Blessed Margaret Pole was born Margaret Plantagenet, and was the niece of Edward IV and Richard III. She married Sir Reginald Pole in 1491. With Reginald, she had five sons––but unfortunately, her husband died and left her a widow. She lived a hard life trying to support her children on her own, and even had to live with Bridgettine nuns for a time.
When King Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon, Margaret was appointed one of her ladies-in-waiting. In 1512, some of her brother’s land––which had been taken during the previous king’s rule––was returned to her, making her Countess of Salisbury. These events turned Margaret’s life around and she soon found herself to be the fifth richest peer in England. Margaret was also appointed governess to Princess Mary, the daughter of King Henry VIII and Queen Catherine. Margaret was also Mary’s sponsor in baptism and confirmation, and Henry VIII called her the “holiest woman in England.”
King Henry VIII soon wanted to end his marriage to Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn instead, and he received criticism from Margaret’s son Reginald as a result. Henry then sought to declare Princess Mary as illegitimate, and Margaret openly opposed him. He removed her from her position as Mary’s governess and Margaret was banned from court.
Eventually, Reginald––who had become a Cardinal––denied Henry’s Act of Supremacy. The Acts of Supremacy established the English monarchs as the head of the Church of England and essentially replaced the pope as the Supreme Head of the Church.
After Reginald spoke out against the king, a search was conducted on Margaret’s home. Unfortunately for her, a heraldic device was found which pictured intertwined pansies and marigolds (symbols of the Poles and Mary Tudor respectively), which revealed Margaret’s true devotion to Henry’s daughter--Margaret’s former charge. As punishment for this and because Henry could not get his hands on Reginald, Henry imprisoned Margaret in the Tower of London for two years. She was never given a legal trial and was eventually beheaded.
There are many accounts of her martyrdom from witnesses––some who said Margaret refused to kneel at the chopping block, and some who said her executioner was a novice and made quite a mess of things. Despite her gruesome end, some said that she went to the site of her execution calmly and unflinchingly––maintaining that she was innocent and had not actually been accused of any crime.
Blessed Margaret Pole is depicted in the dress typical of the time period and reflecting her status as Countess of Salisbury. She is also pictured with the heraldic device found in her home.