Thomas Clifford, 8th Baron de Clifford

Born: August 20, 1414

Skipton, North Yorkshire, England

Died: May 22, 1455

St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England (Age 40)

Clifford in History

Thomas Clifford was a member of the well-known Clifford family, one of the three powerful families in England's north (the Percies and the Nevilles were the other two). The Cliffords and Percies seemed to ally themselves with one another against the Nevilles, who were a family cut in half, so to say, based upon the two marriages of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland. Thomas ultimately married into the family of Neville's first marriage, which was bitterly feuding with the offspring of Neville's second marriage. Therefore, Thomas became an enemy of Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, Westmorland's eldest son from his second marriage. Clifford would spend his entire life looking at the Nevilles with extreme hatred. Aside from his feuding with the Nevilles, Clifford was able to build up a respectable career for himself. As most northern families, he and his kinsmen helped protect England from Scottish invasions. Additionally, Clifford spent time in the wars in France under the Duke of Bedford, uncle to King Henry VI. Clifford's father died when he was only a child of eight, and all his lands and titles passed into the youth's hands when he came of age. When his mother died years later, he inherited her dowry and became one of the wealthier northern lords.

Although Clifford's primary power base was in England's north, he still found time to spend at the court of Henry VI, being given several assignments, including accompanying the Earl of Suffolk (one of the king's primary advisers) to France to retrieve Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI's new wife and queen. Despite Clifford's successful career, it was still his bitter rivalry with the Nevilles that dominated all the major events in his life. The Nevilles, Salisbury and his son the Earl of Warwick, allied themselves with Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, a powerful noble who possessed a very valid claim to the throne and who was assigned to be protector of the realm when Henry VI temporarily went insane in 1453-54. Although Clifford did not seem to share any animosity towards York himself, we must infer that any ally of the Nevilles was an enemy of Clifford's.

Clifford joined forces with the Percy family and with the king's faction (the Lancastrians) to do battle with the Nevilles and the Yorkists (those loyal to the Duke of York) at St. Albans in the summer of 1455. The battle was a disaster for the Lancastrians. Henry Percy, leading member of the Percy family, was killed, along with the Duke of Somerset, a bitter enemy of York's (the conflict between the latter two men was widely believed to be the cause of the the battle). Clifford, too, was among the casualties, most likely a victim of the Neville's revenge against their northern rival. The first battle of St. Albans is looked at as the first battle in what has come to be known as the Wars of the Roses between the houses of Lancaster and York. Clifford, therefore, can be looked at as one of the very first victims of a lengthy war between two branches of one extended royal family, vying for control. Ironically, Clifford himself had married into a very similar situation in the Neville family. Clifford's eldest son John would take up the Clifford cause, until he too became a victim of the Wars of the Roses in 1461.

Clifford in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry VI, Part 2

Lord Clifford (or old Clifford as he is referred to within the play) is minor character in 2 Henry VI but serves as a catalyst to set off his son's murderous rampage. The elder Clifford is a loyal Lancastrian servant who is first seen attempting to put down the rebellion of Jack Cade. He then participates at the Battle of St. Albans against the Yorkists where he is killed by the Duke of York in single combat. Clifford's son discovers his body and vows revenge on the house of York and indeed kills York's son Rutland in cold blood and takes part in York's own murder, both within 3 Henry VI. In reality, Clifford did indeed die at the Battle of St. Albans, but it is most likely that Shakespeare uses the incident of his death being at the hands of York to create better drama and to set of young Clifford's vengeful behavior in the following play. All historians know that Clifford involvement in the battle was primarily due to the presence of their enemies, the Nevilles, and Shakespeare does in fact have the Earl of Warwick calling out for Clifford to fight him before York interferes.


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