John Clifford, 9th Baron de Clifford

Born: April 8, 1435

Conisbrough, South Yorkshire, England

Died: March 28, 1461

Ferrybridge, Yorkshire, England (Age 26)

Clifford in History

Very little is known of the early life of John Clifford. He was a member of the Clifford family of England's north who, along with the Percies, were bitter enemies of the Nevilles, a third prominent northern English family. By the 1450s, tensions between the Cliffords and Percies and the Nevilles were exceptionally high. The Cliffords and Percies were both loyal to the Lancastrians (the followers of King Henry VI) while the two most important Nevilles, the Earl of Salisbury and his son the Earl of Warwick, ultimately threw their support behind the Yorkists (the followers of the Duke of York). In 1455, the first battle of what has come to be known as the Wars of the Roses between the houses of Lancaster and York broke out at St Albans. The battle was not a large one, but the Yorkists won decisively. Henry VI was captured and York's hated enemy the Duke of Somerset was killed - along with the Earl of Northumberland and Clifford's father Thomas (the two leading members of the Percy and Clifford families respectively). For the time being, the Nevilles had prevailed.

Although Henry VI pushed for peace between the two factions, his wife, Queen Margaret, would not bend so easily. The next six years saw intermittent fighting between the Lancastrians and the Yorkists while Clifford gained more power and influence in England's north. He was given a number of important offices by the Lancastrian regime and was now considered a valuable asset to them. By 1460, York had claimed the throne for himself, but was defeated and killed at Wakefield by the year's end. Certain chronicles claim that Clifford was personally responsible for the death of York's son Edmund, Earl of Rutland, who also died in the aftermath of Wakefield at the age of seventeen. It was not uncommon in those days for a boy of such a young age to be fighting in battles, but confusion on the issue arises in Hall's Chronicle when he portrays Rutland as a boy of merely twelve that Clifford slays mercilessly in revenge of his father's death at St Albans.

Hall's telling of events is far-fetched to say the least ,but whatever the case may be, Clifford gained the nickname of "the butcher," a name that survives to this day. After Wakefield, Clifford attained an even greater victory when the Earl of Salisbury, the leader of the Neville family, was executed. Unfortunately, Clifford's glory would be short-lived, and as his army was progressing south, he was cut off by the Yorkists and killed in the ensuing battle at Ferrybridge. Clifford was posthumously attainted, and his lands were awarded to none other than Salisbury's son, the Earl of Warwick, now the leader of the Nevilles, after the accession of York's son as Edward IV. One can easily look at John Clifford in a positive light as a man who was merely attempting to honor his family and avenge his father's unjust death. In the end, he can only really be seen as a man who died as a result of his unquenchable lust for revenge.

Clifford in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry VI, Part 2; Henry VI, Part 3

In 2 Henry VI, Clifford appears as "young" Clifford, a loyal Lancastrian supporter. He fights alongside his father at St Albans against the Yorkists. The elder Clifford is killed during the battle by York himself, and Clifford the younger vows revenge. In 3 Henry VI, urged by Queen Margaret, Clifford does everything in his power to avenge his father's death. He treacherously murders the young Earl of Rutland, York's son, and plays a part in stabbing York himself to death after his forces are defeated at Wakefield. Ultimately, Clifford is killed in a separate battle against the Yorkists. When his body is discovered, the Yorkists taunt him excessively. The slaying of Rutland is most likely exaggerated and, as stated earlier, came from Hall, which was obviously used by Shakespeare. Rutland very well may have been executed on Clifford's urgings, but he was seventeen years old, not a young child, and well aware of the consequences of war. Clifford's own death is also heavily dramatized within the play, though he most likely did meet his end via a stray arrow (after carelessly removing his gorget [or neckpiece]), just as he did in the play


Summerson, Henry. ‘Clifford, John, ninth Baron Clifford (1435–1461)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 11 Jan 2010]

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