On this day in 1541 – Lady Margaret Pole was executed

Margaret Pole was the daughter of George, Duke of Clarence and Lady Isabel Neville making Margaret niece to both King Edward IV and King Richard III. Margaret would have had a claim to the English throne had it not have been for the attainder passed against her father after he was executed for treason.

During King Richard III’s reign Margaret and her brother, Edward, Earl of Warwick, were kept at Sheriff Hutton in Yorkshire until Richard was defeated by the hands of Henry Tudor’s army at the Battle of Bosworth. After this Margaret’s brother was taken into the Tower of London only to be seen once in 1487 before he was eventually killed as he was considered a rival to the throne and the focus of the rebels cause. Margaret, however, was married of to Henry’s cousin Sir Richard Pole in an attempt to make her forgotten by marrying her to a lowly courtier.

Sir Richard Pole was created Chamberlain for Arthur Tudor, Henry’s eldest son and when Arthur married Katherine of Aragon Margaret was one of her ladies in waiting. The Pole’s would be at Ludlow Castle until Arthur died in 1502 and Richard was put in charge of the Welsh Marches.

Sir Richard and Margaret Pole had five children when Richard died in 1504 and with the death of her husband Margaret was left with limited land and no income and so Henry VII paid for Sir Richard’s funeral to help ease the financial burden. Also to help her family Margaret arranged for one of her sons, Reginald, to enter the Church. Reginald’s relationship with his mother was to be strained after this and he had a career that eventually led him to be Archbishop of Canterbury during Mary I reign.

With Henry VIII coming to the throne after the death of his father Margaret was again appointed a lady in waiting to his new wife and Margaret’s former lady, Katherine of Aragon. Henry was very favourable to Margaret and restored some of her brother’s lands to her at the cost of 5000 marks. She was restored the lands of the Earl of Salisbury making her one of only two ladies in England to be a peer in her own right and by 1538 Margaret was the fifth richest peer in England.

Margaret’s other children became favoured by the new King, her eldest son Henry was created Baron Montagu and her second son Arthur was a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber. Margaret’s daughter, Ursula, married Henry Stafford and her youngest son, Geoffrey, married the daughter of Sir Edmund Pakenham.

Margaret’s favour continued when she was made Princess Mary’s Governess and she remained loyal to Mary. When Mary was declared illegitimate and her household was broken apart Margaret asked to remain with Mary at her own cost, a request that was turned down. Even the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, suggested to the King that Mary was kept with Margaret again Henry refused calling Margaret ‘a fool, of no experience’.

The Plantagenet name remained a strong name in England and when Henry began to turn away from Rome the north began to rise and the Pole name, in particular Reginald, was a name that the rebels would march behind. Henry began investigating the rebels and Sir Geoffrey was arrested after being found communicating with Reginald. Under interrogation Geoffrey admitted that Lord Montagu and his mother as well as Henry Courtenay had all corresponded with Reginald as well. They were all arrested in Novemnber 1538.

January 1539 saw Geoffrey pardoned and released but Lord Montagu and Henry Courtenay were executed on the charge of treason. All those arrested were attainted this included Montagu and Courtenay who were already dead. As part of the evidence for the attainders Thomas Cromwell had produced a tunic worn by the Pilgrimage of the Grace that bore the symbol of the Five Wounds of Christ. This was enough for Henry to condemn his mother’s cousin to death.

Margaret Pole and her grandson, Henry and Courtenay’s son were held in the Tower of London where they would remain for the next two and a half years. On the morning of 27th May 1541 Margaret was informed that she was to executed within the hour and prepare herself. Her execution is remembered as being one of the most horrific. A block was prepared and 150 witnesses were there to see the former Countess of Salisbury die. Margaret was dragged and forced to place her head on the block and the executioner took his first swing, missing Margaret’s neck completely and hitting her shoulder. It allegedly took a further 10 blows before Margaret died. She was later laid to rest in the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London.Margaret Pole

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