Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Disputed Drowning of the Condemned Clarence


                  As I’ve already mentioned yesterday, Richard of York had another son, George, 1st Duke of Clarence, who was younger than Edward IV and older than Richard III. This is the Clarence that switched sides and was allied to Margaret of Anjou and Warwick, before becoming reconciled with his Yorkist brothers, but when his wife Isabella died soon after giving birth, in all probability of childbed fever, Clarence became convinced that a lady-in-waiting, Ankarette Twynyho, had poisoned her and arranged her judicial murder. 

George, Duke of Clarence

Edward felt that Clarence had overstepped his authority in the case and made his displeasure evident. After this, Clarence’s mental state, which had never been entirely reliable, deteriorated further and he became involved in a further plot to dethrone his brother, Edward. In a bizarre incident, he accused the Queen and her mother of witchcraft, assuring parliament that they were behind the death of his wife, and he began plans to marry Anne the Rich, daughter of Charles the Bold of Burgundy, assisted by his sister, Margaret, who was Anne’s stepmother. 

King Edward IV

Edward IV vehemently opposed the union, which further soured the fraternal relationship. A priest in Clarence’s household was charged with consorting with a necromancer and killing a friend of the King, this priest was tortured and implicated Burdett, a gentleman on close terms with Clarence, and both were executed. In a fury, Clarence burst into the council-chamber, declaring the pair to have been entirely innocent and to have been murdered by the King. Word reached the King, who was not present at the assembly, and Clarence was imprisoned in the Tower of London, impeached, and brought to the bar of the House of Lords, before parliament and the King. 

Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III

Edward listed his former mercies to Clarence, how he had pardoned him when he had changed sides and had showered titles and riches upon him, but had been repaid with treachery, his ungrateful brother had plotted against him, he had spread rumours that the King was a bastard and ineligible to rule, that the King practiced necromancy and poisoned whomsoever of his subjects that he pleased, that Clarence was, even then, planning an armed rebellion to take the crown for himself. The King accused and the Duke argued back, the Duke blamed and the King retaliated, and all present watched in astonished silence. 

The Assembly tries Clarence

When witnesses were called, they were turned into accusers, with the Duke even offering to prove his innocence in single combat with any or all of them. Parliament, embarrassed and dumbstruck, recognised what dangers there might be for anyone who tried to intervene in the fraternal squabble, and wisely kept out of the whole, sorry mess. As there could only be one safe outcome open to them, parliament was given little option but to declare the Duke guilty of high treason, sentence him to death and return him to the Tower, where he was held for several days, maybe because the King, when he calmed down, felt familial bonds affecting his judgment. The Speaker of the House intervened, demanding that sentence be carried out, and on February 18th 1478, George, Duke of Clarence was ‘privately executed’ in the Tower of London, thus being spared the ignominy of a public beheading. 

Bowyer's Tower - supposed site of the murder of the Duke of Clarence

Immediately, rumours began to spread that Clarence had been drowned in a butt of Malmsey. A ‘butt’ is a barrel, as in a water butt, it is also an imperial measure of just over one hundred gallons, so it is possible that a man could be drowned in one but the story is almost certainly a later invention. Malmsey is, usually, a sweet white wine, and the legend may well be a grim joke, as it was well known that Clarence was partial to a bumper or three of malmsey, so it would be deliciously ironic if that was how he met his end and it is so good a story that writers were bound to repeat it with relish. 

The Murderers coming for Clarence

Historians have sought to explain the tale, arguing that the ‘butt of malmsey’ was a ‘butt for malmsey’ rather than a ‘butt full of malmsey’, and Clarence’s body was disposed of in a barrel, perhaps thrown overboard from a ship. Others have thought that the body was put into a barrel of wine to preserve it when it was moved to Tewkesbury for burial, in the same manner that Nelson’s body was brought back from Trafalgar in a barrel of brandy. 

Clarence's Children Hearing of their Father's Death

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that the murderers stabbed Clarence first and finished him off by holding his head in an open butt of wine, maybe to stifle his cries. It is unlikely, on the other hand, that they would have tried to manhandle a full-grown man, in his late twenties and an experienced warrior, into a barrel of anything and keeping him there until he was dead, without inflicting some sort of disabling injury on him first. But let’s not allow the facts get in the way of a good story.



The Bloody Tower

The Chronicles of the Grey Friars for 1478 records, 
Thys yere the ducke of Clarans was put to dethe.

The Chronicle of London for 1478 says, 
Also the Xviijth day of ffebruary was George, Duke of Clarence and brother vnto kyng Edward, put to the deth wt yn the Tower as prisoner. Drowned in Malvesay.”

Fabyan, in the New Chronicles of England and France, writes, 
This yere, that is to meane ye xviii daye of February, the duke of Clarence and second brother to the kynge, thane beyng prisoner in ye Tower, was secretely put to deth & drowned in a barell of maluesye within the sayd Tower.

John Stow - murder of Clarence - Annals of England - 1603

John Stow, in The Annals of England, for 1478 writes, 
And on the 11 of March, after hee had offered his ownne masse penie in the Tower of London, hee made his ende in a veffel of Malmefey, and was after buried at Tewfburie, by his wife fometime daughter to the Earle of Warwike, which being with child died of poifon but a little before him.”

Philip de Commines, in his Memoirs has, 
King Edward caused his brother the Duke of Clarence, to be drowned in a pipe of malmsey, charging him with a design of endeavouring to dethrone him.” 

Drowning Clarence in a Butt of Malmsey

The continuer of the Chronicles of Croyland wrote, 
“… execution was delayed for a considerable time; until the Speaker of the Commons, coming to the upper house with his fellows, made a fresh request that the matter might be brought to a conclusion. In consequence of this, in a few days after, the execution, whatever its nature may have been, took place, (and would that it had ended these troubles!) in the Tower of London, it being the year of our Lord, 1478.”

Polydore Vergil, in the History of Richard III, writes, 
… eaven loe sudaynly he [Edward IV] fell into a fact most horryble, commandyng rashly and upon the suddane his brother George duke of Clarence to be apprehendyd and put to death, who was drowned (as they say) in a butte of malmesey; the woorst example that ever man cowld committed remember.





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2 comments:

  1. Duke of Clarence was drowned in a butt
    Malmsey wine for that year was in glut
    There’s no doubt he was dead
    But some say that his head
    From an ax-man had suffered a cut.

    ReplyDelete