Henry VIII,the Reign
14 August 1473 – 27 May 1541
Countess of Salisbury
Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury
Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury was the daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, the brother of Edward IV and Richard III of England.
Margaret was born at Farleigh Hungerford Castle in Somerset, the only surviving daughter of George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, and his wife Isabella Neville, who was the elder daughter of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, and his wife Anne de Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick. Her maternal grandfather was killed fighting against her uncle, Edward IV of England, at the Battle of Barnet. Her father, already Duke of Clarence, was then created Earl of Salisbury and of Warwick. Edward IV declared that Margaret's younger brother Edward should be known as Earl of Warwick as a courtesy title, but no peerage was ever created for him. Margaret would have had a claim to the Earldom of Warwick, but the earldom was forfeited on the attainder of her brother Edward.
When her husband died in 1504, Margaret was a widow with five children, a limited amount of land inherited from her husband, no salary and no prospects. Henry VII paid for Richard's funeral. To ease the situation, Margaret devoted her third son Reginald Pole to the Church, where he was to have an eventful career as a papal Legate and later Archbishop of Canterbury. When Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509, he married Catherine of Aragon himself. Margaret was again appointed one of her ladies-in-waiting.
Her first son, Henry Pole, was created Baron Montagu, another of the Neville titles; he spoke for the family in the House of Lords. Her second son, Arthur Pole, had a career as a courtier, becoming one of the six Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber.
Margaret's third son, Reginald Pole, studied in Padua; he was dean in Exeter and in Dorset, and canon in York, as well as several other livings, although he had not been ordained a priest. He represented Henry VIII in Paris in 1529, persuading the theologians of the Sorbonne to support Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Her youngest son Geoffrey Pole married Constance, daughter of Edmund Pakenham, and inherited the estate of Lordington in Sussex.
Margaret was appointed Governess to Henry's daughter, Princess Mary.
When Mary was declared a bastard in 1533, Margaret refused to give Mary's gold plate and jewels back to Henry. When Mary's household was broken up at the end of the year, Margaret asked to serve Mary at her own cost, but was not permitted. When the Imperial Ambassador Eustace Chapuys suggested two years later that Mary be handed over to Margaret, Henry refused, calling her "a fool, of no experience." When Henry's queen Anne Boleyn was arrested, and eventually executed, in 1536, Margaret was briefly permitted to return to Court.
In May 1536, Reginald Pole broke with the king. In 1531, he warned of the dangers of the Boleyn marriage. He returned to Padua in 1532, and received a last English benefice in December of that year. Chapuys suggested to Emperor Charles V that Reginald marry Mary and combine their dynastic claims. Chapuys also communicated with Reginald through his brother Geoffrey. Reginald replied to books Henry sent him with his own pamphlet, pro ecclesiasticae unitatis defensione, or de unitate, which denied Henry's position on the marriage of a brother's wife and denied the royal supremacy. Reginald also urged the princes of Europe to depose Henry immediately. Henry wrote to Margaret, who in turn wrote to her son a letter reproving him for his "folly".
In 1537, Reginald , although not ordained, was created a Cardinal. Pope Paul III put him in charge of organising assistance for the Pilgrimage of Grace. Neither Francis I of France nor the Emperor supported this effort..
Geoffrey Pole was arrested in August 1538; he had been corresponding with Reginald, and the investigation of Henry Courtenay, Marquess of Exeter had turned up his name. Geoffrey had appealed to Thomas Cromwell, who had him arrested and interrogated. Under interrogation, Geoffrey said that his eldest brother, Lord Montagu, and the Marquess had been parties to his correspondence with Reginald. Montagu, Exeter, and Margaret were arrested in November 1538.
In January 1539, Geoffrey was pardoned, and Margaret's son Henry, Baron Montagu ,and cousin Exeter, were executed for treason after trial. In May 1539, Henry, Margaret, Exeter and others were attainted, as Margaret's father had been.. She was sentenced to death, and could be executed at the king's command.
Margaret Pole, as she now was styled, was held in the Tower of London for two and a half years. She, her grandson Henry, and Exeter's son were held together and supported by the king. She was attended by servants and received an extensive grant of clothing in March 1541. In 1540, Cromwell himself fell from favour and was attained and executed.
On the morning of 27 May 1541, Margaret was told she was to die within the hour. She answered that no crime had been imputed to her. Nevertheless, she was taken from her cell to the place within the precincts of the Tower of London where a low wooden block had been prepared instead of the customary scaffold.
As she was of noble birth, she was not executed before the populace and was buried in the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula within the Tower of London.