Biographies & Memoirs

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In London, the dowager Duchess of York and her unmarried daughter, Margaret, are thought to have been residing at Baynard’s Castle during the first days of the reign of the new king, Edward IV. Initially, when they arrived home from the Low Countries, George and Richard probably joined their mother and sister there, because the new king, their elder brother, was absent from the capital, and was not therefore on hand to make other arrangements for housing them.

In the long run, however, different arrangements were destined to be put in place. After all, George and Richard were now persons of considerable dynastic significance. Indeed, George, astonishingly, now found himself transformed from a virtually unknown child into a person of national importance. In the new order he was officially recognised as the heir presumptive to the throne of England. Edward IV was as yet unmarried – at least officially – and had not yet fathered an heir apparent to inherit his newly acquired throne.

It was probably shortly after his two younger brothers returned from the Low Countries to England – and before he had welcomed them back – that Edward IV contracted a secret marriage with Lady Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the late Earl of Shrewsbury by his second wife, Lady Margaret Beauchamp. Eleanor, whom evidence suggests was a beautiful brunette,1 had probably been born in February or March 1436. Thus she was a little older than Edward. She had been married at an early age to Sir Thomas Butler, son and heir of Lord Sudeley, but Thomas’s death in 1459 had left her a young and childless widow. Although she maintained a good relationship with her father-in-law,2 Eleanor eventually left the Warwickshire manors she had received from him as her jointure, and moved to East Anglia, where she spent her last years within, or in close proximity to, the household of her sister, Elizabeth.3 Both Eleanor and Elizabeth Talbot appear to have been deeply religious ladies.4

Edward may have first met Eleanor during the summer of 1460, before he gained the crown, as he was with John Howard in Suffolk at that time, and Eleanor may perhaps have been staying with her sister, and with Howard’s cousin the Duke of Norfolk, at Framlingham, in the same county.5 Accounts survive telling us that when Edward met Eleanor, he became infatuated with her, but the virtuous and high-born Eleanor absolutely rejected any idea of becoming Edward’s mistress. As a result, the deeply smitten Edward subsequently contracted a secret marriage with her. This secret wedding must have taken place after Edward became king, because Canon Robert Stillington – previously a servant of Henry VI’s government – was reportedly present.6 One account suggests that Stillington merely witnessed the contract. Another version reports that he acted as the clerical celebrant – clearly implying that although the marriage was secret it employed the church’s formal liturgy.7 The fact of Stillington’s priesthood makes it inherently more likely that he acted as celebrant. Moreover, according to Catholic teaching, the priestly celebrant at a wedding is, in fact, merely a witness. (Since the sacrament is self-conferring, the true celebrants are the couple involved.) Hence there is no contradiction between the two accounts.

Many historians have expressed doubts as to whether a secret marriage between Edward and Eleanor ever really took place. Their attitude has been greatly influenced by Henry VII’s subsequent careful and systematic rewriting of history in the ‘Tudor’ interest. But Henry VII was by no means impartial on this point. His urgent need was to represent his bride, Elizabeth of York (daughter of Edward IV’s later ‘marriage’ to Elizabeth Woodville), as the Yorkist heiress. Therefore Henry made a very determined effort to suppress any evidence that Edward IV had married Eleanor. What motivated him was the fact that the Talbot marriage would have made Edward IV’s subsequent Woodville marriage bigamous – with the result that all Elizabeth Woodville’s children by the king would have been illegitimate.

Despite Henry VII’s later enactments, the fact remains that the marriage of Edward IV and Eleanor Talbot was officially recognised by Parliament in 1484. Indeed, in parts of Europe free from the influence of ‘Tudor’ political correctness, their marriage continued to be recognised until at least the 1530s.8 In this book the marriage of Edward and Eleanor is accepted because, as we shall see, it makes the ultimate execution of George, Duke of Clarence more comprehensible.

The most likely venue for a secret marriage between Edward and Eleanor is somewhere in the vicinity of Warwick – most probably either Eleanor’s manor of Fenny Compton or her manor of Burton Dassett – and the most plausible date is around 8 June 1461.9It is quite likely that the marriage took place at one of the two manor houses – just as Edward’s subsequent wedding with Elizabeth Woodville was contracted at her family manor (see below).10

Though Edward probably married Eleanor in early June 1461, this was not made public. Also, the king remained without a son and heir. Thus, for the time being, Edward IV’s brother George was unquestionably the heir presumptive to the throne, and therefore a personage of great importance in the eyes of the king. It was perhaps on Tuesday 12 June – or more probably on Wednesday 13 June (approximately one month after their arrival in London) that George and Richard were formally received by their elder brother.11The delay was simply due to the fact that, up until this point, Edward had been slowly travelling back from Newcastle, riding via Durham, York, Lincoln, Coventry and Warwick, and probably marrying and bedding Eleanor Talbot on the way. On Tuesday 12 June he reached his Palace of Sheen. But it may not have been until the following day that Edward IV had the leisure to send for his two younger brothers.

Incidentally, it is unlikely that when he first slept with Eleanor Talbot the 19-year-old Edward was still a virgin. As we have already seen, for some years he and his now deceased brother, Edmund, had been living, under supervision, in their own household at Ludlow Castle. This lifestyle would have given Edward easy access to women of the lower classes, and although we have no knowledge of what took place, an older serving woman (or women) of his household may well have begun inducting him into the possible pleasures of sexual encounters. One interesting point about Edward is that – at this stage of his life, at least – he seems to have had a preference for older women, and for women who were themselves not virgins.12 Eleanor Talbot (Butler), Elizabeth Wayte (Lucy) and Elizabeth Woodville (Grey) had all been married before Edward began his relationships with them. Indeed, the same also applies to his later mistress, Elizabeth Lambert (often but erroneously known as ‘Jane Shore’).

We have no information as to how George behaved when he re-encountered his elder brother. Nor do we know how Edward received him. However, Edward must have been very well aware that as things then stood, George was his heir. Secure in his own new position, Edward would have had nothing to fear from his little brother, whom he had probably last encountered in a guardian-type role, while George, Richard and Margaret had been staying at Fastolf’s Place in Southwark. We may suppose that he treated George in a normal and friendly – if perhaps somewhat superior and parental – kind of way. Below-average-height George, on the other hand, once again confronting his more-than-six-foot-tall elder brother,13 who had now definitively assumed the role of ‘king of the castle’, may have viewed this encounter rather differently. Amongst his possibly mixed emotions, even at this early stage, there were perhaps elements of jealousy.

The ceremonial preparations for Edward’s coronation began on Friday 26 June, when Edward made a formal state entry into London, where he was received at the Tower by his brothers and others. That evening George and Richard, together with twenty-six companions, began a lengthy ritual (including a night of vigil) which culminated the following day when they were created Knights of the Bath.14 Sunday 28 June witnessed the coronation ceremony itself, celebrated at the Benedictine abbey of Westminster, founded by the new king’s precursor and namesake, Edward the Confessor. This coronation attempted to make a suitably impressive show at minimum cost, since the royal treasury was empty. Edward was aided in this objective by the fact that he was celebrating a solo coronation. There was no thought of crowning Eleanor Talbot at his side. George had been formally appointed Steward of England for his brother’s coronation, but since he was ‘yonge and tender of age’, Lord Wenlock was designated to assist him.15

On the day after the coronation – Monday 29 June – George accompanied Edward IV to the Bishop of London’s Palace, where a banquet was given in George’s honour. During this banquet he was formally created Duke of Clarence, a title which, for the House of York, had a special significance, since it recalled the ancestry from which the family derived its right to the throne. Some weeks later his younger brother Richard was created Duke of Gloucester, and both George and Richard were made Knights of the Garter, and were provided with lands and offices.16 Clarence was subsequently ‘appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland in 1462 and JP in many counties, and granted extensive estates, including very briefly the whole county of Chester’.17 Significantly, his appointment as the Irish lieutenant meant that, in one role at least, he succeeded his late father. George retained the Irish post until his execution in 1478, when he was succeeded by his brother-in-law, the Duke of Suffolk. The official residence of George, Richard and Margaret was henceforth the Palace of Pleasaunce at Greenwich.18 It is possible that at this stage in their career, the livery of both of the king’s younger brothers was of green fabric.19

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The Palace of Pleasaunce, Greenwich, chief residence of George, Duke of Clarence, 1461–6.

After the Duke of York’s death, no full-time guardian was ever appointed for George. Instead, he found himself catapulted straight from his childhood and his incomplete education into a very visible and hugely important public and official role. He suddenly became the second highest-ranking person in the kingdom. This was a position which he had never been expected to occupy; a position, therefore, for which he had received no real preparation in the past, and for which he was given no proper training now. Had his father not been killed, the Duke of York, not Edward IV, would now have become king, and George would have been only third-in-line to the throne. Even if his elder brother Edmund, Earl of Rutland had not been killed, he, rather than the much younger George, would now have become the heir presumptive. Therefore, everything about George’s new position was unexpected – both for himself and for those around him.

Even worse for the young boy in the long run was the fact that this magnificent new role into which he had suddenly and unexpectedly been projected was to prove completely ephemeral. He would subsequently find himself equally suddenly – and ignominiously – demoted as a result of the announcement of his elder brother’s second secret marriage, followed by the birth of Edward’s children. However, that part of George’s story comes later. We shall trace the course of events that forced the still very young George through this new series of traumatic and disastrous experiences in our next chapter. First, we should review exactly what role George played in the new Yorkist regime in the period during which he was officially recognised as the heir to Edward IV’s throne.

Although George had been nominally the Steward of England at Edward IV’s coronation, actually the real, practical work of that office was performed for him by his assistant, Lord Wenlock. In the view of Michael Hicks, a similar situation probably continued for several years in all George’s political and ceremonial appointments. The young prince was granted titles and offices, but other and older heads did the real work. Meanwhile, George’s official public role – and his household – both gradually grew in size and importance.

Being only a child, he neither enjoyed the income from the lands nor exercised his offices in person, but lived mainly with his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester and sister Margaret at Greenwich Palace. Initially an offshoot of the royal household funded by Edward IV’s coffer, Clarence’s establishment included a chancellor (John Tapton) in 1462, a surveyor of his livelihood in 1463, and was described as a multitude early in 1466, by which point the duke was leading a more public life.20

Hicks’ suggestion that the young George exercised no real political power until later sounds eminently credible. However, there is in fact some contrary evidence indicating that from a very early period in Edward IV’s reign, George actually was expected and required to exercise real authority, despite his youth. For example, in a letter which is believed to date from 7 January 1462, Margaret Paston, in Norfolk, dictated a message, to be sent to her husband, John Paston I. Margaret was illiterate, so she could not actually write the letter herself. Thus the document is in the handwriting of her younger son, John Paston III. In her letter Margaret reported that:

pepyll of this contré begyneth to wax wyld, and it is seyd her þat my lord of Clarans and the Dwek of Suthfolk and serteyn jwgys with hem schold come down and syt on syche pepyll …21

At first sight, this letter appears to suggest that the talk of the day in the eastern counties was recommending that powerful aristocrats should visit the region and take matters in hand. However, Margaret Paston was not talking about men of advanced years – or even men of middle age. John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk – the husband of Elizabeth of York since about 1457 – had been born on 27 September 1442. Thus he was 19 years of age when this letter is thought to have been written. His brother-in-law, George, Duke of Clarence, was still only 12! Nevertheless, they were respectively the brother-in-law and the brother of England’s new king, and the younger of the two was the heir presumptive to the throne. It certainly sounds from her letter as though Margaret expected the two dukes to come and take real action of some kind. Clearly, she was not simply advocating the ceremonial presence of royal figureheads. It therefore appears that in 1462 the 12-year-old George may already, in some respects, have been acting – or been expected to act – as a ruling figure.22

In East Anglia, the Duke of Suffolk was a local magnate, and was thus an obvious choice if the government needed action taken in that region. The choice of the young Duke of Clarence is more intriguing because George was never a prominent East Anglian magnate. Possibly his family connections with the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk may explain why his name is mentioned. It is a pity that documents do not survive which would tell us more of the relationship between Clarence and Suffolk, but in February 1463 the two dukes, together with the Duchess of Suffolk (George’s sister, Elizabeth) attended the funeral of their uncle, the Earl of Salisbury (see below).

The Paston letters also allow us to see that Clarence had, in the long run, important connections with another East Anglian relative – the Duke of Norfolk. John Mowbray, the 4th Duke of Norfolk, was George’s first cousin once removed, since Norfolk’s grandmother, Catherine Neville, was an elder sister of Cecily, Duchess of York. The 4th Duke of Norfolk had been born on 18 October 1444, so he was just five years older than the Duke of Clarence. He had succeeded to his title on 6 November 1461, following the early death of his father, not long after the latter had officiated as Earl Marshall at Edward IV’s coronation. Potentially even more significant for George’s future was the fact that the young John Mowbray’s wife was Elizabeth Talbot. During the 1460s her elder sister Eleanor lived with the Norfolks – or at least on one of their estates. It was with Eleanor that Edward IV had contracted a secret marriage in 1461. This marriage was eventually to have disastrous consequences for the Duke of Clarence, and in the longer term for the entire House of York. At this stage, however, it is obvious that George knew nothing whatever about it.

Meanwhile, George had been provided with henxmen – probably teenaged lads with whom he continued some basic education, together with military training, and whom (thanks to his unique social position) he would have been able to dominate. At the same time, as we may deduce from Margaret Paston’s letter, he was receiving requests to play a dominant political role – and he may have been playing such a role in reality, at least at a regional level. How would such situations have affected him, and what aspects of his character might we expect to have emerged as a result?

We have suggested that as a boy George had learned to think of himself as the most important person in his immediate family. Subsequently, he had suffered feelings of insecurity and possibly guilt as a result of his father’s death and exile. Finally, he had once again been forced to encounter his much taller and little-known elder brother, whose dominance he viewed with resentment and jealousy. If this is an accurate picture of his growing up, we might expect the 12-year-old George – now officially heir to the throne – to begin to conduct himself in a rather ostentatious and arrogant manner. Moreover, he had now been provided by his resented elder brother with all the necessary means of expressing himself: a household, financial resources, horses, splendid clothes, weapons and publicly acknowledged status.

The somewhat limited surviving record of George’s conduct during this period tends to confirm that he did indeed behave as suggested. On 15 February 1463 the 13-year-old George attended the interment of his maternal uncle, Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury. Because of his rank, George was the guest of honour. In April 1463, George attended for the first time a chapter of the Order of the Garter. Four months later, on a visit to Canterbury Cathedral, George had a sword carried before him, point upwards, even when he was entering the Cathedral to attend high mass. This has been taken as a sign of his arrogance, and one writer has noted that although Richard accompanied George on the Canterbury visit, Richard’s name was not recorded by chroniclers, so much was he overshadowed by his elder brother.23 Incidentally, it is possible that about this time George and Richard lived for a short time under the guardianship of their cousin, Archbishop Bourchier. If so, however, the archbishop’s authority over the young princes, and his care for them, were both of very short duration.24

From 1464 until 1469, the youngest prince, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, probably lived mainly in the north of England. He had been officially consigned by his brother, the king, to the guardianship of his much older cousin, the Earl of Warwick. However, no one ever exercised such a role in respect of George, who was now rapidly becoming independent. In 1464, as we shall see, he acted once again as Steward of England, at a second coronation (that of Elizabeth Woodville). As early as 10 July 1466 – when he was still only 16 years of age – the Duke of Clarence officially came of age, did homage in person for his lands, and took personal control of his own affairs. Shortly afterwards, George set off for his own castle of Tutbury, a magnate now in his own right, despite his youth. As Hicks has remarked, at this stage – unsurprisingly, perhaps – ‘events suggest that he was precocious and his conduct adult’.25


1. Certainly her younger sister, Elizabeth Duchess of Norfolk, was later described as a beauty. See H. Beaune and J. d’Arbaumont, eds, Mémoires d’Olivier de la Marche vol. 3 (Paris, 1883–8), p.107. For Eleanor’s hair colouring and complexion, seeEleanor,p.102.

2. See Eleanor, chapter 13.

3. Eleanor, pp.94, 101.

4. Eleanor, pp.105, 112, 120, 121, 124–25, 128.

5. For evidence of Edward’s presence in Suffolk in August 1460, see Ashdown-Hill, Richard III’s ‘Beloved Cousyn’, p.15, citing Suffolk Record Office (Ipswich) HA 246/B2/498.

6. Eleanor, p.105. See also ODNB, M. Hicks, ‘Stillington, Robert’: ‘In 1448 Stillington was appointed a commissioner to negotiate with Burgundy over recent breaches of a truce, and in the next thirty years he took part in several foreign embassies. In 1449 he became a royal councillor.’

7. Commynes, pp.354, 397.

8. For fuller details on these points, see Eleanor, pp.162, 190, 209, and RMS, p.84.

9. After the Battle of Towton, Edward IV spent April in the north of England. Previously, I suggested (Eleanor, p.101) that the marriage might have taken place in May, in Norwich, based on the fact that CPR 1461–1467, p.13, indicates that Edward may have been in Norwich on 20 May, which appeared to accord with the statement that ‘the king returned southwards and eastwards [to] his manor of Sheen’ (K. Dockray, Edward IV A Source Book (Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1999), p.23, citing Hearne’s Fragment). However, Scofield (vol. 1) suggested a different route for Edward, which passed westwards after leaving Lincoln. This was based on evidence from the Privy Seals (C 81). On this basis, Clive (This Sun of York, pp.50–51) produces a detailed itinerary, which suggests that Edward was in Coventry on 7 June, Warwick on 8 June and Daventry on 9 June.

10. The alternative possible date for a secret marriage between Edward and Eleanor is in October 1461, by which time Eleanor may have been staying either at East Hall, Kenninghall, near Norwich (her sister’s dower house) or at the Duke of Norfolk’s residence in Norwich when Edward reportedly passed through Norwich, on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. See J Ashdown-Hill, ‘Edward IV’s Uncrowned Queen: The Lady Eleanor Talbot, Lady Butler’, Ric. 11 (December 1997), p.173.

11. FFPC, p.7.

12. ‘This preference may have been moral rather than sexual, i.e. tempting a widow to fornicate was regarded as less wicked than deflowering a virgin or seducing a married woman to commit adultery’ [MB].

13. Edward IV’s bones indicate that he was probably about 6ft 4in tall.

14. For a full description, see Wilkinson, Richard: The Young King to Be, pp.88–9.

15. FFPC, p.7.

16. On Edward IV’s accession, ‘his two younger brothers, George and Richard, thone was made duke of Clarence, thother duke of Gloucester’ (H. Ellis, ed., Three Books of Polydore Vergil’s English History Comprising the Reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV, and Richard III (London, 1844), p.113).

17. ODNB, M. Hicks, ‘Clarence’.

18. Ibid; FFPC, pp.9–10. The palace, built by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was originally named ‘Bella Court’. After Humphrey’s fall it was taken over by Margaret of Anjou, who renamed it ‘The Palace of Pleasaunce’ (or ‘Placentia’). It was an important royal residence throughout the ‘Tudor’ period, but was eventually demolished by Charles II, who built Greenwich Hospital on the site.

19. There is a record that gowns of green cloth were purchased for both princes on one occasion (Wilkinson, Richard: The Young King to Be, p.92). It is also worthy of note that when Howard received Richard in the eastern counties he attired his followers in green, despite the fact that the Howard livery at that period was black (J. Ashdown-Hill, “‘Yesterday my Lord of Gloucester came to Colchester …”’, Essex Archaeology & History 36 (2005), pp.212–17; ‘Beloved Cousyn’, p.22ff). The future Edward IV and his brother Edmund, Earl of Rutland had also written to their father during their youth to ‘thank your noblesse and good fatherhood of our green gowns now late sent unto us for our great comfort’ (Halstead, Richard III vol. 1, p.419). Later, George and Richard’s nephew, the future Edward V, may have had green and blue livery for his household as Prince of Wales (Ashdown-Hill, “Yesterday my Lord of Gloucester came to Colchester …’).

20. ODNB, Hicks, ‘Clarence’.

21. Davis 1, p.279.

22. George’s first recorded appointment to a commission of the peace for Norfolk was in 1466. However, on 12 August 1461 he was appointed to a commission to enquire into all treasons, insurrections and rebellions in South Wales. See CPR 1461–1467, p.38.

23. Wilkinson, Richard: The Young King to Be, p.95, citing the chronicler John Stone.

24. FFPC, pp.13–14.

25. FFPC, p.15.

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