By Larry Peterson
Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, was born on August 14, 1473, in Somerset, England. She was the last daughter of George Plantagenet (Plantagenet Dynasty), the Duke of Clarence. King Henry VII officiated at her marriage to Sir Richard Pole whose mother-in-law, Edith St. John, was a half-sister of the king’s mother, Margaret Beaufort. The family bloodline was quite complex.
When Henry VIII, took the throne in 1509, he married Catherine of Aragon. Margaret was named as one of her ladies-in-waiting. In 1512, the King saw to it that some of her lands were restored to her. These lands had been confiscated by Henry VII. After this, King Henry VIII, who described Margaret as the “most saintly woman in England”, elevated her to the position of Countess of Salisbury, a title that brought prestige and a bit of power.
In due time she was made the governess to Princess Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter. But in 1521, due to infighting and subterfuge that was continually going on in the King’s court, Margaret and her sons fell into disfavor with the King. She was permitted to remain at court but her sons were no longer welcome there. Then, in 1525, she went sent with Princess Mary to live in Wales.
Margaret’s son, Reginald Pole, was a voice against King Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. Reginald even wrote to the king expressing his feelings. His mother was horrified. Knowing how vindictive the king could be, she pleaded with Reginald to retract what he had put in writing. He refused. In her heart she knew her boy was right. They had no idea that King Henry VIII confided to the French ambassador that he planned to destroy Reginald’s entire family, including Margaret, the “most saintly woman in England.”
The family purge began in the autumn of 1536 when Margaret’s sons, Geoffrey and Lord Montague, were arrested. A spy who had been placed in Margaret’s household testified before Cromwell that he was witness to secret meetings and clandestine messages being delivered back and forth among the king’s enemies.
Martha Pole, The Countess of Salisbury, was truly a woman of faith. It did not matter. She was questioned from noon into and through the entire night until the next morning. She knew nothing of what they asked, but it did not matter. The seized all her furniture and goods and transported her to jail at Cowdry. Here she remained isolated for the next few years.
An Act of Attainder was passed by the Parliament in early 1539 against Margaret Pole and her entire family. Her two sons had already been executed when the bill was passed. In it, she was accused of treason. The now elderly woman was dragged off to the Tower of London. She had been placed under a sentence o death, and the sentence could be carried out anytime the King felt so compelled to order it. She would remain there for the next two years.
On May 27, 1541, Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury, was informed that she would be put to death that very day. She asked why since no crime had ever been committed. She was ignored. Her body was racked with pain from the harsh, cold, stone cell she had been forced to stay in for the previous few years. But she stood tall and walked to her place of execution.
There were no crowds or witnesses present and no scaffold. It was a chopping block in the corner of the room on the floor. Margaret asked everyone to pray with her. They bowed heads and she forgave everyone, commended her soul to God, and asked for prayers for the King and Queen.
Margaret was subjected to one final and horrendous indignity. The executioner was a novice and missed his target several times. The poor woman’s shoulder, head, and back were hit by the flailing ax before it hit its mark, ending her life. It is hard to imagine having to endure that.
Many called Margaret Pole a martyr. She was a victim of being part of a family that was hated by a ruthless king. For that, she suffered a brutal death. Pope Leo XIII agreed and beatified Margaret Pole on December 29, 1886.
Blessed Margaret Pole; please pray for us.