Margaret Pole was an intriguing and complex character.
One of the few survivors of the Plantagenet dynasty after the wars of the 15th Century she was executed under the orders of King Henry VIII in 1541, aged sixty seven years old.
So what happened to cause this old lady to lose her head?
First let’s look at some of the connections
- Margaret pole’s father was George, the Duke of Clarence
- The Duke of Clarence was brother to King Edward IV and King Richard III. His father was Richard Plantagenet 3rd Duke of York and his mother was Cecily Neville
- Margaret Pole’s mother was Isabel Neville
- Isabel Neville was daughter of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, known as ‘Warwick the King Maker’ and Lady Beauchamp
But before she was even born, Margaret’s father had, by his actions, set the family on quite a controversial path
- The Duke of Clarence supported his brother Edward’s claim to the throne
- He married Isabel Neville in 1469 and fell under the hand of his father in law, Richard Neville, Kingmaker who had deserted Edward and was in alliance with Margaret of Anjou. He persuaded George to join him. (just a reminder, Neville had put Edward on the throne in 1461)
- King Henry VI, flattered George by making him heir to the throne after Edward of Westminster, the King’s only son by Margaret. That surely was a desperate move by the King? It’s true that by such an action he was pointedly saying that Edward should not be King. Edward had committed treason against Henry and thus had an attainder against him, meaning that he had forfeited all lands, titles etc. He also invoked his supposed illegitimacy but surely he also put his son Edward of Westminster in the target for any fanciful ideas George might have had?
- It all came to nought , George had swallowed a line though and allowed himself to be caught. Warwick quickly married his daughter Anne, sister to Margaret to Edward of Westminster. Warwick had no intention of seeing George on the throne.
- George Duke of Clarence swapped sides and returned to his brother’s side.
- Richard Neville failed to restore King Henry VI to the throne and then died on the battlefield in 1471
- Edward of Westminster died on the battle field
- King Henry VI died as King Edward IV entered London
It would be another two years before Margaret Pole was born
The family and connected families, were riven through with intrigues, corruptions and jealousy and Margaret Pole’s early life was shot through with sadness
- Margaret was born in 1473
- She had an older sister, Ann, born in 1470 but who died within a short time of being born
- She had two younger brothers Edward born in 1475 and Richard born in 1476
- In 1476, when Margaret was just 3 years old her mother, who was only 25 years old herself, and young brother Richard died. Her father, never a very stable man, convinced himself they had been murdered and set about murdering the servants he thought responsible
- How sad must the 3 year old Margaret have been, her mother, brother and sister dead and her father deranged
- Her aunt Anne Neville took over the care of the children. Anne Neville was married twice, to Edward Prince of Wales, King Henry VI’s son and then Margaret’s uncle Richard Duke of Gloucester,later King Richard III. (hang on in there, it is a bit complicated)
- Her father was eventually found guilty of conspiring to plot against his brother King Edward IV and privately executed in the Tower of London in 1478. The story goes he was drowned in a barrel of Malmesbury wine.
How did King Edward IV view the position of Margaret and her only surviving sibling, Edward?
- Even though King Edward ordered the execution of his brother, he did not show animosity towards Margaret although her brother Edward had a much harder time of it.
- During the reign of King Edward IV, Margaret and her brother were brought up at Shene Palace (on the site of which, King Henry VII built Richmond Palace) with the children of her uncle, King Edward IV. Maybe better to keep them close. The King made Edward Earl of Warwick.
- At his death, Margaret and Edward, after a short stay at Warwick Castle, their ancestral home, then lived for a short time at the Court of Richard III. In 1483 Richard knighted Edward at the same time as the investiture of his son Edward, as Prince of Wales.
- The young Edward’s wardship was purchased by the Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset in 1481, in whose household he is believed to have spent the following two years, so he and Margaret were separated.
- When King Richard’s son died, the youthful Earl of Warwick became heir apparent to the Crown, and Margaret, his sister, in the same way, Crown Princess. These short-lived honours, however, ended in 1485, when the victory of the Tudors at Bosworth gave the throne to King Henry VII.
Life for Margaret and Edward changed under the rule of King Henry VII
- In 1485, Margaret was still only twelve years old and Edward only ten.
- King Henry VII removed Edward Earl of Warwick to the Tower of London where he stayed until his death
- Edward, Earl of Warwick’s claim to the throne posed a potential threat to the new Tudor dynasty, particularly after the appearance of the pretender Lambert Simnel in 1487. To prove that Simnel was a pretender King Henry paraded Edward through the streets of London and put him on display at St Pauls. Secluded from all society, and most shamefully neglected, the poor young Earl of Warwick grew up in almost total ignorance and simplicity. Then in 1499, came his alleged attempt to escape, together with another claimant, Perkin Warbeck. King Henry now had a plausible pretext for bringing the last of the male Plantagenets to the scaffold.
- Margaret was made distraught by the treatment of her brother.
- In 1491, when Margaret was eighteen years old, King Henry VII arranged her marriage to a distant relative and supporter of his own, Sir Richard Pole. He was conferred the Order of the Garter and was Governor to the Prince of Wales, Prince Arthur.
The life of Margaret and Richard Pole
- Margaret and Sir Richard seem to have had a stable marriage.
- Margaret gave birth to five children and was assigned a role as lady in waiting to Katherine of Aragon when she was married to Prince Arthur. She and Katharine enjoyed one anothers company and became close friends in the short time they were together.
- In 1504, Sir Richard died, leaving Margaret a widow, with only a small income from her jointure. She was saved by the King lending her money on generous terms.
- Margaret’s situation took a turn for the better when King Henry VIII came to the throne. He allowed her to buy back the Earldom of Salisbury, which gave her income from its properties. It made her the only woman in England to hold a peerage in her own right. Sha was an astute business woman and made a handsome profit from her estates and investments.
- Margaret was brought back into the court to serve Katherine again and the two woman went about their business with great piety.
- Katharine chose Margaret to be the godmother of her daughter, Princess Mary, and later made her her governess.
- Katherine ensured the success of her children, managing their roles carefully, Reginald went into the church and quickly rose to high office. Her eldest son, Henry, became a baron and served in the House of Lords. Arthur, although he died young, became a gentleman of the privy chamber. Ursula, married the son of the Duke of Buckingham, and Geoffrey Pole married an heiress.
Things began to change after King Henry pursued the annulment of his marriage to Katherine
- Margaret supported Katherine and the Princess Mary
- Margaret’s son Reginald initially helped speak to scholars in Rome about the annulment. He was however very concerned by his mission and came to the conclusion that the King was wrong. Although Henry offered him the offices of the Archbishop of York and the See of Winchester. Reginald saw it as a bribe and refused them. The two men met and the conversation was extremely angry.
- King Henry had Katherine and Princess Mary removed and Katherine although she begged to be allowed to accompany them was refused. The King saw her as a bad influence.
- Reginald escaped to Europe and from a safe distance continued to criticize the King. His mother had no choice but to denounce him. Reginald’s actions grew daily more aggressive. He was made a cardinal, a fact that must have made the deeply religious Catholic Margaret, secretly very happy but his actions put his family at great risk.
The arrest of Margaret Pole
- In November 1538, Margaret was arrested and placed in the Tower of London. Her property was searched for any possible evidence of treasonous activities, and she suffered a brutal interrogation, she was 65 years old.
- Allegedly a gown was found at her house on which was embroidered the arms of England, the Pole family symbol of pansies, Prince Mary marigolds and the five wounds of Christ. Thomas Cromwell believed it demonstrated the Pole’s family intentions to marry to Mary and restore papal authority in England.
- The Pole family were know subjected to King Henry’s wrath. Margaret was convicted as a traitor by an Act of Attainder. Her son Henry, was executed, after testimony given by his brother Geoffrey who was then able to escape to Europe.
- Margaret continued to be imprisoned in the Tower for several more years, until another Catholic uprising by the Nevilles, who were of course related to Margaret, occurred.
- King Henry decided it was time to have Margaret executed and in a most cowardly way, arranged it so that she was killed quickly. No scaffold was erected and her head was removed crudely and hastily. An old lady, killed in this fashion would not have found favour with the population.
Read more about Margaret Pole and her house in Hampshire Warblington Castle, a fascinating place on the south coast of Hampshire.