The Unfortunate Countess: Margaret Pole



At Farleigh Castle on the 14th of August 1473, a daughter was born to the Duke and Duchess of Clarence. They called her Margaret, most likely after the Duke’s sister’s Margaret of Burgundy. Margaret was born during the brutal and bloody time of the Wars of the Rose – a powerful family divided by the House of York and House of Lancaster, and each believed the throne of England belonged to them. Margaret Plantagenet was born in the middle of this English chaos. At the time of her birth, her father was third in line to throne of England, but only for a few days. On the 17th of August 1473 was born a son to Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. They called him Richard, presumably after Richard, Duke of Gloucester and future Richard III.

If you’d prefer to listen to the podcast that went along with this please click the image below to be directed to it:

George, Duke of Clarence was the troubled middle brother of King Edward IV and Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Like his brothers and father he was an excellent warrior but was easily swayed by power. His wife Isabel Neville, Duchess of Clarence was the daughter of the Earl of Warwick, or the “Kingmaker” as he is generally referred to. Warwick was instrumental in placing Edward Plantagenet (Edward IV) on the throne. When the new king, Edward IV chose to secretly wed the widowed Elizabeth Woodville, Warwick was not happy. All the hard work to put together treaties and alliances was all wasted. To make matters worse, Elizabeth Woodville was the widow of John Grey – who fought and died for the Lancastrians in the Wars of the Roses. She was from the enemy’s side.

Warwick’s anger towards his sovereign grew and grew until he took action – once again to prove that he deserved to be called the “Kingmaker”. The King’s brother George appeared to have been a jealous man, and maybe a paranoid man. Of the three brothers, he was the middle brother. Using that to his advantage, Warwick and George plotted to join their two families in marriage. Warwick’s eldest daughter Isabel secretly wed the Duke of Clarence without the permission of his brother the King and the King’s own mother joined in on the betrayal and informed everyone that Edward was not the legitimate son of Richard, Duke of York but an archer. The plan was to disgrace and remove Edward IV and replace him with George and Isabel at the helm. This plan, too, would fail.



Long story short, the Earl of Warwick was killed in battle, Isabel Neville died and George, Duke of Clarence was executed. By 1478 Margaret Plantagenet and her brother Edward were both orphans.

Life After Death

Life for Margaret and her brother would never be the same. They were taken in by the royal household and by 1485 their uncle Edward IV was dead , as were his two sons the princes in the Tower, not to mention their paternal uncle Richard III and maternal aunt and queen consort Anne Neville. The only people remaining were Elizabeth Woodville and her daughters.

When Henry Tudor became King of England in 1485, some believed that Margaret and her brother Edward had a stronger claim to the throne than Henry – who had won the crown on the battlefield. This resulted in Lambert Simnel being touted as the young Edward, Earl of Warwick as claimant to the throne by means of the House of York. Their plan was to get people to join an army against the Tudor king. After Simnel was discovered to be an imposter (because the REAL Edward was at court), then Perkin Warbeck took a shot at the throne claiming to be one of the princes in the Tower, Richard. Warbeck was eventually arrested and in 1499 both he and the real Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick were executed for plotting treason. Margaret Plantagenet was now the only member of her family alive, but she was not alone.

Marriage

At the age of 14, Margaret was married to Richard Pole, a loyal subject of the king and relative of Margaret Beaufort. The marriage was a good match in the eyes of Henry VII because there was a serious threat of Margaret being a figurehead for further uprisings. A marriage to Pole would make it more difficult for plotters to use Margaret as a figurehead for their Yorkist cause.

Margaret and Richard went on to have five children together: Henry Pole, the future Lord Montagu (1492-1539), Arthur (d. c.1527/8), Ursula (d. 1570), Reginald (1500-1558), and Geoffrey Pole (d. 1558).

At the age of 28 Margaret spent five months in the household of Katherine of Aragon, until the death of the Prince of Wales in April 1502.
Sir Richard Pole died in October 1504. After his death, Margaret was left to raise five children in the difficult financial situation she was left in after her husband’s death. Her jointure was not sufficient for the circumstances she inherited. Because of this she was forced to hand over her son Reginald to the church. She had no other choice.

Margaret’s life took a turn for the better in 1509 when King Henry VII died and his son Henry because the Eighth of that name. Margaret found herself once again in the household of Katherine of Aragon, only this time she was queen consort and not Princess of Wales.
In 1512, at the petition of Margaret, Henry VIII granted her the earldom of Salisbury, making her Countess of Salisbury in her own right. Things were beginning to look up for not only Margaret but also her children as they were in favor of the king.

The fact that Margaret held the peerage title in her own right was a big deal and something rarely heard of in 16th century England. The next notable name to do so was Anne Boleyn in 1532.

The relationship between the King and Margaret wavered a bit in 1518 when Henry repossessed some of her Salisbury lands saying they belonged to the duchy of Somerset.

Princess Mary

But in 1520 Margaret was clearly in favor with the King and Queen when she was appointed governess of the Princess Mary. However, in 1521 she was removed from her position when her sons were implicated the Duke of Buckingham’s treason. Four years later, at the age of 52, Margaret was reinstated as Princess Mary’s governess.

Margaret was very fond of the Princess Mary and protected her like a mother would. Margaret even offered to remain on as Mary’s governess after her household was dissolved in 1533. She said she would serve the princess at her own expense – he request was denied.

Problem Child

It should come as no surprise that after the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536 Margaret was once again back in favor, but it would not last long. The son who she had given to the church denounced, in writing, King Henry’s royal supremacy. By his letter, Reginald Pole had put his entire family in danger. When Margaret was informed of her son’s letter she wrote him and admonished his letter to the king.



The dissolution of the monasteries, as well as the king claiming royal supremacy, led to what was called The Pilgrimage of Grace.

Evidence remains from the imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys that in 1534 there was already whispers of something big happening in England. Margaret’s youngest son, Geoffrey had been in contact with him. Chapuys was more than happy to report this to his master:

Respecting the disaffection (indisposition) of the Welsh country, to which allusion has been made in the said letters, my information is that the inhabitants are really very much concerned and afflicted at the bad treatment of the Queen and Princess, as well as at what is now being done against the Faith; for they (the Welsh) have always been and are still, to a man, good Christians.

…I am informed from a good quarter, this King is exceedingly annoyed. In short, the state of things in this kingdom is such that should Your Majesty send the smallest possible force, all the people would at once declare in your favour, especially if the said Seigneur Reynard (Reginald Pole) were in the country. (fn. n23)

The latter’s younger brother (Geoffrey) is with me, and would visit me almost every day, had I not dissuaded him from doing so, on account of the danger he might run. He, however, ceases not, like many others, to importune and beg me to write to Your Majesty, and explain how very easy the conquest of this kingdom would be, and that the inhabitants are only waiting for a signal. (fn. n24) I have never spoken to him about his brother (Reginald), except warning him that the latter had much better remain where he is now, and beg his daily bread in the streets, than attempt returning here in these troubled times, for fear he should be treated as the poor bishop of Rochester, or worse still. This he assures me he has done, having written to him many a time, and made his mother also write and warn him not to come here. (8 Nov 1534, Wien, Rep. P.C., Fasc.228, No.62)

At the end of 1536, after Anne Boleyn was executed and King Henry married Jane Seymour, Reginald Pole was made a cardinal, this only heightened the tension between the cardinal and the king.

With the Lady Mary back in favor surely those who backed her with the Pilgrimage of Grace were satisfied.

The Beginning of the End

In the summer of 1538 it all began to unravel for Margaret Pole and her children. A servant of her son Geoffrey called Hugh Holland was arrested. Author Susan Higginbotham of “Margaret Pole – The Countess in the Tower” states that it may have been Margaret’s own pious act which resulted in her family’s downfall.

Margaret maintained a ‘surgeon house’ in Warblington and the house surgeon called Richard Ayer claimed that Margaret kept ‘a company of priests [in her] house which did her much harm and kept her [from] the true knowledge of God’s word’. It appeared to Ayer that Margaret was of the old faith and not the new faith like himself. Word had reached Thomas Cromwell, Lord Privy Seal and he sent a spy to collect info for him. The man was Gervase Tyndall and he was a school master. Tyndall lodged at the hospital and Richard Ayer was more than willing to ‘give up the goods’ on Margaret and her family. Ayer told the spy that a servant of Geoffrey Pole called Holland was conveying letters to Reginald Pole and that ‘all the secrets of the realm of England [were] known to the bishop of Rome as well as though he were here.’

Allegedly, when Margaret figured out this Tyndall was of the new religion order Ayer to send him away. Had she been receiving reports that Ayer was spilling the beans? When Tyndall refused to go due to his supposed ‘poor health’ she order Ayer to send all the patients away, but not before it was revealed that Margaret’s council refused to allow her tenants to own an English language bible.

Holland was but a servant and once can assume the man, upon his arrest, was terrified of being tortured. He gave evidence against Geoffrey, which in turn also damned Margaret. Holland stated that he went to Flanders to sell some meat for his master, Geoffrey Pole. While there he was asked to deliver a message to Pole’s brother Reginald. In that letter Geoffrey offered to join his brother – he said, ‘the world in England waxes all crooked, God’s law is turned upside down, abbey and churches overthrown and he [Reginald] is taken for a traiter’, and he also claimed in the letter that assassins had been sent to dispatch Reginald.



In Showtime’s The Tudors, those assassins were Sir Francis Bryan and Sir Thomas Seymour. We don’t know who these assassins but it makes for an interesting story, doesn’t it?

After Reginald read the letter from his younger brother he sent a letter back to his mother, Margaret saying that ‘my hope is in God’ and that he desired her blessing. For his brother Geoffrey he said, ‘meddle little and let all things alone’. But Geoffrey wouldn’t take no for an answer, he clearing wanted to be part of this movement against the King of England. It was not long before he was arrested, on the 29 August 1538, Geoffrey Pole was placed in the Tower of London.

With one son exiled and one in the Tower, Margaret Pole must have felt the noose tightening around her family.

Two months after his arrest Geoffrey Pole was finally interrogated and asked for names of others involved. He named several people, including his own brother Lord Montagu. Pole insisted his brother only wanted change as far as religious matters and that he did not wish harm to the king. By that time it was already too late – he listed his brother, regardless of any disclaimer and it appears that his was so guilt ridden by it all that John Hussee reported to Lord Lisle that Geoffrey was ‘so in despair that he would have murdered himself and, as it was told me, hurt himself sore’. Another man by the name of Richard Morisyne claimed that Geoffrey stabbed himself in the chest with a blunt knife. Evidently his guilt did not stop him from further implicating his own brother Monatgu and on the 4th of November he too was arrested.

During all of this Margaret was at Warblington. Those around her worried that her loose-lipped son would take her down with him just like he did with his brother, Lord Montagu – to that Margaret said, ‘I trow he is not so unhappy that he will hurt his mother, and yet I care neither for him, nor for any other, for I am true to my Prince.’

Eight days after the arrest of her son Lord Montagu, Margaret was visited by the Earl of Southampton, Thomas Goodrich and the Bishop of Ely for questioning at Warblington. For two days they questioned the stoic Countess. Margaret claimed that her son Reginald had not told her that he went abroad because he disliked the way the kingdom was governed. In addition, she had not received any letter concerning him except one from the king. She also did not know about Hugh Holland being sent to deliver letters to her son.

The plot to assassinate Reginald was something that Margaret was aware of, she stated that her son Geoffrey had told her of the King’s plan and she had hoped to change His Majesty’s mind.

Margaret was asked if she knew that her son Geoffrey and Lord Montagu wished to join their brother and she responded that she ‘prayed God she may be torn in pieces if ever she heard such a thing of her sons’. She also denied in questioning that she wished for Reginald to be made Pope.



Margaret admitted that she was sorry for the destruction of the abbey and religious houses where her ancestors were buried.

After questioning had ceased, her interrogators wrote to Cromwell and told him:

“Yesterday…we travailed with the Lady of Salisbury all day, both before and after noon, till almost night. Albeit for all we could do, though we used her diversely, she would utter and convess little or nothing more than the first day, and that she ‘utterly denieds all that is objected unto her; and that with most stiff and earnest words’.”

Her interrogators believed that either Margaret was a marvelous liar or that her sons did not make her privy to their plans.

Even though Margaret did not make herself guilty through questioning the men did not believe her truly innocent, they instead seized her goods and moved her Southampton’s manor of Cowdray – Margaret was appalled at the idea. They hoped that moving her to a less friendly location would get her to open up and confess.

Southampton and Ely were surprised when even that did not work, noting:

We have dealt with such a one, as men have not dealt withal before us; we may call her rather a strong and constant man, than a woman. For in all behaviour howsoever we have used her, she has showed herself so earnest, vehement, and precise, that more could not be.”

Merely two weeks after Margaret was questioned, her eldest son, Lord Montague was tried before a jury of his peers at Westminster. He was followed by the Marquess of Exeter, Geoffrey Pole, Edward Neville, Hugh Holland, George Croftes and John Collins. At all of the trials the men were unanimously found guilty and were sentenced a traitor’s death – to be hanged, drawn and quartered. But since Margaret’s son, Lord Montagu was of a higher ranking he (along with Exeter and Neville) had his sentence commuted to beheading. The other men were not so lucky – after their execution their heads were placed on London Bridge and their quarters were placed ‘on divers gates about London’ – as a reminder to the King’s subjects what happens when you are involved in treason.

Margaret’s son Geoffrey was more fortunate, he was pardoned – something he clearly could not live with as he attempted to take his life in the Tower for a second time since his arrest. Eustace Chapuys reported that he tried ‘to suffocate himself with a cushion’.

By May 1539, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury was attainded on treason. This meant she would not receive a trial. Higginbotham states in her book that ‘the evidence against her appears to have been quite vague, which was undoubtedly why the government chose this means of proceeding.

Her attainder reads:

“And where also Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, and Hugh Vaughan, late of Beckener, in the County of Monmouth, yeoman, by instigation of the devil, putting apart the dread of Almighty God, their duty of allegiance, and the excellent benefit received of his Highness, have not only traitorously confederated themselves with the false and abominable traitors Henry Pole, Lord Montagu, and Reginald Pole, sons to the said countess, knowing them to be false traitors, but also have maliciously aided, abetted, maintianed, and comforted them in their said false and abominable treason, to the most fearful peril of hi Highness, the commonwealth of this realm, &c., the said marchioness and the said countess be declared attained, and shall suffer the pains and penalties of high treason.”

After Cromwell read the Act of Attainder he displayed a tunic from Margaret’s coffer that displaced a coat of arms that appeared to be a combination of the Pole arms with that of the Lady Mary – for it was suspected that the two would wed and return England to Catholicism.

We don’t know for the date for certain but we know that by the 20th of November 1539 Margaret was a prisoner in the Tower of London. The following month Thomas Cromwell was informed that additional clothing was needed for two ladies and their attendants in the Tower, who were under the charge of Thomas Phillips. Margaret apparently made quite a fuss stating that she was in need of proper clothing to keep her warm and to change. Was this why the order was approved by the King to have clothing made for the Countess? The clothing that Katheryn Howard is often given credit for.

Margaret would stay in the Tower for as long as her son Reginald was still a threat.

Margaret Pole was executed on the 27th of May 1541.

French ambassador Marillac said this of Margaret’s execution:

‘yesterday morning, about 7 o’clock, beheaded in a corner of the Tower, in presence of so few people that until evening the truth was still doubted. It was the more difficult to believe as she had been long prisoner, was of noble lineage, above 80 years old, and had been punished but the loss of one son and banishment of the other, and the total ruin of her house.’

Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys had this to say:

The very strange and lamentable execution of Mme. de Salisbury, the daughter of the duke of Clarence, and mother of Cardinal Pole, took place at the Tower in the presence of the Lord Mayor of London and about 150 persons more. At first, when the sentence of death was made known to her, she found the thing very strange, not knowing of what crime she was accused, nor how she had been sentenced; but at last, perceiving that there was no remedy, and that die she must, she went out of the dungeon where she was detained and walked towards the midst of the space in front of the Tower, where there was no scaffold erected nor anything except a small block. Arrived there, after commending her soul to her Creator, she asked those present to pray for the King, the Queen, the Prince (Edward) and the Princess, to all of whom she wished to be particularly commended, and more especially to the latter, whose god-mother she had been. She sent her blessing to her, and begged also for hers. After which words she was told to make haste and place her neck on the block, which she did. But as the ordinary executor of justice was absent doing his work in the North, a wretched and blundering youth … was chosen, who literally hacked her head and shoulders to pieces in the most pitiful manner. May God in His high grace pardon her soul, for certainly she was a most virtuous and honorable lady, and there was no need or haste to bring so ignominious a death upon her, considering that as she was then nearly ninety years old, she could not in the ordinary course of nature live long. When her death had been resolved upon, her nephew [sic], the son of Mr. Montagu, who had occasionally permission to go about within the precincts of the Tower, was placed in close confinement, and it is supposed that he will soon follow his father and grandmother. May God help him!”

Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury was laid to rest at St. Peter ad Vincula – the same place where many of our Tudor favorites lay.


Sources:

Higginbotham, Susan. Margaret Pole – The Countess in the Tower; Amberley Publishing (August 15, 2016)

Pierce, Hazel. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: Pole, Margaret, suo jure countess of Salisbury. (28 May 2015)

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The Last Plantagenet

Guest article written by: Alan Freer

Possibly Margaret Pole
Margaret (Plantagenet) Pole

On the morning of 27th May 1541 an elderly, stately woman walked with dignity, as befitted her birth, from her cell in the Tower of London, in to the yard, and to East Smithfield Green, within the precinct of the brooding castle walls. She had been informed earlier that day that she was to die. Her reply had been to say that no crime had been proved against her. In an effort to play down the event, no wooden scaffold had been built, no large crowd of onlookers was to be present; only the Mayor of London and a few dignitaries were to witness her death. She knelt at the simple, low block of wood, which was to be her final pillow, and commended her soul to God. Turning to the thin line of bystanders she asked them to pray for the King and Queen, for young Edward, Prince of Wales, and for Princess Mary, of whom she was Godmother. She asked that she be particularly commended to the Princess. With a final prayer she placed her delicate, royal neck on the block. The executioner, a clumsy novice, hideously hacked at her neck and shoulders before the final decapitation was accomplished. So died the last of the great and mighty Plantagenet family.

Margaret Plantagenet was born at Castle Farley, near Bath, in August 1473. She was the daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, and Isabel Neville, daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker. From both her father and mother she received a generous helping of royal blood and could call two of her uncles King (Edward IV and Richard III). Little is known of her early years but it can be assumed that they were passed as any child close to the throne of England. 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.

Edward, Earl of Warwick
Edward, Earl of Warwick

Young Edward, inheriting the earldom of Warwick from his grandfather, Richard Neville, via his mother, had a particularly tragic, short and star-crossed life. Richard III, realizing that the boy had a stronger claim to the throne than himself, had him shut up in closer confinement in Sheriff Hutton Castle. With Richard’s defeat and death at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, Edward was brought to London on the orders of the new king, Henry VII. Unfortunately young Warwick’s position remained precarious. He still had the best claim to the crown and Henry kept him imprisoned in the Tower for the rest of his life purely for no other crime than being the son of George, Duke of Clarence.

This injustice was resented by many and there were still supporters of the Yorkist cause in England. Rumours were riff concerning his condition and whereabouts. Some believed he had escaped while others said he had died in the Tower. It was probably the latter that brought about the rising centred on Lambert Simnel. Sir Richard Symonds, a Yorkist, used this innocent, gentle natured, scholar as a substitute for Warwick. Although Simnel was a non-entity, the threat to the House of Tudor was real. One of the supporters was probably Elizabeth Woodville, the Dowager Queen – her rapid confinement in a nunnery by her son-in-law speaks volumes for her complicity. More dangerous was the adherence of Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, the late King Edward’s sister. She raised two thousand German troops and sent them to Ireland. The puppet imposter Earl of Warwick was crowned King Edward VI in Dublin on 24th May 1487. After a meeting of the Royal Council at Charterhouse, Richmond, it was decided that the real Edward, Earl of Warwick be taken from the Tower, paraded through the streets of London and attend Mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral. This did not stop the forces of the counterfeit Earl, swelled by Irish soldiers, from landing in Lancashire and marching south. Henry met and defeated the rising at Stoke, killing most of the leaders and taking the hapless Lambert prisoner. He quickly realized that Simnel was an innocent dupe and set him to work in the royal kitchens. There is a tale that he ended up the King’s falconer. The affair did, however, give young Edward one day of freedom – it was to be his last. He was returned to the Tower where he was denied all contact with the outside world. It is even said that “he could not discern a goose from a capon.” Nevertheless, the mere fact that he was alive must have been a cause of anxiety for Henry.

Perkins Warbeck
Perkin Warbeck

The Tudor Dynasty still sat on an unsteady throne. The advent of Perkin Warbeck, claiming to be the younger of the Princes in the Tower, Richard Duke of York, posed a real danger to Henry’s power. Warbeck was taken prisoner and lodged in the Tower with Warwick.

In late 1498 or early 1499 a young man by the name of Ralph Wilford, together with his Austin Canon tutor, claimed to be the Earl of Warwick. Both Wilford and his tutor were arrested and executed on Shrove Tuesday, 12th February 1499. This relatively minor incident must have brought home to the King that while Warwick lived he would ever be a thorn in his side.

Warbeck chose this time to make a bid for freedom and take Warwick with him. The plot failed and Perkin, together with his confederates, was tried and condemned at Westminster on 16th November and executed at Tyburn on the 23rd. Henry obviously decided to rid himself of all his dynastic problems. On the 21st November Warwick was arraigned before the Earl of Oxford, the High Constable of England, not for attempting to escape from prison, as many historians would have you believe, but on the manufactured charge of conspiracy, with others, to depose the King. In his naivety, the young man pleaded guilty and was condemned to death. He was beheaded on the 28th November on Tower Hill. Thus, within a week, Henry had freed himself of the two most dangerous threats to his throne.

There is firm evidence that Edward’s death was encouraged by Ferdinand, King of Spain, who refused to allow his daughter, Catherine of Aragon, to marry Prince Arthur while there was any doubt over the succession. The Spanish Ambassador’s dispatches show that he attached great importance to the execution. Many years later, when Catherine of Aragon was so bitter over Henry VIII’s efforts to divorce her, she confirmed to Lord Bacon “that it was a judgment of God, for that her former marriage was made in blood, meaning that of the Earl of Warwick.

Meanwhile Margaret had married Sir Richard Pole in about 1494, son of Sir Geoffrey Pole, whose wife, Edith St. John, was half-sister to King Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort. The Poles were in high favour and the match, made at the instigation of the King, was a sure way of keeping Margaret close and safely within the royal control. 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. In 1505 he died leaving Margaret a widow with five children – Henry, Arthur, Reginald, Geoffrey and a daughter Ursula.

Henry Vlll
Henry VIII around 1513

Margaret’s relationship with Prince Henry, later Henry VIII, must have been good. On his accession he granted her an annuity of £100 a year and on 14th October 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 instalment of £2,333, 6 shillings and 8 pence – a vast amount of money.

In 1516 Margaret took on a role that was to influence the rest of her life. On the 18th February the Queen, Catherine of Aragon, was delivered of a healthy child, a girl. 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 Lord Cardinal was her Godfather, the Lady Catherine and the Duchess of Norfolk were her Godmothers at the font, and the Countess of Salisbury was her Godmother at the bishop.”

By May 1520 Margaret was head of Princess Mary’s household. As it was probably dawning on Henry that Catherine would never produce a male heir, this was recognition that Mary was most likely to become Queen of England and that only a person of the highest rank could have charge of his daughter’s welfare.

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 Charles V of Spain. The family seemed to prosper under the Tudors but what occurred in 1521 was to sow the seeds of disaster and bring the Countess to that morning on East Smithfield Green.

Ursula Pole Stafford
Ursula Pole Stafford

Margaret’s daughter, Ursula, had married Henry, Lord Stafford in 1518/19. 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. On Friday 17th May at about eleven o’clock the Duke was delivered by the Sheriffs of London, John Kyeme and John Skevyngton, to the scaffold at Tower Hill where he was beheaded. In July 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 the Duke of 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.

Henry, desperate for a male heir, broke with Rome, divorced his Queen and married Anne Boleyn. The divorce proclaimed Mary a bastard but Margaret stayed loyal to her Princess. A lady was sent from the court to retrieve Mary’s jewellery but Margaret refused to hand them over. When she was dismissed from her post she declared that she would follow the Princess at her own expense. Her fidelity was much appreciated by Catherine of Aragon but the King was careful to separate his daughter from a woman she regarded as a second mother.

Cardinal_Reginald_Pole
Cardinal Reginald Pole

Margaret briefly returned to favour in 1536 at the fall of Anne Boleyn but then two things happened concerning her son, Reginald, which was to change everything. Reginald had been a great favourite of the King. Henry had paid for his education even to the extent of financing a year’s study in Padua, Italy. The King sent him as an emissary into Europe to seek approval for his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and, when he returned, offered Reginald the archbishopric of York or the wealthy bishopric of Winchester, even though he was not yet ordained a priest. The young man realized that with Henry, royal favour came at a price. With the final break with Rome he chose exile. The bombshell came when Reginald published “De Unitate Ecclesiae.” It castigated everything that Henry had done relating to the Church and the King was never a man to take opposition. In recognition of his work for the Catholic faith Pope Paul created Reginald Cardinal, even though he was still not a priest, and made him papal legate to England.

Henry went through the roof. Margaret could see the danger if her son could not. In desperation she and Henry, Lord Montague, wrote to Reginald a strongly worded reproof (all for the consumption of Henry’s spies). 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. The years of 1535 and 36 saw the emergence of that monster of absolute power, tyranny.

The letters and protestations from Margaret and her family were all for the benefit of King and Council and Henry was well aware of this. The King, speaking to the French ambassador, stated openly that he would destroy all of those of the white rose – referring to the Pole connection to the Yorkist, Plantagenet monarchy.

Geoffrey Pole
Geoffrey Pole

In the summer of 1538 the blow fell. Geoffrey Pole, Margaret’s youngest son, was arrested and committed to the Tower on 29th August. He lay for two months in prison and, in late October, began his interrogation. He was questioned about private conversations and letters sent to and received from Reginald by himself and other members of the family. Geoffrey was faced with the rack and, knowing that he would inevitably implicate his mother and elder brother, he attempted suicide and seriously injured himself. After long periods of interrogation he broke and supplied the “evidence” the King required not only against Margaret and Henry but also against Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter, Sir Edward Neville and others. Henry had Montague and Exeter arrested and committed to the Tower on 4th November.

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. The Earl of Southampton and the Bishop of Ely were sent to Warblington to “examine” the Countess. They questioned her all day but could not extract and admission. Nonetheless they seized all her possessions and moved her to the Earl’s house at Cowdry.

Late in November Montague and the Marquis of Exeter were tried before Lord Chancellor Audeley, the Lord High Steward, and a jury of peers found them guilty of treason. A week later, on the 9th December, both lords met their deaths on Tower Hill. Geoffrey, tried with his brother and Exeter, entered a plea of guilty and was condemned to death but was spared. Cromwell informed the French ambassador that he was hopeful of learning more from him. On representation from his wife, Geoffrey received a pardon for reason that he was so ill that he was already as good as dead. A few weeks after his mother’s death he went in to a haunted exile.

In the spring of 1539 Margaret was moved from Cowdry to the Tower of London and in May a sweeping Act of Attainder was brought against the dead Montague and Exeter and the Countess. Her house at Warblington was searched and letters and papal bulls found. At the third reading of the attainder bill in the House of Lords Cromwell produced a tunic of white silk, embroidered with the arms of England – three lions surrounded by a wreath of pansies and marigolds – which the Earl of Southampton stated was found at her house. On the back of the garment was the badge of the five wounds of Christ, the emblem of a recent northern rebellion. Without a trial, the Act was passed on 12th May 1539.

Because of the popularity of the Countess, Henry stayed the inevitable penalty. By April the following year there was hope that Margaret would soon be released. Now 67 years of age, she had suffered through the winter from cold and a lack of adequate clothing. What sealed her fate was another rising in the north, led by Sir John Neville in April 1541. The King was resolved to be rid of her and so, the following month, she died.

Mary l
Queen Mary I of England

Her eldest son, Lord Montague, left a son and two daughters. The son must have died soon after his father for there is no mention of him in official documents. His daughter, Catherine, married Francis, Lord Hastings, later Earl of Huntingdon, and her sister, Winifred, married a bother of Catherine’s husband. The girls were restored to full honours and property at the accession of Queen Mary. Reginald prospered in the Church and became a chief adviser to Mary. In one of those strange coincidences of history, on 17th November 1558, at 7 o’clock in the morning, Queen Mary passed away. On the same day at 7 o’clock in the evening Cardinal Reginald Pole died. That tortured soul, Geoffrey, had travelled to Rome when he left England and thrown himself at the feet of his brother, the Cardinal. He proclaimed himself unworthy to be considered his brother as he had caused another brother’s death. Reginald obtained his absolution from the Pope and sent him to the Bishop of Liege in Flanders. There he stayed until the accession of Mary. He then returned to England and died a few days before Reginald and was buried at Stoughton. His widow, Constance, died in 1570 and was buried beside him. Geoffrey left five sons and six daughters of whom two married and one daughter became a nun.

Queen Mary killed for religion; her sister, Elizabeth, killed because of political need; but their father committed judicial murder for revenge, pride and in the name of tyranny. Henry died in 1547 having sent so many innocent men and women to their deaths. There was no sadder victim of his vengeful character than that of Margaret Plantagenet, Countess of Salisbury.

NOTE:

Many years ago in my youth, I attended a school in the village of Warblington, on the Hampshire coast between Portsmouth and Chichester. One of the sports in which the school excelled was cross-country running. The usual route was out the school gate, down the road, across the A27, down a potholes country lane, through a field and down, on to the shoreline. In this field stood a crumbling, almost gothic tower of brick and stone. It was surrounded by a few fallen walls and debris all over run with brambles and weeds. The lower entrance to the tower was block and a notice stated “Danger Keep Out.”

Even at that tender age I was fascinated by historical mysteries and I began to dig. I wanted to know who had built this strange, haunted folly known locally as Warblington Castle. The eventually result was a piece I wrote several years ago for a US history heritage website.

About the Author:

CaptureI am Alan Freer and live in the small village of Byfleet, Surrey, England. Edward, the Black Prince, spent much of his final years in Byfleet. I have been an amateur “historian” since the age of seven, when I purchased my first history book in 1955. Indeed, it was anticipated that I would become a history teacher, but a brief conversation just before I was due to go to university directed me to the banking industry – more lucrative but, perhaps, not so satisfying! History lead me into genealogy and I have my own website detailing the Descendents of William the Conqueror (www.william1.co.uk ). A never-ending project! When I retired from the bank in 1999 I started to write and have had a number of articles published in US history magazines or on magazine websites. Primarily I wrote for the amusement of my colleagues in my second occupation as a civil servant. I count myself most fortunate to have been born in England and would not wish it otherwise – except, possibly, Italy!!