Monday, May 28, 2012

Blessed Margaret Pole

Martyr of England. She was born Margaret Plantagenet, the niece of Edward IV and Rich­ard III. She married Sir Reginald Pole about 1491 and bore five sons, including Reginald Cardinal Pole. Margaret was widowed, named countess of Salisbury, and appointed governess to Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Queen Catherine of Aragon, Spain. She opposed Henry’s mar­riage to Anne Boleyn, and the king exiled her from court, although he had called her “the holiest woman in England.” When her son, Cardinal Pole, denied Henry’s Act of Supremacy, the king imprisoned Margaret in the Tower of London for two years and then beheaded her on May 28. In 1538, her son Henry Pole, Lord Montague was executed for treason and her other surviving son, Geoffrey was also arrested and found guilty of treason, but was pardoned. She was never given a legal trial, but included in an Act of Attainder that accused many of treason on quite flimsy grounds. Margaret Pole was devoted to the Five Wounds of Jesus; the Pilgrimage of Grace proceeded under banners emblazoned with the Five Wounds of Jesus; therefore, Cromwell and Henry's flawed logic was that her devotion proved her support of  rebellion. Nevermind that devotion to the Five Wounds of Jesus was popular throughout England in the 16th century. Her sons' opposition to Henry's marital and ecclesial efforts was enough. She rightly protested against the lack of due process and there are various reports about how horrible her execution was: certainly the headsman was incompetent.

She was seventy when she was martyred in 1541. Margaret was beatified in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII. She is buried in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London. Margaret Pole had planned a resting place for herself in what is now Christchurch Priory in what was, before 1539, an Augustinian Priory, in the Salisbury Chantry, where Masses would be said for the repose of her soul. More on her life and times here. Her daughter Ursula had married Henry Stafford, who was the eldest son of Edward Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham executed on May 17, 1521 for treason. Ursula and Edward survived the double blows of two parents beheaded for treason against Henry VIII, and Stafford was named Baron Stafford during the reign of Edward VI. One of their sons, Thomas, would also lose his head after participating in the Wyatt Rebellion against Mary I.

Blessed Margaret Pole's other son, Reginald, returned to England in 1554 to reconcile the English church and nation to the Catholic Church and the Papacy, becoming the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury in 1556. He died two years later and is buried in Canterbury Cathedral. You may read my review of her standard biography, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership by Hazel Pierce here.

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