George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence

Born: October 29, 1449

Dublin, Ireland

Died: February 18, 1478

Tower Hamlets, London, England (Age 28)

George in History

George Plantagenet was born the third surviving son of Richard, Duke of York, in Dublin, while his father was stationed there as lieutenant of Ireland. By 1450, York had returned to England to start an upheaval of Henry VI's government by removing a number of what he considered to be evil councilors from the king's presence. The 1450s would be an extremely tense period for the house of York and, in 1459, York was once again back in Ireland, this time to muster an army to invade England. George and his younger brother Richard stayed under the care of their mother, Cecily Neville. In 1460, both York and his second son Edmund were killed at the Battle of Wakefield against the Lancastrians. The Yorkist cause was then taken up by York's eldest son Edward. Edward was able to defeat the Lancastrians at Towton in 1461 and had himself crowned as King Edward IV. At this point, George, who was now heir to his brother's throne, returned to England with the rest of his family. Edward's ascension to the throne saw a rise in fortunes for George. He was created Duke of Clarence and given a slew of important positions (he did not receive the benefits or take on the responsibilities of these positions for some time being that he was still only a boy of twelve). The newly created duke was continuously showered with gifts and rewards by his brother, which makes it hard to imagine why he ultimately decided to rebel against him. One factor that caused a rift between the brothers had to do with Edward's refusal to allow Clarence's marriage to the daughter of the Earl of Warwick, the man who had played the biggest part in putting the king on his throne. Despite the king's objections, the marriage occurred anyway, in secret. Warwick had become disillusioned with Edward and felt that he was being disrespected. The biggest problem Warwick had was the king's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, a common woman. This marriage was detrimental to Warwick because he had already set up a match between King Edward and Lady Bonne of Savoy, sister-in-law to the French King Louis XI. George, who was firmly under Warwick's influence, decided to join his father-in-law in rebellion against the king. Edward IV was captured and briefly imprisoned by Warwick at one point, but the real victory came after Clarence and Warwick joined forces with Louis XI and Henry VI's wife, Queen Margaret, in a plot to depose Edward IV and reinstate Henry VI. This plot was eventually accomplished but the Lancastrian return would be short-lived. After spending about six months in France, Edward IV returned and decisively defeated and killed Warwick at Barnet, before defeating Margaret's forces at Tewksbury (Henry VI was executed shortly after the battle). By this point, George had found it better to rejoin his brother in the Yorkist cause and his desertion of the Lancastrian forces at Tewksbury certainly played a role in their loss. Despite rejoining his brother and being brought back into favor, Clarence was not through causing trouble during Edward IV's reign.

With Edward IV's throne now secure, he could concentrate on rejuvenating England's economy and prestige, that had been desecrated during the reign of Henry VI. The latter half of Edward IV's reign was a peaceful time for England. Edward now had two sons, Edward and Richard to secure the succession and civil rebellion seemed to be at an end. It seemed that only civil unrest came from the king's brother Clarence. Firstly, he caused a scene about his wife's inheritance, which was under duress considering Warwick had been proclaimed a traitor, but was eventually awarded with the Earldoms of Warwick and Salisbury, as well as a number of lands. In 1476, Clarence's wife died and he fought with his brother as to who he could remarry. In addition, he had unjustly executed one Ankarette Twynho on trumped up charges of poisoning his wife (she had actually died in child birth). Events between Clarence and the king came to a head after these events and King Edward had his brother arrested for treason. Though the king seemed reluctant to say the least, he ultimately signed his brother's death warrant. Clarence was executed at the Tower of London in February 1478. Instead of the traditional hanging or beheading, it is widely believed that Clarence was drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. It is not known why the executioners decided to go with this method, but it may have been a sign that alcohol played a role in Clarence's misgivings. In retrospect, one can look at Clarence and see that he showed signs of capability, but cannot ignore the act that, at other times, he seemed like a genuine fool. Ultimately, George simply pushed his brother too far and paid the price.

George in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry VI, Part 3; Richard III

George first appears in 3 Henry VI where he is seen mourning the death of his father with his two remaining brothers. After Edward IV ascends the throne, George is created Duke of Clarence. Shortly after, George deserts his brother and joins forces with Warwick (whose daughter he is set to marry) and the Lancastrians against the Yorkists. The Lancastrians briefly take power again but are overthrown by the Yorkists for a second time and George rejoins his brother before the Battle of Tewksbury. After the Yorkists win the battle, George plays a part in the murder of Prince Edward. At the beginning of Richard III, George's younger brother Gloucester (the future Richard III) reveals that he has framed George, convincing Edward IV that he is conspiring against his throne. George is arrested and imprisoned in the tower. Richard, wanting his brother out of the way so he may come closer to ascending the throne himself, hires two men to murder him. The murderers send away George's keepers and proceed to kill him, after revealing that it was his own brother Richard that ordered the murder. First, they stab him; then, they drown him in a butt of malmsey wine. When hearing of the death of his brother, Edward IV (who is already sick) is devastated and dies shortly after. In reality, Richard played no part in the death of George (although it is not known what his thoughts were on his brother's death) and it was indeed Edward IV who ordered the execution. The execution occurred in 1478, five years before Edward IV's death, and had nothing to do with the king dying. George is later seen as a ghost in Richard III's dream where he wishes death to his brother and victory for the future Henry VII.


Hicks, Michael. ‘George, duke of Clarence (1449–1478)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 8 Dec 2009]

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