Wednesday, May 28, 2008

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)


Brantigny said...

Wasn't her families ancient name de la Pole? I think la Pucelle wrote him a letter during the siege of Orleans.

I believe Henry VIII, was a pshycopath as he demonstates some of those tendancies, ie, above the rules, little remorse, narsisism, hedonism, pitilessness, a manipulator for his own ends.

de Brantigny

Enbrethiliel said...


Another fantastic history lesson, Elena! The stories of remarkable people keeping the faith during the most trying times is just the kind of inspiration we need to stay faithful these days.

I'd love to be able to read a future historian's analysis of the saints who were among us, whether or not we knew them. (And given the record of history, we're most likely treating them all shabbily, if we have any idea who they are at all.)

elena maria vidal said...

Her husband may have been related to the De la Poles but I am not certain.

Thank you, Enbrethiliel.

Unknown said...


Stephanie A. Mann said...

I'd recommend a biography of the Countess of Salisbury by Hazel Pierce: Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury: Loyalty, Lineage, and Leadership. (I've reviewed it on
As you note, she was governess to Princess Mary, and her cruel execution must have been very distressing to Mary--they had been very close. Mary lost both her mother and her faithful guardian.

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, Stephanie, I'll look for your review.