The Betrayal: George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence

Although eventually George Plantagenet (Duke of Clarence) would betray his brother (King Edward IV), originally Edward was George’s maker. Edward rapidly raised George up from irrelevant third brother to his heir. When Edward IV became king, he was single, without any children. As a result, his heir was his closest brother: the twelve-year old George. Edward soon lavished many titles on him, including the dukedom of Clarence. [This article is part of the Theon and Clarence series. See here. ]

George also was given more honors and material wealth than his brother Richard. In September 1462, George had four pages; Richard had none.1 Throughout the 1460s, Edward arranged for George to live like a junior king. Not only did George have an enormous household that far surpassed any other magnates, but Edward also ensured that George had an exceptionally lavish wardrobe and goods to clearly convey his status, including vast quantities of luxuries: Venetian cloth of gold, silks from Damascus, hats from Cologne, ermine and sable furs, velvets, sarsenet, wool, leather, baldachin, and featherbeds.2 After all, the magnificence of Edward’s heir reflected directly on the king himself.

In addition to wealth, George was quickly given near pre-eminence. When he was thirteen years old, he attended a gathering of the Order of the Garter – quite lofty company since the others present where the king, two earls, and eight barons. At fifteen, George led Elizabeth Woodville’s coronation procession in his role as Steward of England.3 And at 16, he acted as the commissioner of a treason trial4 .

Young Edward IV

Edward IV: The betrayed brother

As a result of all of this royal largesse, George’s expectations shifted to ones of entitlement and, perhaps, even anticipation. George, it seems, quickly came to understand his status as the king’s heir and expected superior treatment. Even though Edward gave George far more titles and lands, when the king endowed his brother Richard with the earldom of Richmond, the thirteen-year-old George threw such a jealous tantrum that Edward caved in and gave Richmond to George instead.

George’s status as heir to the throne changed in his late teens after the birth of Edward’s first child, Elizabeth of York – an event Ashdown-Hill likens to the trauma we might experience with the loss of a job.5 George came to not only begrudge the queen’s family but also crave some real power of his own — and perhaps resent the man he saw as preventing him from having it.


Mary of Burgundy (c. 1490) by Michael Pacher

George aspired to a greater role, but Edward was not willing to give him one. George wanted to increase the splendor of his household (and thus his magnificence) — something that was not possible without more revenue. But it seems that George may have also wanted power. If George married a great heiress, he could get more money, lands, titles, and, perhaps, true power over territory.

When George was sixteen (March 1466), English diplomats tried to negotiate a marriage between George and Mary of Burgundy. This would have been a fabulous match for George, since Mary was the only heir to the dukedom of Burgundy. The Burgundians, however, smashed George’s hopes when Charles the Bold responded that he was interested in only a marriage pact between himself and George’s sister, Margaret of York.

Later on, George must have been positively drooling when Warwick brokered a deal with Louis XI to ally against Burgundy and then split the spoils — George would have gotten Holland, Zeeland, and Brabant. This time Edward dashed George’s dreams by rejecting the French alliance and marrying Margaret to Charles.6 At seventeen, George yearned to administer Ireland himself – he was the lieutenant – but his brother sent the Earl of Worcester instead.

George thus began to realize that he had status but no influence. Edward thwarted George’s attempts to increase his territory and wealth by blocking his ability to marry. Worse, his brother might be stalling his marriage just to use him as a diplomatic pawn.

As George became disillusioned with his brother, so too did his cousin, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. At the beginning of Edward IV’s reign, Warwick and Edward were tightly allied. Warwick’s military support put Edward IV on the throne in 1461. This relationship began to crack in the late 1460s, however.


Chronicler Jean de Wavrin created a beautifully illustrated history of England. In this image, Wavrin presents Edward with his manuscript. From the Chronique d’Angleterre in the British Library.

Although twenty years Warwick’s junior, George likely became close to Warwick sometime in the late 1460s. Perhaps, George saw Warwick as a surrogate father figure – after all, he had lost his father at a young age. Warwick reputedly first began trying to align with George in the summer of 1467. According to chronicler, Jean de Wavrin, the two bonded over shared grievances about their king that ranged from how Edward treated that summer’s recent French delegation to their mutual hatred of Woodville dominance.7

On the other hand, George may have always resented Edward; it seems very likely he did not have the same type of emotional bond he would have if they grown up together. Unlike Theon and Robb Stark, many years separated Edward and George. When George was only five (in 1454), the twelve-year old Edward was already living away from home, with his brother Edmund, in their own household at Ludlow.8 When Edward became king at nineteen, George was twelve and probably could not remember ever having lived with Edward. Not only did George live away from court, but Edward’s kingly duties no doubt left him extraordinarily busy.


George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence (painted circa 1700s)

At some point, likely after Warwick’s humiliation when Edward chose to marry his sister Margaret of York to Charles, Duke of Burgundy, Warwick may have approached George about marrying his daughter.

The marriage set George on a course that would lead to a difficult choice. At some point, George had to choose between allying with his emotionally absent brother Edward or his father-in-law (and perhaps father figure), Warwick. George did ultimately choose to join his father-in-law in rebelling against Edward. Edward initially forgave George. Ultimately, however, years later, Edward had George executed – in all likelihood by having him drowned in malmsey wine.

  1. Michael Hicks False, Fleeting, Perjur’d Clarence p. 22 []
  2. Hicks False, Fleeting, Perjur’d Clarence p. 22 []
  3. Ashdown-Hill The Third Plantagenet p. 83 []
  4. On April 22, 1463 for the Order of the Garter and July 18, 1466 for the treason trial. See Hicks p. 26. []
  5. Ashdown-Hill The Third Plantagenet p. 85 []
  6. Hicks p. 42 []
  7. Ashdown-Hill The Third Plantagenet p.94 []
  8. We know Edward was at Ludlow by 1454 from a letter that he and Edmund wrote to their father. See C. Ross Edward IV p. 7 and Plate 1. []

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."


  • Reply May 24, 2014


    It’s hard to be the middle child, and more so in a first son taking all society.

    • Reply May 24, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Agreed – primogeniture is a grossly underdiscussed topic in medieval histories IMO. It is basically the context for everything. Either you were the first son or you were dirt. That’s an exaggeration, but not necessarily much of one. Interestingly, George RR Martin “recontextualizes” primogeniture with his emphasis on this theme, even in namings like the “Second Sons”.

  • Reply March 28, 2015


    Reading “The War of the Roses” so this very good article fit right into my current history mode. Thanks.

    • Reply April 1, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      Thanks! I’ve been reading Dan Jones’ War of the Roses as well – I assume that’s the one you meant. I’ve been particularly enjoying his discussion of the political climate in the 1450s. It’s a great book.

      • Reply April 1, 2015


        We are discussing the same book. Well researched and interesting to read.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.