Margaret Pole was born into a world that turned on its head several times during her lifetime.
When she was born, she was the niece of the Yorkist King of England: her father George was the younger brother to Edward IV, who had taken the throne from Henry VI. But George’s wife was the daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (also known as the Kingmaker) – and George allowed slight jealousy of his older brother’s position to push him to join his father-in-law to ally with Henry’s consort Margaret of Anjou….George was caught, attainted, and executed in 1478.
Margaret didn’t fare much better when Richard III came to the throne in 1483: he had Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville annulled and Margaret barred from the succession because of George’s attainder. But the situation soon turned when along came Lancastrian Henry Tudor who seized power in 1485.
The new king married Margaret’s cousin Elizabeth of York (Edward IV’s daughter), and Margaret and her brother Edward were taken into their care. Margaret did just fine: she was married off in 1487 to a “safe” choice: Sir Richard Pole, whose mother was half-sister of the King’s mother Margaret Beaufort. Her brother, however, was more of a threat to the new dynasty and not treated well at all. He was moved to the Tower of London and left it only twice. Once, when Lambert Simnel, pretending to be him, tried to depose Henry VII, and Edward was brought to St. Paul’s Cathedral to prove to the people that the rebels were following an impostor. Second, after he allegedly supported another rebel, Perkin Warbeck, who was pretending to be the younger of the dead princes in the Tower, Edward was brought to Tower Hill to be executed.
Richard Pole held a variety of offices in Henry VII’s government, finally being named Chamberlain for Arthur, Prince of Wales. When Arthur married Catherine of Aragon in 1501, Margaret was brought to court to be one of her ladies-in-waiting…but then sent back again after Arthur died in 1502 and Catherine’s household was dissolved.
In 1509, Henry VIII came to the throne and married Catherine of Aragon himself – and Margaret once again became one of her ladies in waiting. The new king also released lands and titles (specifically, the Earldom of Salisbury) that Henry VII had withheld to reduce the Yorkist threat she posed. Still riding high, in 1520 Margaret was appointed governess to the Princess Mary.
She suffered a minor reversal in 1521 when her sons got mixed up with the Duke of Buckingham who pressed a claim to the throne based on his descent from Edward III, but she was fine again by 1525.
Then came 1533 when Mary was declared a bastard and her household dissolved. Margaret tried to continue serving Mary at her own cost but was not allowed and sent away…only to be permitted to return in 1536 when Anne Boleyn was executed.
The final downturn came when her son Reginald, who was named a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, was rabble-rousing against Henry. Reginald was a safe distance away, but Margaret was within reach. She was arrested and at age 67 suffered one of the worst-botched executions ever…which led to the final upturn: she was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886.
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