Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

Today she died, in a horrible way, on the scaffold at the Tower of London, on the orders of her distant relative, Henry VIII.  Her crime??  Being a Plantagenet.

She was born the eldest child of George, Duke of Clarence and Isabel, daughter of the Earl of Warwick.  Her first few years of life would probably have been quite priviledged.  She had a younger brother, Edward, who would have been her father’s heir.

She was barely three years old when her mother died, shortly after giving birth to another son.  Her father soon acted quite mad, I tend to think because of grief, though he had always had a rather ambitious attitude, and was comitted to the tower of London.

Sent to the Tower at the same time was a bishop called Stillington, who would become more famous years later, with his role in Titulus Regis.

It has been suggested that the Bishop had gone to George with information about his brother Edward’s previous marriage to Eleanor Talbot, which George had taken to his brother, hence his being locked up.

The Bishop was released soon after but George was condemned to death.  If the information that he held about the Talbot marriage were true, the Woodville children were illegitimate and George was the legitimate heir to the throne.  Perhaps he threatened too much to get that information out there, that would come out years later, when Richard, Duke of Gloucester found out similar information from the same Bishop………..

But I digress.

Margaret’s life would be turned upside down by the execution of her father in the Tower, when her brother and her were sent to live with the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, her aunt and uncle.

Her life would would be upset again, when at 10 years old, the King died and the DUke of Gloucester became King Richard III (no I am not getting into the Richard III argument here, that is for another time and place !!).

As children of the elder brother of Richard, Margaret and Edward would have had a better claim to the throne if it were not for their father’s attainder, years before.

Only two years later, Richard was dead and Henry Tudor had taken the throne from him. Once Tudor married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, Margaret was taken into their household.  Her brother was not so lucky, he was committed to the Tower, because of his potential as a Yorkist claimant to the throne.  He would later be executed as a traitor, having being encouraged to aid the escape of Perkin Warbeck.

Margaret was given to the King’s cousin Richard Pole in marriage, once she was of age.  The marriage appears to have been relatively happy and they had five children together.

Unfortunately, he died quite young and left her as a widow.  One of her sons was committed to the church and she took her youngest children to live at Syon Abbey with  herself, among the nuns.

The boy committed to the church was Reginald Pole, who I chose as a major player in my story.  In real life, he had an eventfull life, rising to become a Cardinal.

The younger children, Geoffrey and Ursula stayed with her until she was brought to court as lady in waiting to Catherine of Aragon when Henry VIII came to the throne.

Ursula is of interest to myself, as she appears in my own family tree, seventeen generations ago.

She was granted the honour of guardianship of the Princess Mary, who thought much of her by all accounts.  Mary is said to have been very upset when Margaret was executed.

In my book, this is when history varies from my alternative, I have Mary falling in love with Margaret’s son while in her care and marrying secretly.

In 1536 Reginald Pole fell out with Henry VIII because of the Anne Boleyn marriage and England’s split with the Church of Rome.  At this time, Reginald was not living in England, so in revenge, Henry had his mother, brother and nephew arrested and imprisoned in the Tower.

They were there for two years before Henry had them executed.

She refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing to the crown right to the end.  Once on the platform, she was told to put her head on the block but refused, and had to be forced onto it.

The executioner was new to the job and made a real mess of killing her, the first blow only cutting her shoulder, allowing her to get to her feet and attempt to escape.  It is said that it took a dozen blows in all to take off her head.

She was laid to rest in the Church of St Peter Ad Vincula, in the Tower grounds, the same one that Anne Boleyn had been buried in a few years earlier.

It is often said to be the cruellest of Henry VIII’s executions, killing a 67 year old woman in this way.

She was seen as a martyr to the Catholic faith by many at the time, to the point that she was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886 and her feast day is the 28th May.

She had quite a life and suffered a cruel and painful death, so I believe that martydom was probably well deserved.

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