Royal Blood: Deadly Betrayal of Reginald Pole

betrayal of reginald pole
Reginald Pole was born at Stourton Castle, Staffordshire, on 3 March 1500, to Margaret Plantagenet and Sir Richard Pole. Reginald was the grandson of George, Duke of Clarence (Isabel Neville) and great-nephew to both King Edward IV and King Richard III.  To say he had royal blood in his veins would be an understatement. Unfortunately, after the execution of his grandfather, the Duke of Clarence, his family name was severely tarnished and Clarence’s lands and titles were forfeited.

When Reginald’s uncle, Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, Henry VII became King of England. At the time it was imperative for all the Yorkist supporters to move into the shadows and not to interfere with the Tudor reign. With all that being said, Henry VII arranged a marriage for Margaret Plantagenet to Sir Richard Pole. Sir Richard Pole was considered a safe marriage for Margaret — he was related to My Lady, the King’s Mother, Margaret Beaufort through her half-sister (Edith St. John), who was Sir Richard Pole’s mother. By marrying Margaret Plantagenet into the family it 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, Reginald, Geoffrey, Arthur and Ursula Pole. In 1504/5, Sir Richard Pole died. After his death, Margaret was left to raise five children with a limited amount of land inherited from her husband. She had no salary and no prospects.

With Margaret’s limited funds Henry VII was nice enough to pay for the funeral of his cousin, Sir Richard Pole.

Margaret Pole was first cousin to Henry VII’s late wife, Elizabeth of York – in a way, she was family and probably reminded Henry VII of his wife as well.

To ease the financial burden, Margaret devoted her third son, Reginald Pole (age 5) to the Church. Nonetheless, Reginald would bitterly resent her abandonment of him later in life.  Additionally, Margaret, without adequate means to support herself and her children, was forced to live at Syon Abbey among Bridgettine nuns after her husband’s death. She remained at the abbey until her return to favor at the ascension of Henry VIII in 1509.

In 1538, Reginald wrote a scathing letter to his mother. This letter portrays how bitter he was toward her.

Reginald Pole to his mother (1538):

“that ever you had given me utterly unto God. And though you had so done with all your children, yet in me you had so given all right from you and possession utterly of me that you never took any care to provide for my living nor otherwise, as you did for other, but committed all to God, to whom you had given me. This promise now, Madam, in my [Maister]es name I require of you to maintain, [the wh]iche you cannot keep nor make good if y[ou] now beginne to care for me. [–] I mean this, not intermit the least care of mind for me, knowing to what master you have given me; but both touching yourself and me both, commit all to His goodness, as I doubt not your ladyship will, and shall be to me the greatest comfort I can have of you.” Venge (Venice), 15 July”

Possibly Margaret Pole
Portrait said to be Margaret Pole (note the barrel charm on her bracelet)

From Margaret, Countess of Salisbury to Reginald Pole:

“Son Reginald,” I send you God’s blessing and mine, though my trust to have comfort in you is turned to sorrow. Alas that I, for your folly, should receive from my sovereign lord “such message as I have late done by your brother.” To me as a woman, his Highness has shown such mercy and pity as I could never deserve, but that I trusted my children’s services would express my duty. “

Reginald Pole was once a favorite of his cousin, Henry VIII. The king even paid for half of Reginald’s schooling at one time. However, when Reginald rejected any divorce discussion regarding Katherine of Aragon, spoke poorly of Anne Boleyn and then refused to sign the Oath of Supremacy, he enraged Henry. Henry turned on Reginald and attacked his family in England instead — since Reginald was out of the king’s reach.

Between 1537 and 1539 the Pope ordered Reginald on two diplomatic missions to persuade Europe’s Catholic monarchs to ally against Henry VIII. Both of his missions were unsuccessful, and Henry, in revenge for Pole’s treasonous activities, executed Pole’s brother, Henry Pole, Lord Montagu at the end of 1538, and his cousin Henry Courtenay, Marquess of Exeter in the beginning of 1539. In 1541 he also executed Margaret Pole, Reginald’s mother.

Having royal blood during the Tudor reign was a dangerous thing, especially if you were related to a York.

Here is a list of family members were all executed for treason between the reign of Edward IV and Henry VIII:

George, Duke of Clarence (grandfather) – by Edward IV
Edward, Earl of Warwick (uncle) – by Henry VII
Henry Pole, Baron of Montague (brother) – by Henry VIII
Henry Courtenay, Marquess of Exeter (1st cousin) – by Henry VIII
Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (mother) – by Henry VIII

Reginald Pole died 17 November 1558, the same day as Queen Mary I of England.

Cardinal Reginald Pole
by Unknown artist, oil on panel, after 1556
Reginald Pole became a cardinal in 1537; he was ordained in 1556
NT; (c) Shute Barton; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
NT; (c) Shute Barton; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) Trinity College, University of Cambridge; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) Trinity College, University of Cambridge; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) National Trust, Hardwick Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) National Trust, Hardwick Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

























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12 Comments Leave a comment

    • First, I would say that Reginald is writing this as a sixteenth century academic, and we have to approach it as language of that time. The Pole family’s position is precarious in 1538, and Reginald is encouraging his mother to trust God for their care as she always has. Specifically, Henry VIII has sent assassins to target Reginald (and we know that within months many members of the family will be in the Tower). Reginald’s only way to provide his aging mother with comfort at this time is to encourage her to trust God for his care because there is nothing else she can do. We also have to keep in mind that trusting God for protection and care in the sixteenth century was the way of things, especially for one in Reginald’s position. It in now way indicated that was the only choice because one had been abandoned by others.

      • It seems to me this letter refers to how she left him in the hands of God as a child but kept his siblings close to home when they were young. He felt left out of his family. I do not see this letter as a way to support and encourage his mother to trust in God to keep him safe from assassins Are we talking about the same letter? Maybe there was more than one family letter saved.

        You are right about the language at that time. It is not that easy to decipher the language unless one is used to the style and syntax. You may be more of a scholar than I am and if so, know a lot more than me. I am willing to learn.??

        Could you quote any parts of the letter you are referring to?

  1. Yes, he was quite bitter towards his “blessed” mother. How would any child feel when at the age of five, out of five children, he was sent to a religious house to be schooled? A place that did not allow much talking, a place where he knew no one and was unloved? His mother did not see him for years and provided nothing at all for his care, as she felt Good would provide. Yet she managed to keep her other four children mostly with her, especially Geoffrey, who provided evidence against her for Henry VIII at the end.

    • Reginald’s was a privileged position, not an abandoned one. Neither Thomas Meyer’s biography of Reginald or Hazel Pierce’s biography of Margaret indicate that there was bad feelings between them. What evidence is there that she favored Geoffrey over her other children?

      • Yes, Margaret did end up helping Reginald but not without paying a price. There is a letter he wrote to his mother where he expresses his bitterness towards her. He talks about being the only one of her children sent away to live in silence with the monks. Imagine being five years old and your mother gives you away to the Church. A five year old boy can not appreciate such privelege. Apparently she did not give him any material support either because she felt God would provide. It was fortunate he was very bright and that Henry VIII chose him to be one of his scholars.

        He resisted becoming a priest until late in life when his position demanded it. He never lived at home with his mother or brothers because he had to live in other countries, due to his position. Geoffrey was with his mother, racking up debts until he married well.

        I think Reginald must have been a lonely man as he had no family since being a child of five and could never marry due to his priveleged position with the Church.

        He knew to stay out of reach of Henry after he split with him and so he kept his head until he died from the flu with no family to mourn him.

  2. What source indicated that Reginald was bitter about his dedication to the church? One would think that his position was privileged rather than abandoned as he received much more education and travelled Europe to a greater extent than any of his siblings. It is also not a path that he turned from as an adult. In fact, he was a passionate minister and was almost made Pope in 1550.

  3. Ah, Reginald Pole, that poor innocent victim of evil Henry VIII’s rampant tyranny. Yeah, sure.

    First up, Henry was very, very fond of old Reg. He paid for his education and supported him in just about everything. His mother, Lady Salisbury, was very highly esteemed by both Henry and Catherine of Aragon. So much so, she was pretty much entrusted with bringing up Princess Mary. Something you so casually forget to mention in your article.

    Secondly, Reginald not only spoke out against Henry, he actively and openly encouraged people to destabilise Henry’s regime. He encouraged rebellions at every turn, goading people into rebellion at home while he himself hid behind Papal sanctuary.

    Finally, when Mary allowed him to return home, Reginald set about organising the mass burnings of protestant “heretics” en masse. Another small fact you fail to mention in this piece.

    Reginald Pole was not hunted for his “royal blood” (which had been nullified by his grandfather’s treason, anyway). He was hunted because he was actively procuring Henry’s own destruction. He dragged his whole family down, while he himself hid behind the Pope’s skirts.

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