Of the many executions ordered by Henry VIII, surely the most horrifying was that of sixty-seven-year-old Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, hacked to pieces on the scaffold by a blundering headsman.
From the start, Margaret’s life had been marred by tragedy and violence: her father, George, Duke of Clarence, had been executed at the order of his own brother, Edward IV, and her naïve young brother, Edward, Earl of Warwick, had spent most of his life in the Tower before being executed on orders of Henry VII. Yet Margaret, friend to Catherine of Aragon and the beloved governess of her daughter Mary, had seemed destined for a happier fate, until religious upheaval and rebellion caused Margaret and her family to fall from grace. From Margaret’s birth as the daughter of a royal duke to her beatification centuries after her death, Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower tells the story of one of the fortress’s most unlikely prisoners. – From Amazon
It’s been a long wait for this book, though I am not exactly sure why and then all of a sudden it was published. But never mind, it’s here now, and it was worth the wait. Margaret had seemed destined for greatness as the daughter of a royal duke and a great heiress. Her destiny changed when her mother died suddenly, and her father was executed as a traitor just over a year later by her uncle Edward IV. When her other uncle Richard III was killed in battle in 1485, the throne was taken by Henry Tudor. Margaret’s brother Edward was a potential heir to the throne and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was eventually executed in 1499. Margaret was treated more kindly, and she married a cousin of the new King in 1487, Sir Richard Pole. They had five children.
Margaret was briefly a lady-in-waiting for the newly married Catherine of Aragon in 1502. She would be widowed in 1504, with little income and prospects. When Henry VIII became King in 1509, Margaret again became a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon. She was restored to some of her brother’s lands and was restored to the earldom of Salisbury. Margaret was now Countess of Salisbury. Margaret’s favour varied greatly at court. She was appointed governess to Henry’s daughter Mary, but she was removed and later restored. She remained loyal to marry, even offering to serve Mary at her own cost when Mary was declared a bastard in 1533. This was not permitted. She was allowed to return to court in 1536, but this was to be brief. Her son Reginald had been dedicated to the religious life, and he had broken with the King in May 1536. He was created a cardinal in 1537. Her son Geoffrey was arrested in August 1538 as he had been corresponding with Reginald. Upon his interrogation, his elder brother Henry was also arrested. Geoffrey was eventually pardoned, but Henry was executed. Margaret was attained as well and was held at the Tower of London. She was sentenced to death. She was held at the Tower for two and a half years together with her grandson (son of her son, Henry), who spent the rest of his life in the Tower. Margaret was eventually executed on 27 May 1541 by a blundering executioner who hacked her head and shoulders to pieces.
“Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower” is an excellent read, which shows us all the ups and downs of Margaret’s life, which would end so tragically. This book was certainly worth the wait. It is available now in the UK and is due to be released in the US on 28 October 2016.