Monday, February 18, 2013

The Butt of Malmsey in the Tower of London

CLARENCE: O, I have passed a miserable night,
So full of fearful dreams, of ugly sights,
That, as I am a Christian faithful man,
I would not spend another such night
Though 'twere to buy a world of happy days--
So full of dismal terror was the time.
Methoughts that I had broken from the Tower
And was embarked to cross the Bergundy,
And in my company my brother Gloucester,
Who from my cabin tempted me to walk
Upon the hatches: thence we looked toward England
And cited up a thousand heavy times,
During the wars of York and Lancaster,
That had befall'n us. As we paced along
Upon the giddy footing of the hatches,
Methought that Gloucester stumblèd, and in falling
Struck me (that thought to stay him) overboard
Into the tumbling billows of the main.
O Lord! methought what pain it was to drown!
What dreadful noise of waters in mine ears!
What sights of ugly death within mine eyes!
Methoughts I saw a thousand fearful wracks;
A thousand men that fishes gnawed upon;
Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl,
Inestimable stones, unvaluèd jewels,
All scatt'red in the bottom of the sea:
Some lay in dead men's skulls, and in the holes
Where eyes did once inhabit, there were crept
(As 'twere in scorn of eyes) reflecting gems,
That wooed the slimy bottom of the deep
And mocked the dead bones that lay scatt'red by.
I passed (methought) the melancholy flood,
With that sour ferryman which poets write of,
Unto the kingdom of perpetual night.
The first that there did greet my stranger soul
Was my great father-in-law, renownèd Warwick,
Who spake aloud, 'What scourge for perjury
Can this dark monarchy afford false Clarence?'
And so he vanished. Then came wand'ring by
A shadow like an angel, with bright hair
Dabbled in blood, and he shrieked aloud,
'Clarence is come -- false, fleeting, perjured Clarence,
That stabbed me in the field by Tewkesbury:
Seize on him, Furies, take him unto torment!'
With that (methoughts) a legion of foul fiends
Environed me, and howlèd in mine ears
Such hideous cries that with the very noise
I, trembling, waked, and for a season after
Could not believe but that I was in hell,
Such terrible impression made my dream. (Richard III, Act 1, scene iv)

George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, Earl of Warwick, Earl of Salisbury, and Lord of Richmond; brother of King Edward IV and King Richard III, died in the Tower of London on February 18, 1478--murdered and drowned in a butt of malmsey wine, at least according to Shakespeare. He was the third son of Richard of York, the great-grandson of Edward III and Cecily Neville. He had married Isabella Neville, daughter of the Kingmaker, Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick (she died in 1476). Thus their two surviving children, Margaret and Edward, were left to the care of their aunt, Anne Neville until she died in 1485. Both of his children would also be imprisoned in the Tower and taken from it to be executed by the victorious Tudors:

--Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury (14 August 1473 – 27 May 1541). Married Sir Richard Pole; executed by Henry VIII.

--Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick (25 February 1475 – 28 November 1499). Executed by Henry VII for attempting to escape the Tower of London, in connection with the pretender, Perkin Warbeck. Evidently, his close confinement for so many years had made him most naive and unworldly. With his execution, the male line of the House of York was finished.

His older sister would certainly learn more about the world, marrying Henry VII's cousin, Sir Richard Pole, a Welsh Knight so that her Plantagenet claim to the throne would be diminished. (Shakespeare ascribes that arranged marriage to Richard III: "The son of Clarence have I pent up close; /His daughter meanly have I match'd in marriage" (Richard III, Act IV, scene 3). And her sons and daughters would learn much too--as the third generation of her family suffered in the Tower of London.

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