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Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury

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Margaret Pole
8th Countess of Salisbury
Born 14 August 1473(1473-08-14)
Farleigh Hungerford Castle, Somerset
Died 27 May 1541 (aged 67)
Tower of London, London
Title Countess of Salisbury
Spouse(s) Sir Richard Pole
Children Henry Pole, 1st Baron Montagu
Reginald Cardinal Pole
Sir Geoffrey Pole
Sir Arthur Pole
Ursula Pole
Parents George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence
Isabella Neville

Margaret Pole (née Plantagenet), 8th Countess of Salisbury (14 August 1473 – 27 May 1541) was an English peeress, the daughter of the 1st Duke of Clarence, a brother of King Edward IV and King Richard III. She was the last legitimate member of the Plantagenet dynasty, executed in 1541 at the command of King Henry VIII, who was her cousin's son. She is a Catholic Martyr.


Born Lady Margaret Plantagenet at Farleigh Hungerford Castle in Somerset, she was the daughter of the 1st Duke of Clarence and the former Lady Isabella Neville, the elder daughter of the jure uxoris 16th Earl of Warwick and suo jure 6th Earl of Salisbury ("Warwick the Kingmaker") and the suo jure 16th Countess of Warwick.

Margaret's mother died when she was three, and her father was executed when she was four. Her brother Edward was allowed to succeed as 17th Earl of Warwick and 7th Earl of Salisbury, but, as the last male representative of the Yorkist line, was seen as a danger to the new Tudor dynasty and was attainted and executed on the orders of King Henry VII on 28 November 1499. In about 1491, King Henry had given Margaret in marriage to Sir Richard Pole, whose mother was the half-sister of the King's mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. At her husband's death in 1505, Margaret was left with five children, of whom the fourth, Reginald Pole, was to become a Cardinal and Archbishop of Canterbury.

The family fortunes were various. On his accession, King Henry VIII reversed her brother's attainder, and, in 1513, allowed her to succeed as 8th Countess of Salisbury. An Act of Restitution was also passed by which she came into possession of her ancestral domains. Her chief residence was Warblington Castle in Hampshire. After the birth of the Lady Mary, later Queen Mary I, Salisbury became her godmother and sponsor in confirmation and was afterwards appointed Governess of Mary and her Household. As the years passed there was talk of a marriage between Mary and Lady Salisbury's son Reginald, who was still a layman. However, when the matter of the King's divorce from Catherine of Aragon began to be talked of, Reginald Pole boldly spoke out his mind in the affair and shortly afterwards withdrew from England. Mary was still in Lady Salisbury's charge when Henry married Anne Boleyn, but when he was opposed in his efforts to have his daughter treated as illegitimate, he removed Salisbury from her post, though she begged to be allowed to follow and serve Mary at her own charge. She returned to Court after the fall of Anne, but in 1530 Reginald Pole sent King Henry a copy of his published treatise Pro ecclesiasticae unitatis defensione, in answer to questions put to him on the King's behalf by Thomas Cromwell, Cuthbert Tunstall, Thomas Starkey and others. Besides being a theological reply to the questions, the book was a denunciation of the King's policies. King Henry was enraged, and though Lady Salisbury and her eldest son had written to Reginald in reproof of his attitude and action, determined that the family should pay for the insult.

In November, 1538, her eldest son, the 1st Baron Montagu, another son and other relatives were arrested on a charge of treason, though Thomas Cromwell had previously written that they had "little offended save that he [the Cardinal] is of their kin", they were committed to the Tower, and in January, with the exception of her son Geoffrey Pole, they were executed. Ten days after the arrest of her sons, Lady Salisbury herself, despite her age, was arrested and examined by the Earl of Southampton, and Thomas Goodrich, the Bishop of Ely, but these reported to Cromwell that although they had "travailed with her" for many hours she would "nothing utter", and they were forced to conclude that either her sons had not made her a sharer in their "treason", or else she was "the most arrant traitress that ever lived". In Southampton's custody, she was committed to Cowdray Park, near Midhurst, and there subjected to all manner of indignity. In May, Cromwell introduced against her a Bill of Attainder, the readings of which were hurriedly got over, and at the third reading Cromwell produced a white silk tunic found in one of her coffers, which was embroidered on the back with the Five Wounds, and for this, which was held to connect her with the Northern Uprising, she was "attainted to die by Act of Parliament" and also lost her titles. The other charges against her, to which she was never permitted to reply, had to do with the escape from England of her chaplain and the conveying of messages abroad. After the passage of the Act, she was removed to the Tower and there, for nearly two years, she was "tormented by the severity of the weather and insufficient clothing". In April, 1541, there was another insurrection in Yorkshire, and it was then determined to enforce without any further procedure the Act of Attainder passed in 1539.

In some sense her execution was the continuation by King Henry of his father's programme of eliminating possible contenders for the throne. Margaret Pole and her sons were the last Plantagenets remaining alive after the battles and aftermath of the Wars of the Roses: this direct female-line descent from the previous ruling dynasty, combined with the family's firm Catholic allegiance, made them a grave potential threat to Tudor rule.


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

She refused to the end to acknowledge that she was a traitor. The following 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!

On the morning of 27 May 1541 (some sources say 28 May), 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.

According to some accounts, Lady Salisbury, who was 67 years old, frail and ill, was dragged to the block, but refused to lay her head on it, having to be 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. A less reputable account states that she leapt from the block after the first clumsy blow and ran, pursued by the executioner, being struck eleven times before she died. She was buried at the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula within the Tower of London. [1]


Her son, Reginald Cardinal 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 in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII.


She and her husband were parents to five children:

Fictional portrayals

The character of Lady Salisbury, played by Kate O'Toole in the Showtime series The Tudors is loosely inspired by her.

She also appears in William Shakespeare's Richard III, as the young daughter of the murdered Clarence.

Further reading

  • Hazel Pierce, March 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, Earl of Warwick
Countess of Salisbury
Succeeded by

This article incorporates text from the entry Blessed Margaret Pole in Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, a publication now in the public domain.ja:マーガレット・ポール no:Margaret Pole, 8. grevinne av Salisbury pt:Margaret Pole, 8.ª Condessa de Salisbury sv:Margaret Pole

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