Margaret's life did not go as her parents had likely imagined. Instead of the pampered life of a princess, Margaret survived much trial and tribulation. While Margaret was young, Isabel died in childbirth and George was executed by his royal brother for treason. These were the first in a long line of deaths and disappointments that would define Margaret's life.
After the death of her father and mother, Margaret and her
brother, Edward of Warwick, were left orphans in a volatile court. Following his brother in death five years later, Edward IV had not put much effort into the raising of George's children. When Edward's youngest brother Richard took the throne, 10-year-old Margaret was floating in a churning political sea.
Two cousins, The Princes in the Tower, were lost to Margaret at this time, but she was housed with their sisters, the daughters of Edward IV. Included in this household was Elizabeth of York, who Margaret would go on to serve as a lady-in-waiting when Elizabeth married Henry Tudor. Margaret was quickly married off by Henry VII to a firm supporter, Richard Pole.
Margaret was about 14 when this wedding took place. Marriage to Richard brought stability and happiness to Margaret's life. This happiness was relatively brief. Richard died in 1504, leaving Margaret with five children, the last possibly having been born after his father's death.
Margaret's life under Henry VII was calm but destitute, but his son, Henry VIII, decided to raise her up. Made Countess of Salisbury in 1512, Margaret was shown the respect and awarded the riches that recognized her noble birth. Her sons carefully presented themselves at court as loyal to their king and not rivals to the throne, and the Poles enjoyed Henry's favor.
Margaret was named as governess to the Princess Mary, and stood firmly by her and her mother Queen Katherine of Aragon when Henry decided that it was time for a new wife to give him his longed for son. As Henry grew obsessed with his desire for a male heir, the York blood alive and well in Margaret's sons became a threat. By 1538, Margaret saw many members of her extended family arrested, including her firstborn, Henry Lord Montegue. He was executed, along with his noble cousins Exeter and Neville. Margaret and her youngest son, Geoffrey, continued to languish in prison.
As Henry's marital woes and declining health caused ever increasing cruelty and mood swings, he saw threats to his power where none existed. On May 27, 1541, Margaret was informed that she would die that day.
|Tower of London Memorial
Yet, she bravely endured this final injustice as she had the previous trials in her life, with dignity and faith.
Few witnessed the rushed and quietly carried out execution. An apocryphal story has Margaret running circles around the axeman and attempting to evade her execution. It is difficult to imagine Margaret behaving in such a way, and the report does not come from an eye witness. Final words of protest were found on the wall of her Tower cell,where she had been imprisoned for more than a year.
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 Thou Mercy, save Thou me!
In King Henry VIII's rush to clear the Tower of traitors, he had not been able to locate a very skilled executioner. Witnesses cringed as Margaret's head, neck, and torso endured many strikes rather than a quick, clean beheading. I only pray that God, in his mercy, had already taken the poor woman to heaven before her body was mangled. There, she had many loved ones to reunite with.
In 1886, Margaret was beatified by the Catholic Church and became Blessed Margaret Pole.
This post is the final entry commemorating this great lady in my 10 Days of Margaret Pole celebration. If you have missed a day, the articles can be found here:
Day 1: A Tale of Two Cousins
Day 2: Long Live the King!
Day 3: Who Was Richard Pole?
Day 4: Another Stillborn Birth for Katherine
Day 5: Margaret Loses Governess Post
Day 6: The Not-So-Illustrious Marriages of the Pole Children
Day 7: Geoffrey Pole is Taken to the Tower
Day 8: The Execution of Henry Pole
Day 9: Reginald Pole Learns of His Mother's Death
If you enjoyed this 10 Days of Margaret Pole and are interested in more of her story, you might like Faithful Traitor, my novel of her life as a Plantagenet heiress living under the rule of Tudor kings.