Monday, March 21, 2016

A Tale of Two Cousins

Plantagenet Arms

As the Tudor dynasty was born, the Plantagenet remnant had some difficult adjustments to make. Each individual was left to determine if they would serve the king who had defeated Richard III in battle or if they would bring a new challenge to him. While this may seem the concern of only men, the Plantagenet women also had to find their new place in the world.

Two cousins, Elizabeth of York and Margaret Pole, had spent much of their childhood together, but their lives under the Tudor regime turned out quite differently. Their fathers had been brothers. Elizabeth was the daughter of the charismatic Edward IV, who had cemented the York place upon the Plantagenet throne, or so he had believed. Margaret's father was George of Clarence, Edward IV's brother and heir apparent until the birth of Prince Edward in 1470.

The girls did not grow up together so much because their fathers were brothers, but because King Edward had his brother, George, executed for treason. Since Margaret's mother was already dead by the time the king's patience ran out with his impetuous and self-serving brother, Margaret became a royal ward.

Margaret's relationship with Elizabeth continued after Edward IV unexpectedly died in 1483. The two years of Richard III's reign must have been confusing and tumultuous for the girls who were at that time 10 and 17 years old. However, it was nothing compared to what was in store for them.

Elizabeth of York

With Henry Tudor victorious at Bosworth, Elizabeth had to make a difficult decision. She had been betrothed to Henry during her uncle Richard's reign, but had likely wondered if a marriage would ever take place whether she was in favor of it or not. Tudor had spent much of his life in exile but had gathered a larger number of the discontented to him after Edward IV's death. Elizabeth not only married Henry, she seems to have devoted herself to making a success of the marriage and Henry's rule.

Margaret served Elizabeth as lady-in-waiting until Henry VII gave her to a faithful follower to be wed. Having royal blood second only to the daughters of Edward IV, Margaret was a fine prize for Richard Pole. Their relationship is believed to have been happy, and the couple served Prince Arthur once he was established at Ludlow.

Margaret's vital decisions took place after the deaths of Elizabeth, Henry, and her husband, Richard. Richard's death had left her in relative poverty, and Elizabeth's without a advocate at court. Henry's death, however, opened up possibilities.

Margaret Pole

With Henry VIII on the throne, Margaret could hope for a turn of fortune's wheel that would improve her own position and that of her children. She was great friends with Catherine of Aragon, the women having nursed the dying Prince Arthur together. After Richard's death, it had been Catherine that Margaret run to for comfort. With Catherine as queen and Margaret's young cousin as king, the future looked bright.

And for a while it was.

Margaret served as governess to Princess Mary after waiting on poor Catherine through several less productive pregnancies. This was a high honor, as was the restoration of her family title, the earldom of Salisbury. Margaret's oldest son, another Henry, was given the Montague lands and title which could also be traced back through Margaret's family tree. As the premier peeress of the land, Margaret only had one way to move. Down.

When Henry gave up on fathering a male heir with Catherine and she started looking the five years older than her husband that she was, Margaret's star fell along with Catherine's. The break with Rome that made Henry's second marriage possible opened another chasm. As the dear friend of Henry's discarded wife and a staunch Catholic, Margaret was no longer looked upon by the king as a beloved cousin. It did not help that Margaret had four grown sons with an excess of royal blood.

The fortune of the Pole family ebbed and flowed through Henry's costly experiment in finding a suitable wife to replace Catherine. Failing to give Henry support as head of the church caused Margaret's favor to continue to fall, though her oldest son, Lord Montague did take the required oath in order to preserve his position at court. Another of Margaret's sons, Reginald, refused to break his ties with the Pope, was exiled, and became a Cardinal.

Tower of London

In 1521, Henry VIII made his first major move against the Pole family. He arrested Edward Stafford, duke of Buckingham and father-in-law to Margaret's daughter, Ursula. Soon after, he also sent Henry Pole to the Tower. While Henry was eventually released, Edward was not. This execution scarred Margaret and must have been reminiscent of the executions of her father and brother under previous kings.

It is difficult to imagine Margaret's difficulty in maintaining her loyalty to Catherine and Princess Mary without angering the king who wished to dispose of them. As if that weren't enough, she was forced to hide her Catholic faith when Henry cracked down on those who did not recognize his newly created position. How to stay faithful without being a traitor?

As Henry VIII became more tyrannical and the Pole's failed to fall in line, Margaret found herself in the position of so many noble men and women before her: opposed to the king.

Reginald Pole

Reginald had long distanced himself from Henry VIII by speaking against his remarriage. Their relationship had disintegrated completely. Where Henry had formerly sponsored Reginald in his schooling and offered him the archbishopric of York, he now sent assassins across the channel in an attempt to rid himself of the vociferous opponent.

Not able to grasp Reginald, the king took out his wrath on the remainder of the Poles. First Geoffrey, Margaret's youngest son, then Henry and his son were imprisoned along with several others. This supposed Exeter conspiracy proved the family's final downfall.

Knowing which target was weakest, the king had Geoffrey tortured and questioned for weeks before moving on the rest of the family. For his testimony, Geoffrey was released while his older brother, cousin, and others went to their deaths. Geoffrey attempted suicide at least twice, and Margaret was placed under house arrest.

Modern Day Tower Memorial

The rest of her days would be spent imprisoned, eventually within the Tower where so many had entered never to be seen again. In a final clearing of house, Henry had her executed without trial in 1541. Margaret was 67 years old.

Her grandson, Henry Pole, who had been arrested with his father, was never seen again.

These two cousins, Elizabeth and Margaret, had each done their best to make a way for the York remnant within the Tudor dynasty, and each faced tragedies with perseverance and strength. 

Read more about Elizabeth of York and Margaret Pole in the Plantagenet Embers series.

Elizabeth's story is told in Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen, and Margaret's in Faithful Traitor.

I have also written a novella featuring Reginald Pole. Prince of York begins with Reginald getting the news of his mother's execution.

Each book in the series is FREE with Kindle Unlimited!


  1. It's so sad that they both had such sadness in their lives towards the end. Am I right in thinking that both girls would have grown up under the care of Anne Neville after the deaths of Isobel, and when Anne became Queen? I know Elizabeth was at court when Anne was Queen, but not so much Margaret?

    1. Thank you for your comment, Poppy. We cannot be certain of where she was kept at all times, but there is evidence of her living with Edward IV's daughters, under the guardianship of Thomas Grey (Elizabeth Woodville's son from previous marriage), at Sheriff Hutton under John de la Pole, and in Anne Neville's household. Of course, her brother's movements are better documented than her own. Hazel Pierce's biography has been the best source that I have found for looking at Margaret and not just those around her.

  2. Sainted Margaret De La Pole Plantagenet is my 12th Great Grandmother who suffered much... May she rest in peace~

  3. Two great books about two remarkable ladies.