Tuesday, 12 August 2008

The wine talks

The peace of England that Henry yearned for was, to a great extent, realised in the years following his death.

Gloucester married his beloved Anne and spent most of the time in the north. Edward delegated the government of a large area there to Gloucester, who proved both capable and popular.

The cycle of royal babies, royal mistresses and preferment for the Woodvilles resumed in the south.

One incident marred this steady progress. Clarence was partial to Malmsey wine, and the royal court became accustomed to his drunken orations in the evening. His favourite subject was what he would do if he were king, and he was indulged as a harmless bore setting the world to rights. One night in 1478 his slurred speech took a diversion from its normal course. He began to talk about really becoming king, that when his brother died he would produce evidence that Edward had been married prior to Elizabeth, making Elizabeth's children illegitimate and Clarence the rightful heir to the throne.

To Elizabeth's astonishment, Edward took this outburst seriously and incarcerated Clarence. He was soon joined in prison by Robert Stillington, the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

Edward summoned a rare parliament and asked it to attaint Clarence for treason. The mercenary assembly, thankful that it had not been called to raise any taxes, submitted to the king without asking any questions. Clarence experienced Gilbert and Sullivan justice. He was executed privately, drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine, the punishment fitting the crime.

Stillington received mercy. On interrogation, he pointed out to Edward that he had kept the secret of his prior marriage for many years. Edward, in fairness to this loyalty, accepted his pledge to maintain his secrecy.

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