18 February 1478: the Duke of Clarence meets a sticky end
Edward IV’s brother is apparently drowned in a barrel of wine
Even by the standards of medieval England, George, Duke of Clarence met a colourful end. “Take him on the costard with the hilts of thy sword,” says one of his two murderers in Shakespeare’s play Richard III, “and then throw him into the malmsey-butt in the next room.”
And so, for generations, the stage-Clarence has been stabbed repeatedly (“Take that, and that”) before being dragged away to the barrel of sweet wine. “I’ll drown you in the malmsey-butt within,” says the First Murderer.
So who was Clarence? The short answer is that he was the brother of the Yorkist king Edward IV, but that doesn’t convey his ambitious, slippery personality. During the 1460s he had been Edward’s heir, but then they fell out. First Clarence joined Warwick the Kingmaker’s rebellion; then he changed sides again and returned to Edward.
For the next six years or so, the two men managed to rub along. But by 1477 Edward’s wife had had two sons, and Clarence’s hopes of the succession were gone. He floated the idea of marrying the Duke of Burgundy’s daughter, but Edward vetoed it.
And then, that summer, their relationship broke down completely. Clarence was dragged into the Tower of London, charged with “unnatural, loathly treasons”. For months he lingered; then, on 18 February 1478, he was executed.
Was he really drowned in a butt of sweet wine? Writing only five years later, the Italian visitor Dominic Mancini said so. And who would invent such a bizarre story?
Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries
18 February 1268
At the battle of Wesenberg in modern-day Estonia, the knights of the Livonian Order and an alliance of Russian princes fought to a bloody standstill.
18 February 1461
Birth in Sheffield of Harry Brearley, the metallurgist who pioneered the commercial development of martensitic stainless steel for use in the manufacture of cutlery.
18 February 1609
Birth in Wiltshire of Edward Hyde, later First Earl of Clarendon. He began the 1640s as a moderate opponent of King Charles I but, as the constitutional demands of some in Parliament became more extreme, he gradually drifted into Royalism. He advised the King during the Civil War and later became Charles II's lord chancellor before being forced into exile in 1667. While in exile he completed his famous History of the Rebellion. His daughter, Anne, was the first wife of the future James II and mother of Queens Mary and Anne.
18 February 1612
18 February 1797
A British force under Sir Ralph Abercromby captured Trinidad.
18 February 1838
Birth in Moravia of Ernst Mach, physicist and developer of the 'Mach number', the ratio of the speed of an object as related to the speed of sound.
18 February 1861
At the Alabama State Capitol building in Montgomery, Jefferson Davis was sworn in as the first and only president of the Confederate States of America.
18 February 1913
Pedro Lascurain became the world’s shortest-serving president when he resigned as president of Mexico after holding office for less than an hour.
18 February 1930
American astronomer Clyde William Tombaugh discovered Pluto. It was initially thought to be the ninth planet in the Solar System but in 2006, after the discovery of similar bodies, it was reclassified as a dwarf planet.