The Last Duke of Clarence

George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence - Wikipedia

Name: George Plantagenet

Born: 21 October 1449, Dublin Castle, Ireland

Son of Richard Plantagenet and Cecily Neville

Brother of Edward IV and Richard III

Married: Isabel Neville, 11th July 1469, Calais

Died: 18th February 1478, Tower of London

Buried: 25th February 1478, Tewkesbury Abbey

To start, let us clarify why this is referring to George Plantagenet as the last Duke of Clarence, when two more came after him. The future William IV was given the title of Duke of Clarence and St Andrews, before ascending the throne and almost one hundred years later the title of Duke Clarence and Avondale was given to Edward VII’s eldest son, Prince Albert Victor, known as ‘Eddy’ who died suddenly before becoming king. As these titles were combined, the true last Duke of Clarence was George Plantagenet.

The Plantagenet family came to prominence during the Wars of the Roses, with Clarence’s father, Richard, the 3rd Duke of York. In 1460, both Richard and his son Edmund were killed during the battle of Wakefield which led to Clarence’s eldest brother, Edward, taking the throne. He was made Duke of Clarence by his newly crowned brother, and enjoyed the power of being close to the throne. To further his influence, George wanted to marry Isabel of Warwick, the daughter of the Earl of Warwick, the ‘Kingmaker’ who had been essential in helping Edward IV take the throne.

During the marriage negotiation, Clarence was made aware of Edward’s secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. Resenting the exclusion for initially not knowing about the marriage and then the subsequent promotion and influence of the Woodville family – who had been Lancastrian supporters, Clarence was determined to take the throne for himself. With the help of his father-in-law, the Earl of Warwick, a rumour was started that Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth was not actually legal, and therefore their children and heirs, were illegitimate. Warwick had started helping Margaret of Anjou, the former Lancastrian Queen, with restoring her husband, Henry VI. Clarence’s involvement is not fully known, but at first it seemed the Edward forgave his brother’s wrong doings.

Isabel Neville
Isabel, Duchess of Clarence

Warwick died 1471, Clarence seized opportunity to take the vast estate belonging to the Earldom and in 1472, by right of his wife, was created Earl of Warwick and Salisbury. However, by 1476, Isabel had died, and Clarence, in a state of shocked paranoia, accused her ladies-in-waiting of poisoning her. The accusations reached the King who had become suspicious of Clarence’s loyalties.

Clarence younger brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester to marry Anne Neville, another daughter of Earl of Warwick, and in doing so, was gaining more of Warwick’s lands which threatened Clarence’s power prospects. The King intervened and divided the estates between the two, much to the annoyance of Clarence.

The King interfered yet again with Clarence’s decision making, this final time over who Clarence wanted to marry after Isabel died. Mary, Duchess of Burgundy was an only child and had inherited a vast amount of crown lands in the Low Countries. This was appealing for power hungry Clarence, but Edward felt threatened and prevented the match. Edward’s suspicion of his brother’s loyalties grew and in 1477 Clarence was arrested and held in the Tower of London on charges of Treason. He was executed on 18th February in private. It’s been believed he was killed by drowning in a large vat of malmsey wine, which as his choice of death.

What Led to George, Duke of Clarence's Execution by Wine? | History Hit
Depiction of the death of Clarence in the Tower of London, in 1478

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