency, this may make sense. In 1477, Burdet and Stacy’s trial was conducted in the quietest phase of the Wars of the Roses. At a moment in time when there was no threat posed to the nation. Why couldn’t the trial be held when the usual overlords were available?

If the intention is to suppress a secret that may harm the King, then the answer is simple. The overlords who would typically oversee trials of men from the estates of the Earldom of Warwick were the Bishop who oversaw the pre-contract and the Duke of Gloucester, who would also stand to benefit in the case of such news becoming public knowledge.

Bishop Stillington had links to John, 1st Baron Beauchamp, who Burdet and Stacy were accused of having plotted the murder of[xix].

The proliferation of rumours regarding the legitimacy of the King and/or his marriage at the time are also worthy of note. Rhymes are recorded, showing that the King’s legitimacy was questioned, and that Clarence stood to inherit. The example below is a mid-1500s version, attributed to William Baldwin, similar appears in other Tudor era documents. Though these are not contemporary, they indicate the type of gossip, true or otherwise, that was being spread, possibly by Clarence.

A prophecy was found, which sayd, a G

Of Edward’s children should destruction bee.

Mee to bee G, because my name was George,

My brother thought, and therefore did me hate.[xx]

Edward Hall also notes the prophesy and again it is a suggestion that seditious rumours or the gradual leaking of accurate information was underway. Again, this is a later account, and it includes reference to events that took place in 1483 as well as being of note to the 1477/8 situation.

“The fame was that the King or the Quene, or bothe sore troubled with a folysh Prophesye, and by reason therof begâ to stomacke & greuously to grudge agaynst the Duke. The effect of which was, after king Edward should reigne, one whose first letter of hys name shoulde be a G. and because the deuel is wot with such wytchcraftes, to wrappe and illaqueat [ensnare] the myndes of men, which delyte in such deuelyshe fantasyes they sayd afterward that that Prophesie lost not hys effect, when after kyng Edward, Glocester vsurped his kyngdome.[xxi]

Bishop Stillington

Bishop Stillington was later responsible for providing the evidence that Edward IVs marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was illegitimate on the basis of the pre-contract that the King had arranged with Eleanor Talbot (Butler). If Stillington had overseen a marital contract, had he passed the information to the Duke of Clarence?

The suggestion that he may have done so is primarily based upon the fact that Stillington was arrested in February 1478 and detained in the Tower of London. After the Duke of Clarence’s execution, but close enough to it to suggest that he may have been suspected of being involved in the plots against the King for which Clarence was tried and executed.

Stillington was arrested for:

“violating his oath of fidelity by some utterance prejudicial to the king[xxii].”

Given the lack of documents relating to his trial, it is hard to ascertain precisely why the Bishop was arrested. The known facts are that he was detained around 15th February 1478 and held in the Tower for two months. That he was well acquainted with the Duke of Clarence. He shared ties to the University of Oxford with Burdet and Stacy. Stillington was responsible for providing Richard with evidence that became enshrined in law as Titulus Regis in 1483.

That Stillington had evidence is, therefore, a given. The question is, would he pass such information to George Duke of Clarence? Two things stand out here. First is the fact that he did give the information to Richard later. If he is known to have done it once, it is reasonable to assume that he may well have done it previously: or have passed the information to a third party, such as Burdet or Stacy. The second is that he potentially had a motive. Edward IV had replaced him as Chancellor in 1473. This may have been on health grounds, one source noting that he,

“did nothing except through his pupil [John Alcock d. 1500][xxiii]

Stillington may be unwell for a period but clearly recovered. He was presiding over matters as Bishop of Bath and Welles during Richard III’s reign a decade after losing the Chancellorship. He had also received unprecedented protection from Edward IV, being the only holder of Dean of St. Martin le Grand’s office to be awarded the protections stated in an Act of Resumption[xxiv]. This may well be a coincidence but its timing, 1463, makes this a rather curious one-off. So, he could have been harbouring a grudge against the King, Queen or members of her family.

“Moreover, it seems likely he had some form of proof. We know that proofs of some kind were offered, even if we have no idea what the ‘proofs’ were. If you think the contrary, you must surely ask yourself what kind of man this Stillington was, and what was his motive. I think you would have to conclude that he was very odd indeed, malicious and exceptionally vengeful[xxv]“.

The bishop persuaded Clarence to switch his allegiance back to his brothers’ side in 1471. How did he convince him? The twin armies of Warwick and Queen Margaret, along with the followers they would acquire in the form of the Tudor following in Wales, were numerically far superior to the force that Edward had at his disposal. And if Clarence had an assurance of his place in the line of Lancastrian succession, where was his benefit in re-joining his brothers cause? He would find himself, at best, in the same position as he had been under his arrangements with the Lancastrians, assuming he was forgiven for his betrayal. It is pure conjecture but perhaps a route to circumnavigate both his brother and nephew’s claim was discussed at an early stage. There is no documentary evidence of this. Merely an observation that Stillington held information that, at the right time, could be used to justify Clarence ousting Edward. It could be tackling Edward’s legitimacy or that of his nephews. All Clarence needed to do was bide his time and choose the right moment.

However, Stillington was released from the Tower and, in June, pardoned. This suggests that the King was convinced that he had no part to play in whatever George was really condemned for. But that may simply be because the monarch believed that Stillington had remained faithful to pledges to keep the pre-contract a secret. If the source were thought to be Burdet, who knew Eleanor Talbot (Butler), Stillington could be trusted.

That may or may not be the case. The Bishop was fined for speaking out against the King. So too was he watched reasonably carefully at times. For example, he was appointed to accompany Anthony Woodville on an embassy.

Did George duke of Clarence know and if so, who told him?

Did Bishop Stillington tell George Duke of Clarence? Probably, we will never know. If the pre-contract had happened, Stillington would, of course, have known about it. He could therefore have passed the information to Clarence or Burdet. Similarly, information could have passed to Burdet through his links with the Talbot family. If there was a pre-contract, then it is reasonable to assume that Eleanor would have had confidants with whom she may have shared the information. It is not implausible that they would pass that on at the right time to the right people, especially following the death of Eleanor in 1468. Would such information have stirred Clarence into acts such as planning to make war against his brother? With no records remaining, it is impossible to state yes for sure. Still, he had done it before, so it is certainly a possibility.


George Duke of Clarence had raised arms against his brother, the King. In that respect, he had committed treason. That had taken place sometime before, though, and the Duke had been reassimilated into court. His defence of Thomas Burdet is a peculiar act. Any defence of the condemned man may be seen as supporting the deeds he had been convicted of. Saying that a decision was wrong may not be treasonable. In the context of time, place, and manner of Clarence’s rebuttal of his brother’s justice, it is understandable that it was seen as being incitement. Especially so given that it is known that he was attempting to have his son taken to Burgundy. This gives credence to suggestions that Clarence was plotting and adds weight to the rumours that would invariably be attached to propagandist rhymes such as those noted above. Whether or not he was really planning another uprising is unknown. A lack of resultant arrests, trials, attainders, or executions suggests that it was at an embryonic stage in its planning if it were taking place at all. However, the fact that he is fuelling rumours is enough to incriminate him.

What is harder to determine is the motivation that George had at the time. Evidence relating to information such as Edward’s pre-contract is there but not conclusive enough in my mind. Certainly ‘reasonable doubt’ to use a modern phrase.

The Duke and Duchess of Clarence, Cardiff Castle.
The Duke and Duchess of Clarence, Cardiff Castle.

Biography of George duke of Clarence

Text from the original edition of the Dictionary for National Biography. This was written in the late 19th / early 20th century. Research into and interpretations of the period have changed in the last century, the most recent version of the ODNB Biography of George can be found here [Subscription required, free using a UK Library card]

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.]

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 45
Plantagenet, George by James Tait


[i] The Richard III Society offers an assessment of many sources on the execution of George, Duke of Clarence. Though the aim here is to assess the level of Richard’s involvement, it is aa helpful summary of the contemporary and Tudor sources on the matter. This assessment does not refer to the statement in the Croyland Chronicle, which was contemporary and believed to have been authored by somebody with close ties to court. That Chronicle states clearly that George was executed, by means not known. The assessment of other sources is here http://www.r3.org/on-line-library-text-essays/back-to-basics-for-newcomers/the-murder-of-george-of-clarence/

[ii] Item 17 of the Parliamentary Roll of Medieval England contains the petition brought to Parliament by the heir of Ankarette Twynho. Note that the petition was read by Parliament after the trial of George. ‘Edward IV: January 1478’, in Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, ed. Chris Given-Wilson, Paul Brand, Seymour Phillips, Mark Ormrod, Geoffrey Martin, Anne Curry and Rosemary Horrox (Woodbridge, 2005), British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/parliament-rolls-medieval/january-1478 [accessed 16 March 2021].

[iii] RP , vi, 193-5; PRO C49/40/1. This can be found online within the Parliamentary Roll for January 1478, see link above.

[iv] As a comparison, the Croyland Chronicle summarises the case against Burdett and Stacy: “One Master John Stacy, a person who was called an astronomer, when in reality he was rather a great sorcerer, formed a plot in conjunction with one Burdet, an esquire, and one of the said duke’s household; upon which, he was accused, among numerous other charges, of having made leaden images and other things to procure thereby the death of Richard, lord Beauchamp, at the request of his adulterous wife. Upon being questioned in a very severe examination as to his practice of damnable arts of this nature, he made confession of many matters, which told both against himself and the said Thomas Burdet. The consequence was, that Thomas was arrested as well; and at last judgment of death was pronouned upon them both, at Westminster, from the Bench of our the king, the judges being there seated, together with nearly all the lords temporal of the kingdom. Being drawn to the gallows at Tyburm, they were permitted briefly to say what they thought fit before being put to death; upon which, they protested their innocence, Stacy indeed but faintly; while, on the other hand, Burdet spoke at great length, and with much spirit, and as his last words, exclaimed with Susanna (1), “behold! I must die; wheras I never did such things as these.”

[v] John Ashdown-Hill’s own translation of H. Grimstone and T. Leach, eds, Reports of Sir George Croke, Knight, of … Select Cases (Dublin, 1793) https://erenow.net/biographies/the-third-plantagenet-george-duke-of-clarence-richard-iii-brother/13.php

[vi] Croyland Chronicle.

[vii] Michael Hicks discussing the situation in 1469. The continental sources are referenced by Hicks as KB27/836 and C&P 306-07. As George was named as Henry VIs heir in the later agreements made by Warwick, it follows that the Duke would have been fully aware.

[viii] John Ashdown Hill, ibid

[ix] Clara E. Howell  notes this on Page 26 of her 2014 Master’s thesis: Richard, son of York: the life and northern career of Richard III (Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College). She cites Helen Castor’s Blood and Roses as her source. https://digitalcommons.lsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3788&context=gradschool_theses

[x] Hicks, M. False, Fleeting, Perjur’d, George Duke of Clarence page 159

[xi] Croyland Chronicle, http://www.r3.org/on-line-library-text-essays/crowland-chronicle/part-vii/

[xii] Hicks, M. page 166

[xiii] Hicks, M page 169

[xiv] Parliamentary Roll RP , vi, 193-5; PRO C49/40/1

[xv] Introduction to the Parliamentary Roll, January 1478. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/parliament-rolls-medieval/january-1478

[xvi] Ashdown-Hill, John ibid

[xvii] Dominic Mancini

[xviii] Ashdown-Hill, ibid

[xix] Bishop Stillington and John, 1st Baron Beauchamp were both enfeoffees on lands held of the Duchy of Lancaster in the Midlands. This is noted in the Parliamentary Rolls due to the importance of those estates https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/parliament-rolls-medieval/october-1472

[xx] Attributed to William Baldwin, fl. 1547

[xxi] Hall, Edward. Chronicle: The history of England. Henry IV and the succeeding monarchs. 1809 translation. https://archive.org/details/hallschronicleco00halluoft

[xxii] Hicks quoting C.L. Scofield’s Life and Reign of Edward IV

[xxiii] Croyland Chronicle

[xxiv] The provision is made in the Act of Resumption passed in the 1463 Parliament. Searches of the Parliamentary Roll for Medieval England suggest that this was the only occasion on which the holder of this post was granted these rights. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/parliament-rolls-medieval/april-1463.

[xxv] Brian Wainwright: http://yorkistage.blogspot.com/2015/05/what-was-stillingtons-motive.html

Image Reference

George, Duke of Clarence y R. Clamp, published by E. & S. Harding, after Silvester (Sylvester) Harding
stipple engraving, published 20 April 1793. 7 1/2 in. x 5 1/4 in. (190 mm x 134 mm) plate size; 8 3/8 in. x 5 3/8 in. (212 mm x 135 mm) paper size. Given by the daughter of compiler William Fleming MD, Mary Elizabeth Stopford (née Fleming), 1931. Reference Collection NPG D23807. Creative Commons Licence.