Page 7, 20th September 1985

20th September 1985
Page 7
Page 7, 20th September 1985 — Henry VIII vowed to exterminate a family which included a countess and a cardinal. Nicholas Fitzherbert tells the extraordinary story.

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Organisations: House of Lords


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Henry VIII vowed to exterminate a family which included a countess and a cardinal. Nicholas Fitzherbert tells the extraordinary story.

6 6 I INTEND N DI h eto w exterminateh e iefamily"; so said Henry

VII to the French Ambassador. Who was he referring to? The Pole family who were of royal blood and a threat to the succession.

Blessed Margaret Pole stands out as the distinguished martyr of her family but there were several other casualties. Her father, George Duke of Clarence, was reputedly done to death by her uncle Richard Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, by drowning in a butt of malmsey wine, and her brother was beheaded on Tower Hill in 1499 at the age of 24 Inc plotting to murder Henry VII. Her eldest son, Henry Pole, Lord Montague, was executed in 1538 while Geoffrey, the third son, died in disgrace on the continent.

In 1513, early in Henry VIII's reign, Margaret Pole was permitted to succeed to her late brother's vast estates which lay chiefly in Hampshire, Wiltshire and Essex and was granted the title of Countess of Salisbury.

In 1525 she was appointed Lady Governess to the nine year old princess Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon. Alas, this happy state of affairs ended nine years later in 1534 when the Royal Commissioners descended upon Princess Mary's peaceful retreat at New Hall in Essex and tore her from her arms.

New Hall was acquired by the King in 1517 but since 1799 it has been a thriving girl's school run by the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre. The critical year when people were called upon to declare Henry VIII's first marriage to be invalid was 1534; something Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, resolutely refused to do.

To make matters worse, Reginald, her second son, who was originally a favourite of the King who had appointed him Dean of Exeter in 1527. wrote a Treatise from the safety of Italy in 1535 called Pro Unitatis Ecclesiastic-we Defensione ("In defence of the unity of one church") in which he denounced the King in strong language. Attempts to assassinate him failed so vengeance fell on the innocent heads of the family in England.

In due course a Bill of Attainder was passed through the House of Lords in two days, 26th to 28th June 1539, and the Countess of Salisbury was then committed to the Tower where she remained for two years until she was beheaded on 27th May, 1541 at the age of 68. She is buried in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula within the Tower and was beatified by Pope Pius IX in 1886; her feast day is May 28.

Margaret and her husband Sir Richard Pole had one daughter and three sons; Reginald, to whom 1 have already referred, was born in 1500 at Stourton Castle, near Stourbridge. At 19 he went to Italy to finish his studies returning eight years later in 1527, high in the favour of Henry VIII.

When the question of the divorce was raised Reginald seemed to take the King's side but later expressed disapproval refusing the Archbishopric of York and the wealthy Bishopric of Winchester, and returned to Italy in 1532 where he formed close friendships with many eminent men eager for an internal reformation of the church.

In 1535 he entered into a political correspondence with

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