02 January 2013

Lady Salisbury: Unjustly Put to Death

I hesitate to use the word execution for the manner of Lady Salisbury's death. For that word implies some sort of orderly judgement, some semblance of procedure, implies guilt, perhaps.  But none of these terms can ever be applied to the shameful and cruel death of Countess Margaret Pole.

Margaret Pole The Blessed, was one of the last remaining Plantagenets. Born on 14 August, 1473, she was the daughter of George of Clarence, who was brother to King Edward IV and King Richard III.

Lady Salisbury was known as a gentle, serious woman.  She was studious, known for her pious character.  Lady Salisbury had a delicate, long face, very much reminiscent of her Plantagenent roots.

The countess played a very important role in the life of Princess Mary Tudor, and served first as her godmother for her christening, and then as Governess of the Household for Catherine of Aragon's home. Her son Reginald would be a close friend of Mary's throughout her life.  Amazingly, Reginald and Mary would eventually die only 12  hours apart.

King Henry VIII had long since developed a severe case of paranoia for anyone who had royal blood and claims to his throne. He and the Duke of Buckingham were at heated odds until Henry found it necessary to have Buckingham put to death. Buckingham was quite arrogant and refused to be a flattering courtier to the king, feeling instead that he should be king, as a descendant of Edward III. Buckingham had carried himself like the king he felt he should be, and dressed himself magnificently. Wise courtiers knew that to outshine their monarch was a decidedly dangerous thing to do. Not only did the Duke of Buckingham walk around like a proud peacock; he also dared to verbalise his resentments, and loudly.  In a court filled with spies and overly ambitious courtiers, Buckingham might as well have signed his own death warrant. Predictably, Buckingham was arrested and taken to the Tower in April 1521, executed a mere month later.  After Buckingham came tumbling down, the Pole family would also feel the king's wrath. Lady Salisbury was promptly demoted from her position as Governess to Princess Mary. Her son, Lord Montague was sent to the tower. Arthur Pole was booted from court, and it was made quite clear to Reginald Pole, who was in Venice, that he was equally unwelcome at court. It was not enough to incarcerate, or kick the Poles out into the cold.  The arbitrary Henry wanted any threat to his throne done away with. And because the king could not be satisfied until even the possibility of a Plantagenet claim to his throne was removed, worse was still to come.

After all the years of trouble for the Pole family, Lady Salisbury was still holding on, even as she spent the last two years of her life in the Tower. Suddenly Henry issued a stunning order; the tower was to be cleaned of prisoners of state. At the same time he issued the order for execution of the countess. That the king could issue such an order for this particular woman was evidence of how hardened Henry's heart had become. It was a depraved act against a lady who had been like family to his own, who had lovingly cared for his wife and daughter throughout the years. She was his daughter's very own godmother.   On 27 May 1541, the gentle lady was told she must die. Lady Salisbury was nearly seventy years old and was about to endure a shameful, and agonizing death.  Chapuys would report the bloody scene with horror; a completely inexperienced youth had been hired to wield the axe! A successful decapitation, if such gruesome fate can be called such, required a strong, experienced executioner. A mere child with no such macabre work history would never be able to adequately and quickly dispatch the condemned, and one must wonder who hired the unfortunate youth for the job.

There would be no clean decapitation; the helpless lady would be butchered to death.

The death of Lady Salisbury was almost immediately considered to be that of a martyr, and would come to be known as one of the blackest blots on the reign of King Henry VIII.

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