Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (14 August 1473 – 27 May 1541), was an English peeress. She was the daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, the brother of kings Edward IV and Richard III. Margaret was one of two women in 16th century England to be a peeress in her own right with no titled husband.[2] One of the few surviving members of the Plantagenet dynasty after the Wars of the Roses, she was executed in 1541 at the command of Henry VIII, who was the son of her first cousin Elizabeth of York. Pope Leo XIII beatified her as a martyr for the Catholic Church on 29 December 1886.[3]

Margaret Pole
Countess of Salisbury
Portrait of unknown sitter, traditionally thought to be Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury[1]
Born14 August 1473
Farleigh Hungerford Castle, Somerset, England
Died27 May 1541(1541-05-27) (aged 67)
Tower of London, London, England
Noble familyYork
Spouse(s)Sir Richard Pole
FatherGeorge Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence
MotherIsabel Neville
English Royalty
House of York
George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence


Margaret was born at Farleigh Hungerford Castle in Somerset, the only surviving daughter of George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, and his wife Isabel Neville, who was the elder daughter of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, and his wife Anne de Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick. Her maternal grandfather was killed fighting against her uncle, Edward IV of England, at the Battle of Barnet. Her father, already Duke of Clarence, was then created Earl of Salisbury and of Warwick. Edward IV declared that Margaret's younger brother Edward should be known as Earl of Warwick as a courtesy title, but no peerage was ever created for him. Margaret would have had a claim to the Earldom of Warwick, but the earldom was forfeited on the attainder of her brother Edward.[4]

Margaret's mother died when she was three, and her father had two servants killed whom he thought had poisoned her. George plotted against his brother, Edward IV, and was attainted and executed for treason; his lands and titles were forfeited. Edward IV died when Margaret was ten, and her uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, declared that Edward's marriage was invalid, his children illegitimate, and that Margaret and her brother Edward were debarred from the throne by their father's attainder. Married to Anne Neville, younger sister to Margaret's mother Isabel, Richard assumed the throne himself as Richard III.

Richard III sent the children to Sheriff Hutton Castle in Yorkshire. He was defeated and killed in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth by Henry Tudor, who succeeded him as Henry VII. The new king married Margaret's cousin Elizabeth of York, Edward IV's daughter, and Margaret and her brother were taken into their care. Soon young Edward, a potential York claimant to the throne, was moved to the Tower of London. Edward was briefly displayed in public at St Paul's Cathedral in 1487 in response to the presentation of the impostor Lambert Simnel as the "Earl of Warwick" to the Irish lords. Shortly thereafter, probably in November 1487, Henry VII gave Margaret in marriage to his cousin, Sir Richard Pole, whose mother was half-sister of the king's mother, Margaret Beaufort.[5] When Perkin Warbeck impersonated Edward IV's presumed-dead son Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York, in 1499, Margaret's brother Edward was attainted and executed for involvement in the plot. Richard Pole held a variety of offices in Henry VII's government, the highest being Chamberlain for Arthur, Prince of Wales, Henry's elder son. When Arthur married Catherine of Aragon, Margaret became one of her ladies-in-waiting, but her entourage was dissolved when the teenaged Arthur died in 1502.

When her husband died in 1505, Margaret was a widow with five children, a limited amount of land inherited from her husband, no salary and no prospects. Henry VII paid for Richard's funeral. To ease the situation, Margaret devoted her third son Reginald Pole to the Church, where he was to have an eventful career as a papal Legate and later Archbishop of Canterbury. Nonetheless, he was to resent her abandonment of him bitterly in later life.[4] Additionally, Margaret, without adequate means to support herself and her children, was forced to live at Syon Abbey among Bridgettine nuns after her husband's death.[6] She was to remain there until she returned to favour at the ascension of Henry VIII in 1509.

Countess of Salisbury

When Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509, he married Catherine of Aragon himself. Margaret was again appointed one of her ladies-in-waiting. In 1512, Parliament restored to her some of her brother's lands of the earldom of Salisbury (only), for which she paid 5000 marks (£2666.13s.4d). Henry VII had controlled them, first during her brother's minority and then during his imprisonment, and had confiscated them after his trial. The same Act also restored to Margaret the Earldom of Salisbury.[7] The Warwick and Spencer [Despencer] lands remained crown property.[8]

As Countess of Salisbury, Margaret managed her lands well, and by 1538, she was the fifth richest peer in England. She was a patron of the new learning, like many Renaissance nobles; Gentian Hervet translated Erasmus' de immensa misericordia Dei (The Great Mercy of God) into English for her. Her first son, Henry Pole, was created Baron Montagu, another of the Neville titles; he spoke for the family in the House of Lords. Her second son, Arthur Pole, had a generally successful career as a courtier, becoming one of the six Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber. He suffered a setback when his patron Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, was convicted of treason in 1521, but he was soon restored to favour. He died young about 1526, having married the heir of Roger Lewknor; the Countess and her son Henry pressed Arthur's widow to a vow of perpetual chastity to preserve her inheritance for her Pole children. Margaret's daughter Ursula married the Duke of Buckingham's son, Henry Stafford, but after the Duke's fall, the couple was given only fragments of his estates.

Margaret's third son, Reginald Pole, studied abroad in Padua; he was dean in Exeter and Wimborne Minster, Dorset as well as canon in York. He had several other livings, although he had not been ordained a priest. He represented Henry VIII in Paris in 1529, persuading the theologians of the Sorbonne to support Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon.[9] Her youngest son Geoffrey Pole married well, to Constance, daughter of Edmund Pakenham, and inherited the estate of Lordington in Sussex.

Margaret's own favour at Court varied. She had a dispute over land with Henry VIII in 1518; he awarded the contested lands to the Duchy of Somerset, which had been held by his Beaufort grandfather—and were now in the possession of the Crown. In 1520, Margaret was appointed Governess to Henry's daughter, Princess Mary; the next year, when her sons were mixed up with Buckingham, she was removed, but she was restored by 1525. When Mary was declared a bastard in 1533, Margaret refused to give Mary's gold plate and jewels back to Henry. Mary's household was broken up at the end of the year, and Margaret asked to serve Mary at her own cost, but was not permitted. The Imperial Ambassador Eustace Chapuys suggested two years later that Mary be handed over to Margaret, but Henry refused, calling her "a fool, of no experience." When Henry's queen Anne Boleyn was arrested, and eventually executed, in 1536, Margaret was permitted to return to Court, albeit briefly.[10]


In May 1536, Reginald Pole finally and definitively broke with the king. In 1531, he warned of the dangers of the Boleyn marriage. He returned to Padua in 1532, and received a last English benefice in December of that year. Chapuys suggested to Emperor Charles V that Reginald marry Mary and combine their dynastic claims. Chapuys also communicated with Reginald through his brother Geoffrey. Reginald replied to books Henry sent him with his own pamphlet, pro ecclesiasticae unitatis defensione, or de unitate, which denied Henry's position on the marriage of a brother's wife and denied the royal supremacy. Reginald also urged the princes of Europe to depose Henry immediately. Henry wrote to Margaret, who in turn wrote to her son a letter reproving him for his "folly".[11]

In 1537, Reginald (still not ordained) was created a Cardinal. Pope Paul III put him in charge of organising assistance for the Pilgrimage of Grace (and related movements), an effort to organise a march on London to install a conservative Catholic government instead of Henry's increasingly ‘protestant’ leaning one. Neither Francis I of France nor the Emperor supported this effort, and the English government tried to have him assassinated. In 1539, Reginald was sent to the Emperor to organise an embargo against England — the sort of countermeasure he had himself warned Henry was possible.[12]

As part of the investigations into the so-called Exeter Conspiracy, Geoffrey Pole was arrested in August 1538; he had been corresponding with Reginald, and the investigation of Henry Courtenay, Marquess of Exeter (Henry VIII's first cousin and Geoffrey's second cousin) had turned up his name. Geoffrey had appealed to Thomas Cromwell, who had him arrested and interrogated. Under interrogation, Geoffrey said that his eldest brother, Lord Montagu, and the Marquess had been parties to his correspondence with Reginald. Montagu, Exeter, and Margaret were arrested in November 1538.

In January 1539, Geoffrey was pardoned, but Margaret's son Henry, Baron Montagu (and cousin Exeter) were later executed for treason after trial. In May 1539, Henry, Margaret, Exeter and others were attainted, as Margaret's father had been. This conviction meant they lost their titles and their lands—mostly in the South of England, conveniently located to assist any invasion. As part of the evidence for the Bill of Attainder, Cromwell produced a tunic bearing the Five Wounds of Christ, symbolising Margaret's support for Catholicism and the rule of her son Reginald and the king's Catholic daughter Mary. The supposed discovery, six months after her house and effects were searched at her arrest, is likely to have been a fabrication. She was sentenced to death, and could be executed at the king's will.

Margaret Pole, as she now was styled, was held in the Tower of London for two and a half years. She, her grandson Henry (son of her own son Henry), and Exeter's son were held together and supported by the king. She was attended by servants and received an extensive grant of clothing in March 1541. In 1540, Cromwell himself fell from favour and was attainted and executed.


Blessed Margaret Pole
8th Countess of Salisbury
Born14 August 1473
Farleigh Castle, Somerset, England
Died27 May 1541
Tower of London, City of London, England
Venerated inCatholic Church
Beatified29 December 1886 by Pope Leo XIII
Feast28 May (ordinarily, her feast day would coincide with the day of her martyrdom, however 27 May was already in use as the Feast of Saint Augustine of Canterbury)

The following poem was found carved on the wall of her cell:

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 Thy Mercy, save Thou me![13][14]

On the morning of 27 May 1541, Margaret was told she was to die within the hour. She answered that no crime had been imputed to her. Nevertheless, she was taken from her cell to the place within the precincts of the Tower of London where a low wooden block had been prepared instead of the customary scaffold.[5] As she was of noble birth, she was not executed before the populace. Two written reports survive of her execution, both being eyewitnesses: by Marillac, the French ambassador; and by Chapuys, ambassador to the Holy Roman Emperor. Their accounts differ slightly, with Marillac's report, dispatched two days afterwards, recording that the execution took place in a corner of the Tower with so few people present that in the evening news of her execution was doubted. Chapuys wrote two weeks after the execution that 150 witnesses had been present including the Lord Mayor of London. He wrote that, "at first, when the sentence of death was made known to her, she found the thing very strange, not knowing of what crime she was accused, nor how she had been sentenced" and that, because the main executioner[15] had been sent north to deal with rebels, the execution was performed by "a wretched and blundering youth who literally hacked her head and shoulders to pieces in the most pitiful manner." An apocryphal account, described in Burke's Peerage as an invention to explain the appalling circumstances of her death, states that Margaret refused to lay her head on the block, declaiming, "So should traitors do, and I am none;" according to the account, she turned her head "every which way," instructing the executioner that, if he wanted her head, he should take it as he could.[16][17][18][19][20] Margaret was buried in the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula within the Tower of London.[21]


Both Margaret's father and her mother's father were Earls of Salisbury. It is unclear whether they held the same earldom, and if not, which of the earldoms was restored to her. The Act of Parliament does not say, and respectable authorities differ; the chief effect of these verbal issues is whether she is eighth or second holder of the earldom (in shorthand, "8th Countess" or "2nd Countess"; other numbers are also defensible).

When Margaret's grandfather (Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick) died, leaving no sons and two daughters, his lands were divided between them, and when the younger daughter, Anne Neville, Richard III's queen, died without surviving children, Edward Plantagenet, as her nephew, inherited the lot. In the fifteenth century, the elder daughter's husband, George of Clarence, would have inherited the chief estate of the family and the earldoms. By modern law, it would have required a new creation for George to be an earl, although the law of abeyance, first devised under the Stuarts, would permit the king to declare one of the daughters a countess in her own right; however this did not happen. In the fifteenth century, an only daughter would have inherited — this is how the title came to the Nevilles in the first place — but when a peer left several daughters, the title immediately reverted to the Crown, which might very well regrant it to a member of the family.

J. Horace Round, as followed by the Complete Peerage, holds, therefore, that her brother was representative of his father, and not of her grandfather, and that what was restored to his estate was his father's Earldom of Salisbury; so she is second Countess.[23]


Her son, Reginald Pole, said that he would "...never fear to call himself the son of a martyr". She was later regarded by Catholics as such and was beatified on 29 December 1886 by Pope Leo XIII.[24]


When not at Court, Margaret lived chiefly at Warblington Castle in Hampshire and Bisham Manor in Berkshire.[25] She and her husband were parents to five children:


Cultural depictions

Margaret appears in William Shakespeare's 16th century play Richard III as the young daughter of the murdered Duke of Clarence.

The character of Lady Salisbury in the Showtime series The Tudors, played by Kate O'Toole in 2007 and 2009, is loosely based on Margaret Pole. Janet Henfrey portrays Margaret in Episode 4 ("The Devil's Spit") of Wolf Hall, the 2015 BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel's novels Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up the Bodies (2012).

Margaret is the main character of Philippa Gregory's 2014 novel The King's Curse.[35] She also appears in Gregory's 2013 novel The White Princess as well as The Kingmaker's Daughter, and was portrayed by Rebecca Benson in the television adaptation of The White Princess.[36] Margaret is portrayed by Laura Carmichael in the miniseries The Spanish Princess, a sequel to The White Princess.[37]

Margaret is the main character of Samantha Wilcoxson's 2016 novel, Faithful Traitor.


  1. "Unknown woman, formerly known as Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury — National Portrait Gallery".
  2. ODNB; the other was Anne Boleyn, Marquess of Pembroke. The ODNB does not qualify the assertion, but is discussing sixteenth-century usage; sources which apply modern law retroactively will consider some women peeresses in their own right when their husbands sat in Parliament with their father's style and precedence.
  3. DWYER, J. G. "Pole, Margaret Plantagenet, Bl." New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. Vol. 11. Detroit: Gale, 2003. pp. 455–56.
  4. ODNB.
  5.  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Blessed Margaret Pole" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.
  6. Powell, Sue (1 November 2005). "Margaret Pole and Syon abbey". Historical Research. 78 (202): 563–567. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2281.2005.00254.x.
  7. ODNB, which argues that the restoration was a tacit admission of her brother's innocence; however, lands and titles had been restored to the heirs of guilty peers during the previous century.
  8. TNA, minsters' accounts, SC6/HENVIII.
  9. ODNB, Reginald Pole
  10. ODNB; quotation as given there.
  11. ODNB, "Reginald Pole"; "Geoffrey Pole". Pole and his hagiographers gave several later accounts of Pole's activities after Henry met Anne Boleyn. These are not consistent; and if — as he claimed at one point — Pole rejected the Divorce in 1526 and refused the Oath of Supremacy in 1531, he received benefits from Henry for a course of action for which others were sentenced to death.
  12. ODNB, Reginald Pole.
  13. "The Execution of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury". The Anne Bolyn Files. 27 May 2010. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
  14. "The Tower of London". The Travelling Historian. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
  15. This was not, as some say, Cratwell, who had himself been executed three years earlier
  16. Pierce 1996, pp. 314–315
  17. The Complete Peerage, v. XII p. II, p. 393
  18. "Margaret Pole". Tudor History. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  19. "1541: Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury". Executed Today. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  20. "Block and Axe". Royal Armouries. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  21. Profile of Margaret, Lady Salisbury, Regina (online)
  22. Pinches, John Harvey; Pinches, Rosemary (1974), The Royal Heraldry of England, Heraldry Today, Slough, Buckinghamshire: Hollen Street Press, ISBN 0-900455-25-X
  23. Complete Peerage, "Salisbury, Earldom of" ::::::Co vol XI, pp. 399–402 and appendix F (supplementary pages 126–133)
  24. Camm, Bede, Lives of the English martyrs declared blessed by Pope Leo XIII in 1886 and 1895, (Burns and Oates Limited, 1904), ix.
  25. Ford, David Nash (2010). "Margaret Plantagenet, Lady Pole & Countess of Salisbury (1473–1541)". Royal Berkshire History. Nash Ford Publishing. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
  26. "Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York". English Monarchs. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  27. "George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence". English Monarchs. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  28. "Anne Mortimer, Countess of Cambridge". English Monarchs. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  29. "Margaret, Countess of Salisbury". English Monarchs. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  30. "The Neville Family". English Monarchs. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  31. "Cecily Neville". English Monarchs. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  32. "The Beaufort Family". English Monarchs. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  33. "Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury". English Monarchs. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  34. "Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick". English Monarchs. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  35. "The King's Curse". Publishers Weekly. 21 July 2014. Retrieved 8 October 2014.
  36. Bradley, Laura (13 June 2016). "Two More Game of Thrones Actors Just Joined Starz's The White Queen Follow-Up". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 14 June 2016.
  37. Petski, Denise (17 May 2018). "The Spanish Princess: Charlotte Hope To Star In The White Princess. Follow-Up On Starz". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 1 June 2018.


Further reading

  • Pierce, Hazel (2003). Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, 1473–1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership, University of Wales Press, ISBN 0-7083-1783-9
Peerage of England
Title last held by
Edward Plantagenet
Countess of Salisbury

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