18th February 1478
Malmsey is a sweet wine from Madeira that was very much enjoyed by English nobles in the 15th Century. The name is thought to come from the port of Monemvasia, a bustling Greek port and became strongly associated with the fortified wine. Malmsey is a corruption of that name. One of its claims to fame is the connection it has to the death of a brother of the King of England.
George, Duke of Clarence was well known as an alcohol lover, this wine in particular, and this might account for his lack of political nous and scheming. George was the one of the younger brothers of Edward IV, the Yorkist King. He had many vices other than a love for this wine – disloyalty and naked ambition were two of them.
He had plotted with many people during his brother’s reign and had been pardoned on more than one occasion. After being told he could not marry Isabel Neville, eldest daughter and heir to his cousin the Earl of Warwick’s massive estates, he fled, with Warwick, the Kingmaker, to France and allied himself with Louis XII of France. However he soon re-ingratiated himself with his brother and Warwick was later killed at the battle of Barnet in 1471. George did eventually marry Isabel and produced an heir, Edward, Earl of Warwick.
However George went too far and started rumours that Edward was illegitimate, the product of a union between Duchess Cicely of York and an archer. He also questioned the validity of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. In a time of political uncertainty and unrest due to the civil war between Lancastrians and Yorkists, the Wars of the Roses, Edward could not afford this type of propaganda.
George was arrested and was held in the tower for several months after the Lords of Parliament had tried him in January 1478. Edward was reluctant to execute his own brother for treason. However Parliament urged a speedy end and on 7th February sentence was passed.
Law states that a traitor must be beheaded but tradition has it that he was executed in the Bowyer Tower of the Tower of London by being forcibly and slowly submerged in a vat of the wine at his own request and died with a sweet taste in his mouth.
He was then buried in Tewkesbury Abbey next to his wife, Isabel. A body, thought to be his, was later exhumed and there was no sign of a beheading on the skeleton.
His son, Edward, was also executed 21 years later by Henry VII due to his closeness to the throne. He had been imprisoned in the Tower and attempted an escape with the pretender Perkin Warbeck. Unlike his father though Edward was beheaded.
William Shakespeare in his play Richard III wrote a different story. He put the blame very much on Richard, who was then Duke of Gloucester. By killing George Richard was one step closer to the Kingship himself and then needed only to get rid of the Princes in the Tower – the two sons of Edward IV, Princes Edward and Richard. That is another story.