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Duke of Clarence: A title through time


Duke of Clarence and its related titles are substantive titles which have traditionally been awarded to junior members of the British royal family. 

As grand sounding as the title Duke of Clarence is, it is perhaps forever tainted by two previous incumbents. As many Shakespeare scholar’s will remember, the third Duke of Clarence (and last creation in the Peerage of England) was executed for treason during the Wars of the Roses. Drowned – according to legend – in a vat of Malmsey wine. It took 300 years before the name was deemed fit for use again, when Prince William became the first Duke of Clarence and St Andrews before he became King William IV. The title became tarnished once again when Prince Albert Victor, or ‘Eddy’ as he was known, was named Duke of Clarence and Avondale and later got embroiled in a scandal involving a gay brothel and was even suggested as a candidate for notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper. Since then, the use of Duke of Clarence has remained extinct, with no holders of the title since 1892. 

We take a look at the holders of the title of Duke of Clarence through history:

First creation – Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence (1362)

The title Duke of Clarence was first created for Lionel of Antwerp, the second surviving son of King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, in 1362. Since Lionel died without male issue, the title became extinct.

In 1352 Lionel married Elizabeth de Durgh, 4th Countess of Ulster, the sole heiress in a female line of Gilbert de Clare, 8th Earl of Gloucester. The title is said to originate from the town of Clare, Suffolk, which was owned by Lionel. His wife Elizabeth was a direct descendant of the previous owners, the de Clares, and the Manor of Clarence was among the lands which she brought to her husband. The Clarence was the Clare estates.

It is believed that Lionel had an athletic build and grew to seven feet tall. After Elizabeth died in 1363, a second marriage was arranged with Violante Visconti, daughter of Galeazzo Visconti, lord of Pavia. They were married in Milan in June 1368, but shortly after Lionel was taken ill at Alba and died on 17 October 1368. At the time, there was speculation that he may have been poisoned by his father-in-law, although this has never been proven.

Second creation – Thomas of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Clarence (1412)

The title was recreated for Thomas of Lancaster in 1412, the second son of King Henry IV of England and his first wife, Mary de Bohun and brother of King Henry V. In late 1411 Thomas married Lady Margaret Holland, Widow of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset, and daughter of Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent. No children were born from this union, though Thomas was stepfather to Margaret’s six children with John Beaufort, who were also his first cousins. Thomas did have a natural, illegitimate son, Sir John Clarence (known as ‘Bastard of Clarence’) who fought alongside his father in France.

When Henry IV became ill in 1411, Thomas’s older brother, Henry, became head of the royal council. However, conflicts arose between the young Henry and his father when the prince gathered support for his policy of declaring war on France. The King removed the young Henry from the council and Thomas was given his brother’s seat. 

Prince Henry became King upon the death of Henry IV in 1413. As Henry V, he embarked upon war with France in 1415 in the ongoing Hundred Years’ War and during these wars Thomas fought in the Siege of Rouen. Heir to the throne in the event of his brother’s death, Thomas was left in charge of English forces when Henry temporarily returned to France after his marriage to Catherine of Valois. Thomas led the English in their disastrous defeat at the hands of the mainly Scottish force aiding the French at the Battle of Baugé in 1421. In a rash attack during the battle, Thomas and his knights were overwhelmed and soon surrounded. Unhorsed by Scottish knight Sir John Carmichael, Thomas was killed on the ground by Sir Alexander Buchanan.

Although Thomas’ son John accompanied his father’s remains from Baugé to Canterbury for their interment, the title Duke of Clarence became extinct upon Thomas’ death because he had no legitimate male issue.

Third creation – George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence (1461)

Born on 21 October 1449 in Dublin, George Plantagenet was the third surviving son of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, and Cecily Neville and the brother of English Kings Edward IV and Richard III. Having been born during a time when his father was challenging Henry VI for the crown, George played a central role in the Wars of the Roses, the dynastic struggle between the two rival branches of the House of Plantagenet; the red rose House of Lancaster and white rose House of York.

George was made Duke of Clarence in 1461, the year his elder brother Edward, became King of England following the deposition of Henry VI. He was also invested as a Knight of the Garter, and in 1462 he received the Honour of Richmond, a lifetime grant but without the peerage title of Earl of Richmond. The same year he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

Though a member of the House of York, at different times in his life was had apparently been both a Yorkist and a Lancastrian. George had been mentioned as a possible husband for Mary, daughter of Charles the Bold, but coming under the influence of his first cousin Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (the ‘Kingmaker’), he was married to Warwick’s elder daughter Isabel in 1469.

George had actively supported his elder brother’s claim to the throne, but was concerned over Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. When his father-in-law deserted Edward IV and allied with Margaret of Anjou, consort of the deposed King Henry VI, George supported him and the plans to restore Henry on the throne.  As a result George was deprived of his office as Lord Lieutenant.

Realising that Warwick planned to bypass him and that his loyalty to his father-in-law had been misplaced, George reconciled with Edward. When Warwick was killed by Edward’s army at the Battle of Barnet, George inherited part of the Warwick estate, alongside his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who had married George’s sister-in-law, the widowed Anne Neville. George was then created first Earl of Warwick on 25 March 1472.

George’s wife, Isabel, died in December 1476. George was convinced that Isabel had been poisoned and accused one of her ladies-in-waiting of having murdered her. He had the lady, Ankarette Twynyho, tried, found guilty and hanged. The death of Isabel left George a young widower, and unsurprisingly he considered the possibility of remarriage. George found himself a suitor once again for the hand of Mary, who was now Duchess of Burgundy but this match was opposed by Edward and George left the court. 

Traditional accounts of George’s downfall suggest that it finally came about because George got involved in another rebellion against his brother Edward. George’s connections to a case of supposed high treason involving Oxford astronomer Dr John Stacey, Thomas Blake and Thomas Burdett had dire long-term consequences and resulted in Edward summoning George to Windsor and ordering his immediate arrest and confinement. George was not present at his trial, but the case presented by Edward himself alleged that George had fed rumours that Edward was a bastard, the product of an illicit union between Duchess Cecily of York and an archer, Blaybourne; that the king used the ‘black arts’ to corrupt his subjects and that he cast doubts on the validity of Edward's marriage to the queen, Elizabeth Woodville. 

Found guilty of high treason, George was ‘privately executed’ at the Tower of London on 18 February 1478. Whilst the circumstances of his death are shrouded in mystery (some say that he was beheaded or murdered by his brother Richard III), soon after the event a rumour circulated that George had, in fact, been executed by being drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine – an act chillingly portrayed in Shakespeare’s Richard III and for which some credible historical evidence exists. 

As George was executed, his Duke of Clarence title was forfeited. 

A fourth creation of Duke of Clarence was suggested in England, and planned to take effect in 1553. It was going to be given to Lord Guildford Dudley, husband of Lady Jane Grey, upon her coronation as she declined to make her husband king consort. However, she was famously deposed after just nine days, before the title could take effect.

Two double dukedoms – Clarence and St Andrews and Clarence and Avondale – were later created for British royal princes.

Double dukedom 1 – Prince William, Duke of Clarence and St Andrews (1789)

The third son of King George III and Queen Charlotte, Prince William was born on 21 August 1765. Having two elder brothers, George and Frederick, he was not expected to inherit the Crown, but succeeded his elder brother George IV as king in 1830. 

In his youth William served in the Royal Navy and was nicknamed the ‘Sailor King’, serving in North America and the Caribbean. William sought to be made a duke like his brothers, and receive a similar parliamentary grant, but his father was reluctant. In order to put pressure on the king, William threatened to stand for the House of Commons for the constituency of Totnes, Devon. To prevent this, in 1789 George III created him Duke of Clarence and St Andrews and Earl of Munster. The reason why William was given a double dukedom was because following the Union of the Crowns in 1603, holders of the title Duke of Clarence were also given titles including Scottish place names.

Since his two elder brothers died without leaving legitimate issue, William inherited the throne in 1830 when he was 64 years old and all of his honours merged with the crown. Several reforms occurred during his reign: the poor law was updated, child labour restricted, slavery abolished in nearly all of the British Empire, and the British electoral system was refashioned in 1832. 

Despite having ten illegitimate children by the actress Dorothea Jordan, William had no legitimate living issue so the Crown of the United Kingdom passed to his niece, Princess Victoria of Kent, the only child of Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent, William’s younger brother.

Double dukedom 2 – Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale (1890)

Prince Albert Victor was the eldest child of the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) and grandson of the reigning British monarch, Queen Victoria. From birth, Albert was second in line to the British throne, but he never became king as he died before both his father and his grandmother.

Known to his family and later royal biographers as ‘Eddy’, he was a popular and charismatic figure. When young, he travelled the world extensively as a naval cadet and then joined the British Army as an adult, but did not undertake any active military duties. 

Albert’s intellect, sexuality and mental health have all been the subject of rumour and speculation. Nowadays he is primarily known as suspect in the 1888 Jack the Ripper murders and for his alleged involvement in the 1889 Cleveland Street Scandal. 

The suggestion that ‘Eddy’ was Jack the Ripper was first made in 1962 in a book by Phillipe Jullien, who made reference to rumours that Albert and the Duke of Bedford were responsible for the murders. Then in 1970 an article by Dr Thomas Stowell in the Criminologist pointed the finger at Albert without actually naming him, instead using the letter ‘S’ to refer to the suspect. Unsurprisingly, the media jumped on the story and these conspiracy theories have led to several fictional portrayals of Albert as a person of interest in the Jack the Ripper murders. However, these claims are now widely dismissed as contemporary documents show that Albert could not have been in London at the time of the murders. 

In 1889 rumours also linked Albert to the Cleveland Street scandal. In July 1889 the Metropolitan Police uncovered a homosexual brothel operated by Charles Hammond in London’s Cleveland Street. The male prostitutes and pimps revealed the names of their clients under police interrogation, implicating several high-ranking figures, including Lord Arthur Somerset, an Extra Equerry to the Prince of Wales. Rumours swept upper-class London of the involvement of a member of the royal family, namely Prince Albert Victor. Although the prostitutes had not named him, it is suggested that Somerset’s solicitor fabricated the rumours in order to take the heat off his client. Although there is no conclusive proof either way, the rumours, ensuing scandal and cover-up did little to improve Eddy’s reputation. Even after his death fanciful theories continued to swirl, such as: he died of syphilis or poison, was pushed off a cliff on the instructions of Lord Randolph Churchill or that his death was faked to remove him from the line of succession. In late 1891 Albert was engaged to be married to Princess Mary of Teck, but just a few weeks later he died during an influenza pandemic. Mary later married his younger brother George, who became King George V in 1910.

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