Margaret Plantagenet – A traitor’s daughter (Part two)

maggie pole
Rebecca Benson as Margaret Pole in The White Princess (2017)(Screenshot/Fair Use)

Read part one here.

Margaret threw herself into renovating and commissioning new residences, like Warblington Castle. From a later inventory, we know that over 73 servants worked at Warblington Castle alone. She proudly displayed her arms on the windows of her properties.

Her influence at court grew even more significant when she was chosen to be one of the godmothers of Princess Mary. She was later also appointed governess to Mary which would lead to an affectionate friendship with the future Queen. Margaret held the post from 1520-1521 and again from 1525 until 1533.

Slowly Margaret’s children began to get married and have children of their own. Her eldest son married Jane Neville – a distant kinswoman, Arthur married a young widow named Jane Pickering, Geoffrey married Constance Pakenham, and Ursula married Henry Stafford, 1st Baron Stafford – heir to the Duke of Buckingham. Reginald would eventually become the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury. Margaret was on top, her children had made advantageous marriages, and she was in high favour with the King and Queen. Margaret made sure her family found places at court, such as her granddaughter Catherine who was in Princess Mary’s household and was of a similar age.

Meanwhile, her son Reginald watched from Padua as King Henry VIII broke from Rome to marry Anne Boleyn. He avoided the situation until he was directly asked about it in 1535. Margaret had tried to protect Mary from the situation as much as she could as her governess and tried to keep everything as normal as possible for her. By 1528, Mary’s household was recalled from Wales, and it was reduced, but Margaret remained in her post. When Henry finally left Catherine for good in 1531, there was no more point in hiding it from Mary. In private, Mary was often emotional, and this situation also coincided with the onset of puberty. When Princess Mary was declared illegitimate in 1533, her household was disbanded. Margaret asked to serve Mary at her own cost, but this was not allowed. Perhaps Henry believed that Margaret had influenced Mary’s behaviour in refusing to recognise her reduced status. When the Imperial Ambassador requested that Mary should once again be placed with Margaret, Henry told him that “the Countess was a fool, of no experience, and that if his daughter had been under her care during this illness, she would have died, for she would not have known what to do.”1

Margaret and Mary had spent eight years together, and being forcibly separated must have been painful for them. According to the Imperial Ambassador, Mary considered Margaret to be “her second mother.”2 Margaret was by now 60 years old, and she had some sort of collapse after being separated from Mary. Margaret decided to maintain a low-profile for the next three years, and she was not with Catherine when she died on 7 January 1536 in exile at Kimbolton Castle. Her response to her close friend’s death has not been recorded. The downfall of Anne Boleyn happened just four months later, and Henry duly married his third wife Jane Seymour 11 days after Anne Boleyn’s execution. Mary was eventually allowed back to court after completely submitting to her father’s will, and Margaret also returning to court.

Meanwhile, Reginald’s opinion on the Boleyn marriage arrived rather a bit late and with awkward timing just as Margaret returned to court. Her other son Henry advised Margaret to condemn Reginald as a traitor. That summer, Margaret withdrew from court again. She kept in touch with Mary, and she spent most of her time at Warblington Castle. Her sons’ favour with the King fluctuated quite a bit during this time. Henry hated Reginald and was sorely tested by Geoffrey’s foolish behaviour. By 1538, only Henry remained at court, but his loyalty too was a facade.

On 29 August 1538, Geoffrey was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. On 4 November, Henry joined his brother in the Tower. On 12 November, the Earl of Southampton and the Bishop of Ely arrived to interrogate Margaret, and she was escorted to the Earl of Southampton’s residence three days later. Reginald was out of the King’s reach, and her other son Arthur had already passed away. On 9 December 1538, Henry was executed for treason as he “wished and desired the King’s death.” Geoffrey avoided execution and was pardoned the following year.

Margaret was examined for several days and defended herself and her sons. Reginald cast his family in the role of martyrs for the Church, and there were even several international responses to the arrests. To keep her lands under his own control, Henry kept Margaret imprisoned, but he did not execute her. Even her young grandson Henry (son of the elder Henry) was kept imprisoned. Margaret continued to maintain her innocence, but she was taken to the Tower by November 1539, where she was held for several years. She was allowed some freedom to walk about, but she suffered from the cold.

The end came quite suddenly on 27 May 1541, and Margaret was “beheaded in a corner of the Tower, in presence of so few people that until evening the truth was doubted.”3 It appeared to have been a spur of the moment decision on Henry’s part and Margaret was not informed until that very morning. She was shocked and “found the thing very strange, not knowing of what crime she was accused, nor how she had been sentenced.”4 On the scaffold, she sent Princess Mary her blessing and begged for hers in return. The inexperienced executioner “hacked her head and shoulders to pieces in the most pitiful manner.”5 She was buried in the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower.

In 1886, Margaret was beatified by Pope Leo XIII and she is now known as Blessed Margaret Pole.6

  1. Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, 1473–1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership by Hazel Pierce p.102
  2. Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, 1473–1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership by Hazel Pierce p.102
  3. Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, 1473–1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership by Hazel Pierce p.177
  4. Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, 1473–1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership by Hazel Pierce p.178
  5. Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, 1473–1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership by Hazel Pierce p.178
  6. Source: Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, 1473–1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership by Hazel Pierce

About Moniek Bloks 2728 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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