As many of you know, I am participating in the “Interview my Character” blog hop put together by the Historical Writers Forum – the wonderful Judith Arnopp interviewed my Edward Seymour on June 19 (you can catch it here if you haven’t yet) – and now it is my turn to interview the star of Samantha Wilcoxson’s Faithful Traitor (part of her Plantagenet Embers series) – none other than Countess Margaret Pole, one of the few surviving members of the Plantagenet dynasty after the War of the Roses…and one of only two women in 16th century England to be a peeress in her own right. Her story is one of the best known of the era – though of course it was wonderful to read it from her own point of view (you can, too – see below for details).
Janet Wertman: Welcome! I am honored to have you here – and I hope you don’t mind me jumping right in to the point at which your world completely changed…How much of a shock was it for you when Henry Tudor overthrew Richard III?
Countess Margaret Pole: I was young and understood so little of what was happening. I only knew that everyone around me seemed nervous and uncertain, especially my oldest cousin, Elizabeth. We looked to her for reassurance, and she did her best to calm our fears, but I could tell that she knew what to expect from Henry Tudor as little as the rest of us. Still, we were together, and that helped us face our uncharted future.
JW: Throughout the book, you were shown to balance confidence in your own position with recognition of the need for royal favor. How hard a line was that for you to walk?
CMP: It is a line that all families in close proximity to the crown must walk. Those who cannot, fall from favor, sometimes spectacularly, sometimes quietly fading away.
JW: How angry were you at being forced to marry below your station (Sir Richard pole was only a Welsh knight for all that he was the nephew of Margaret Beaufort)?
CMP: It did not strike me at the time to be angry. I was fourteen, an orphan, and with no well-defined place in the new world being forged by Henry Tudor. Richard showed love and concern for me that I had not experienced for as long as I could remember.
JW: Was it a relief when Henry VIII came to the throne? Did he treat you better than his father had? Did your position change?
CMP: It was a great relief when young Henry replaced his father. He was more confident of his position and saw no reason to keep me at arm’s length as the first Tudor king had done. Of course, Catherine was a close companion of mine, so their marriage and Henry’s rule began as a golden time for me. I was raised up, given the earldom of Salisbury and eventually the position of governess to the Princess Mary. I could not have asked for more….before Fortune’s Wheel took its dreadful turn.
JW: You were a natural focus of people’s discontent since you were an alternative to the existing regime. Did you ever succumb to the temptation to conspire to take the throne (for yourself or your children)? How close did you really come to dangerous action?
CMP: That sounds like the king’s suspicious demons speaking! To think that I would ever look to the throne – me, the daughter of a king’s brother executed for treason! The closest I ever came to having thoughts of a crown was when dear Catherine and I would dare hope that our children, her Mary and my Reginald, might be wed. However, it was no more than a daydream. Henry would hear no more of it, and Reginald found his place in the church. It was never more than a vapor of a thought.
JW: You came to have a deep personal relationship with Catherine of Aragon (and later, her daughter Mary). How much easier would your life have been if you had not – might you have had greater sympathy for Anne Boleyn and Henry’s religious changes?
CMP: One need not hold dear the friendship of the Queen to take issue with the King’s blasphemous changes to the church! Of course, it broke my heart to see Catherine and Mary set aside, but had I never known them, I would still know my Lord and Savior and be horrified that Henry thought to replace the Holy Father in Rome. The sin of pride was ever his undoing.
JW: You were one of Catherine of Aragon’s staunchest supporters, and you were an important witness to her claim that her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated. Now that it’s over and done with, you can tell the truth. Were you really sure, or did you have your doubts?
CMP: Nothing has ever made me doubt Catherine. She held steadfastly to her faith and her husband, even as her world crashed down around her. It would have been easier to give up. Catherine would not have risked her eternal soul with the sin of false testimony. I have a multitude of reasons for believing her and none for doubting her.
JW: Back to Henry’s religious changes…Your son Reginald was deeply religious and rose greatly in the Roman Catholic Church. Was that the chicken or the egg to your own deep religious convictions?
CMP: My Reginald was raised to honor God, as are all good children, but I cannot take credit for all that he achieved. Only God could have raised him so high. I might rather be so bold to say that some of Reginald’s intellect was inherited from his mother, but, of course, I never had his opportunities for learning.
JW: In August 1534, when you believed that Catherine was dying, you discouraged her from having Mary smuggled to the Continent so that she could rise up against her father. Do you regret that decision given the way things turned out?
CMP: Mary made the right decision by remaining in the kingdom, that it might one day be hers. Had she left, would be able to return as queen? Mary has a challenging road ahead of her, but she is stronger than she realizes – her mother’s daughter. I do wish I had foreseen the risk my own family was taking. How I regret that I did not convince my sons to leave England when Henry’s volatility became obvious. It is easy to look at one’s riches and claim there is no way to leave, but when your children are taken from you, nothing else matters.
JW: In 1536, when Catherine actually WAS dying, you snuck into Kimbolton to bid farewell. Were you sad that you were not there for her at the end? Or jealous of Maria de Salinas who was?
CMP: It would have been an honor to attend my dear friend at the end of her life, but I am thankful for the unexpected opportunity to see her one last time. Catherine knew that she had the love of a few faithful friends, regardless of all she had lost. I thank God that I was able to give her that small comfort.
JW: The book shows us that you had somewhat complicated relationships with your children…. you forced your widowed daughter in law, Jan, into a novitiate at Syon, you were annoyed that Geoffrey looked to you to repay his debts. Do you think this was a result of your early widowhood or something else?
CMP: All children challenge their parents, and I was left to cope with these difficulties alone when my Richard died. The children were all so young….but I did my best, with the help of God. Geoffrey never was strong – needed a father in his life, no doubt. But the success of my other sons is a comfort to me. I know that some believe me too harsh with Jan, but I should have done more to ensure she could not steal my grandchildren’s inheritance. She was a silly thing, thinking only of herself. It was left to me to think of the family’s future.
JW: Well, you did an impressive job as your family did have an important future – your son Reginald became the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury under Mary I, and you yourself were beatified in 1886. Well done, Lady.
If you would like to learn more about Margaret Pole, Samantha’s book Faithful Traitor is available on Kindle – and in honor of this interview, Samantha has made the book free for today on Amazon. So race over to grab your copy of this delightful novel…and poke around the other books in her Plantagenet Embers series, which also features Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth of York, Mary I, and Reginald Pole.
If you like my posts, you’ll love my books! The Path to Somerset is the latest in the Seymour Saga – have you read it yet? (Will you please review it?) Click on the photo to be taken to Amazon.Com: