Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Not-so-Illustrious Marriages of the Pole Children

Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury
Coat of Arms
When Richard Pole died in 1504, Margaret was left with five small children. The youngest, Geoffrey, may have never even met his father. Many a woman in her position would have lost little time looking for their own next spouse to assist with this large brood and provide a comfortable income. Margaret was thirty-one and possessed a wealth of royal blood if not actual riches.

Choosing the road less traveled, Margaret Pole devoted herself to raising her children and arranging advantageous matches for them, rather than one for herself. Each of these marriages appeared to be wonderful choices at their outset. Margaret may not have been interested in challenging her cousin for the throne, but she would have her children recognized with the noble titles and status that she felt they deserved.

Margaret's oldest child and the one who would find the most success within Henry VIII's court was Henry. He became Lord Montague and enjoyed favor from the king despite the increasing suspicion directed at those with old Yorkist blood. Married to Jane Neville, daughter of Baron Bergavenny, he was expected to inherit wealth through her that his mother could not provide. Bergavenny did not have a son and his wife had died, leaving Jane an heiress. This was the understanding at least until the wily Duke of Buckingham, Edward Staffford, convinced the old widower to marry his daughter, Mary. Once Mary gave birth to a son, Jane's hopes of inheritance disappeared.

The marriage of Mary Stafford and George Neville also created a (not-so-uncommon at that time) dual family link. Edward Stafford's oldest son, Henry Stafford, was married to Margaret Pole's only daughter, Ursula. Therefore, Edward Stafford's own wealth would one day enrich one Pole child, while his daughter stole that of the other. At least that was his plan.

Ursula Pole
Edward Stafford was very proud of his ancestry. He traced his family tree back to Edward III, and his Woodville mother had been the queen's sister. Proud and arrogant, Buckingham was not afraid to point out that his own bloodline was more impressive than Henry Tudor's. When it appeared that the king may die without fathering a son, Stafford was too quick to put his own name forward as the obvious one to follow him.

When Buckingham was executed for treason in May 1521, his son's future, along with that of Ursula Pole, was much diminished. The dukedom was forfeited to the crown, and Henry Stafford would never enjoy the same status his forefathers had. Much later, in 1547, he would be raised to be Baron Stafford, but this fell far short of the future that Margaret thought she had secured for her dear Ursula.

Arthur, Margaret's second son, was wed to a well-off widow, Jane Lewkenor (Pickering). When Arthur died young and left behind small children, Margaret attempted to secure the inheritance for her grandchildren by having Jane enter a convent. The scheme was unsuccessful, however, and Jane rescinded her vows in order to remarry.

Margaret's youngest child, Geoffrey, was also married to an heiress of a rich man without sons. Constance Pakenham was the long suffering wife of the Pole child who would assist the king in bringing down his entire family. Weak and irresponsible, Geoffrey gave testimony that led to the execution of several of his extended family members. Geoffrey was spared but attempted suicide at least twice. When he died during the reign of Queen Mary, he left Constance with little besides the many children he had fathered.

Cardinal Reginald Pole
Though he never married, a discussion of Margaret's children is not complete without mentioning the best known of her offspring. Reginald Pole lived his life dedicated to the church, though the marriage mentioned for him several times over the years was one that would have made him king. His mother and her good friend, Katherine of Aragon, believed the match between their children would further unite the houses of York and Tudor. Long after both women were dead, the marriage of Princess Mary and (by that time) Cardinal Pole was considered after Henry VIII's death and again upon her own rise to the throne. Instead, Mary chose to marry another cousin, Philip of Spain, and made Reginald her Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1550, Reginald fell one vote short of becoming Pope, but he proudly served the Catholic restoration England for the rest of his life instead. Reginald and Mary died on the same day, November 17, 1558.

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