Pole, Margaret (1473–1541)

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Pole, Margaret (1473–1541)

Countess of Salisbury . Name variations: Margaret, Countess of Salisbury; Margaret Plantagenet; Lady Salisbury. Born around August 14, 1473, at Farley Castle, Somerset, England; executed on May 27, 1541, in the Tower of London; daughter of George, duke of Clarence (brother of Richard III), and Isabel Neville (1451–1476); sister of Edward (1475–1499), earl of Warwick and Salisbury; married Richard Pole, on September 22, 1491 (died 1505); children: Henry Pole, baron Montagu (d. 1538); Geoffrey Pole (d. 1558); Ursula Pole (d. 1570); Arthur Pole (d. 1570); Reginald Pole (1500–1558), archbishop of Canterbury.

The daughter of George, duke of Clarence, and Isabel Neville and the niece of Richard III (d. 1485), Margaret Pole married Richard Pole of Buckinghamshire in 1491. In 1499, Margaret's brother Edward, earl of Warwick and Salisbury, whose pedigree made him a supposed threat to the throne, met an untimely end in the Tower of London at the hands of Henry VIII. In atonement, Henry granted Margaret, whose husband had died in 1505, the family lands of the earldom of Salisbury and the title countess of Salisbury in 1513.

Around 1519, three-year-old Princess Mary (Mary I ), daughter of Henry VIII andCatherine of Aragon , was placed in the hands of Margaret, and, in time, the young princess grew to love her like a grandmother. When Henry divorced Catherine, Margaret's sympathies remained with the ex-queen. Following Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn and the birth of Elizabeth (I ), Henry determined that Princess Mary should be stripped of all rank and retinue and live with her half-sister Elizabeth at Hatfield. Margaret begged to accompany her young charge at her own expense; she even offered to pay the wages of an entire household if only the king would allow 17-year-old Mary to continue to surround herself with the familiar faces she had known throughout her life, but the king would have none of it. Henry also requested that Margaret turn over the young Mary's jewels to the new queen. Margaret refused and was dismissed.

Following the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536, Margaret was briefly back in favor, but that same year her son Reginald Pole, now a cardinal in Padua, published Pro Ecclesiasticae Unitatis Defensione, severely criticizing Henry VIII's conduct in divorcing his first wife Catherine. Though Margaret repudiated the book, it did not help that there had been talk of Mary marrying Reginald, and Henry set out to destroy the entire Pole family. In summer 1538, Margaret, along with her sons Geoffrey and Henry Pole, baron Montague, was arrested for treason and sent to the Tower of London. Henry was executed in December 1538, and his only son disappeared. Because he had testified against his family, Geoffrey received a pardon. After an unsuccessful suicide attempt, he escaped to Rome to join Reginald in 1540, but he could never forgive himself.

Margaret Pole was questioned endlessly and her residence searched; an armorial design was found which blended the coats-of-arms of the Poles and the Tudors, symbolizing a marriage of Reginald and Mary. Because of this, the countess was attainted (found guilty) in June 1539. (In English law, an Act of Attainder brought forfeiture of lands, tenements, and hereditary rights, and often loss of civil rights as well.) In spring 1541, on the pretext that she somehow might have instigated a minor rising in Yorkshire, Margaret Pole was escorted to the block on the Tower Green in anticipation of her beheading. In front of an audience of 100, she asked that they pray for the king and her beloved Mary. The 69-year-old Margaret suffered a particularly bloody fate. A good or wretched death depended on the skill of the executioner, and the regular executioner was absent that day. The axe was wielded by an inept boy. Before Margaret died, it is written,

her head and shoulders were hacked nearly to pieces. Margaret Pole, countess of Salisbury, was the last of the Plantagenets.

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