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Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

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Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

Lady Margaret Pole
Margaret, Countess of Salisbury
Portrait of unknown sitter, traditionally thought to be Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury[1]
Born (1473-08-14)14 August 1473
Farleigh Hungerford Castle, Somerset, England
Died 27 May 1541(1541-05-27) (aged 67)
Tower of London, London, England
Spouse Sir Richard Pole
Issue Henry Pole, 1st Baron Montagu
Reginald Pole, cardinal
Sir Geoffrey Pole
Sir Arthur Pole
Ursula Pole
Father George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence
Mother Isabel Neville

Blessed Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, born Margaret of York & Clarence (14 August 1473 – 27 May 1541), was an English King Edward IV and King Richard III. She was one of two women in sixteenth-century England to be a peeress in her own right with no titled husband.[2] One of the few surviving members of the Plantagenet dynasty after the Wars of the Roses, she was executed in 1541 at the command of King Henry VIII, who was the son of her cousin Elizabeth of York. Pope Leo XIII beatified her as a martyr for the Catholic Church on 29 December 1886.[3]


  • Life 1
    • Countess of Salisbury 1.1
    • Fall 1.2
    • Execution 1.3
  • Numbering 2
  • Legacy 3
  • Family 4
  • Ancestors 5
  • Fictional portrayals 6
  • Notes 7
  • Sources 8
  • Other reading 9


Lady Margaret was born at Lady Isabel Neville, who was the elder daughter of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, and his wife Lady Anne de Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick. Lady Margaret would have had a claim to the Earldom of Warwick, but the earldom was forfeited on the attainder of her brother Edward. Her maternal grandfather was killed fighting against her uncle, Edward IV of England, at the Battle of Barnet. Her father was then created Earl of Salisbury and of Warwick; he was already Duke of Clarence. Edward IV declared that her brother Edward should be known as Earl of Warwick as a courtesy title, but no peerage was ever created for him.[4]

When she was three, her mother and her youngest brother died; her father had two servants killed who he thought had poisoned them. He plotted against Edward IV, his brother, and was attainted and executed for treason; his lands and titles were forfeited. When she was ten, Edward IV died; her uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, declared that Edward's marriage was invalid, his children illegitimate, and that Margaret and her brother Edward were debarred from the throne by their father's attainder. He assumed the throne himself as Richard III of England. Her maternal aunt, Lady Anne, became queen of England as consort to Richard III.

Richard III had the children held at Sheriff Hutton Castle in Yorkshire. He was defeated and killed on the battlefield by Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and Henry became Henry VII of England. The new king married Margaret's cousin Elizabeth, Edward IV's daughter. He kept her brother Edward in the Tower of London. Edward was briefly displayed in public at St Paul's Cathedral in 1487 in response to the presentation of the impostor Lambert Simnel as the "Earl of Warwick" to the Irish lords. Shortly thereafter, probably in November 1487, Henry VII gave Margaret in marriage to his cousin, Sir Richard Pole, whose mother was half-sister of the king's mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort; this would make it more difficult for plotters to use Margaret Plantagenet as a figurehead. When Perkin Warbeck impersonated her cousin Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York, in 1499, her brother Edward was attainted and executed for involvement in the plot. Sir Richard Pole held a variety of offices in Henry VII's government, the highest being Chamberlain for Arthur, Prince of Wales, Henry's elder son. When Arthur married Catherine of Aragon, Margaret Pole became one of her ladies-in-waiting, but her entourage was dissolved when Arthur died in 1502, in his teens.

When her husband died in 1504, Margaret Pole was a widow with five children, a limited amount of land inherited from her husband, no salary and no prospects; Henry VII paid for Sir Richard's funeral. To ease the situation, Lady Pole devoted her third son Reginald Pole to the Church, where he was to have an eventful career as a papal Legate and Archbishop of Canterbury. Nonetheless, he was to resent her abandonment of him bitterly in later life.[4] Additionally, Margaret, without adequate means to support herself and her children, was forced to live at Syon Abbey among Bridgettine nuns after her husband's death.[5] She was to remain there until she returned to favor at the ascension of Henry VIII in 1509.

Countess of Salisbury

When Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509, he married Catherine of Aragon himself. Lady Pole was again appointed one of her ladies-in-waiting. In 1512, Parliament restored some of her brother's lands of the earldom of Salisbury (only), for which she paid 5000 marks (£2666.13s.4d). Henry VII had controlled them, first during her brother's minority and then during his imprisonment, and had confiscated them after his trial. The same Act also restored to her the Earldom of Salisbury.[6] The Warwick and Spencer [Despencer] lands remained crown property.[7]

Lady Salisbury managed her lands well; by 1538, she was the fifth richest peer in England. She was a patron of the new learning, like many Renaissance nobles: Gentian Hervet translated Erasmus' de immensa misericordia Dei (The Great Mercy of God) into English for her. Her first son, Henry Pole, was created Baron Montagu, another of the Neville titles; he spoke for the family in the House of Lords. Her second son, Arthur Pole, had a generally successful career as a courtier, becoming one of the six Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber. He suffered a setback when his patron Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, was convicted of treason in 1521, but he was soon restored to favour. He died young about 1526, having married the heir of Sir Roger Lewknor; the Countess and her son Henry pressed Arthur's widow to a vow of perpetual chastity to preserve her inheritance for her Pole children. Margaret's daughter Ursula married the Duke of Buckingham's son, Henry Stafford, but after the Duke's fall, the couple was given only fragments of his estates.

Her third son, Reginald Pole, studied abroad in Padua; he was dean in Exeter and in Dorset, and canon in York, as well as several other livings, although he had not been ordained a priest. He represented Henry VIII in Paris in 1529, persuading the theologians of the Sorbonne to support Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon.[8] Her youngest son Geoffrey Pole also married well, to Constance, daughter of Sir Edmund Pakenham, and inherited the estate of Lordington in Sussex.

The Countess of Salisbury's own favour at Court varied. She had a dispute over land with Henry VIII in 1518; he awarded the contested lands to the Duchy of Somerset, which had been held by his Beaufort grandfather — and were now in the possession of the Crown. In 1520, Salisbury was appointed Governess to Henry's daughter, Princess Mary; the next year, when her sons were mixed up with Buckingham, she was removed, but she was restored by 1525. When Princess Mary was declared a bastard in 1533, the Countess refused to give Mary's gold plate and jewels back to Henry. When Mary's household was broken up at the end of the year, Margaret asked to serve Mary at her own cost, but was not permitted. When the Imperial Ambassador Eustace Chapuys suggested two years later that Mary be handed over to the Countess, Henry refused, calling her "a fool, of no experience." When Anne Boleyn was arrested, and eventually executed, in 1536, Salisbury was permitted to return to Court — briefly.[9]


In May 1536, Reginald Pole finally and definitively broke with the king. In 1531, he warned of the dangers of the Boleyn marriage. He returned to Padua in 1532, and received a last English benefice in December of that year. Chapuys suggested to the Emperor Charles V that Pole marry the Lady Mary and combine their dynastic claims. Chapuys also communicated with Reginald through his brother Geoffrey. Now Pole replied to books Henry sent him with his own pamphlet, pro ecclesiasticae unitatis defensione, or de unitate, which denied Henry's position on the marriage of a brother's wife and denied the royal supremacy. Pole also urged the princes of Europe to depose Henry immediately. Henry wrote to the Countess, who in turn wrote to her son a letter reproving him for his "folly."[10]

In 1537, Pole (still not ordained) was created a Cardinal. embargo against England — the sort of countermeasure he had himself warned Henry was possible.[11]

Sir Geoffrey Pole was arrested in August 1538; he had been corresponding with Reginald, and the investigation of Henry Courtenay, Marquess of Exeter (Henry VIII's first cousin and the Countess' second cousin) had turned up his name; he had appealed to Thomas Cromwell, who had him arrested and interrogated. Under interrogation, Sir Geoffrey said that his eldest brother, Lord Montagu, and the Marquess had been parties to his correspondence with Reginald. Montagu, Exeter, and Lady Salisbury were arrested in November 1538.

In January 1539, Sir Geoffrey was pardoned, and the Countess' son Henry Montagu (and cousin Exeter) were executed for treason after trial. In May 1539, Henry, Margaret, Exeter and others were attainted, as Margaret's father had been. This conviction meant they lost their titles and their lands — mostly in the South of England, conveniently located to assist any invasion. As part of the evidence for the Bill of Attainder, Cromwell produced a tunic bearing the Five Wounds of Christ, symbolising Margaret's support for Roman Catholicism and the rule of her son Reginald and the king's Catholic daughter Mary. The supposed discovery, six months after her house and effects were searched at her arrest, is likely to have been a fabrication. She was sentenced to death, and could be executed at the king's will.

Margaret Pole, as she now was styled, was held in the Tower of London for two and a half years. She, her grandson Henry (son of her own son Henry), and Exeter's son were held together and supported by the king. She was attended by servants and received an extensive grant of clothing in March 1541. In 1540, Cromwell himself fell from favour and was attainted and executed.


Blessed Margaret Pole
8th Countess of Salisbury
Born 14 August 1473, Farleigh Castle, Somerset, England
Died 27 May 1541, Tower of London, City of London, England
Venerated by Roman Catholic Church
Beatified 29 December 1886 by Pope Leo XIII
Feast 28 May (ordinarily, her feast day would coincide with the day of her martyrdom, however 27 May was already in use as the Feast of Saint Augustine of Canterbury)

The following poem was found carved on the wall of her cell:

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![12][13]

On the morning of 27 May 1541, Lady Salisbury was told she was to die within the hour. She answered that no crime had been imputed to her. Nevertheless, she was taken from her cell to the place within the precincts of the Tower of London where a low wooden block had been prepared. As she was of noble birth, she was not executed before the populace, though there were about 150 witnesses.[14] She was dragged to the block and, as she refused to lay her head on it, was forced down. As she struggled, the inexperienced executioner's first blow made a gash in her shoulder rather than her neck. Ten additional blows were required to complete the execution.[15] A probably apocryphal account states that she leapt from the block after the first clumsy blow and ran, pursued by the executioner, being struck several times before she died. The Calendar of State Papers does report the executioner was a "blundering youth" who "hacked her head and shoulders to pieces".[16][17][18][19] Lady Margaret was buried in the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula within the Tower of London.[20]


Arms of Margaret, Countess of Salisbury.[21]

Both her father and her mother's father were Earls of Salisbury. It is unclear whether they held the same Earldom, and if not, which of the Earldoms was restored to her. The Act of Parliament does not say, and respectable authorities differ; the chief effect of these verbal issues is whether she is eighth or second holder of the Earldom (in shorthand, "8th Countess" or "2nd Countess"; other numbers are also defensible).

Her grandfather died, leaving no sons and two daughters; his lands were divided between them, and when the younger daughter, abeyance, first devised under the Stuarts, would permit the King to declare one of the daughters a Countess in her own right; however this did not happen. In the fifteenth century, an only daughter would have inherited — this is how the title came to the Nevilles in the first place — but when a peer left several daughters, the title immediately reverted to the Crown, which might very well regrant it to a member of the family.

J. Horace Round, as followed by the Complete Peerage, holds, therefore, that her brother was representative of his father, and not of her grandfather, and that what was restored to his estate was his father's Earldom of Salisbury; so she is second Countess.[22]


Her son, Reginald Pole, said that he would "...never fear to call himself the son of a martyr". She was later regarded by Catholics as such and was beatified on December 29, 1886 by Pope Leo XIII.[23]


When not at Court, the Countess lived chiefly at Warblington Castle in Hampshire and Bisham Manor in Berkshire.[24] She and her husband were parents to five children:


Fictional portrayals


  1. ^ National Portrait Gallery
  2. ^ ODNB; the other was Anne Boleyn, Marquess of Pembroke. The ODNB does not qualify the assertion, but is discussing sixteenth-century usage; sources which apply modern law retroactively will consider some women peeresses in their own right when their husbands sat in Parliament with their father's style and precedence.
  3. ^ DWYER, J. G. "Pole, Margaret Plantagenet, Bl." New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. Vol. 11. Detroit: Gale, 2003. pp. 455–56.
  4. ^ a b ODNB.
  5. ^ Powell, Sue (November 1, 2005). "Margaret Pole and Syon abbey". Historical research : the bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research.  
  6. ^ ODNB, which argues that the restoration was a tacit admission of her brother's innocence; however, lands and titles had been restored to the heirs of guilty peers during the previous century.
  7. ^ TNA, minsters' accounts, SC6/HENVIII.
  8. ^ ODNB, Reginald Pole
  9. ^ ODNB; quotation as given there.
  10. ^ ODNB, "Reginald Pole"; "Geoffrey Pole". Pole and his hagiographers gave several later accounts of Pole's activities after Henry met Anne Boleyn. These are not consistent; and if — as he claimed at one point — Pole rejected the Divorce in 1526 and refused the Oath of Supremacy in 1531, he received benefits from Henry for a course of action for which others were sentenced to death.
  11. ^ ODNB, Reginald Pole.
  12. ^ "The Execution of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury". The Anne Bolyn Files. Retrieved 12 June 2011. 
  13. ^ "The Tower of London". The Travelling Historian. Retrieved 12 June 2011. 
  14. ^ "Executions & Beheading at the Tower of London". Castles. Retrieved 24 November 2011. 
  15. ^ The Complete Peerage, v. XII p. II, p. 393
  16. ^ "Margaret Pole". Tudor History. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  17. ^ "1541: Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury". Executed Today. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  18. ^ "Margaret Plantagenet". Tudor Place. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  19. ^ "Block and Axe". Royal Armouries. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  20. ^ Profile of Margaret, Lady Salisbury, Regina (online)
  21. ^ Pinches, John Harvey; Pinches, Rosemary (1974), The Royal Heraldry of England, Heraldry Today, Slough, Buckinghamshire: Hollen Street Press, ISBN 0-900455-25-X
  22. ^ Complete Peerage, "Salisbury, Earldom of" ::::::Co vol XI, pp. 399–402 and appendix F (supplementary pages 126–133)
  23. ^ Camm, Bede, Lives of the English martyrs declared blessed by Pope Leo XIII in 1886 and 1895, (Burns and Oates Limited, 1904), ix.
  24. ^ Ford, David Nash (2010). "Margaret Plantagenet, Lady Pole & Countess of Salisbury (1473–1541)". Royal Berkshire History. Nash Ford Publishing. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 


  • Dwyer, J.G. "Pole, Margaret Plantagenet, Bl." at New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. Vol. 11. Detroit: Gale, 2003. pp. 455–456. Cited as New Catholic Encyclopedia.
  • Mayer, T.F. Pole, Reginald (1500–1558), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, cited as ODNB, Reginald Pole.
  • Pierce, Hazel. "Pole, Margaret, suo jure countess of Salisbury (1473–1541)". . ODNB; cited as (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)  
  • Bernard, George W. (2005). The king's reformation: Henry VIII and the remaking of the English church. Yale University Press. 

Other reading

  • Pierce, Hazel (2003). Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, 1473–1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership, University of Wales Press, ISBN 0-7083-1783-9

Peerage of England
Preceded by
Edward Plantagenet
Countess of Salisbury
Succeeded by


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