August 14 – Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, a lady with Plantagenet blood

Aug14,2022 #Margaret Pole

On this day in history, 14th August 1473, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, was born at Farley Hungerford Castle.

Margaret Pole was the daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, and his wife, Isabel Neville, daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. Margaret was also the niece of Kings Edward IV and Richard III, and the cousin of Elizabeth of York. Unfortunately, Margaret came to a rather sticky end.

Let me tell you a bit more about this fascinating Tudor lady and what happened to her…


On this day in history, 14th August 1473, in the reign of King Edward IV, Isabelle Neville, Duchess of Clarence and daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and a man known as the Kingmaker, gave birth to a daughter by her husband, George, Duke of Clarence, brother of King Edward IV.

Isabelle gave birth at Farley Hungerford Castle, near Bath in Somerset. George and Isabelle called their little girl Margaret, and she would go on to be known as Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. Isabelle died in December 1476, when her daughter was just 3 years old, and the Duke of Clarence died in February 1478 while imprisoned in the Tower of London. It was rumoured that he was drowned in a barrel of Malmsey wine.

Margaret was brought up with her brother, Edward, Earl of Warwick, first at Sheriff Hutton Castle and then, after King Henry VII came to the throne in 1485, Margaret’s brother was imprisoned in the Tower of London while Margaret was brought up at court. After the Perkin Warbeck Plot of 1499, Edward was attainted and executed. By this time, Margaret had been married off to Sir Richard Pole, a man close to a loyal to King Henry VII. Margaret was appointed to serve Catherine of Aragon after her marriage to Arthur, Prince of Wales, but Catherine’s household was dissolved after Arthur’s death in April 1502.

Margaret had five children before she was widowed in 1505. One of her children was Reginald Pole who became a cardinal and then, in the reign of Queen Mary I, Archbishop of Canterbury.

At the beginning of King Henry VIII’s reign, Margaret was in favour. The king allowed her to become the 8th Countess of Salisbury and she was Princess Mary’s godmother and governess. However, things changed when her son, Reginald, spoke out against the king’s annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Things got even worse when Reginald published his treatise Pro ecclesiasticae unitatis defensione, in which he denounced Henry VIII’s policies. This brazen insult to the king made Henry want to wreak his revenge on the Pole family and the situation was not helped by Margaret’s Plantagenet blood, which Henry VIII also saw as a threat.

In November 1538, various members of the Pole family were arrested for treason and taken to the Tower of London. In January 1539, many of them were executed. Even though the countess was elderly (for Tudor times), being 65 years of age in 1538, she was questioned and taken to Cowdray House near Midhurst. In May 1539, a Bill of Attainder was issued against her by Thomas Cromwell and a tunic displaying the Five Wounds, which was used as a symbol in the Northern rebellions, was used as evidence against her, having allegedly been found in her belongings. She was stripped of her titles and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

After two years of being imprisoned as a traitor in the Tower, the now frail 67-year-old Plantagenet heiress was executed. As a woman of noble birth, Margaret Pole was given a private execution within the Tower walls on 27th May 1541.

There are two accounts of her execution – One says that she was executed by an inexperienced axeman who missed her neck the first time, gashing her shoulder, and that it took a further ten blows to finish her off. The second account tells of how she managed to escape from the block and that she was hewn down by the executioner as she ran. This second account concurs with the first in that it says that eleven blows were required. Whichever account you believe, this lady had a truly awful end. I will never understand how Henry could take his anger out on a frail old lady who was no threat to him and who had acted as a mother figure to his daughter Mary.

On the 29th December 1886, Pope Leo XIII beatified Margaret, making her Blessed Margaret Pole, a Catholic martyr. Her feast day is the 28th May, the date that some sources give as her execution date.

A ballad said to have been based on words found carved into her cell wall, goes:
“For traitors on the block should die;
I am no traitor, no, not I!
My faithfulness stands fast and so,
Towards the block I shall not go!
Nor make one step, as you shall see;
Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me!”

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