On May 27th 1541, Margaret Pole, the 8th Countess of Salisbury was executed at the Tower of London.
Born on the 14th August 1473, she went on to marry Sir Richard Pole in 1491. Together, they had five children, but she was widowed in 1505. One of her children, Reginald Pole, would go on to become a cardinal, and then the archbishop of canterbury during the reign of Mary I.
The Downfall of Margaret Pole
Margaret had found favour with King Henry VIII at the beginning of his reign, allowing her to become the 8th Countess of Salisbury. She was also Lady Mary’s godmother and governess, but it was her son, Reginald Pole, who would bring about her downfall.
Reginald Pole spoke out against the King’s annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and things took a turn for the worse when he published his work Pro ecclesiasticae unitatis defensione, which denounced the policies of Henry VIII.
In 1538, numerous members of the Pole family were arrested under the act of treason, and were taken to the Tower of London to face a traitor’s punishment. In January 1539, many of the members of the Pole family were executed, and the countess, who was 65 years of age at the time, was taken to Cowdray House near Midhurst for questioning.
In May 1539 a Bill of Attainder was issued against her by Thomas Cromwell, the man who was so instrumental in the downfall of other nobility and those favoured by the King.
He brought a tunic displaying the Five Wounds, which was used as a symbol during the Northern rebellions, and Cromwell used it against her as evidence. He claimed the tunic had been found in her personal belongings. She was stripped of her titles, and imprisoned in the Tower of London.
The Execution of Margaret Pole
Reginald was safely nestled away in France, but his mother wouldn’t be so lucky. Margaret Pole was taken to the block on 27th May 1541. She was given a private execution as she was of noble birth.
When told by the executioner to kneel, Margaret refused. She replied: “So should traitors do and I am none”.
There are two accounts of her execution, both of which are brutal. One claims that she was executed by an inexperienced axeman, who at first missed her neck, gashing her shoulder, and that it took a further ten blows to finish her off.
The second account tells of how she managed to escape from the block, but was brutally cut down by her executioner as she tried to run away. This second account concurs with the first in that it says that eleven blows were required. Both however, led to a dreadful end.
The Tudor court at the time was shocked at how brutal the end of a noble woman like Margaret was, but King Henry VIII showed no remorse.
On the 29th December 1886, Pope Leo XIII beatified Margaret, making her Blessed Margaret Pole, a Catholic martyr. Her feast day is the 28th of May, which is the date that was given as her execution by some sources.
The Etchings of Her Cell
Those of you that believe in the stone tape theory would be quick to point out that Margarets last days were nothing short of traumatic. She is thought to have etched some final words into the stone of her cell while she awaited her grizzly end.
These are the words found on the wall of her cell:
For traitors on the block should die;
I am no traitor, no, not I!
My faithfulness stands fast and so,
Towards the block I shall not go!
Nor make one step, as you shall see;
Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me!
The Ghost of Margaret Pole
She was finally buried in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London and not in the elaborate tomb she had built for herself in Christchurch Priory, Dorset.
The ghost of Margaret Pole is still said to haunt the Tower of London to this day. Her ghost has reportedly been seen around the site of her execution. Her ghost is one of a few seen in the same area, the others being Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey.