On this day in history : 18th February 1478 – The private execution at the Tower of London of George, Duke of Clarence, for treason against his older brother, King Edward IV….

George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence – by Lucas Cornelisz de Kock – Public domain

George Plantagenet was born on the 21st of October 1449 in Dublin…. His brother, Edward, became King in March 1461 and shortly after George was made Duke of Clarence and then in 1462 appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland….

George had always supported his brother, who had taken the crown from Henry VI in the Wars of the Roses – but he was to fall under the influence of his first cousin, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick…. Edward had plans for his younger brother to marry Mary, the daughter of the Duke of Burgundy – but George had other ideas…. In defiance he married Isabel, the eldest daughter of the Earl of Warwick – and switched his allegiance from the House of York to the House of Lancaster in support of his father-in-law, who’s aim was to have the deposed Henry VI reinstated…. In return Henry VI made George next in line to the throne after his own son…. Power crazed Warwick then arranged for his younger daughter, Anne, to marry Henry VI’s son – thus making George’s likelihood of ever coming to the throne remote…. George began to realise his loyalty to Warwick was misplaced….

Henry VI – Public domain

George was secretly reconciled with his brother and for a while things were fine between them…. Warwick was killed in battle in April 1471 – and then in 1475 George’s wife gave birth to a son – followed by another the next year…. However, two months later, on the 22nd of December she died – George was convinced she had been poisoned by her lady-in-waiting, Ankarette Twynyho…. Historians today think it is more likely Isabel died from a postpartum infection or consumption…. Edward had Ankarette brought to trial and then bullied the jury into finding her guilty; she was hanged (but later posthumously pardoned by Edward in 1478)….

George had designs on marrying Mary, Duchess of Burgundy – although Edward had originally thought this a good match he now rejected the idea and refused permission…. George was furious; his mental health had always been questionable but by now it was rapidly declining…. His relationship with his brother became extremely sour…. Eventually he was accused of slandering Edward and plotting against him – accusations reinforced by the confession – extracted under torture – from one of his own attendants….

Edward IV – Public domain

George was arrested for high treason in 1478 and taken to the Tower of London…. He was not present at his trial and a Bill of Attainder was passed in Parliament declaring him guilty…. On the 18th of February a private execution took place in the Bowyer Tower…. A later exhumation of his body revealed he had not been beheaded as was the usual form of execution for a nobleman…. Rumours at the time claimed that he had been drowned in a barrel of Malmsey wine….

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