Profile: George, Duke of Clarence

Countdown: 36 days to go to King Richard III’s reinterment.

February 18 is the anniversary of George, Duke of Clarence, King Richard III’s older brother’s death date in 1478.

George was born in Ireland in 1449 and was made duke of Clarence in 1461 shortly after his brother Edward became king. Clarence was heir presumptive until the birth of his niece Elizabeth in 1466. In 1469, George married Isabel Neville, eldest daughter of Edward’s most powerful advisor, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, commonly known as the Kingmaker. Edward opposed the marriage as this created a powerful alliance between Warwick and Clarence.

Shortly after the marriage, Warwick rose in rebellion against Edward as the two argued over foreign policy and Edward’s own marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. With the support of his new son-in-law Clarence, Warwick attempted to place him on the throne, but the so-called Lincolnshire Rebellion failed, the two then allied with the Lancastrians and restored Henry VI to the throne. Henry in turn made Clarence second in line after his own son, Edward of Westminster. Perhaps realising that the monk-like Henry would not keep the throne long, Clarence returned to the side of his brother Edward. The restoration of Henry only lasted a few months and Warwick was killed at the Battle of Barnet on 14 April 1471, and Edward of Westminster and his father, Henry, died the following month.

Despite Clarence’s obvious quest for the throne, Edward restored his brother to favour — and to his estates — and his assistance at the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury was invaluable.

Around 1472, Richard married Isabel’s younger sister and only sibling, thus acquiring a similar glittering prize who brought great wealth and lands to her new husband, who then laid claim to half the Beauchamp, Despenser, and Salisbury lands. The three brothers came to agreement over the vast inheritance, but Clarence was likely disappointed not to have got more of what he thought he was entitled to.

Isabel died in December 1476 and Clarence accused one of her ladies-in-waiting of murdering her. Clarence acted without authority and had the woman executed. Clarence was then put forward as a suitor to Mary of Burgundy, the new duchess of Burgundy and step-daughter of his sister Margaret. Edward opposed the marriage in part as it would make Clarence more powerful than himself.

Then apparently Clarence had Edward’s horoscope cast, which was treasonable. The men who cast the horoscope were found guilty and Clarence’s long history of fractious actions towards his brother forced Edward’s hand and he was imprisoned. Edward accused Clarence of “conduct… derogatory to laws of realm and most dangerous to judges and juries throughout the kingdom.” (Croyland Chronicle)

Both houses of Parliament passed a bill of attainder and Clarence was executed in private on 18 February 1478.

Interesting Facts about George, Duke of Clarence’s children and their descendants:

  • Clarence’s son, Edward, was executed in 1499 at the age of 24 by the orders of his first-cousin by marriage, Henry VII. Edward had been imprisoned as a Yorkist claimant to the throne since 1485. His execution was apparently at the request of Isabella and Ferdinand who wanted him removed before sending their daughter to marry Henry’s son. Edward’s death apparently haunted Catherine of Aragon.
  • Clarence’s daughter, Margaret, was executed in 1541 at the age of 67 by the orders of her first-cousin once-removed, Henry VIII.
  • One of Clarence’s present-day descendants is considered by some to be Britain’s Real Monarch based on the legend that Edward, Clarence’s older brother, was illegitimate. This does not take into account that Edward had Clarence and his descendants barred from the line of succession, and that Edward, then Henry Tudor, and then William of Orange all took the throne by conquest and the subsequent Act of Settlement 1701.
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