It was on Wednesday 18th February 1478 that George, Duke of Clarence – lover of Malmsey wine and the younger brother of the devious King Edward IV – died.
‘So what?’ you might say.
Well – if King Edward was devious, George was evil. Blind ambition and disloyalty underpinned his many attempts to take the crown from Edward and make himself King. It couldn’t last though, and in January 1478 King Edward had George arrested and tried before the Lords of Parliament. They found George guilty of treason against his brother and condemned him to death for ‘his many treasonable acts’.
However, King Edward hesitated – he was loathe to execute his brother but driven by the Lords’ decision to do it. George was understandably terrified – he was committed to be beheaded – and asked for a different form of death.
This was agreed and, on this day, George, Duke of Clarence and brother to reigning King Edward IV of England, was gently lowered into a vast butt of Malmsey wine so that he may ‘die with a sweet taste in his mouth’.
So, how had this ending come to pass? George was the third son of Richard Plantagenet 3rd Duke of York and Cecily Neville and brother to kings Edward IV and Richard III.
When George was born in 1449 in Dublin, his father was beginning to challenge Henry VI’s rule. Following his father’s death and his elder brother, Edward IV’s accession to the throne George was created Duke of Clarence and invested as a Knight of the Garter.
In 1469 George married Isabel Neville the elder daughter of Richard Neville 16th Earl of Warwick. While George actively supported his brother’s claim to the throne he also shared Warwick’s concerns over his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. Allegations surrounded the legitimacy of Edward’s birth and the validity of his marriage to Elizabeth.
Sensing an opportunity to take the throne for himself, George had joined Warwick in France and supported his alliance with Margaret of Anjou and the plans to restore Henry VI. Before long, George realized that Warwick planned to bypass him and returned to Edward, who forgave him. However, Warwick was killed by Edward’s army and George inherited the Warwick fortune. He had plans to control the entire estate by taking his now widowed sister-in-law Anne Neville into his care. However, he was deprived of this move by his younger brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester who married Anne and claimed his half of Warwick’s lands.
George’s wife Isabel had given birth to a stillborn child on a boat at sea off Calais but her second child, Margaret, was healthy and survived. Her third child Edward also survived but soon after giving birth to another child – Richard – she died soon after and Richard survived only days before following her to the grave. George was now convinced that Isabel had been poisoned and accused one of her ladies-in-waiting of having murdered her and also alleged that King Edward’s wife Elizabeth Woodville was guilty of witchcraft.
Edward decided to take action against George, and the story at the top of this piece was the result.