Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Arrest of George of Clarence

George Plantagenet, like most of his contemporaries, lived a dramatic life through turbulent times. Born in 1449, his life almost precisely lines up with the years of the Wars of the Roses. On June 10, 1477, he was sent to the Tower on the order of the King, George’s brother, Edward IV.

This arrest came as a surprise to some, who had observed Edward tolerate more serious crimes perpetrated by his impetuous, glory seeking brother. Was this the final straw for the tolerant older brother or did he truly see George as a threat to his throne?

George would have done well to have been content with his lot in life as the king’s heir. Until the birth of Prince Edward in 1470 that is the role George had filled, though he had consistently strived for more. With the birth of two princes ahead of him in the line of succession, George seems to have had thrown caution aside and determined that he could grasp more.

George had been convinced to join the Earl of Warwick, Richard Neville, who would later become known as the Kingmaker, in revolting against Edward. Both were looking to create a regime in which they could have more power. Whether Warwick ever planned on truly giving George a better position than he already had as the Duke of Clarence, one can only guess. In the end, George lost his nerve and turned his coat once again to join his brother in 1471.

However, George was not arrested until 1477, so Edward forgave his brother his betrayals and difficulties until the death of Isabel Neville. The daughter of Warwick had been married to George against Edward’s wishes, but this is another crime that George had been forgiven for. When she succumbed to childbed fever, George seems to have lost any small amount of self-control he once had.

With his household in mourning, George ordered the execution of Isabel’s servant, Ankarette Twynho, claiming that she had poisoned her mistress. George’s mental state continued to deteriorate in the following months, reportedly consulting necromancers and bristling over his brother’s refusal to approve a foreign bride for him. Finally after six months of George causing havoc wherever he went, Edward had him arrested for treason.

Some have hypothesized that George had learned of the precontract that Richard III would later use to disinherit his nephews, and that this is the true reason that Edward felt that he must be eliminated at this time. George’s actions of 1477 are disturbing but not as serious as those in his past. Was Edward’s decision simply based on the accumulation of George’s sins?

George would be held in the Tower for eight long months while his brother agonized over what to do with him. His execution finally took place on February 18, 1478. His execution was performed privately, but it is widely believed that he chose to be drowned in a butt of malmsey, making George’s death as dramatic as his short life had been.

George left behind two children, Edward and Margaret. Edward inherited his grandfather’s title and became Edward of Warwick. He would be imprisoned for over half of his life before being executed by Henry VII due to the threat of his Plantagenet blood. Margaret was awarded an old family title of Countess of Salisbury by Henry VIII decades before he, too, decided that her Plantagenet blood was too great a threat. She was beheaded on Henry’s orders on May 27, 1541 at age 67.


  1. just a thought. i think that henry VII didn't really want to execute Edwar of Warwick. Of course he was a threat but Henry was not very fond of Executions (he didn't execute every Planategenet he found, contrary to his son Henry 8). i think keeping him in the Tower until the end of times would have been perfectly fine for Henry. But then, the Spanish Alliance happened. Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand wrote to Hery VII and told him that they couldn't send their daughter to a land where pretenders are still alive. They definitely put pressure to execute Eward AND Perkin if henry wanted to see his son Arthur marrying Catherie of Aragon. Catherine even years later, in letters, wrote that she felt guilty about Edward's death... poor Warwick: his entire life in jail and then sacrificed for a political Alliance.

  2. The legalized murder of Edward of Warwick is definitely a low point for Henry. It is an action that, like the dating of his reign to the day before Bosworth, demonstrates his insecurity and willingness to be ruthless. The fact that Edward had been imprisoned for over a decade before his execution does indicate that Henry would have been happy to allow him to remain in that state, but you are correct. Henry was willing to sacrifice both men for the sake of his Spanish alliance.

    Henry did attempt to restore relationships with some Plantagenets, though Edward was never given a chance. He attempted reconciliation with John and Edmund de la Pole, and saw to the marriages of Elizabeth's sisters and cousin Margaret, though their matches were not as glamorous as they may have once expected. However, he did also send assassins to Europe in search of Richard de la Pole and Reginald Pole, besides the execution of innocent Warwick. That being said, he was not as violently terrified of those with Plantagenet blood as Henry VIII became, but he is a whole separate topic! Even in Elizabeth I's day, the Tudor fear of others with royal blood continued, as can be seen by her treatment of the Grey sisters.

  3. agree, it was a tough time. it's just i don't really understand why people thinks that Henry wanted every plantagenet to be dead when in the end, he didn't kill more plantagenet than... i don't know, Edward IV who killed every Beauforts or Lancatrians he could find for example (Edward who sent as well assasins to kill henry when he was in exile)? they were men trying to defend their dynasty and future i think, and there were sadly innocent victims in this process. but yes, Henry 8 is just the most awful... i just really hate him. a lot ahah :)

  4. Very true. Edward is not as villainized for his actions, even the probable ordered murder of Henry VI and removing men from sanctuary in order to arrest or execute them.

  5. I agree, Henry VII did not enjoy killing people, contrary to popular belief. When he first came to the throne, he tried to gain Yorkist support. An example is John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. Henry treated him well and then he was involved in the rebellion against him (he had been the favorite for Richard's heir so he was likely never to be happy under Tudor rule) Anyway, Warwick's execution was a def low point for Henry's reign for sure (poor Warwick) but Henry's prior actions demonstrate to me that he did not want to kill Warwick or even Perkin Warbeck. It was only when the Spanish alliance that he and Elizabeth both pushed for was threatened.
    Henry def did some unsavory things but he was not bloodthirsty and I totally agree that Edward IV is not as villinized for his actions, esp the probably murder of Henry VI. (who conveniently died of a broken heart) And don't get me started on Richard III's actions with Anthony Woodville, Richard Grey and William Hastings.
    Bottom line-they were all quite ruthless!

    1. You are right, Liz. Judging any of these monarchs by modern standards would find them guilty of murder. Ruthless times, indeed!