The Last Plantagenet

Blessed Margaret Pole (pronounced ‘pool’), Countess of Salisbury (1473 – 1541), is sometimes called ‘the last of the Plantagenets’. Her early history was eventful, to say the least, and like all those close to the crown, she experienced the fickleness of royal favour. Her father was executed for treason; her mother and younger brother died when she was three; widowed  in 1504, with five children, scanty resources and no prospects, she lived with the Bridgetines of Syon for a few years. Restored to royal favour in 1509, she enjoyed the sunshine of Henry VIII’s regard for a while but, when she refused to countenance his divorce from Katherine of Aragon, was treated mercilessly. Her eldest son, Henry, was executed; Margaret herself was imprisoned in the Tower for two and a half years and, despite her age, subjected to rough and inhuman treatment. Her death, when at last it came, was at the hands of a ‘blundering youth’ who, instead of cutting off her head cleanly, ‘hacked her head and shoulders’ so that eleven blows were needed to kill her. The following verse was found 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!

To the very end, she protested her innocence of any crime and is today regarded as a martyr for the Faith.

I think Margaret is an encouragement to all whose family circumstances are less than ideal, and whose age or frailty makes them think that they can do nothing of any consequence — those who protest that they are ‘not the stuff of which martyrs are made’. In the sketch given above, I have said nothing of her third son Reginald’s resentment of her abandoning him, as he saw it, to the Church (where, as it happens, he had an ‘interesting’ career as cardinal, papal legate and archbishop of Canterbury) or of all the cousins and other family members who met violent deaths and/or suffered the loss of lands and estates. What stands out, I think, is her courage and her constancy. She was a woman of integrity who did not plead age as an excuse to knuckle under to Henry VIII’s demands. Even her son Reginald was forced to acknowledge there was something great about his mother, finally admitting he would ‘never fear to call himself the son of a martyr.’ Those watching The Hollow Crown on BBC1 may like to remember that those ‘old, unhappy, far-off things and battles long ago’ had a very human face and cost. The bravest were not always the youngest and most handsome. There is hope for us all.



7 thoughts on “The Last Plantagenet”

  1. Thank you for posting this, her courage and endurance were really amazing. It’s easy for me to say this, but thinking how fearfully difficult it must have been for ‘those close to the throne’ to survive it is extraordinary how they actually did do so.
    Marriages in general might have gained new alliances with vested interests in keeping the progeny alive, but proximity meant a suspicious eye could fall on anyone – and the survival of the monarchy was paramount and meant always ‘uneasy rests the head…’

  2. Here we are deciding our vote for Brexit. Chilling to think how different it might be if we thought our heads, or that of our family’s, might be severed as a consequence.

  3. Henry VIII’s reign certainly impacted adversely on many people. He was determined to have a male heir and stopped at nothing to achieve this, including murder. We can be thankful that the monarchy today is not quite so bloodthirsty.

    And it is the people who elect leaders.

  4. Thanks – as a supplement: Bl . Margaret’s children were the last of the Plantagenets together with their cousin Edward Courteney who died in 1556 in Padua. He was made Earl of Devon by Mary I on his release from the Tower in 1553. Both entire families were implicated in and of accused of treason in the so-called Exeter conspiracy in the 1530’s.

    The Courtenay connection to the Plantagenets is by descent from Catherine Plantagenet – younger sister of Elizabeth of York who marries Henry VII.

    The Pole family descend from George the middle of the three Plantagenet brothers Edward (IV) George (Duke of Clarence) and Richard (Duke of Gloucester and later Richard III). George was the one who died in the butt of Malmsey.

    George had married the Neville heiress, the Earl of Warwick’s elder daughter Isabel Neville. Warwick’s younger daughter Anne Neville married Richard III and was thus Queen of England. Bl. Margaret also had two brothers – the younger died when a child; the elder, Edward Earl of Warwick was executed by Henry VII in 1499. The entire family were attainted and excluded from the succession by Edward IV. Henry VII restored Margaret’s brother Edward to his mother’s lands and he assumed the title Earl Warwick in 1490. He was attainted again before his execution in 1499 for trying to escape from the Tower with Perkin Warbeck.

    The junior family titles of the Neville Earls of Warwick included both Earl of Salisbury and Baron Montacute ( or Montagu) hence the reason Henry VIII made Bl. Margaret Countess of Salisbury in her own right; and later made her eldest son Henry, Baron Montacute (or Montagu) in his own right.

    These Yorkists were the children of Richard, Duke of York one of the principal protagonists in the Wars of the Roses and the first of the royal family descended from Henry II to use “Plantagenet” as a family -or surname.

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