Clarence, Execution of

(1478)
   As punishment for the duke’s betrayal of his brother in 1469–1471, the 1478 trial and execution of George PLANTAGENET, duke of Clarence, younger brother of EDWARD IV, terminated the political turmoil of the second phase of the WARS OF THE ROSES; as an act that unintentionally eased Richard, duke of Gloucester’s (see Richard III, King of England), path to the throne, the death of Clarence contributed to the eruption of the final phase of the civil wars in 1483.
   Although Clarence had been pardoned in 1471 for helping Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, overthrow Edward in 1470, the duke continued to antagonize his brother (see Edward IV, Overthrow of). After the death of his wife, Isabel NEVILLE, in 1476, Clarence sought to wed Mary, daughter and heiress of Duke CHARLES of BURGUNDY. Edward forbade the match, fearing that Clarence, backed by the resources of Burgundy, might again attempt to seize the English throne. The king also rejected Clarence’s proposed match with a sister of JAMES III of SCOTLAND. The duke accepted these disappointments with ill grace, withdrawing from COURT and COUNCIL and refusing to dine with the king as if he feared poison. The duke’s enemies, particularly LOUIS XI of FRANCE, who welcomed any chance to destabilize the English state, and Queen Elizabeth WOODVILLE and her family, who saw Clarence as a threat to Prince Edward (see Edward V, King of England), informed the king of anything provocative that the duke said or did. In May 1477, the king arrested Thomas Burdett, a member of Clarence’s household, for attempting to destroy the king and the prince through black magic. Burdett, who was also charged with inciting rebellion, was convicted and executed, his fate an obvious warning to the duke. Clarence’s response was to burst into a council meeting and have Burdett’s statement of his innocence read out by a preacher who was notorious for publicly expounding HENRY VI’s right to the throne in September 1470. An infuriated king summoned Clarence to his presence and charged him with usurping royal authority by arresting and summarily trying Ankarette Twynho, a servant of the late duchess, whom Clarence’s men had executed in April for allegedly poisoning her mistress. For this perversion of the judicial process, Clarence was committed to the TOWER OF LONDON in June. In January 1478, PARLIAMENT arraigned the duke on charges of treason. The king himself introduced a bill of ATTAINDER against his brother; Edward’s unusual action was instigated in part by his belief that Clarence had openly declared that Burdett had been unjustly executed and that the king was a bastard with no right to the Crown. Although Clarence was allowed to deny the charges, no one else would speak in his defense, and little attempt was made to prove the accusations. After a Parliament filled with royal servants passed the bill, Edward hesitated for ten days before ordering that the sentence be carried out. To spare both the duke and the house of YORK a public execution, Clarence was put to death inside the Tower on 18 February, probably, as later rumor claimed, by being drowned in a butt (i.e., a large cask) of malmsey wine. Although Tudor propagandists later accused Gloucester of engineering his brother’s death, responsibility for the execution rests with Edward IV, who by 1478 had come to see Clarence’s death as a political necessity.
   Further Reading: “George, Duke of Clarence,” in Michael Hicks, Who’s Who in Late Medieval England (London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1991), pp. 331–333; Hicks, Michael, False, Fleeting, Perjur’d Clarence: George, Duke of Clarence, 1449-78, rev. ed. (Bangor, UK: Headstart History, 1992); Lander, J. R.,“The Treason and Death of the Duke of Clarence,” in J. R. Lander, Crown and Nobility, 1450-1509 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1976), pp. 242–266; Ross, Charles, Edward IV (New Haven, CT:Yale University Press, 1998).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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