Edward’s parents Isobel Neville and George Plantagenet, Duke and Duchess of Clarence. From the Latin Version of the Rous Roll. With thanks to the Heraldry Society.
Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick was born at Warwick Castle on the 25 February 1475. Among his godparents were Edward IV, who created him Earl of Warwick, and John Strensham, Abbot of Tewkesbury (1). His father was George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, his mother Isobel Neville, daughter of Richard Neville, the great Earl of Warwick who would become known as the Kingmaker. Kings he had for uncles – Edward IV, Richard III and his aunt was Queen Anne Neville. This noble lineage would not prevent him from being among those numbered as the saddest victims of the Wars of the Roses and was indeed the catalyst for it.
Edward Earl of Warwick. His feet rest on the bear of Warwick unmuzzled and the Clarence black bull (described elsewhere in Glover’s transcript as the Dun Cow of Warwick). From the Rous Roll. No contemporary portrait exists of Edward and this drawing is from Rous’ imagination as he would not have seen him as the older boy depicted here.
Edward’s tragic destiny was to be beheaded in 1499 aged just 24 after many years of imprisonment. Alas his sister Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury was to also to share the same fate in 1541 another victim of the Plantagenet blood that coursed through her veins. Margaret’s life is told elsewhere and whereas she did live long enough to marry and raise children, Edward was to have no semblance of a normal life once he reached the age of 10 years old. This was when, now an orphan and his uncle, Richard III, having fallen at Bosworth in August 1485 he was brought down to London with his cousin Elizabeth of York from what appears to have been a royal nursery at Sheriff Hutton Castle, Yorkshire. To begin with he stayed with Elizabeth at Margaret Beaufort’s London home, Coldharbour, where she had recently had renovation work carried out, including new wardrobes, in readiness for her son’s future bride’s stay there (2). However in 1486 on the order of Henry VII, Edward now aged 11, was sent to the Tower of London where he would live out the remainder of his life although not held in an actual cell, one would hope, certainly in even stricter confinement, a prisoner with no freedom of movement. Perhaps once there his education was so poor, even non existant or just merely a lack of companions and stimulation that it was said “out of all company of men, and sight of beasts, in so much that he could not discern a goose from a capon’. Thus wrote Tudor Chronicler Edward Hall although we do not know whether this meant that Edward was mentally deficient in some way or just merely naive and childlike.
But I have galloped too far ahead here and to return to Edward’s younger years when his life would have been one of luxury and indulgence. There are reasons to believe that his parents marriage was a happy one based upon, as far as we know , George did not have any illegitimate children, something rare for a 15th century nobleman and his distress and agitation on Isobel’s death. A further indication of George’s enduring love ‘and sense of loss’ for Isobel may be that when he and his surviving children were admitted to the guild of the Holy Cross at Stratford upon Avon six months after her death, Isobel was enrolled posthumously (3). Thus his very early years would probably have been cheerful as he grew up in the bosom of a loving family although of necessity one or both of his parents may have not always been around. Tragedy was to strike on the 22nd December 1476 when his mother was to die at Warwick Castle, aged 25 a few weeks after giving birth in the new infirmary at Tewkesbury Abbey. The baby, a boy who had been named Richard, was to follow his mother to her grave soon after on the Ist January 1477. Here the plot thickens. George believed that Isobel and baby Richard had been poisoned. He accused one of her servants, Ankarette Twynho of the murder of Isobel by giving her poisoned ale on the 10 October 1476. This a story that still remains shrouded in mystery and is deserving of fuller investigation. Ankarette, who was not arrested until four months after the death of Isobel, which is puzzling in itself, was hanged for Isobel’s murder on the 15 April 1477. But prior to Ankarette’s arrest and execution and in the immediate aftermath of his wife’s death, George had attempted to get his small son out of the country. Indeed it is suggested by the late historian John Ashdown-Hill that George spent some time in Ireland. He had requested help from amongst others, John Strensham, the Abbot of Tewkesbury, to get Edward abroad to perhaps Flanders or Ireland. The intention was, it is said, to replace the not yet two year old Edward with a changeling child (which would not have been too difficult with such a young child and one that would not have been recognisable by many other than those who lived and worked in Warwick Castle). This request, it was said, was refused. This plot would be one of the charges listed in the Act of Attainder against George. Edward IV obviously thought it quite unacceptable and not on that George should seek to get his small son out of England to safety even though he had genuinely believed, which seems the case, that his wife and baby son had both been murdered. The Act contains the following wording :
‘And also, the same Duke purposyng to accomplisse his said false and untrue entent, and to inquiete and trouble the Kynge, oure said Sovereigne Lorde, his Leige People and this his Royaulme, nowe of late willed and desired the Abbot of Tweybury, Mayster John Tapton, Clerk, and Roger Harewell Esquier, to cause a straunge childe to have be brought into his Castell of Warwyk, and there to have beputte and kept in likelinesse of his Sonne and Heire, and that they shulde have conveyed and sent his said Sonne and Heire into Ireland, or into Flaundres, oute of this Lande, whereby he myght have goten hym assistaunce and favoure agaynst oure said Sovereigne Lorde; and for the execucion of the same, sent oon John Taylour, his Servaunte, to have had delyveraunce of his said Sonne and Heire, for to have conveyed hym; the whiche Mayster John Tapton and Roger Harewell denyed the delyveraunce of the said Childe, and soo by Goddes grace his said false and untrue entent was lette and undoon.
John Ashdown-Hill has given us a brief summary in modern English…
‘Clarence had requested the Abbot of Tewkesbury, John Tapton and Roger Harewell to bring a child to Warwick Castle, to impersonate his son the Earl of Warwick, while sending the real Earl of Warwick to Ireland or the Low Countries, to provide a focus for rebellion against Edward IV. Clarence’s servant John Taylour was sent to take the earl abroad, but Tapton and Harewell refused to hand the boy over’.
The Act of Attainder can be found on John Ashdown-Hill’s website along with a full appraisal.
The general consensus that has come down in history is that George failed in his task to get his son to safety and thus at the time of his execution on the 18th February 1478, the three year old Edward was still in England at Warwick Castle. Following on from his father’s execution the small boy was given into the guardianship of Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, Elizabeth Wydeville’s son which was perhaps unfortunate as the Wydevilles and Edward’s father had hated each other. Why does my blood run cold at the thought of this? However it was not all bad as Edward IV’s household accounts include entries for several pairs of expensive shoes and boots for his young nephew which I would have thought was the least he could do considering he had executed the boy’s father, his own brother…
To th’Erle off Warrewyk to have for his were and use, iiij peire of shoon double soled and a peire of shoon of Spaynyssh leder single soled ….2 june 1480.
To th’Erle off Warrewyk to have of the yifte of oure said Souverain Lorde the Kyng for his use and were, a peire of shoon single soled of blue leder, a paire of shoon of Spaynyssh leder, a paire of botews of tawny Spaynyssh leder; and ij paire shoon single soled…24 july 1480
In 1483 following the death of Edward IV, Edward was present at the coronation of the new king, Richard III, and knighted at the investiture of Richard’s son as Prince of Wales at York. Life would have seemed to have suddenly become rather brighter for the young Edward who according to Mancini was placed for a time in the care of his maternal aunt, now Queen Anne Neville, prior to being sent to join the other royal children at Sheriff Hutton. Anne was to die on the 16th March 1485 and as touched upon above, Edward’s paternal uncle, Richard III, was to die at the battle of Bosworth 22 August 1485. Edward was utterly alone. Those who had a genuine care in the welfare of Edward were now practically all gone. The few who still lived such as his grandmother Cicely Neville, his sister Margaret or his cousin Elizabeth of York would have been powerless to intercede on behalf of the parentless boy. Immediately in the aftermath of Bosworth Henry Tudor had despatched Robert Willoughby to bring the Plantagenet royal children to London. As mentioned above Edward, Elizabeth of York as well as the young Edward Stafford, were taken to Margaret Beaufort’s London home, Coldharbour. He was now in the hands of the new Tudor king’s mother, who ‘acted as a jailer on behalf of her son (5)’. Blood running cold again! Sometime in 1486 on the order of Henry VII, Edward, now aged 11, was sent to the more secure Tower of London where he would live out the remainder of his life.
Coldharbour. Stood in Upper Thames Street. Removed from the College of Heralds by Henry Tudor and given to his mother Margaret Beaufort. It was to here that some of the Plantagenet children were taken in the aftermath of Bosworth.
Much ink has been expended on whether George did somehow manage successfully to spirit Edward away to safety, only for him to reappear in 1487 to be crowned king Edward VI at a coronation held in Dublin. The young lad who was to all intents and purposes Edward Earl of Warwick languishing in the Tower was paraded through the streets of London to St Paul’s Cathedral in an attempt to quash this story. As John Ashdown-Hill points out in his book about Edward and Lambert Simnel ‘The Dublin King’ there were among those that attended the Dublin Coronation many who believed that the boy they were crowning was indeed Edward Earl of Warwick including Gerald, the Earl of Kildare. To muddy already muddy waters further in an act, which up to the present time has never been clarified fully, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, Richard III’s adult and capable nephew who it is believed Richard may have nominated as his heir should he die at Bosworth – which he did – inexplicably backed the Dublin king, i.e. Edward Earl of Warwick’s claim to the throne as opposed to himself making a claim to the throne. This is quite extraordinary, given that his claim to the throne could be looked upon as superior to Edward’s, as well as he was an adult and better placed to take the throne and actually be able to hang on to it. Unfortunately Lincoln did not leave a diary explaining his actions and if he had a Plan B neither did Richard III leave a will that has survived. Of course an explanation could be that Richard on the eve of Bosworth, named Edward as his heir should the battle go badly. This would mean that a loyal Lincoln was obeying Richard’s wishes honourably instead of making a sneaky try for the throne himself. We will never know. But what is clear is that after Richard’s death, the new king Henry VII viewed Edward Earl of Warwick as someone who posed a dangerous threat and could possibly be used as a future figurehead for dissident Yorkists or had even heard that Richard had named him as his heir on the eve of Bosworth. Edward’s fate, tragically, was sealed.
In 1499 Edward was accused of plotting with Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury, one of the ‘missing princes’. Warbeck was also housed, conveniently, in the Tower of London and apparently able to communicate, again conveniently, with Edward whereupon they planned their escape. To be honest this sounds rather too good to be true if viewed from Henry VII’s perception being a win win situation for him. Two birds with one stone as they say! It is possible, and a thought hard to brook, that a guileless Edward was purposefully ensnared in a plot with a more foolhardy and desperate Warbeck that would lead to both their trials and executions. In other words they, especially Edward, were stitched up like kippers If Edward was indeed a little backward this would make it even more crueler and even today causes a little shiver at the sheer cold bloodedness of it. It has been suggested that Katherine of Aragon’s parents, the Spanish king and queen demanded that Edward was put out of the way before they agreed the marriage of their daughter to Henry Tudor’s heir, Arthur. Whether this is true or not Edward was beheaded on Tower Hill on the 28th November 1499. His remains would be taken to Bisham Priory to be interred near to where so many illustrious Nevilles, including his grandfather, the Kingmaker, lay at rest. So passed the son of George, Duke of Clarence or did he? George’s daughter Margaret was shockingly to suffer the same fate 40 years later. Thus perished the last scions of the House of Plantagenet.
Margaret Pole née Plantagenet – Edward’s sister who shared the same fate as he did. Margaret was beheaded at the Tower of London on the 27 May 1541. The little barrel on her bracelet symbolises the butt of malmsey legend says her father was drowned in.
To those who wish to delve further into this intriguing but somewhat confusing story I would recommend reading John Ashdown-Hill’s The Dublin King where it is discussed and examined at length.
1. False, Fleeting Perjur’d Clarence p.126 M A Hicks
2. On some London Houses of the early Tudor Period. C I Kingsford. Archaeologia 1920-1.
3. False, Fleeting, Perjur’d Clarence p.128. M A Hicks
4. Ibid p.166.M A Hicks
5. The King’s Mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort p.67 James and Underwood. Cambridge 1992.
If you have enjoyed this post you might also like :