Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Geoffrey Pole Taken to the Tower

Tower of London
The year 1538 would turn out to be devastating for Margaret Pole, and it all began on August 29th when her youngest son, Geoffrey, was arrested and taken to the Tower of London.

Geoffrey had been born around the time his father, Richard Pole, died. Since the exact dates of Richard's death and Geoffrey's birth are not known, it is impossible to know if the father ever held his youngest child. Was it this lack of a father that caused Geoffrey to grow to be weaker in spirit and character than his mother and older brothers? I cannot say, but I do know that Henry VIII knew just who to target when he looked toward putting his cousin's family back in their place, which was the same as everyone else's: beneath him.

Geoffrey's older brother, Henry Lord Montague, had been arrested and released over a decade earlier in connection with charges against Edward Stafford Duke of Buckingham. He was another royal cousin who fell due to the fact that he made one too many remarks comparing his own bloodline to that of the Tudor king. Henry Pole, however, was released at that time and continued to serve the king in a variety of roles free of scandal. Until his brother's arrest.

The Tudor monarchs were experts at manipulation as demonstrated by Geoffrey's arrest, which was followed by weeks of silence. While his mother and wife begged for information on the charges, his whereabouts, and permission to visit him, Geoffrey was held in a dungeon-like cell, isolated from any who might have given him support and encouragement. Though he was not physically tortured during this time, the emotional turmoil for all involved left them vulnerable.

It was not until October 1538 that Geoffrey was questioned and quite likely underwent some form of torture. Already the weakest branch of the Pole family tree, weeks of fear, hunger, and neglect left him ripe for giving Henry VIII the ammunition he needed to move forward against the entire family.

It was no secret that the Pole family had been supporters of Katherine of Aragon and the Catholic Church. Margaret and Henry were politically savvy and managed to balance these loyalties with that to their cousin and king, Henry VIII. As the king aged and became more temperamental and suspicious, his wrath fell upon this family that he had once raised to the earldom of Salisbury and barony of Montegue. Following the Pilgrimage of Grace and amid rumors that Margaret still held hope that her son, Reginald, would marry and rule at the side of Princess Mary, the king determined that the Poles had become too much of a threat to his supremacy.

Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury
Geoffrey's testimony led to the arrests of his brother, Henry, who was put in the Tower along with his wife and son. Pole cousins, Henry Courtenay Marquess of Exeter and Sir Edward Neville. Many others were taken to the Tower or placed under house arrest, including Margaret Pole, who was sixty-five years old. She had tread the tumultuous waters of the Tudor era for her entire life, only to watch her family sink in the end.

Upon the arrest of his family members, Geoffrey Pole attempted suicide. This was another blow to his mother who would have believed this to be a mortal sin. He was unsuccessful. His punishment continued when he was released while his testimony was used to press charges against others. Several were executed in what has become known as the Exeter Conspiracy, including Geoffrey's oldest brother, Henry.

Modern monument at Tower of London
Shortly following the executions of Montague, Exeter, and Neville, Geoffrey attempted suicide a second time. It is believed that he made this attempt at least one more time before fleeing to another brother for comfort and protection. Reginald Pole, by this time a Cardinal and one of the reasons for the king's anger against the Pole family, looked after his younger bother as they received increasingly crushing news from England. The final blow came in May 1541, when Henry VIII ordered the execution of their elderly mother, without notice or trial.

Geoffrey did not return to England until Reginald did during the reign of Queen Mary I. All three, Geoffrey, Reginald, and Mary, died in 1558 of natural causes.


  1. Brill, as always. Thanks for sharing with us!

  2. I had included this in the sequel to my book Loyalty. Good to see I'm not the only one who found it fascinating. Hope to publish by end of year!

    1. Nope, you're not alone, Jane! Geoffrey's imprisonment in a pivotal moment in 'Faithful Traitor'.

  3. Your blogs about Margaret Pole and her family have been fascinating, as is your book about her. So much tragedy in her life!

    1. Thank you so much! I appreciate the encouragement!