Cardinal, papal legate to the Council of Trent and to England under Queen Mary I, last Roman Catholic archbishop of Canterbury; b. Stourton Castle, Staffordshire, March 3, 1500; d. Nov. 17, 1558, Lambeth Palace, London, a few hours after the death of Mary Tudor. His simple monument is in Canterbury Cathedral near the tomb of Thomas Becket.
Patronage of Henry VIII. Pole's mother was Margaret of Salisbury, later beatified, daughter of George, duke of Clarence, and niece of King Edward IV. Sir Richard Pole, Reginald's father, was a cousin of Henry VII. Thus, Pole, of Tudor and Plantagenet descent, was cousin to King Henry VIII of England. He was tutored by William Latimer, a Greek scholar, was educated at the Carthusian monastery of Sheen and Magdalen College, Oxford, and continued his studies (1519–1527) in Rome, Padua, and Venice. Henry VIII paid for the early education of his kinsman, and Pole never forgot his debt of gratitude. Even in later years when bitter controversy marked their relationship, Pole wrote to him: "May God be my witness that never has the love of a mother for her only son been greater than the love I have always had for you."
On his return to England he refused to support the king's divorce proceedings against Catherine of Aragon, even though Henry offered him the sees of York and Winchester. In a stormy scene with Henry, Pole boldly defied the king. In 1532 he received permission to return to Italy. There an urgent appeal from Henry VIII sought Pole's opinion on the divorce. The result was Pole's Pro ecclesiasticae unitatis defensione (De Unitate) (1534–35), written for Henry VIII alone. It was a classic defense of the papacy and a strong statement of righteous indignation at Henry's moral and political transgressions. He begged Henry to repent and told him: "I can conceive of no greater injury you could inflict upon the Church than to abolish the head of the Church from the face of the earth…. Nothing more ignominious could everhave been imagined than this pretentious title of supreme head of the Church in England." Henry, angered by this vigorous tone, reacted by having Pole's brother executed and then by imprisoning Pole's innocent and devout mother, Margaret of Salisbury, in the Tower, where she was later beheaded. In 1536 Pope Paul III created Pole cardinal. At the time of the pilgrimage of grace in England he was named legate, though when he reached Paris in April of 1537, the rising had been crushed, and Pole returned to Italy.
Leader of Reform. In July of 1536, Paul III had appointed Pole, with Cardinal Gian Pietro Caraffa (later Pope Paul IV) and three other prominent reform leaders to a special commission. The Consilium de emendanda ecclesia that resulted was a fearless statement on the existing abuses in the Church and contained the outline of the general reform program for the Council of Trent. In August of 1541, Pole was appointed governor of Viterbo and the Papal States in Italy, where tolerance and kindly sympathy marked his administration. Barely three weeks before the opening of the Council of Trent, on Feb. 22, 1145, Cardinals Giammaria Del Monte, Marcello Cervini, and Pole were empowered to preside. In the absence of one, the other two were to have full authority. At the Council of Trent Pole's dominating personality and his restrained and conciliatory approach impressed the delegates as he reminded them that they themselves were alone to blame for the evils burdening the flock of Christ. He exhorted them to acknowledge the spiritual wickedness existing in high places.
Following the death of Paul III on Nov. 10, 1549, and the political maneuvering at the conclave, Pole received a large number of votes but not the two-thirds necessary for election. The imperialist cardinals offered to elect Pole by acclamation and rendering homage (per adorationem ), but Pole refused to cooperate with this devious strategy. After considerable haggling Cardinal Del Monte (Julius III) was elected with the aid of French cardinals who arrived too late to participate in the early voting.
Marian Restoration. In 1554 Pole was appointed papal legate to England. Mary Tudor, his cousin, was now queen. On Nov. 30, 1554, Pole absolved the English nation from schism and brought about the short-lived Catholic Restoration. He made every effort to restrain Mary from excessive retaliation against the Protestants, favoring instead a policy of moderation and reconciliation. He was ordained and consecrated archbishop of Canterbury (1556), and he introduced Tridentine discipline and reforms. Throughout Pole's time as archbishop he was hampered by the unfounded suspicions and criticisms of Paul IV, who distrusted him. Ill health also restricted his effectiveness.
Pole's Achievement. Pole's ideals represented a humanism tempered by personal sanctity, the cultivation of man's intellectual gifts, and unswerving defense of the apostolic succession to the papacy. His moral conduct was above reproach, and compared with the majority of his contemporaries he was conspicuously gentle, both in his opinions and in his language. His learning, generosity, and charity inspired warm friendships. If his total achievements appear minimal, his permanent contribution was in his firm stand on papal supremacy and his reasoned reform program for the Church Universal, which permeated the Council of Trent and later inspired Vatican Council II.
Pope Paul VI in Summi Dei Verbum (1963) referred to Pole by recalling his decree to the London Synod of 1556. It was there that Pole first introduced the word seminarium (a seed-bed, seminary) for the proper training of candidates to the priesthood. He urged the bishops to imitate the example of St. Ignatius Loyola and his Roman College by founding adequate seminaries. This decree of Pole's became the model for the canon on the institution of seminaries that emanated from the Council of Trent in the De Reformatione decree approved on July 15, 1563.
Bibliography: r. pole, Epistolae … et aliorum ad ipsum, ed. a. m. quirini, 5 v. (Brescia 1744–57). Sources. j. s. brewer et al., eds., Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry, VIII, 22 v. (London 1862–1932). Literature. w. schenk, Reginald Pole, Cardinal of England (New York 1950). p. hughes, Rome and the Counter-Reformation in England (London 1942); The Reformation in England, 3 v. in 1 (5th, rev. ed. New York 1963). f. a. gasquet, Cardinal Pole and His Early Friends (London 1927). m. haile, The Life of Reginald Pole (New York 1910). h. f. m. prescott, Mary Tudor (London 1952). h. jedin, History of the Council of Trent, 3v. (Freiburg 1949–). j. gairdner, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900, 63 v. (London 1885–1900) 16:35–46. r. biron and j. barennes, Un Prince anglais: Cardinal Légat au XVI e siècle, Reginald Pole (Paris 1922). a. zimmermann, Kardinal Pole: Sein Leben und seine Schriften (New York 1893). g. b. parks, "The First Italianate Englishmen," Studies in the Renaissance 8:197–216; "The Parma Letters and the Dangers to Cardinal Pole," American Catholic Historical Review 46 (1960) 299–317. e. g. boland, "An Appreciation of Cardinal Pole," Unitas 14 (1962) 120–126. t. starkeya, A Dialogue between Reginald Pole and Thomas Lupset, ed. k. m. burton (London 1948).
[j. g. dwyer]
J. A. Cannon