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George, Duke of Clarence
(1449-1478)

Born: 21st October 1449 at Dublin Castle, Dublin, Ireland
Duke of Clarence
Earl of Warwick
Earl of Salisbury
Died: 18th February 1478 at the Tower of London, London

George, the sixth but third surviving son of Richard, Duke of York, and Cecily Neville, was the brother of both Kings Edward IV and Richard III. He was was born in Dublin and, until the birth of Prince Edward of York in 1471, was heir presumptive to the Crown. He early appeared as a suitor, though a very unlikely husband, for the heiress of the century, Mary of Burgundy; but his sister-in-law, the Queen of England, is believed to have been steadily hostile to him, and it was not difficult for the powerful Earl of Warwick to use him as a tool against King Edward.

Warwick wedded Clarence to his own elder daughter, Isabel Neville, and made an insurrection with him in 1469. Though Edward was defeated by the insurgents at Edgcote (Northants), Warwick was hardly yet prepared to dethrone him and it was not until Clarence was involved in the Lancastrian insurrection, which momentarily overturned Edward's throne in 1470, that the most serious features of the situation were manifest. The heir of the Lancasters, was then married to Warwick's younger daughter; but, in the settlement of the succession, his claims naturally preceded those of Clarence; and that vacillating young man consequently hastened to reconcile himself with his brother.

That brother returned in 1471, again as King Edward IV, and defeated all his enemies. Clarence seems to have been present on the Yorkist side at the final Battle of Tewkesbury and is believed to have there assisted his next brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester (afterwards King Richard III), to murder Prince Edward of Lancaster. Gloucester married the widow of his victim and, Warwick having been killed in battle, he and Clarence forthwith quarrelled over the partition of the vast Neville inheritance. Edward interfered decisively on the side of Richard.

Clarence was present at Edward's futile campaign in France, in 1475, and, during the next three years, appears to have been steadily heaping up causes of complaint against himself, largely by his frequent interference with the ordinary processes of justice in the law-courts: an offence known as ‘maintenance'. Whether the King's jealousy was more stimulated by his wife's relations or by Richard of Gloucester is uncertain; but, in January 1478, Clarence was attainted in Parliament of high treason, and 'disappeared privately' - traditionally having been drowned in a butt of malmsey wine - at the Tower of London in the following February. 'False, fleeting, perjured Clarence,' Shakespeare's verdict, probably sums up his character well.

Edited from Emery Walker's "Historical Portraits" (1909).

 

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