Biographies & Memoirs

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On 22 March 1466 Edward IV issued letters of instruction to his ambassadors to Burgundy. These included a project for ‘our dearest brother George Duke of Clarence’ to marry Marie of Burgundy, the infant daughter and heiress of Charles, Count of Charolais, who in turn was heir to the dukedom of Burgundy. Marie was just 9 years old at the time, while George was fourteen and a half. French and Aragonese princes had already made bids for Marie’s hand, despite her youth. Had Edward’s project succeeded, George would ultimately have become iure uxoris second-in-line for the Burgundian dukedom – or at least for those territories and titles of the honour of Burgundy that were exempt from the salic law.1 Presumably, such a marriage would have removed George from England, taking him back to the Low Countries and basing him at the court of Philip the Good or at that of the Count of Charolais – or perhaps at a Low Countries court of his own. It was somewhat unusual for English kings to arrange marriages for close male relatives which would take a prince abroad in this way. However, as we have already seen, Edward IV’s ideas about royal marriage policy were very individual and owed little to precedent.

Of course, there is no surviving contemporary evidence of how George had reacted at this stage to his brother’s recognition of the Woodville marriage, nor of how he took the birth of his niece, Elizabeth of York, and his own resulting removal from pre-eminence as heir to the throne. But, doubtless, Edward IV knew more of George’s reactions at the time than we do today. Perhaps, as Mancini later indicated, he had perceived that George was jealous and angry. In the event, however, the Burgundian court proved much more interested in a possible marriage between Edward’s sister, Margaret, and the Count of Charolais. Thus the idea of a marriage between George and Marie was quietly dropped at this stage – although it resurfaced later, as we shall see in due course.

Significantly, however, the possibility of George acquiring territory in the Low Countries was raised again the following year – albeit in a different context, and by completely different means. This suggests that, even as early as 1466, George aspired to completely independent status, either through an advantageous marriage or by acquiring territory in his own right. It is important to note, however, that his aspirations were apparently not, at this point, focused upon the crown of England, but rather on creating a principality for himself on the mainland of Europe. In some ways, George’s outlook seems to have been more international than those of his surviving brothers – possibly as a result of his close relationship with his sister, Margaret, whose future probably lay somewhere on the European mainland.

In July 1466, although he was not yet 17 years of age, George officially came of age. On Thursday 10 July 1466 he did homage to his brother, the king, for the lands he held, after which he formally embarked upon his career as an adult and independent member of the royal family. It is probable that George’s early coming of age was not unconnected with the change in his official status, following the birth, five months earlier, of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville’s first living child.

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1845 Engraving of Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire.

Having gained his independence, George left at once for his castle of Tutbury in Staffordshire, which now became his principal residence. Probably he was already in close contact with his much older cousin, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who was increasingly unhappy with the policies of Edward IV. In the long run, the relationship between George and his cousin Richard Neville was highly significant for George. Unlike his younger brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, George never lived in Warwick’s household as his ward. Nevertheless, Warwick seems to have become something akin to a father figure for him. They shared a dislike and distrust of the Woodville family and its influence on Edward IV. Moreover, Warwick appeared to want to promote George’s importance – which George must inevitably have found appealing.

Warwick was not only opposed to recognition of the king’s marriage with Elizabeth Woodville; he was also opposed to Edward’s Burgundian marriage plans for Margaret of York. Warwick would have preferred to arrange a French royal marriage for Margaret – just as he had previously for Edward himself. In April–May 1467, he reached a tentative agreement with King Louis XI, under the terms of which the territory of Burgundy was to be divided, Holland, Zealand and Brabant going to George, Duke of Clarence, Louis XI repossessing the remainder. Edward IV rejected this idea, but – not surprisingly, perhaps – his brother George welcomed it with delight. By the spring or early summer of 1467 at the latest, therefore, we find George siding with Warwick and at odds with his brother, the king. Evidence of George’s discontent at this time, and of his desire for a clear and independent status, is to be found in the English land disputes in which he engaged – often unsuccessfully.

It was also at about this time that George began toying with the idea of a marriage with Warwick’s eldest daughter, Isabel. Indeed, the Burgundian chronicler Wavrin suggests that a marriage between George and Isabel had been proposed earlier, and angrily rejected by Edward IV.2 In general, Wavrin is a useful source on the Duke of Clarence and on the Earl of Warwick, having met both more than once. In this instance, however, it seems possible that Wavrin (or his modern editor) has confused the chronology slightly. Wavrin appears to be referring to discussions between Warwick and the king’s younger brothers which took place in 1467 (see below). But, whenever the marriage was first mooted, Wavrin is certainly right in saying that Edward IV opposed it. Warwick, on the other hand, viewed the prospect of a marriage between Isabel and George with great favour. According to Vergil’s later account:

therle of Warweke, being a man of most sharpe wit and forecaste, conceaving before hand that George duke of Clarence was for some secrete, I cannot tell what cause, alyenatyd in mynde from his brother king Edward, made first unto him some murmur and complaint of the king, therby to prove him how he was affectyd; then after whan the duke dyd to him the lyke, explaning many injuryes receavyd at his brothers hands, he was the more bold to enter into greater matters, and discoveryd to the duke his intent and purpose, praying him to joigne therein … Finally, after many faire promises, he affyancyd unto the duke his doughter, which was then mareageable.3

Perhaps Vergil ‘cannot tell what cause’ had alienated the Duke of Clarence from his elder brother, but we have already explored several possible explanations. These include the age difference between the two brothers; the details of George’s upbringing away from Edward, enjoying the misleading experience of being the most important member of his childhood household; his lack of training; his sudden elevation followed by an equally sudden demotion; and his resulting resentment of the queen’s family.

Had he known of the dubious validity of his brother’s marriage with Elizabeth Woodville, George would of course have had even stronger reasons for feeling ‘alyenatyd’. In the end, George must have discovered this issue – but not as early as 1467. We shall see, as we trace his story, that while George was always ambitious – although he always sought power and influence for himself – it was not until 1477 that he focused his attention on the aim of dethroning his brother, ousting the latter’s Woodville offspring from the succession and crowning himself as king of England. That fundamental change in his aim, together with the desperate response to it which Edward IV – egged on by his panic-stricken queen – found himself forced to make, pinpoints very clearly at what late stage in George’s career he finally became aware of the question hanging over his brother’s marriage.

Meanwhile, the summer of 1467 saw the arrival in London of an important Burgundian delegation led by Duke Philip’s bastard son, Antoine. The Burgundian envoys came to finalise the marriage negotiations for the union between Margaret of York and Charles, son and heir of Duke Philip the Good. At the same time, they were also to take part in an impressive tournament organised by the kindred of Elizabeth Woodville. Significantly, it was the queen’s brother, Anthony Woodville Lord Scales, who was to represent England in this tournament and challenge his Burgundian namesake.

The Earl of Warwick – still anti-Burgundian and pro-French, and now clearly at odds with Edward IV’s foreign policy – either chose to absent himself in France, or was sent there by the king. He arrived in Rouen on 6 June 1467, where he was welcomed by King Louis XI. Richard, Duke of Gloucester may not have been in London at the time of the Smithfield tournament. However, George, Duke of Clarence was undoubtedly there, because he performed a ceremonial role.4 Moreover, on Monday 8 June, his namesake, Warwick’s younger brother George Neville, Archbishop of York, who had been serving the king as his chancellor, was taken by surprise when he found Edward IV arriving unannounced on his doorstep to demand the surrender of the great seal. With the king on this mission came various lords, including the Duke of Clarence.5 The latter’s presence may have been at the behest of the king, who perhaps had a particular motive for wanting George to witness this action. The fact that Warwick’s brother had now been dismissed from office made public the rift between the king and his Neville cousins.

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Richard Neville and Anne Beauchamp, Earl and Countess of Warwick (after the Rous Roll), together with the earl’s signature.

On Monday 15 June 1467 the situation in Burgundy suddenly changed, with the death of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. He was succeeded by his son, the Count of Charolais, who now became Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. When this news reached the English court, the Burgundian delegation made hasty preparations to return to their homeland. They were escorted on their journey by Sir John Howard. It was on 24 June (Feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist) that Antoine, Bastard of Burgundy, embarked from Dover.6

On the very same day the Earl of Warwick, returning from France, landed at Sandwich, where he learnt that his brother the Archbishop of York had been dismissed from the chancellorship. Warwick returned to London, accompanied by French ambassadors, including the bastard of Bourbon, the Bishop of Bayeux and Master Jehan de Poupincourt. These men came with proposals for a French alliance. However, once again this achieved nothing. Indeed, no member of Edward IV’s court even came to greet Warwick, with the single exception of the Duke of Clarence.7 When Warwick finally managed to see the king, the latter showed little interest in his trip to France. Nevertheless, the French ambassadors were received at Westminster. The Duke of Clarence, accompanied by Lord Hastings, was sent to greet them: ‘When the Earl of Warwick caught sight of the Duke of Clarence he greeted him very warmly, as he wanted to speak to him. The said duke received the ambassadors most honourably, as he very well knew how to do.’8

When plague broke out in London, the wise left for the countryside. Edward IV departed to Windsor, while Warwick, accompanied by both of the king’s younger brothers, apparently set off on a visit to the eastern counties.9 His party’s prime geographical objective was Cambridge, but Warwick’s personal objective on this trip was to woo George, Duke of Clarence and to form a close alliance with him. Wavrin records a conversation which took place in the summer of 1467 between Warwick and his cousin George, though he makes no mention of where it occurred.

The talk reportedly began with Warwick’s complaint about how little attention the king had paid to the French ambassadors. When George explained that he was not to blame for the king’s behaviour, Warwick replied that he was already well aware of that. The conversation then turned to the government that now surrounded the king, and the predominance of the queen’s father and siblings. George, who by this time clearly disliked the government situation, asked his cousin what could be done about it, whereupon Warwick suggested that the solution was for the Duke of Clarence to take over the government. The Earl also presented to the Duke his elder daughter, Isabel, and offered her hand to him in marriage. Afterwards Warwick conveyed news of his new agreement with the Duke of Clarence to the French ambassadors, who subsequently took leave of the king (now back from Windsor) and set off on their return to France.10

What was the real basis of the growing relationship between the Earl of Warwick and the Duke of Clarence? On one level the two men had aims, and opinions concerning the politics of Edward IV, in common. Yet their relationship went deeper than that. Did Warwick simply see Clarence as a useful tool? Did Clarence merely see Warwick as a means of establishing his own importance? Again, these were real aspects of their relationship, yet there was something more. Perhaps Clarence, who had lost his father at a difficult age, and who had never afterwards had an official guardian, perceived Warwick as a kind of father figure, while Warwick, who had no son, was happy to take on a surrogate father role in relation to his young cousin. At all events, the two men do seem to have found that they liked each other.

As for the Duke of Gloucester, Wavrin does not refer to him as taking any part in the exchange between Warwick and Clarence, and it is not clear whether he was actually present during the discussion. For Gloucester, however, the trip to Cambridge appears to have been merely the start of a more extended eastern counties excursion, prolonged at the invitation of Sir John Howard. While Warwick was cultivating Clarence, Howard seems to have had his eye set on the younger prince as a future ally.11

Howard had been in London on Thursday 11 June, officiating at the Smithfield Tournament, but a week later he had left for Dover and then Calais, accompanying the Burgundian envoys on the first stages of their journey home. It may have been to do the honours during this return journey that Howard had occasion to borrow some trumpeters from the Duke of Clarence. Howard arrived back in England on Sunday 28 June, but since the plague had by then erupted in London, he wisely avoided the capital. Soon after his return, on Thursday 2 July 1467, ‘my mastyr [Sir John Howard] gaffe to my lord of Clarense trumpetes, xxs.’12 And three weeks later, Howard, who had obviously made his own way back to the eastern counties by that time, received Richard, Duke of Gloucester in Colchester. This visit took place on 21 July in a year which is not specified in the surviving record. However, as the present writer has previously shown, it can only have taken place on Tuesday 21 July 1467.13 This conclusion is confirmed by evidence from the surviving manuscript which contains the draft of John Howard’s letter, recording Richard’s visit: ‘The folio which bears the original of the letter on its recto, has on its verso material dated 1466, 1467 and 1468. This strongly suggests that the letter must be assigned to one of those three years.’14

Richard was alone when he came to Colchester. His brother George and their cousin Warwick had presumably departed elsewhere, for they did not accompany him. After visiting Colchester, Richard travelled on with Howard via his manor at Stoke-by-Nayland, to Sudbury, home of the miracle-working shrine of Our Lady of Sudbury, of which Howard was a patron. From Sudbury they continued to Lavenham, where they hunted with the Earl of Oxford. Then they proceeded to Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich.

Subsequently, however, when everyone had decided that it was safe to return to London, both George and Richard found themselves summoned into the presence of their furious elder brother, the king, to account to him for the conversation which had reportedly taken place while they had been in Cambridge. Edward IV was livid when he heard that Warwick had offered George his daughter’s hand in marriage. It is not clear whether Edward also had any knowledge of other aspects of the discussion, but at all events he is said to have briefly arrested both his younger brothers for apparently conniving with Warwick’s plans.15 The effect of the king’s rage on the undersized but jealous George was in the end to prove quite considerable – though its final outcome was perhaps not quite what Edward IV had intended.

In a meeting with his brother, the Archbishop of York, Warwick reportedly planned an uprising in the north of England, to be led by ‘Robin of Redesdale’. Warwick and the Duke of Clarence then embarked secretly for Calais.16 From Calais, Warwick proceeded into France, where he was splendidly received by Louis XI. There is no report that George accompanied him into France. Such a visit to the French court by the brother of the English king could hardly have escaped the notice of contemporary observers, who had taken full note of the rapprochement between the duke and the earl, and of its implications. By 14 February 1467/8, for example, an envoy from Milan was reporting that ‘the Earl of Warwick has drawn a brother of the king against the king himself. They have not yet come to open hostilities, but are treating for an accommodation’.17 Meanwhile, Warwick, well aware that no marriage could legally take place between Isabel and George without a papal dispensation, owing to their close blood relationship, was already seeking such a dispensation. This was not an easy task, since the marriage lacked the support of the king, and therefore also the support of his officials in Rome.

At some point towards the end of 1467 or early in 1468, both Clarence and Warwick must have returned to England. Warwick had been reconciled with Edward IV by January 1467/8, for in that month he attended a royal council meeting in Coventry.18 But while cultivating his friendship and relationship with George, Duke of Clarence, and also seeking to reassure Edward IV, the Earl of Warwick was busy emphasising his hatred of the queen and her Woodville family: ‘Early in 1468, the Rivers estates were plundered by Warwick’s partisans.’19

Both the Earl of Warwick and the Duke of Clarence were not only in England, but back at court, in the summer of 1468. In June of that year, the marriage of Margaret of York to Charles the Bold, the new Duke of Burgundy, finally took place. Interestingly, it was the Earl of Warwick who escorted Margaret on the first stage of her wedding journey, from the Palace of the Royal Wardrobe, through the streets of London. Given his known opposition to the marriage, this is very enlightening. It suggests that Warwick was compelled by the king to conduct himself in this way, in an outward display of public approval. Retrospectively, it also suggests that Warwick’s (and Clarence’s) earlier public roles in respect of Elizabeth Woodville’s acceptance as queen had probably been performed under compulsion – as the king’s way of forcing them to publicly accept something which he knew they privately opposed.

George, Duke of Clarence subsequently accompanied his sister and other members of the royal family on the next stage of Margaret’s wedding journey, from London into Kent. But neither he nor his brothers left England. Once again, it was the queen’s brother, Anthony, Lord Scales, who performed the key role, of accompanying Margaret across the sea, and presenting her to her new husband.

While the wedding party – which included Elizabeth Talbot, Duchess of Norfolk and her brother, Sir Humphrey Talbot – was in the Low Countries, an important event took place very quietly in Norfolk. There Eleanor Talbot died in June 1468. Superficially, perhaps, her death made things easier for the king, who must have greeted this news with a sense of relief. Once the Duchess of Norfolk returned to England in July, and Eleanor was safely buried in the choir of the Norwich Carmel, Edward probably thought he was now safe on the matrimonial front. Meanwhile, his government took quiet but firm action during the inquests into Eleanor’s land holdings which inevitably followed her demise, to conceal the fact that in the early stages of their relationship, Edward IV had apparently granted Eleanor royal estates.


1. The term ‘salic law’ really means the early medieval Frankish law code as a whole. However, in English (as here) this term is often used to refer to a single item of the code: the rule of patrilineality, or agnatic succession.

2. Wavrin, pp.458–9. The date of 1464 in the margin of the published edition is the date assigned by the editor, not Wavrin’s own date. Nevertheless, it does seem that Wavrin has confused the dates of events slightly at this point.

3. Ellis, Polydore Vergil’s English History, p.120.

4. Scofield, vol 1, p.417; FFPC, p.30 and n.98.

5. Wilkinson, Richard: The Young King to Be, p.145, citing CCR 1461–1468, pp.456–7.

6. Wavrin, p.543.

7. Ibid.

8. Wavrin writes: Quant le comte de Warewic vey le duc de Clarence il luy fist tres grant chiere car il desiroit de parler a luy. Lequel duc recheut les ambaxadeurs moult honnourablement comme bien le scavoit faire (Wavrin, pp.544–5).

9. Ibid, pp.458–9.

10. Ibid, pp.546–7.

11. Howard’s initial interest in Richard may have been inspired by Edward IV’s temporary grant to Richard of de Vere estates. Elizabeth Howard, dowager Countess of Oxford was Howard’s cousin, and he seems to have been closely involved in her business interests [MB].

12. HHB I, p.409.

13. J. Ashdown-Hill, “‘Yesterday my Lord of Gloucester came to Colchester …”’, pp.212–17.

14. Ibid, p.213.

15. Wavrin, pp.458–9.

16. Ibid, pp.547–8.

17. CSPM, p.122.

18. ODNB, ‘Neville, Richard, 16th Earl of Warwick’.

19.,_1st_Earl_Rivers (consulted March 2013).

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