Monday, May 28, 2007

Blessed Margaret Plantagenet Pole, Martyr for the Sanctity of Marriage



Today is the feast of Blessed Margaret Plantagenet Pole, last princess of the royal house of Plantagenet, martyr for the Catholic faith under Henry VIII. She was born in 1474 into a highly dysfunctional family (to say that they were a bunch of cutthroats is probably more accurate.) Her father, George, Duke of Clarence, was an alcoholic, and was found drowned in a barrel of wine (he was probably murdered, but such was his proclivity that no one could prove it for sure.) Her mother, Isabelle Neville, was a conniving, not very nice lady (daughter of Warwick, the "Kingmaker.") Her uncle, King Edward IV, was a notorious womanizer. Her other uncle, King Richard III, certainly did not kill as many people as Shakespeare said he did in his brilliant but inaccurate play, and was more than likely the best one in the family.

Unfortunately for Blessed Margaret, King Richard III was betrayed and killed after putting up a brave fight on Bosworth Field in 1485. The family was ruined, their property confiscated, and Margaret was given as a prize of war to one Sir Richard Pole, a relative of the new king, Henry Tudor, styling himself Henry VII. Now in spite of her family, Margaret had grown to be a devout and virtuous maiden. She was also lovely; very tall, like most of the Plantagenets, with their famous red-gold hair. She bore her husband five children, and was a model wife and mother. When her cousin Henry VIII came to power, he called her the "holiest woman in England." He restored the family lands, making Margaret the Countess of Salisbury in her own right. When Henry had a daughter, Princess Mary, he made Margaret her governess, for she was wise and learned and a great friend of the Queen's.

Troubles came again when Henry VIII, who had once been a pious man, going to Mass three times a day, and to confession every day (at least during one phase of his life) began to act like a megalomaniac, as if rules did not apply to him. The king, whom the Pope had honored with the title Defender of the Faith, who had discussed theology with St Thomas More and Erasmus, went into open rebellion against the Holy Father. It was all because of one woman named Anne, whom Henry wanted to marry (although he had many, many pious excuses.) Blessed Margaret would not accept Henry's illegal annulment of his first wife, good Queen Katherine. She could not accept his invalid and illicit marriage to Anne Boleyn.

Then came the break with Rome. When Blessed Margaret's son Reginald was made a Cardinal by the Pope, Henry had her other two sons killed. Then he arrested Margaret. In 1541, at the age of seventy, she was beheaded without trial and after a long, difficult imprisonment. The executioner was clumsy and it took eleven strokes of the axe to kill Margaret.

It would have been so easy to have gone with the crowd. Let us invoke her protection upon marriage in our own country; what we have to deal with is as bad or worse, although we have not yet had to resist "unto the shedding of blood." (Hebrews 12:4)
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21 comments:

Jennifer F. said...

Your blog is so fascinating. Thanks for posting this. Very, very interesting.

Terry Nelson said...

Imagine killing a 70 year old woman you held in such high esteem. Is there evidence that Henry was insane? Or was it simply lust and power that corrupted him?

elena maria vidal said...

Well, Terry, I used to think it was the syphilis but then some scholar told me that there is no evidence that Henry was afflicted with that disease, although I had always heard that he was. I wonder if the deaths of his children that he had with Katherine of Aragon pushed him to extreme behavior--that combined with the need for money from the monasteries and his lust for Anne.

sc said...

Henry VI's efforts to rid himself of his wife may not have served England well. And yet, I think that his case was not completely meritless; he was closely related to his previously married wife, as were most royals, but she hadn't been able to bear him a son. In other such cases, the Vatican was very willing to bend over backwards to forestall a civil war over succession.

Unfortunately for Henry, the pope was not keen at all to cross her nephew, who had sacked Rome and taken him prisoner. Henry may have been mistaken, but I think there's ample blame to go around.

elena maria vidal said...

I don't know, sc. Henry wasn't really THAT closely related to Katherine of Aragon by blood. Yes, Popes usually were pretty liberal about handing out annulments to royalty but in this case a dispensation had already been given for Henry to marry his brother's wife. The very Scripture passage in Leviticus that Henry used to declare his marriage to Katherine null and void (although the Holy See disagreed since Katherine's marriage to Arthur was never consummated) he later used to have his marriage with Anne Boleyn annulled, before he chopped off her head. For Henry had previously slept with Anne's sister Mary, which meant he needed the same dispensation to marry Anne that he had needed to marry Katherine. At any rate, he was not obedient to the Pope when the Pope did not hand him his annulment in due time. He made himself the head of the Church in England which people like Margaret Pole could not accept.

Elisa said...

Are you familiar with the popular British historian Alison Weir? She's written on the Tudors, the Princes in the Tower, and the Wars of the Roses among others. They're good reading.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, she is one of my favorite historical writers.

Ginny said...

I just love stopping here, always find awesome stuff to read!

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, Ginny!

de Brantigny said...

"...I used to think it was the syphilis but then some scholar told me that there is no evidence that Henry was afflicted with that disease, although I had always heard that he was..."

I always thought theat peculiar form of STD was donated to Europeans by the indians form the new world. While it is not impossible for it to get to Henry, it must have traveled quick. I dont remember any of his mistresses having had it.

Once more a soveriegn believing himself to be above God.

Was Margaret related to Sir Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk and opponent of the Maid?

de Brantigny said...

Funny isn't it, that the man's chromosones are the determining factor in a childs sex? I wonder if Henry would have been so quick to cut of heads and divorce wives if that was knowledge then?

elena maria vidal said...

Her husband may have been related to the Earl of Suffolk but I do not know for certain.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, it is terrible how women were blamed for such things, especially by Henry.

marie said...

King Henry VIII not only murdered his wives in order to once again re-marry he also murdered TWO Saints. St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More.

We are dealing with an evil despot who would NOT have his 'will' denied. What Henry wanted Henry got, he simply killed anyone who stood in his way.

Great piece Elena:)

Yours in friendship,

Marie

de Brantigny said...

Henry wasnt related by blod at all to Katherine. He based his argument upon a a phrase in teh bible that stated one should not marry his sister. Well in this case it would have been his
sister-in-law. Katerine was originally betrothed to his brother Arthur who died. Katherine was older than Henry. It wasnt like they hadn't been marred a few months when he asked the Pope for an annulment based on consanguinuity. Mary their daughter was grown. But i fear she had come to the age when she could no longer have babies.

Two excellent movies on this subject are "Anne of the Thousand Days," and "A Man for all seasons". From when they used to make movies with actors and actresses who could act.

de Brantigny

dorothy2583@gmail.com said...

as someone who has just completed a book on the life of George Duke of Clarene, I do take exception to the claim he was an alcoholic and drowned in the butt of malmsey wine! George drank, but then so did everyone at that time, after all, they had no tea or coffee and water was undrinkable. His manner of death is not known for sure, but one source says he was drowned in a bath, on the orders of his brother Edward IV. Certainly King Edward signed the death warrant for his own brother's execution. It makes a mockery of the claims laid at Richard III's door, doesn't it?

re: Henry VIII, sources say he had an ulcerated leg, not syphilis. He also had a major injury when jousting and was unconscious for some time. This could have accounted for his later paranoia. I will be writing a book on his life later. He is part of my proposed series of novels based on the lives of the famous.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, that is exactly it, M. de Brantigny. Henry and Katherine were 4th or 5th cousins but that did not enter into it at all. Yes, both of those films are excellent and among my favorites.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Dorothy, that is extremely helpful and informative. I would love to read your book about George of Clarence and get the details and facts about him. What you say about Henry's jousting injury makes a lot of sense, especially with what we now know about head injuries. Thank you very much for visiting!

sc said...

I stand corrected as to the closeness of their consanguinity. I don't want to flog a dead horse; but there was some thinking behind the post.

During Henry's time, I was taught, when a King didn't have a male heir, he'd approach the church, and tell them "look, if I can't father a male heir, we're looking at a possible civil war, with rape, pillage, plunder, and slaughter down the road," and the church would generally oblige him with an annulment. Oftentimes consanguinity was invoked. Even today the rota is occasionally criticized; the ex-wife of a Kennedy has recently written a book saying that she felt that she didn't get a fair deal from the rota.

The reason I write this, is that with these precedents, Henry VI may have been in his rights to expect an annulment. The Pope at the time, in any event, was in no position to render an unprejudiced ruling, and it's no secret that some medieval Popes have yet to be canonized. Henry wouldn't submit to the ruling, and one thing led to the next, he burned his bridges, and was soon abolishing the monasteries.

This distinction has real life implications; today Britons from Tony Blair on down are said to be mulling swimming the Tiber, leaving the door open as to just how felicitous Pope Clement's ruling was in turn leaves them plenty of room to ponder just how felicitous and wise Henry's subsequent antics were.

alaughland said...

Well, I think it is fascinating how that whole episode in history still captures our interest and grips our attention.

SuzanneG said...

I googled "holy card blessed margaret pole" and yours was the first entry that came up....so OF COURSE i had to stop by! I am looking for a photo of her for my daughters' Little Flowers meeting next week....Blessed Margaret Pole is the saint we are talking about...along with the virtue of COURAGE.

Of course, I've been here WAY TOO LONG....I'm supposed to be planning a courage lesson and a craft to go along with it, and here I am reading all your great blog posts! LOL!

It's so nice to visit again, Elena! Hope you're doing well.