1478: The Duke of Clarence, in a butt of malmsey

4 comments February 18th, 2014 Jonathan Shipley

(Thanks to Jonathan Shipley of A Writer’s Desk for the guest post. -ed.)

First Murderer

Take him over the costard with the hilts of thy
sword, and then we will chop him in the malmsey-butt
in the next room.

Second Murderer

O excellent devise! make a sop of him.

Shakespeare’s Richard III, Act I, Scene 4

On this day, in 1478, George Plantagenet was executed for treason against his brother King Edward IV — famously supposed (as in Shakespeare’s Richard III) to have been drowned in a butt of malmsey wine.

George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, played an important role in the long-waged War of the Roses, a series of dynastic wars, battles, and skirmishes between 1455 and 1487 between supporters of rival branches of the House of Plantagenet for the English crown: the House of Lancaster versus the House of York.

Plantagenet originally supported his brother’s claim to the throne. Through a series of battles with pro-Lancastrian armies, Edward, of the House of York, advanced towards London with his Yorkish army. Once there, he deposed the Lancastrian King Henry VI to rapturous celebration (London itself leaned Yorkist).

George naturally cashed in with his brother’s accession. He was made a duke. He was invested as a Knight of the Garter.

But one other perk proved butt-ugly for George’s future.

He was married, in 1469, to noblewoman Isabel Neville, daughter of the Earl of Warwick. Warwick was the famous kingmaker of the War of the Roses, whose support was instrumental for Edward IV.

But Edward ill rewarded that support by shockingly marrying a commoner and promoting her family to positions Warwick had intended to control. That drove a wedge between Warwick and Edward … and George Plantagenet went with the father-in-law during an abortive attempt to restore Henry VI.

Warwick died in battle. Edward benevolently restored his treacherous brother George back into royal favor.

But George’s mental state was deteriorating. He also became in inveterate alcoholic.

His wife died a few days before Christmas, 1476. George was convinced that his wife was murdered by her lady-in-waiting, Ankarette Twynyho. Though there was no evidence to support his claim (historians later believed Isabel died of consumption or fever) the court was bullied into hanging Twynyho on George’s accusation.

Soon after, his mental state waning still, the Duke of Clarence allegedly involved himself in another ill-conceived plot to overthrow his brother. He was soon summoned to Edward, was accused of treason and was imprisoned in the Tower of London.*

He was put on trial. The prosector was King Edward IV himself, at whose insistence Parliament attainted the royal brother of “unnatural, loathly treasons.”

Beheaded was the usual mode of execution for treasonous individuals. Not with George, however. No, at the age of 28, George Plantagenet died in his favorite beverage, malmsey wine. “The two of them roll a barrel of malmsey wine into George’s room,” Philappa Gregory writes in The White Queen, “and George the fool makes a joke of it and laughs with his mouth opened wide as if already gasping for air, as his face bleaches white with fear.”

His body was sent, still in the barrel, to Tewkesbury Abbey. He was entombed there beside his late wife, and they still reside there today.

According to the Italian chronicler Dominic Mancini, who was present in England in the 1480s and wrote an account of the fraught English political scene at that time, Edward’s and George’s youngest brother “was so overcome with grief for his brother, that he could not dissimulate so well, but that he was overheard to say that he would one day avenge his brother’s death.”

That grief-stricken sibling was the future Richard III. In a few years’ time would displace the (now-late) Edward IV’s young heirs and send them into history as the lost little Princes in the Tower.

* Clarence’s supposed rebellion is a sketchy bit of palace intrigue. Some have alleged that the whole thing was a pretext to eliminate a claimant who would be in position to argue that Edward’s supposed youthful precontracted marriage excluded the king’s children from succession. In time, Richard III did indeed make this argument.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Drowned,England,Execution,Guest Writers,History,Other Voices,Popular Culture,Power,Put to the Sword,Royalty,Treason

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1757: The Tipplers Revolt leaders

Add comment October 14th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1757, 17 people went to the scaffold over wine prices in Portugal.

The seeds of these hangings had been sown back in 1703 when the Methuen Treaty gave Portuguese wines favorable tariff treatment in exchange for reciprocal advantages exporting English wool to Portugal.* “The Portugal Wines,” Daniel Defoe noted, “became our general Draught all over England” with this arrangement, since the deal enabled those libations to undercut French claret.

A nearly thirtyfold boom in wine shipments in the first half of the 18th century brought conflict over the proceeds. Struggling to keep up with demand, some growers adulterated the product, causing friction between the English export “Factors”** and the Portuguese producers.

With this profitable but acrimonious relationship at its most tense point, the authoritarian Marquis de Pombal introduced a royal agency charged with quality control — an act that also made Portugal’s Douro wine region the world’s first demarcated regional appellation. Pombal’s quality control regime, in turn, caused prices for the now-unadulaterated wine to spike.

While this triggered more complaints from the unappeasable British Factors, price changes also hit much closer to home: everyday Portuguese also found the price of regular table wine suddenly rising to their considerable consternation. Take away the wine from your populace at your peril.

On the morning of February 23, 1757, taverngoers and -keepers in Porto marched the streets of Porto in opposition to the royal monopoly, and the protests turned violent: a judge was roughed up, and some property vandalized.

Pombal suppressed ruthlessly this “Tipplers’ Riot” or “Tipplers’ Revolt” (the term “revolt” seems like an overstatement).

On October 14 of that same year, 13 men and four women involved in the mob were put to death in a Porto clapped under martial law. Dozens of others were sent to the galleys, exiled to Portugal’s colonies, or stripped of their property. Pombal, as was his wont, got his way … and the lucrative Methuen Treaty impressively persisted until 1840.

* Part of a larger strategic arrangement joining England, Holland and Austria against Spain and France.

** British exporters of the general Draught were collectively known as the “Factors”; their 1790 trade association and gentleman’s club building, the Factory House, is still to be seen in the city of Porto. “Adulterations” included the addition of grape brandy to stabilize the wine shipment, a practice that subsequently became accepted — and indeed, characteristic of port wine.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Portugal,Power,Public Executions

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