February 18

1478 The death of the Duke of Clarence

Second murderer: Take him [the Duke of Clarence] on the costard with the hilts of thy sword, and then throw him into the malmsey-butt in the next room.

First Murderer [to the Duke of Clarence, stabbing him]: Take that, and that. If all this will not do, I’ll drown you in the malmsey-butt within.

This is how Shakespeare treats the death of George, Duke of Clarence, brother to King Edward IV and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III. Before and after the Bard’s version, historians have debated how Clarence died and who was responsible for his death. In the sixteenth century it was widely believed that Gloucester had ordered the execution while more recent historians have expressed the possibility that Gloucester opposed his brother’s death.

By the standards of the time, Clarence certainly deserved to get the chop. He had betrayed his brothers and allied himself with this family’s dynastic rivals, Henry VI and the Lancastrian faction, but eventually deserted them to rejoin his Yorkist siblings. Never quite stable, mentally, he then seems to have again aroused suspicions of disloyalty in Edward’s mind and he was convicted of treason and sentenced to death.

His two surviving children who lived into the 16th century were both murdered on the orders of Henry VIII, whose Tudor father Henry VII had usurped the throne from Richard III.

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