Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

POLE, MARGARET, Countess of Salisbury (1473–1541), was daughter of George Plantagenet, duke of Clarence [q. v.], by his wife Isabel, daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker. She was born at Castle Farley, near Bath, in August 1473 (Rows Roll, 33, 61), and was married by Henry VII to Sir Richard Pole, son of Sir Geoffrey Pole, whose wife, Edith St. John, was half-sister of the king’s mother, Margaret Beaufort (see Notes and Queries, 1st ser. v. 163–4). Sir Richard was a landed gentleman of Buckinghamshire, whom Henry made a squire of his bodyguard and knight of the Garter. He also gave him various offices in Wales, such as the constableship of Harlech and Montgomery castles and the sheriffwick of the county of Merioneth; he held, too, the controllership of the port of Bristol (Campbell, Materials and MS. Calendar of Patent Rolls). His marriage to Margaret probably took place about 1491, certainly not later than 1494, in which year the king made a payment of 20l. ‘to my lady Pole in crowns’ (Excerpta Historica, p. 99). Next year Pole seems to have raised men against Perkin Warbeck. In 1497 he was retained to serve against Scotland with five demi-lances and 200 archers, and shortly afterwards with 600 men-at-arms, 60 demi-lances, and 540 bows and bills. Two or three years later he was appointed chief gentleman of the bedchamber to Prince Arthur, whom he attended into Wales after his marriage, and the chief government of the marches was committed to his charge. He died in 1505 (Henry VII’s Privy Purse Expenses, p. 132), leaving his widow with five children: viz. Henry [q. v.] (Lord Montague), Arthur, Reginald [q. v.] the cardinal, and Geoffrey [q. v.], with Ursula, wife of Henry, lord Stafford, son of the Duke of Buckingham.

Margaret’s brother Edward, earl of Warwick [q. v.], was judicially murdered by Henry VII in 1499. Henry VIII, who described Margaret as the most saintly woman in England, was anxious, after his accession, to atone to her for this injustice. He therefore granted her an annuity of 100l. on 4 Aug. 1509 (Cal. State Papers, Venetian, v. 247), and on 14 Oct. 1513 he created her Countess of Salisbury, and gave her the family lands of the earldom of Salisbury in fee. Her brother’s attainder was reversed, and in the parliament of 1513–14 full restitution was made to her of the rights of her family. She thus became possessed of a very magnificent property, lying chiefly in Hampshire, Wiltshire, the western counties, and Essex. But there is no doubt that it was heavily burdened by redemption-money claimed by the king. On 25 May 1512 she had delivered to Wolsey 1,000l. as a first payment of a benevolence of five thousand marks for the king’s wars, and in 1528 she was sued for a further instalment of 2,333l. 6s. 8d. Of her restored lands the manor of Canford and some others were soon reclaimed by the crown as part of the earldom of Somerset. In 1532 she purchased the manor of Aston Clinton in Buckinghamshire from Sir John Gage.

Meanwhile she was made governess to the Princess Mary. But in 1521, at the time of the Duke of Buckingham’s attainder, she and her sons seem to have been under a momentary cloud. She herself was allowed, however, to remain at court—‘propter nobilitatem et bonitatem illius’ (Cal. Henry VIII, iii. Nos. 1204, 1268). In 1525 she went with Princess Mary to Wales. In the summer of 1526, during her absence, the king visited her house at Warblington in Hampshire (ib. iv. Nos. 2343, 2407).

In 1533, when the king married Anne Boleyn, her loyalty was severely tried. She refused to give up Mary’s jewels to a lady sent from court, and was discharged of her position as governess. She declared that she would still follow and serve the princess at her own expense (ib. iv. Nos. 849, 1009, 1041, 1528). Her self-sacrificing fidelity to the princess was fully recognised by Catherine of Arragon (ib. No. 1126). The king, however, took good care to separate his daughter from one whom she regarded as a second mother (ib. viii. 101).

After Anne Boleyn’s fall in 1536 (ib. x. No. 1212) the countess returned to court. But at that very time her son Reginald sent to the king his book, ‘De Unitate Ecclesiastica,’ which gave deep offence, and she trembled for the result. Both she and her eldest son, Lord Montague, wrote to Reginald in strong language of reproof (ib. vol. xiii. pt. ii. p. 328). She denounced him as a traitor to her own servants, and expressed her grief that she had given birth to him (ib. xi. Nos. 93, 157). The letters, however, were written to be shown to the king’s council (ib. vol. xiii. pt. ii. No. 822); by whom they were despatched to Reginald in Italy. Though the countess’s alarm was quite genuine, her disapproval of Reginald’s proceedings was not equally sincere. The king knew well that his policy was disliked by the whole family, and he privately told the French ambassador that he intended to destroy all of them (ib. vol. xiii. pt. ii. No. 753). The blow fell in the autumn of 1538, when her sons Geoffrey and Lord Montague were arrested. One Gervase Tyndall, a spy upon the countess’s household, was called before Cromwell at Lewes, and reported a number of circumstances about the escape some years before of the countess’s chaplain, John Helyar, rector of Warblington, beyond sea, and about clandestine messages sent abroad by one Hugh Holland, probably to Cardinal Pole himself. Fitzwilliam, earl of Southampton, and Goodrich, bishop of Ely, were sent down to Warblington to examine the countess. They questioned her all day, from the forenoon till almost night, but could not wring from her any admission. They nevertheless seized her goods and carried her off to Fitzwilliam’s house at Cowdry. Her house at Warblington was thoroughly searched, and some letters and papal bulls discovered. Her persecutors renewed the attack with a set of written interrogatories, and obtained her signature to the answers. She remained in Fitzwilliam’s house, long unvisited either by him or his countess, until 14 March following (1539), when, in answer to her complaints, he saw her, and addressed her with barbarous incivility. Shortly afterwards she was removed to the Tower. In May a sweeping act of attainder was passed by the parliament against not only Exeter and Montague, who had already suffered death, but against the countess, who was not even called to answer the accusations against her, and against her son Reginald and many others. At the third reading of the bill in the House of Lords Cromwell produced, what was taken as evidence of treason, a tunic of white silk, embroidered with the arms of England, viz. three lions surrounded by a wreath of pansies and marigolds, which it was said Fitzwilliam had found in her house, having on the back the badge of the five wounds carried by the insurgents at the time of the northern rebellion. The act of parliament was passed on 12 May 1539, but it was not put into force at once; and in April 1540 it was supposed that the countess would be released. She was tormented in prison by the severity of the weather and the insufficiency of her clothing. In April 1541 there was another insurrection in Yorkshire under Sir John Neville; and on this account, apparently, it was resolved to put the countess to death, without any further process, under the act of attainder passed two years before. Early in the morning of 27 May she was told that she was to die. She replied that no crime had been imputed to her; but she walked boldly from her cell to East Smithfield Green, which was within the precincts of the Tower. No scaffold was erected, and there was only a low block. The lord mayor and a select company were present to witness the execution. The countess commended her soul to God, and asked the bystanders to pray for the king and queen, Prince Edward, and the Princess Mary, her god-daughter, to whom she desired to be specially commended. She then, as commanded, laid her head upon the block. The executioner was a clumsy novice, who hideously hacked her neck and shoulders before the decapitation was accomplished.

[Dugdale’s Baronage; Sandford’s Genealogical History; Hall’s Chronicle; Letters and Papers of Henry VIII; Cal. of State Papers, Spanish; Lords’ Journals, i. 107; Correspondance Politique de MM. de Castillon et de Marillac. The account of Margaret’s execution given by Lord Herbert of Cherbury in Kennet’s England (ii. 227) is clearly not so trustworthy as that of Chapuys.]

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 46
Pole, Margaret by James Gairdner

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