Clifford, John, Lord Clifford

(c. 1435–1461)
   Motivated by the slaying of his father by the Yorkists at the Battle of ST. ALBANS in May 1455, John CLIFFORD, ninth Lord Clifford, committed such violent acts of battlefield vengeance against his opponents that he won the epithets “butcher” and “black-hearted Clifford.” His most notorious deed was the slaying, after the Battle of WAKEFIELD, of seventeenyear-old Edmund PLANTAGENET, earl of Rutland, second son of Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, as the earl knelt before Clifford imploring mercy.
   In February 1458, Clifford, Henry BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, and Henry PERCY, third earl of Northumberland, two other noblemen whose fathers had been killed by the Yorkists at the Battle of St. Albans, came to LONDON “with a great power,” clamoring for compensation for the deaths of their fathers. Clifford was described as being so bitter about his father’s fate that “the sight of any of the house of York was as a fury to torment his soul” (Haigh, p. 80). HENRY VI and the COUNCIL temporarily mollified the three men by ordering York and his chief allies at St. Albans, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Salisbury, and his son Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, to fund masses for the souls of the slain men and to pay an indemnity to their heirs (see Love-Day of 1458).
   In November 1459, Clifford was present at the Lancastrian-controlled COVENTRY PARLIAMENT, where he took an oath of allegiance to Henry VI, who shortly thereafter named him commissary-general of the Scottish marches (i.e., borderlands) and conservator of the truce with SCOTLAND. After the Act of ACCORD of October 1460 disinherited EDWARD OF LANCASTER, Prince of Wales, and recognized York as heir to the throne, Clifford was one of the Lancastrian nobles who took the field against the Yorkist regime on the prince’s behalf, and was a leader of the Lancastrian force that defeated and killed York at the Battle of Wakefield in December 1460.
   At some point after the battle, Clifford overtook the fleeing Rutland, probably somewhere on or near Wakefield Bridge, and slew the young man while he knelt in supplication and his chaplain begged for his life. The best-known account, that of the Tudor chronicler Edward Hall, has Clifford refuse all entreaties by saying: “By God’s blood, thy father slew mine, and so I will do thee and all thy kin” (Haigh, p. 75). Although the exact location and circumstances of Rutland’s death are uncertain, all accounts agree that Clifford was the earl’s killer. Hall and other sources also charge Clifford with having York’s head struck from his dead body and topped with a derisive paper crown (see The Union of the Two Noble and Illustrious Families of Lancaster and York [HALL]).
   In February 1461, Clifford participated in the Lancastrian victory at the Battle of ST.ALBANS. He was slain at the Battle of FERRYBRIDGE on 28 March 1461, one day before the Yorkist victory at the Battle of TOWTON gave the throne to EDWARD IV. The first PARLIAMENT of the new reign attainted Clifford, and his estates were divided among various Yorkists, including Richard, duke of Gloucester (see Richard III, King of England).
   Further Reading: Boardman, Andrew W., The Battle of Towton (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1996); Haigh, Philip A., The Battle of Wakefield, 1460 (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1996).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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