Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership by Hazel Pierce, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership

Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership

by Hazel Pierce

In this first biography of a significant female figure in the male-dominated world of British Tudor politics, Hazel Pierce reconsiders the life and martyrdom of Catholic duchess Margaret Pole against the changing social and political landscape of her times. Pole, niece of both Edward IV and Richard III, was the only woman apart from Anne Boleyn to hold a peerage in


In this first biography of a significant female figure in the male-dominated world of British Tudor politics, Hazel Pierce reconsiders the life and martyrdom of Catholic duchess Margaret Pole against the changing social and political landscape of her times. Pole, niece of both Edward IV and Richard III, was the only woman apart from Anne Boleyn to hold a peerage in her own right during the sixteenth century, and this important contribution to medieval scholarship provides a matchless understanding of aristocratic women during that time period, as well as new interpretations of Henry VIII and his relationship with the nobility.

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University of Wales Press
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Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, 1473â"1541

Loyalty, Lineage And Leadership

By Hazel Pierce

University of Wales Press

Copyright © 2003 Hazel Pierce
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7083-2189-8


Ancestry and Marriage, 1473–1504

* * *

'my Lady Margaret Pole Doughter to the Duc of Claraunce'

Margaret Plantagenet was born on 14 August 1473 at Farleigh Castle near Bath. She was a royal princess of the House of York whose father, George, duke of Clarence, stood third in line to the throne of England. Her mother, Isabel Neville, was the daughter of Richard Neville, earl of Warwick (the kingmaker) and co-heiress to one of the greatest landed estates in England. Tewkesbury Abbey was in the patronage of the duke and duchess of Clarence, and Margaret's birth was proudly recorded in the abbey's chronicle. This is hardly surprising, for the arrival of a new member of the royal house, especially a royal house that had taken possession of the crown by force a mere twelve years earlier, was a significant event. Margaret's uncle, Edward IV, had ascended the throne in 1461 during the dynastic struggle known to history as the Wars of the Roses. Having deposed the Lancastrian king, Henry VI, Edward ruled for eight years before a rebellion placed his adversary once again upon the throne. By this time Henry VI's fragile mental condition had deteriorated further and the prime movers behind his readeption were none other than Richard, earl of Warwick, Edward's erstwhile supporter and Margaret's grandfather, and George, duke of Clarence, Edward's own brother and Margaret's father. Both Warwick and Clarence felt that their ambitions had been thwarted by Edward, and this had prompted them into joining forces with the Lancastrians, although Clarence's initial motives may have been to obtain the crown for himself, as the Lincolnshire rebellion of 1470 suggests. However, Clarence soon realized that being the brother of a deposed monarch would yield far less than being the brother of the king of England and he changed sides once more, a decision that was instrumental in reestablishing Edward on the throne in 1471. It was this that allowed Clarence's reconciliation with the Edwardian regime despite his previous disloyalty and marriage to Isabel Neville in 1469 against Edward's express wishes. The shock of his deposition in 1469 prompted Edward to take action that would ensure such a thing could never happen again. Henry VI's only son and heir had conveniently been killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4 May 1471, while Henry himself was quietly put to death at the Tower, probably from a blow to the head, on Edward's orders three weeks later. In the absence of a strong dynastic opposition, Edward now felt secure upon the throne and could not have known that he represented the last successful rearguard of the Plantagenet dynasty which had ruled England, and at times parts of France, since 1154. In just fourteen years the House of York would fall and the House of Tudor would take its place on the throne of England for the next 118 years.

In 1473 such events could not have been imagined and, consequently, Margaret Plantagenet's future looked entirely promising. Her father was one of the wealthiest magnates in England and she was his sole heir. From the moment of her birth she would have been treated with extreme deference and her education would have ensured that she was fully aware of the role and responsibilities of her royal position. An easy familiarity with all aspects of court etiquette was one important element. The court of Edward IV's queen, Elizabeth Woodvyll, was replete with formality and ritual. For instance, at her coronation banquet in 1465 the duke of Suffolk and earl of Essex knelt on either side of her at the table holding the sceptres of St Edward and of England, while the countesses of Shrewsbury and Kent also knelt throughout. The duke of Clarence took equal pride in how his household was presented, and in 1468 drew up an ordinance that dictated its management. This reveals the immense size of the household in which Margaret spent part of her childhood. The duke maintained a staff of 188 persons and kept 93 horses in his stables, remarkable considering that many other magnates had felt the need to close their stables and rely on hired transport. Margaret's mother was no less well served, in her household 125 servants awaited her command while 16 grooms attended the 43 horses in her stable. Other regulations included the strict observation of holy days, the prohibition of gambling except during the twelve days of Christmas, and the attendance during mealtimes of 'the kervers, ameners, cup-bearers, and sewers, and all other officers assigned to serve the seid Duke, the chambre, and the halle; to the intent, that the seid Duke be welle and honorablye served'.

Margaret's education also equipped her with other abilities required of a well-born lady. She was taught to play musical instruments and in later life kept three pairs of virginals, a harpsichordtype instrument without legs, at Warblington Castle, her seat in Hampshire. She could also sew, skills she later taught her granddaughters and the other young ladies she educated in her household as countess of Salisbury, keeping 'silke for to set the yong a worke'. Although she was not the son her father desired, she still had an important role to play. As a member of the royal house she was a valuable commodity on the marriage market and the object of her union would be to strengthen not only her father's position and influence but her family's through a strategic and important alliance. Her status and dowry would ensure there would be no shortage of suitors for her hand. Although no extant evidence indicates that Clarence had initiated any negotiations for her marriage, a high-ranking peer of England or Europe, or even a member of a foreign royal house, would have been the ultimate choice. Certainly, in 1484 discussions were under way for the marriage of Margaret's cousin, Anne de la Pole, daughter of Edward IV's eldest sister, to the future King James IV of Scotland. However, in 1475 Margaret's prospects as the duke's heir were eclipsed by the birth of her brother, Edward, at Warwick Castle on 25 February. The baby's status was immediately recognized, and at his christening the king himself stood as his godfather and created him earl of Warwick, a title held by Clarence but relinquished in his son's favour. Although Warwick superseded Margaret in relation to their hereditary expectations, her position was not seriously affected. She was still the king's niece and, after Clarence's death if both she and her brother reached maturity, would be sister to one of the most powerful magnates in England. Certainly, Warwick's birth had not diminished the duke's interest in his daughter's welfare, for on 1 May 1475 it appears that he temporarily enfeoffed several manors to her use. As he was about to cross the sea to France on military campaign, he wished to ensure that his daughter had a regular income of her own in the event of his death.

The following year the duchess of Clarence was pregnant once more and on 6 October gave birth to a son in the new infirmary of Tewkesbury Abbey. Named Richard, the baby was baptized amidst solemn ceremony at which several members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy officiated. Unfortunately, the duchess became ill following the birth and on 12 November Clarence returned to Warwick Castle taking his wife with him, with hindsight an unwise decision considering her condition. After her arrival at Warwick Castle Isabel failed to recover and died aged twenty-five on 12 December 1476. There is every reason to believe that Clarence genuinely mourned his wife's death. They had been married for seven years and although Clarence was 'semly of person and right witty and wel visagid' no evidence suggests that he had ever been unfaithful to her. In some respects Isabel's life as the duchess of Clarence was blessed, for her husband was a man capable of great loyalty, if only to selected individuals, and of forming deep emotional bonds. However, she was also required to bear the consequences of his often erratic behaviour, which she did with fortitude. For instance, in April 1470, eight months pregnant and in no condition even to travel within England, Isabel had accompanied her husband to France where he fled with her parents and sister following the failure of the Lincolnshire rebellion. Refused entry to Calais, Isabel went into a difficult labour aboard ship and did not even have the benefit of herbs or wine to help dull the pain. Although Lord Wenlock, who was in charge of Calais, took pity on the duchess's suffering and sent two casks of wine, Isabel gave birth to a dead child which was buried at sea. Obviously, Clarence would feel the loss of such a loyal and steadfast partner keenly and her elaborate obsequies at Tewkesbury Abbey, while calculated to do her great honour, also appear to reflect the duke's grieving. In addition to the vigils held and the masses said, Isabel's body lay in state for over a month before being interred in a specially constructed vault behind the high altar. Compounding this tragedy was the death, on 1 January 1477, of their baby son, Richard. Michael Hicks has revealed the significance of the duchess's death in relation to events leading up to Clarence's execution in 1478. As his attempts to secure a second marriage, first with Mary of Burgundy and secondly with Margaret, sister of the king of Scotland, were thwarted by Edward IV, Clarence's bitterness grew. As relations deteriorated 'flatterers' carried tales between them of insults secretly spoken which exacerbated their mutual resentment and suspicion. Two of these flatterers may have been Ankarette Twynho and John Thursby, former servants of the duke and duchess, who were summarily executed by Clarence in April 1477. The charge put forward to ensure their conviction was their alleged poisoning of the Duchess Isabel and her baby son, but in reality it was more likely to have been Clarence's revenge for their damaging indiscretions. The execution of Thomas Burdet for treason the following month, a man closely associated with Clarence, added fuel to the fire. At Clarence's behest, Burdet's recorded protestation of innocence was recited by Dr William Goddard, a Franciscan friar, before a shocked council and in the duke's presence. Clarence's action threw doubt upon the validity of the king's courts, it also associated him with a man who had been convicted of 'seeking the death and destruction of the King and Prince'. Although his behaviour was wholly unacceptable, under normal circumstances Clarence might have received only a strong reprimand from his brother accompanied by a possible term of imprisonment. However, recent events combined with his previous activities dictated his now inevitable fate. Not only had he been disloyal to Edward IV between 1469 and 1471, he had also quarrelled furiously with his younger brother, Richard, duke of Gloucester. Gloucester had married Isabel Neville's younger sister Anne in 1472, and both brothers wished to influence the partition of the Warwick inheritance to their advantage. Although Gloucester was as avaricious as Clarence in the matter, he was at least prepared to acquiesce in Edward's decisions and act in good faith, as opposed to Clarence who remained inflexible until he absolutely had to capitulate under the threat of total forfeiture in 1474. This lack of fraternal affection between Clarence and his brothers, compounded by his difficult relations with Edward's queen and her family, left him exposed and without the support of those that mattered when he most needed it. He was arrested in June 1477 and privately executed at the Tower of London on 18 February 1478.

In just over a year Margaret's parents had both died, and from the security and honour of being the daughter of 'the right noble Prince my Lord of Clarence', she was now the daughter of an executed traitor. We cannot know how this shocking change in circumstances might have affected Margaret who, in February 1478, was not yet five years old. In a practical sense she and her brother were now orphans, but as niece and nephew of the king of England they immediately became royal wards and Edward IV assumed full responsibility for their care. Unlike her brother, Margaret had no prospects of inheritance and, as far as evidence suggests, no lands had been set aside for her maintenance. She was, therefore, wholly dependent upon the generosity of the king. On 11 January 1482 Edward IV sent an order to the Exchequer to pay 40 marks for 'such clothing and other neccessaries as belongen unto our dear and well beloved niece Margaret daughter unto our brother late Duke of Clarence as for contentation of wages unto such persons as we have commanded to attend upon her'. Again, on 16 November 1482, Edward paid 50 marks for her 'arrayment as for the wages of her servants'. Although the lands held by Clarence in his own right had been forfeit to the crown due to his attainder for treason, the lands he had held in right of his wife were exempt. Consequently, Margaret's brother was still heir to valuable estates in the South and Midlands, in addition to retaining the title earl of Warwick which he had held in his own right from birth. As such, Warwick's wardship was a very valuable asset, and on 16 September 1480 the custody and marriage of the young earl was granted to Thomas Grey, marquess of Dorset, son of Elizabeth Woodvyll by her first husband, for the substantial sum of £2,000. Because of the large amount Dorset had paid he was also granted permission to take possession of the custody and marriage of Margaret in the event of her brother's death. Not only did this grant benefit Dorset, but it also helped to safeguard Warwick's lands from the dubious intentions of his uncle, the duke of Gloucester. The arrangements of 1474 relating to the Warwick inheritance had pleased neither duke, and each had looked with covetous eyes upon the other's gains. Immediately following Clarence's death Gloucester had appropriated two manors, Essendine and Shillingthorpe in Rutland that he had always objected to Clarence receiving, and held on to them despite commands from the royal Exchequer which ordered their surrender. However, the grant of Warwick's wardship to Dorset provided the earl with the protection of the powerful Woodvyll clan, a suitable match for the king's younger brother, while furthering Dorset's plan to consolidate his land-based power centred on the Devon and Somerset estates acquired through his marriage to the heiress, Cecily Bonville. It was therefore in Dorset's interest to ensure that Warwick's lands remained intact and safe from the ambitions of the duke of Gloucester.

For five years Margaret's care had been the responsibility of the king of England, and in 1483 that situation prevailed, but with one important difference, the king was now Richard, Duke of Gloucester. The unexpected death of Edward IV on 9 April 1483 had set in motion a train of events leading to the usurpation of the crown by Gloucester who was crowned Richard III on 6 July 1483. It is not necessary to plot the course of Richard's usurpation, which has been more than adequately covered elsewhere, but it is necessary to look at these circumstances in relation to the dynastic profile of Clarence's children. During the course of events running from Edward's death in April and culminating in Richard's coronation in July, he secured the persons of Edward IV's sons, Prince Edward and his younger brother Richard, duke of York, which was imperative if his usurpation was to be successful. At some point in June Richard also commanded that Edward, earl of Warwick should be conveyed to London and placed in the household of his maternal aunt Anne, duchess of Gloucester, Richard's wife, who by June had arrived in the capital. This is not surprising, for Warwick's significance was widely recognized. Indeed, Dominic Mancini, the Italian ecclesiastic writing as the usurpation unfolded, believed that Richard 'feared that if the entire progeny of King Edward [IV] became extinct, yet this child, who was also of royal blood, would still embarrass him'. Richard's subsequent actions would seem to prove Mancini right. In order to justify his usurpation of the throne Richard strove to demonstrate the illegitimacy of Edward IV's children by declaring that Edward's marriage to Elizabeth Woodvyll had serious flaws. It had, he insisted, been carried out without the knowledge or assent of the peerage; his bride and her mother had used witchcraft to secure it; it was conducted in secret and when Edward was already contracted to marry Lady Eleanor Butler. The validity of Richard's claims have been discussed by historians at length and there is no need to launch into a detailed investigation here. However, despite what many contemporaries might have felt in their hearts about Richard's assertions, the fact that he ascended the throne, an anointed monarch, meant that during his reign the illegitimization of Edward IV's children was, in practice, accepted. Obviously, this act of bastardization which had removed Edward's children from the succession, greatly enhanced the position of Margaret and her brother in relation to the throne. As the son of Richard's elder brother, Warwick, it could be argued, was now the rightful heir to the throne while Margaret, if not quite second in line due to her sex, would be able to transmit a very strong claim to any male child she might bear. Richard was not slow to realize the dynastic threat posed by Clarence's children, whose claims, as well as those of Edward IV's children, would have to be explained away. He did this by announcing that Clarence's children were 'barred by his attainder for high treason from any claim to the crown'. Many historians agree that this was a weak barrier to the earl of Warwick's rights. To begin with, Clarence's attainder specifically stated 'that the same Duke, by the said auctorite, forfett from hym and his heyres for ever, the Honoure, Estate, Dignite and name of Duke', no mention was made of his children's right to the throne. Even if the attainder had mentioned his children's claims, later events suggest that this would not have affected Warwick's ability to succeed anyway. When Henry Tudor assumed the title of king the judges stated that 'the King was responsible and discharged of any attainder by the fact that he took on himself the reign and was King'. They continued: 'he that was King was himself able to invest himself, and there was no need of any act for the reversal of his attainder.' No direct evidence reveals Margaret's whereabouts at this time, but they are probably a reflection of Warwick's movements which clearly demonstrate Richard's determination to maintain control over anyone whose claims posed a threat to him.


Excerpted from Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, 1473â"1541 by Hazel Pierce. Copyright © 2003 Hazel Pierce. Excerpted by permission of University of Wales Press.
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Meet the Author

Hazel Pierce is a historian and member of the Royal Historical Society who has published widely on fifteen- and sixteenth-century British history.

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