George, Duke of Clarence

Hugh Ross Williamson describes how, in the fierce dynastic struggles of the later fifteenth century, Edward IV’s brother, George Plantagenet, played a devious and ill-fated part.

‘False, fleeting, perjured Clarence’, who was drowned in a butt of Malmsey at the age of twenty-eight, is one of those unfortunate characters in English history who seem forever caught in a Pirandellian moment—or, rather, in two moments: the Shakespearian tag and the butt.

Historians tend to interpret his actions on the twin assumptions that the words Shakespeare puts in the mouth of one of his enemies form a considered judgement and that the Malmsey is a symbolic way of saying that he was a drunkard as well. If, however, Clarence’s career is approached without these predispositions, a somewhat different picture emerges.

George Plantagenet, the ninth child and fifth son of Richard, Duke of York and Cecily Neville, was born in Dublin on October 21st, 1449, during his father’s Lord Lieutenancy of Ireland. Two of his elder brothers, Henry and John, died in infancy: a third, Edmund, was killed at the battle of Wakefield at the end of 1460, six months before the other, Edward, was crowned as King Edward IV in the June of 1461.

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