The Rise and Fall of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury by Samantha Wilcoxson [Article]

This weeks feature is going to be slightly different than previous weekly features. Way back before I fell off the face of the earth, Samantha made a submission and upon closer inspection, I saw there was actually TWO submissions! One was an article, that I decided would be a good introduction to Fridays post, which will be a chapter from her book!

For those of you who aren’t aware of, or know much about Lady Salisbury, fasten your seatbelts! This ladys life was wild!

The Rise and Fall of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

Isn’t she that old lady who was executed by Henry VIII? Yes, Margaret Pole was horridly murdered by her cousin and king when she was sixty-seven years old, but there is so much more to her story. Long before Margaret was sent to her death without trial after spending more than two years imprisoned within the Tower of London, Margaret Pole was born a Princess of York.


Painting of unknown woman

believed to be Margaret Pole

Few endured greater shifts in fortune than Margaret Pole. Her life is one of adventure and sharp turns of Fortune’s Wheel, beginning with the story of her father, George Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV and Richard III. George had married Isabel Neville, daughter of Richard Neville Earl of Warwick, now known as ‘The Kingmaker.’ Although George had betrayed his brother, the king, more than once, he remained his heir apparent until Elizabeth Woodville gave birth to a son within days of Margaret’s birth.

Margaret and Prince Edward were both born in August 1473, and, while her father’s chances of becoming king were reduced, his position remained an important and lucrative one. Margaret’s future as niece of the reigning king appeared bright.


George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence

In 1477, George betrayed his king one too many times. By the spring of 1478, Margaret and her younger brother, Edward, were orphans, one brother having ordered the execution of the other shortly following the death of their mother. Despite their status as the orphaned children of an attainted traitor, Margaret and Edward, were taken into the households of royal cousins where they lived comfortably and might have yet expected future titles and opportunities. Everything changed in 1483.

In a whirlwind of events, Edward IV died, his sons disappeared in one of the greatest mysteries of all time, and his brother became Richard III. Henry Tudor, the last of the Lancastrians saw his opportunity to strike at the York regime and defeated King Richard at Bosworth in 1485. Taking Edward’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, as his wife, he declared the York and Lancastrian branches united after more than three decades of civil wars. Margaret and Edward were in a precarious position as children of a prince of York within the new Tudor regime.

Edward was imprisoned in the Tower for more than a decade before he was executed in 1499 for supposed treason. In the meantime, Margaret had been married to Richard Pole, a distant relative of Margaret Beaufort, Henry Tudor’s mother. The Poles served Prince Arthur at Ludlow, where Margaret began a close friendship with Arthur’s bride, Catherine of Aragon.

Margaret and Catherine remained friends after the deaths of their husbands, each being left in relative poverty by King Henry VII. Gifts from faithful friends and relatives helped ease their financial burdens until King Henry VIII lifted them both up and into the limelight.


King Henry VIII

by unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist, NPG 4690

Henry married Catherine and bestowed the old family title of Salisbury upon Margaret. Both women thrived, for a time. Margaret undertook building projects, arranged advantageous marriages for her children, and served her queen. She mourned with Catherine over the loss of tiny babes, one after another, until the birth of a healthy auburn-haired girl. A few years later, Margaret became Princess Mary’s governess.m

Queen Mary I by Master John, NPG 428

The fall of Catherine of Aragon became the beginning of Margaret’s own slow demise, though she could not have known it as she bravely stood by Princess Mary’s side, defending her position and religion. Margaret and her children attempted to support Catherine and Mary as Henry took up with Anne Boleyn while also remaining in favor with the king. It was a balancing act that could not last.

One of Margaret’s sons, Reginald Pole, had enjoyed the patronage of both Henry Tudors. He had become a Catholic Cardinal and Henry hoped that Reginald would support his annulment case. Instead, Reginald wrote boldly against Henry’s Great Matter, encouraging the king to repent and return to his wife and the Church.

Henry’s wrath fell upon the entire Pole family after assassins sent to rid him of Reginald in Italy were unsuccessful. The final tragedy began with the arrest of Margaret’s youngest son, Geoffrey, and grew into the legalized mass murder known as the Exeter Conspiracy in 1538. Henry executed Margaret’s oldest son, Lord Montague, along with several others. Montague’s son, a young boy named Henry, became another York son lost to the Tower. Records of his fate do not exist. After seeing the carnage wrought upon his family, Geoffrey made multiple attempts to commit suicide before fleeing to join Reginald.

Margaret was first placed under house arrest, then imprisoned within the Tower, though she had no trial. There she sat while her family was decimated. On May 27, 1541, Margaret was informed that her execution would take place that morning.


Tower of London, author’s photo

After her brutal beheading by an unprepared and inexperienced executioner, these words were found on the wall of Margaret’s Tower 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! 

Margaret Pole was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1886.

sTower of London Memorial, author’s photo

If youre interested in more writings by Samantha, you can visit her website by CLICKING HERE

I'm a lover of all things Tudor, and historical - fiction or fact. My aim is to bring together writers of all calibers to share their work with like minded people!

2 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury by Samantha Wilcoxson [Article]

  1. The merging of the Houses of Lancaster and York, with the marriage of Henry Tudor to Elizabeth Plantagenet, was something of a turning point in history and while we read much of the main protagonists in this real-life drama, little is known about those on the periphery of the royal circle, one of whom was Margaret Pole. Though her name was very familiar to me, I knew little about her life, before reading this introduction, and am now looking forward to Chapter 1 of your book – for starters – and learning much more of this lady who was a friend and loyal supporter of Catherine of Aragon and the Catholic faith, thus falling out of favour with Henry VIII who made the decision to have her executed.

    As a footnote, I have just looked at your website and was quite excited to see the interview with DK Marley, whose book “Blood and Ink” is on my Kindle and nearing the top of the list of those to read very soon. I also see there is much else of interest so I shall be calling into your website again soon and often. History is so intriguing and I am so grateful to the authors who write on the subject and to Melissa who, through the ATWC, is bringing to our attention books and articles which we might otherwise miss.

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