Blessed Margaret Pole
Margaret was born into the ruling dynasty in 1473, at Farleigh Hungerford, in Somerset. Her father, the Duke of Clarence, was brother to both Edward IV and Richard III. This meant that all her life she was seen as a threat to the ruling monarchs, as she had a legitimate claim to the throne and was therefore a potential figurehead in any revolt against the crown. Indeed as soon as the Tudors came to power they imprisoned Margaret's brother, the Earl of Warwick, and eventually executed him. The Tudors sought to defuse her potential threat by keeping her close to them, marrying her to Sir Richard Pole, who was related to Henry VII, and keeping her close at court. Margaret became lady in waiting to Catherine of Aragon, beginning a lifelong friendship, and she became governess to Princess Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine. At first Henry favoured Margaret, restoring to her lost family lands and titles, but this came to an end at the time of his divorce from Catherine. Her loyalty to Catherine, and to Mary, as well as to her Catholic faith, brought her into conflict with the King at the time of his divorce and remarriage to Anne Boleyn. If her own opposition to Henry’s behaviour, and her position as a possible contender for the throne when the Tudor dynasty was looking shaky were not enough, her son Reginald Pole was needling the King from overseas and encouraging opposition to him. This made Margaret’s position very dangerous indeed. Although the King described her as ‘the holiest woman in England’ she was arrested on the grounds of treason, and imprisoned for some time at Cowdray in 1538-9, although she never faced trial and there was no credible evidence against her. In spite of this she was executed in 1541, at the age of 70. Reportedly the inexperienced executioner took ten blows to sever her head.
When her son Reginald Pole, now a cardinal, heard of his mother's death, he is reported to have said: "Hitherto I have thought myself indebted to the divine goodness for having received my birth from one of the most noble and virtuous women in England; but from henceforth my obligation will be much greater, for I understand that I am now the son of a martyr. May God be thanked and praised. We must rejoice, because now we have one more patron to intercede for us in Heaven."
Margaret Pole was beatified with other martyrs of penal times in 1886.
In many ways Margaret’s world and life are very far from ours. But there is something about her that speaks to us still. She was a married woman, trying to be a faithful and supportive wife and mother. She was caught up in circumstances beyond her control, but she refused to go with the flow, refused to sell out for a quiet life. When so many people were turning their backs on the truth to gain the King’s favour, she refused to do so. Even in her old age, when she might have been tempted to succumb to ‘anything for a quiet life’ she declined to do so. When we are tempted not to speak the truth, to allow our silence to imply we agree with what people around us are saying, not to rock the boat, to go along with the culture of the day, however misguided and self-serving it may be, we should remember the quiet dignity of this elderly woman and call on her help:
Blessed Margaret Pole, Pray for us!