(C. Salisbury)

Born: 14 Aug 1473, Farleigh Castle, Bath, Wiltshire

Acceded: 1499

Died: 27 May 1541, Tower of London, Tower Green, London, England

Buried: St. Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London

Notes: The Complete Peerage v.XIIpII, p393.

Father: George PLANTAGENET (D. Clarence)

Mother: Isabel NEVILLE (D. Clarence)

Married: Richard POLE (Sir Knight) 22 Sep 1494


1. Henry POLE (1° B. Montague)

2. Reginald POLE (Cardinal)

3. Geoffrey POLE (Sir)

4. Arthur POLE (Sir)

5. Ursula POLE

Pole,Margaret(C.Salisbury)02.jpg (29383 bytes)

Born at Castle Farley, near Bath, 14 Aug 1473; daughter of George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence (he of the nosedive in the "butt of almsey"), and Isabel, elder daughter of the Earl of Warwick (the King-maker). When she was five years of age her father met his death in somewhat confusing circumstances for plotting against his brother, Edward IV. Her sickly mother had died the year before so Margaret and her little three-year-old brother, Edward, were left orphaned. Little Margaret and her brother were brought up at Sheen, with the children of the King. At his death, Margaret and Edward, after a short stay at Warwick Castle—their ancestral home—resided for a short time at the Court of Richard III. When the crook-back King's son died, the youthful Earl of Warwick became de jure heir to the Crown, and Margaret, his sister, in the same way, Princess Royal. These short-lived honours, however, ended in 1485, when the victory of Bosworth gave the Throne to the Tudor. Warwick, under Henry VII, paid with his life the penalty of being the last male representative of the Yorkist line (28 Nov 1499). By birth she was of the "ancient Royal House" of Plantagenet, and she had never been declared illegitimate, unlike her first cousins, the "Princes in the Tower".

About 1491 Henry VII gave her in marriage to Sir Richard Pole, whose mother was the half-sister of the king's mother, Margaret Beaufort, and Henry VII's trusted President of the Prince's (then Henry VII's firstborn son, Arthur) Council in Wales. Richard was a landed gentleman of Buckinghamshire and Henry made him a squire of his bodyguard and a Knight of the Garter. He was granted various offices in Wales including the constableships of Harlech and Montgomery Castles and was appointed Sheriff of the county of Merioneth. In addition he held the controllership of the port of Bristol, England’s second largest port and a position of trust and authority.

In 1495 Richard Pole raised troops against Perkin Warbeck and in 1497 he served in the King’s army against the Scots with “five demi-lances and 200 archers” and again “600 men-at-arms, 60 demi-lances and 540 bows and bills”. In about 1500 he was appointed Chief Gentleman of the Bedchamber to Prince Arthur and took control of the Welsh Marches on behalf of the King. At her husband's death in 1505 Margaret without adequate means to support herself and her children, was forced to live at Syon Abbey among Bridgettine nuns. She was left with five children, Richard; Henry; Reginald; Sir Geoffrey; Arthur and Ursula (who would marry Henry Stafford, 1st Baron Stafford). Reginald, was to become cardinal and Archbishop of Canterbury, and also the indirect cause of his mother's martyrdom. Royal blood, even the faintest of drops, was considered a threat by Henry VII and his fledgling Dynasty. (Henry VII 's actions go a long way to cast guilt on him rather than Richard III in the disappearance and murder of the "Lost Princes.") At the time of the Pole boys' birth, all seemed well - their mother was aligned with one of Henry VII's staunchest supporters, and Henry VII himself would produce three sons (Arthur, Henry VIII and Edmund, though two of these boys would never see their 17 birthdays).

Margaret’s relationship with Henry VIII, must have been good. On his accession he granted her an annuity of £100 a year and on 14 Oct 1513 he created her Countess of Salisbury and gave her the family lands of the earldom of Salisbury. Her brother’s attainder was reversed and the Parliament of 1513-14, on the instructions of the new King, made full restitution of all the right of her family. She therefore became an extremely rich lady with lands in Hampshire, Wiltshire, the West Country and Essex. However, Henry did nothing without a price – he had learnt that from his father. There was a heavy charge of redemption money claimed by the King. There is a record that she paid Cardinal Wolsey, the Chancellor, £1000 as first payment of a benevolence of five thousand marks for the King’s wars and, in 1528, she was sued for a further installment of £2,333, 6 shillings and 8 pence – a vast amount of money.

Close friend of Catalina de Aragon, after the birth of the Princess Mary on 18 Feb 1516, Margaret of Salisbury became her sponsor in baptism and confirmation. Two days later the royal daughter was borne in pomp and solemnity to the Church of the Observant Friars at Greenwich and baptized with the name of Mary. The Cardinal was her Godfather, the Lady Catherine of Devon and the Duchess of Norfolk were her Godmothers at the font, and the Countess of Salisbury was her Godmother at the bishop.

Margaret was assigned to Mary's household when the latter was still the pampered, beloved daughter of the King and Queen; she was Mary's first "Lady Mistress" who oversaw and governed Mary's household and acted very much in the capacity of a mother.

Royal children were raised apart from their parents. Royal parents were busy with the business of government, and non-regnant Queens were busy with patronage, childbirth, pleasing their Royal husbands and adorning their Courts. Royal children were not even nursed by their own mothers, but by wet nurses specifically hired for that purpose (and the specifications for such a position were elaborate and exact).

Royal birth demanded a certain style, and rank was recognized by the Royal child, even from infancy, having his or her own household. Once Mary no longer needed a nurse (Lady Bryan, who was, coincidentally, related by marriage to the Boleyns - her husband's first wife was a Boleyn relation) the Countess of Salisbury was honoured with a prominent position in the Lady Princess' household.

Other members of Margaret’s family benefited from the King’s favour. Her eldest son, Henry, was created Baron Montague and much of the lands originally held by the Neville family were conferred on him (for a fee of course). He was referred to as Lord Montague in official documents and was a witness to the great peace Treaty of London in 1518. Young Henry became a member of the royal household and accompanied the King in 1520 to the Field of the Cloth of Gold and also to his meeting with Carlos V of Spain. The family seemed to prosper under the Tudors but what occurred in 1521 was to sow the seeds of disaster.

Margaret’s daughter, Ursula, had married Henry, Lord Stafford in 1501. Henry’s father was Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. Like Margaret, the Duke could claim royal blood on both the male and female line. His grandmother was Margaret Beaufort (not the mother of Henry VII) descended from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and his grandfather was Humphrey, Earl of Stafford, descended from Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, youngest son of Edward III. Both Margaret Pole and Edward Stafford had more royalty in them than any Tudor King. With Henry VIII having only a female child the Duke of Buckingham saw himself as heir to the kingdom. Never a prudent man, the Duke freely voiced his intention to of seizing the throne should Henry die. The King patiently had him watched and early in 1521 he pounced. The Duke was arrested. The House of Lords pronounced him guilty of treason and condemned him as a traitor. In Jul the court moved from Windsor to Easthampstead and Margaret was not allowed to accompany her charge, Princess Mary. She had fallen under suspicion due to her close association with Buckingham. It would be four years before Margaret was reunited with Mary.

In 1525 Margaret went with Mary to Wales and in the summer of 1526 the King visited her great house at Warblington in Hampshire (a single tower of the house still stands). Unfortunately the reconciliation between the King and the Countess was short lived.

Pole,Margaret(C.Salisbury)01.jpg (51183 bytes)

A sketch of Margaret Pole
British Library

Catalina de Aragon often communicated with her daughter through Margaret (it was noted that all Margaret had to say to Mary was "Madam, your mother, would wish..." for the eager-to-please little girl to comply instantly and with good cheer).

But when the matter of the king's divorce began to be talked of Reginald Pole boldly spoke out his mind in the affair and shortly afterwards withdrew from England.

Margaret was allowed to stay with Mary for a while, but then Henry feared that Margaret, a long-time friend and admirer of Catalina, would only serve to strengthen Mary's resolve not to bend to her father's Will, especially where it touched Catalina and Mary's status. A lady was sent from the court to retrieve Mary’s jewellery but Margaret refused to hand them over.

Margaret was dismissed from Mary's service, and thus she begged to remain, and pay for Mary to have a household from her own pockets, Mary was bundled off to serve herself in the household of the new "only" Princess in England, her baby half-sister, Elizabeth. So began Mary's days of abject misery, and Margaret, though she never stopped loving and praying for Mary and her beleagured mother and their cause, disappeared from the Henrican center stage.

Catalina de Aragon and Margaret entertained dreams of a marriage between Reginald (who was not an ordained priest, though he became a Cardinal. It is entirely possible that Reginald did not receive Holy Orders to keep him available as a possible spouse for Mary). These dreams were especially treasured when Carlos V threw over his child cousin Mary to marry another cousin, Isabella of Portugal, who was more of an age to immediately given Carlos an heir (whereas Mary at the time was six years old, and had six years to go before reaching the canonical minimum of twelve).

Catalina, being Spanish, naturally favoured an Imperial alliance for her daughter over a French one, and when it appeared that Henry was not going to engage Mary to a royal spouse at all (he bastardized Mary when Elizabeth was born to his second wife, Anne Boleyn) an escape for Mary and a marriage to Cardinal Pole (who was on the continent and avoiding Henry VIII's wrath - the good Cardinal was publishing papers supporting Catalina's and Mary's cause and deriding Henry) seemed the happiest prospect for her unhappy daughter.

Unfortunately, however far out of reach Cardinal Pole was, his mother was still within Henry's reach, and despite the fact that Margaret had had no contact with Mary and Catalina, she still was witness to the long-ago hopes (and probably still praying for them to see fruition) and, having the blood of the "ancient House of Plantagenet" and ideas of a Tudor- Plantagenet- Pole alliance, was thus seen as a threat to Henry and his new, Mary-less, line of descent. Also, it was hoped, that Cardinal Pole would surrender himself to save his mother, who, despite beiong past seventy, was thrown, along with every other Pole Henry could get his hands on, into the Tower.

She returned to court after the fall of Anne, but in 1540 Reginald Pole sent to Henry his treatise "Pro ecclesiasticæ unitatis defensione", in answer to questions propounded to him in the king's behalf by Cromwell, Tunstall, Starkey, and others. Besides being a theological reply to the questions, the book was a denunciation of the king's courses. Henry was beside himself with rage, and it soon became evident that, failing the writer of the "Defensio", the royal anger was to be wreaked on the hostages in England, and this despite the fact that the countess and her eldest son had written to Reginald in reproof of his attitude and action. She denounced him as a traitor and even expressed her regret that she had given birth to him. Margaret was fighting for her life and those of her family. The previous year such respected men as John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, and Sir Thomas More, once Chancellor of England and a close royal friend, had both met their Maker on Tower Hill for offending this King.

Unluckily, a search of Margaret's home produced a heraldic device entertwining pansies (the symbol of the Poles) with marigolds (one of the symbols of Mary Tudor). Henry VIII went off the deep end when he heard of that, and with Cardinal Pole refusing to return to England, he vented his anger on Margaret, whom once he said he "loved and honoured as [he did] his own Granddame".

In Nov, 1538, two of her sons, Lord Montague and Sir Geoffrey, with the Marquis of Exeter, Edward Neville and Sir Nicholas Carew were arrested on a charge of treason, though Cromwell had previously written that they had "little offended save that he [the Cardinal] is of their kin", they were committed to the Tower, and in Jan, with the exception of Sir Geoffrey, they were executed.

It was now Margaret’s turn. A spy within her household, Gervase Tyndall, was called before Chancellor Cromwell at Lewes and reported circumstances concerning the escape abroad of the Countess’ chaplain, John Helyar, Rector of Warblington. He also spoke of clandestine letters, sent via a Hugh Holland, to Cardinal Pole. William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton and Thomas Goodrike, Bishop of Ely were sent to Warblington to examine the Countess. These reported to Cromwell that although they had "travailed with her" for many hours she would "nothing utter", and they were forced to conclude that either her sons had not made her a sharer in their "treason", or else she was "the most arrant traitress that ever lived". In Southampton's custody she was committed to Cowdray Park, near Midhurst, and there subjected to all manner of indignity.

In the spring of 1539 Margaret was moved from Cowdray to the Tower of London and in May a sweeping Act of Attainder was brought against the dead Montague; Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter; and the Countess. Her house at Warblington was searched and letters and papal bulls found.

In May Cromwell introduced against her a Bill of Attainder, the readings of which were hurriedly got over, and at the third reading Cromwell produced a white silk tunic, embroidered with the arms of England – three lions surrounded by a wreath of pansies and marigolds – which the Earl of Southampton stated was found in one of her coffers at her house. On the back of the garment was embroidered the Five Wounds, and for this, which was held to connect her with the Pilgrimage of Grace, she was "attainted to die by act of Parliament" passed on 12 May 1539, without a trial. The other charges against her, to which she was never permitted to reply, had to do with the escape from England of her chaplain and the conveying of messages abroad. After the passage of the Act she was removed to the Tower and there, for nearly two years, she was "tormented by the severity of the weather and insufficient clothing". Because of the popularity of the Countess, Henry stayed the inevitable penalty. By Apr the following year there was hope that Margaret would soon be released. But there was another insurrection in Yorkshire, led by Sir John Neville, and it was then determined to enforce without any further procedure the Act of Attainder passed in 1539.

On the morning of 28 May (de Marillac; Gardner, following Chapuys, says 27) she was told she was to die within the hour. Margaret did not go easy. Various accounts have her struggling to the block, though she was aged and not in good health (and it is unlikely that her prison in the Tower was well-appointed, which could have done little to improve infirmity). A contemporary ballad was written of Margaret's journey to the block, which has Margaret saying:

"For traitors on the block should die, I am no traitor, no, not I! My faithfulness stands fast and so, Towards the block I shall not go!  

Nor make on step, as you shall see, Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me!"

Refusing to lay her head on the block, the young executioner was forced to swing at her as she struggled.

Other accounts say that Margaret went quietly when fetched from her cell on the morning of 27 May 1541, though she commented that she had "no idea" what her crime was. Here the accounts agree- the executioner was young, (the "offical executioner" was away) and he did not know how to properly handle the unwieldly, heavy axe. Though Margaret was small and frail, it took the young man (who must have been panicked - though not as panicked as Margaret must have been) flailed away at Margaret's head and neck, hacking her to pieces for some time before she died.

Here again, accounts differ: the first difference comes in as to whether or not Margaret went calmly to the scaffold. The second comes in as to whether or not Margaret had such a grip on herself that she did not run from the executioner when his first blow failed to kill or incapcitate her. An alternative version of the second has the pain-maddened and understandably terrified- out- of- her- wits Margaret leaping up from the block and taking off like a sprinter. At first, the people on the scaffold (there was a crowd of 150, including the Lord Mayor of London) were too stunned to do anything, and the executioner himself looked as if he was on the verge of fleeing the scene himself. However, again according to the sprinter version, he was ordered (it's said it took more than one such order) to pursue and subdue the raving, running Margaret with the axe.

Whatever the version, all agreed that Margaret, Countess of Salisbury died a very hard death. Chalk up another judicial murder for Bluff King Hal.

When the story of his mother's gruesome death, in all its horrific and gory details, reached Cardinal Pole in Europe, he said that he would "...never fear to call himself the son of a martyr".

Margaret was buried in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula within the Tower.

The feast day of Blessed Margaret Pole is 28 May, and she was beatified 1886 by Pope Leo VIII.


De Castillon and De Marillac: Correspondance politique

Morris: The Month (Apr, 1889)

Camm: Lives of the English Martyrs, I (London, 1904), 502 sqq.

Gardiner: Dict. Nat. Biog., s. v. Pole

Gillow: Dict. Eng. Cath., s. v.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX

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