However skillfully Edward managed the egos of the great men of his realm, Clarence was immune to everything but his own high opinion of himself. He was increasingly incorrigible.
During the years following the deaths of their father and Edmund at Wakefield, from Edward’s triumph at Towton, until the birth of Edward’s son by the upstart, manipulative Elizabeth Woodville, Clarence had been the Yorkist heir apparent.
When Edward’s independence from his guidance alienated Warwick from the king he had supported to the throne, Clarence had become the focus of Warwick’s agenda.
Clarence’s defiant marriage to Isabel changed everything. Warwick would regain his lost prestige and power by elevating his new son-in-law to the throne.
Whatever angel of conscience or self-interest had whispered in Clarence’s ear after Warwick’s treasonous new partnership with Margaret of Anjou, sending him back into Edward’s arms just before the devastation at Barnet, now found no welcome listener.
The death of Warwick threw disposition of his estate into a tangle, since his widow, in sanctuary at Beaulieu Abbey, was entitled to the lion’s share. Warwick’s Neville inheritance should have gone to the heir-at-law, his brother John’s son George, Duke of Bedford.
Traitors, dead, neither Warwick or his brother John was attainted, which was ultimately in the Duke of Bedford’s favor, for he got to keep at least a part of his patrimony. However, the ensuing legal malarkey and shenanigans Edward fiddled through Parliament were scarcely honorable as the king chose to protect his brothers’ interests.
Ultimately, the Dowager Duchess of Warwick was shorn of her inheritance and the spoils divided equally. Two years later, with Edward’s approval, Richard sent his man, Sir James Tyrell, to remove his mother-in-law from sanctuary and deliver her north, to live with his family at her old home, Middleham.
There was no appeasing Clarence. He was ever suspicious of any favor granted to Gloucester. It made no difference that he was now Earl of Warwick, he didn’t get it all. Half the vaunted fortune walked away with Anne. He had to share with Richard.
In an age (which lasted into the twentieth century in Europe) when anyone who could afford not to drink the water, did not drink water, Clarence was a notorious drunk.
Wine, beer, ale – who drank which beverage depended on the extent of his budget. The strength of the alcohol ingested was not nearly as profound as must be printed on a label today: think soda pop with a definite kick. It took a lot of juice to get truly juiced.
The king was known to party. He was even beginning to put on weight from excess of indulgence, but the king was still capable of running the country.
Clarence was just a plain drunk. He was, it became increasingly apparent, a talkative, mean drunk.
Always helpful, Louis XI passed along rumors that Clarence was behind whispered gossip claiming that Edward was illegitimate.
As he had for years, Edward appeared to be unaffected by Clarence’s continuing, petty nose-thumbing and suspected libels.
At the end of 1476, two months after the birth of her second son and three days before Christmas, Isobel Neville, Countess of Warwick, died.
On January 1, 1477, Clarence’s three month old son, Richard, followed his mother to the grave. That same month, Edward and Elizabeth Woodville welcomed a third son, George, who was destined to live only two years.
Clarence was free to marry. His sister in Burgundy suggested a match with her young stepdaughter. The king of Scotland offered his sister.
Edward wasn’t having any. The last thing he needed was Clarence gaining the resources to grandiosely plan snatching the Stone of Scone, throne and all, out from under him.
Clarence stewed. Literally.
In April, Clarence took it into his head that Isabel’s lady in waiting, Annette Twynho, had poisoned her. An “accomplice” was tortured into confessing. Eighty men were sent to arrest the woman at her home and deliver her to trial.
The intimidated jury found the two guilty, and both were immediately taken out and hanged.
In mid-May, Thomas Burdett, one of Clarence’s retainers, Oxford astronomer John Stacey, and astronomer Thomas Blake, chaplain of the college of Merton at Oxford, were tried by a special commission for predicting the early deaths of the king and Prince of Wales and using magic to attempt to carry out the same. A week later, they were found guilty. The Bishop of Norwich interceded for Blake, saving him, but Stacey and Burdett were executed at Tyburn the next day.
With Edward at Windsor, Clarence interrupted a meeting of the council at Westminster to vehemently protest the executions, causing a terrific fuss.
That was it for Edward. He returned to London to confront Clarence for his usurpation of the royal prerogative in trying and executing Twynho and her presumed accomplice. Whatever hot words were exchanged, Clarence’s freedom was soon forfeit. A month later, he was arrested and conveyed to the Tower.
The following January, Parliament met to arraign Clarence on charges of high treason. Edward made an unprecedented appearance to act as prosecutor, producing a damning Bill of Attainder. He reminded the assemblage of the great patience he had long practiced in regard to his brother’s irrational behavior. Clarence, he asserted, had consistently proved a traitor to their blood bond in defying his king.
Clarence grandiosely offered to prove his innocence in trial by combat.
Gloucester refused to participate in the sham. Buckingham, as second peer of the realm, was pressed into service as Steward, to pronounce sentence. Guilty.
It was over.
Ten days later, the Speaker of the House went to the Lords to demand that sentence be carried out. Within twenty-four hours, by whatever means, but very privately, Clarence was dead.
Of the five York brothers, only the oldest and the youngest were left.
1st Duke of Clarence