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Today in 1538-9, Henry Pole Lord Montagu, was beheaded for treason, after the “plot” involving his brother, Reginald, later a Cardinal. It was previously thought that Reginald was a sub-deacon for many years, was only properly ordained in late 1536 and thus could have married at any time before this. However, it is now clear that he had undertaken a clerical career many years earlier, culminating, from an English perspective, as Dean of Exeter (1) for the decade from 1527. This demonstrates that he would have been required to observe celibacy from the outset, which sets a different light on Henry VIII’s reaction to the plot.

As you will have observed from our previous posts, those arrested in November 1538 included: Montagu, Sir Geoffrey Pole (also his brother), Henry Pole the Younger (his teenage son), Sir Edward Neville (uncle of his late wife, Jane) (2), Henry Courtenay Marquis of Exeter (cousin) and Thomas (Exeter’s teenage son, later Earl of Devon). All of these adults, except Sir Geoffrey, were executed in early December or January and only Sir Geoffrey and Thomas Courtenay emerged alive from the Tower. Henry VIII’s proclamation refers to the “plot” involving a marriage to Princess Mary and we can now confidently state that the putative husband was definitely either Henry Pole the Younger or Thomas Courtenay, thereby explaining their arrest.

(1) The ODNB, as cited by the author’s correspondence with Exeter Cathedral.
(2) Also an ancestor of Colonel Richard Neville (Royalist commander) and George Washington, inter alia.




Portrait of an Unknown Lady formerly known as Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

For many years this was believed to be  a portrait of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, daughter of George Duke of Clarence, and a  niece to two kings.  Tantalisingly the lady is wearing a black ribbon around her wrist with a jewel of gold fashioned like a little barrel.  Surely this was Margaret’s tacit recognition and acknowledgment of her father’s death by drowning in a butt of Malmsey?

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Close up of the barrel jewel attached to the black ribbon and the W monogram.

I noticed however that this portrait, in the National Portrait Gallery , is now described as that of an Unknown Lady, formerly known as Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury.  Baffled by this turnabout I contacted the Gallery who very kindly clarified the matter for me.  In 1963 the portrait underwent detailed investigation by the Gallery’s Scientific Department the results of which showed ‘what appeared to be  extensive repainting,  including the ermines spots on the headdress, scumbling on the white fur of the sleeves, also the ermine edge to the bodice ‘ (1) but worse still,   ‘the gold barrel shaped jewel  was almost certainly a  later addition as almost certainly were the black ribbon and W monogram jewel.  Without stripping the picture it would be impossible to access how accurately it recreates motifs originally there and how far it is ficticious’  However the report goes on to say there is, so far, no reason why the portrait in its original condition should not have represented Margaret Pole, so there is still hope, although  ‘ these doubts may only be resolved by the reappearance of another  16th century picture of her that was known to have existed.  The W shaped jewel is inexplicable unless the portrait was intended  for her granddaughter Winifred'(2).   Could it possibly be a direct decendant  of Winifred had these additions added to the portrait in homage and draw attention  to Winifred’s noble lineage? The portrait was once at Barrington Hall – Winifred Pole had married into the Barringtons and the family prided themselves on their descent from her.  Alternatively , the Roy Strong catalogue suggests this could be a 17th or 18th century Barrington lady dressed up as the Countess! Bad news, maybe, for those who once believed this was without a doubt a portrait of Margaret.

The matter is  further muddied by notes from Hazel Pierce’s biography of Margaret – Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury, Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership,  which state:’ The panel is of oak and tree ring dating suggests that it was felled in 1482 thus the most likely period of use is believed to have been between 1515 and 1525 (3).  The notes go on to say that ‘Initially it did appear that the ermine spots on the outer part of the headdress had been painted over the original craquelure, which indicated that these were later additions along with with the ermine spots on the outer sleeves.  However when the portrait was finally cleaned in 1973 the ermine spots did not disappear, neither did the barrel bracelet or the ‘W’ suspended from the sitter’s fingers, which suggests they may have been original after all.  The barrel will refer to Clarence and the W to Warwick.  Therefore the results of the cleaning result once more to the portrait being an authentic likeness of Margaret, Countess of Salisbury.  I am grateful to the National Portrait Gallery Archives for this information’ (4).

Finally, perhaps I am mistaken but is there anyone else that can see the similiarities  in this portrait of the much older Margaret  with that of the young,  fuller faced Margaret,  as drawn by Rous?


Lady Margarete from The Rous Roll

Is it only me who can detect the similarities of the same  almond shaped eyes, and the small rosebud lips?

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Lady Margarete from the Rous Roll

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If I cannot pursuade you of this  –  then can I ask  for consideration to be given as to why,  someone, at a later date, if this were the case which is now doubtful, would  take the trouble to add the barrel on the ribbon unless they had  known for certain that this portrait was indeed a true likeness of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury?

(1) Roy Strong Tudor and Jacobean Portraits 1969 p 272

(2) Ibid

(3)  Hazel Pierce Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership p.198

(4) Ibid














Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541 Loyalty Lineage and Leadership by Hazel Pierce.

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Those looking for an in-depth assessment of the life of Margaret Pole need look no further. Hazel Pierce has more than adequately supplied it in her biography of Margaret – Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541 Loyalty Lineage and Leadership.  Covering Margaret’s life from early childhood – orphaned at five years old,  Margaret’s earlier needs were catered for by her uncle Edward who supplied her with the necessities – well –  it was the very least he could do under the circumstances – her marriage to Sir Richard Pole – Pierce opines this was a happy one – her widowhood  – the restoration to her  of her brother Edward’s Earldom of Salisbury  by Henry Vlll and finally, her violent death at the hands of an inept axeman aged 67.



George Duke of Clarence – Margaret’s father ‘a myghty prince semley of person and ryght witty and wel visaged’.  At her birth in 1473 he stood third in line of succession to the crown of England.

I must confess that on reaching the end of the book my view of Margaret had changed slightly and not perhaps for the better.  I was left slightly  confused – was she merely obstinate, stubborn and hardheaded,  foolishly pressing Henry’s buttons to the limits – unwisely as it transpired – or was she driven by the rememberance of her noble lineage, indeed more noble than Henry’s,  the present occupier of the throne?   Did she feel honour bound , even duty bound,  after the judicial murder of her brother, Edward the Earl of Warwick, to fight Henry tooth and nail over property matters, a fight that raged for 10 years?  Did this lead to Henry nurturing a dislike for her which would later influence the decision to execute her?  Undoubtedly she infuriated Henry when she encouraged his daughter, the rebellious  Mary,  aiding and abbeting her in her refusal to return her jewels when her father needed them for his new wife, Anne Boleyn.  Margaret seems to have suffered from a nervous breakdown when she and Mary were forcibly parted but later regained her strength and resolve when standing up to the most strenuous of interrogations ,  her courage shining  through in the comments made by one of these interrogators,  Sir William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton, who according to Pierce was sympathetic to Margaret’s younger son Geoffrey, but disliked Margaret.  He later wrote ‘we have dealid with such a one as men have not dealid with to fore us,  Wee may call hyr rather a strong and custaunt man than   a woman


William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton by Hans Holbein.  The face of the man who interrogated Margaret over 2 days.


Warblington Castle, Hampshire,   Margaret’s principal residence where she was interrogated by  Sir William Fitzwilliam and Thomas Goodrich Bishop of Ely.

Fortunately for Pierce – and for us – plentiful records have survived that cover Margaret and her sons’ lives ( had the human shredders from the reign of Henry Vll long since departed this mortal coil?)  that have enabled Pierce to write a cracking good book and her meticulous attention to detail must be applauded.  I found it difficult at times to put this well researched and balanced book down.

Margaret’s eldest son, Henry Montague seems the most sensible of the lot although prone to letting his mouth run dangerously away with him from time to time.

Geoffrey, the youngest,  is perhaps the one that took after his maternal grandfather, the mercurial George Duke of Clarence, a loose cannon, but at the same time likeable and charming , with friends  that tried to save him, but perhaps lacking the courage of George. He tried to suffocate himself with a cushion, which,  not surprisingly failed, and his wife was terrified that he might reveal too much if interrogated –  indeed he feared this very thing himself.

Reginald – ah Reginald! – he was the fly in the ointment, safely on the Continent, he managed to survive assassination attempts on his life and was complicit, via his writings, in the downfall of the Pole family.  Reginald survived to become a Cardinal and later Archbishop of Canterbury under Mary Tudor.  For me a further question arises over Reginald’s rather cavalier attitude to his family back in England.  Opposed to Henry’s religious changes in 1537 he sent a message warning that if his mother supported these opinions  ‘mother as she is myne, i wolde treade appon her with my feete”    Reginald seems not to have  give a flying fig over the survival and fates of his family.  If so why?  Perhaps a grudge of some sort, an axe to grind?  Pierce added that Reginald’s actions are so well known that they do not need including in her book.  So that is another story.


Margaret’s son, Reginald Pole, consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1556.

And so around spun the fickle wheel of fortune, until they, with the exception of Reggie, were totally undone,  disaster and tragedy overtaking them all , with even Montgue’s young son, Henry Pole the Younger, disappearing from sight forever once he entered the Tower of London with his father and grandmother.  Poor little blighter.

Although this book does answer many question about Margaret and her family it does leave me with one – did the Poles contribute to their own demise, all in some way stretching Henry’s patience to the limit OR was it always inevitable that Henry would in the end,  annihilate the last of those who had the royal and noble Plantagenent blood coursing through their veins?


The Salisbury Chantry, Christchurch Priory, Dorset.  Margaret’s intended resting place.  Margaret was in eventuality buried in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, at the Tower of London alongside Henry’s other victims.






















Henry Pole the Younger rides again?

Yes, that Henry Pole. A contact asked us recently whether his mother (nee’ Jane Neville) had been arrested in November 1538 and executed with her husband (Henry Lord Montagu) and others that December or January. Online sources are confused about this. However, we do know that she was the daughter of George Baron Bergavenny and was born at about the same time as Montagu (1492), because Henry the Younger was probably under sixteen in 1542 and was not openly executed for this reason.

Pierce’s Margaret of Salisbury biography confirms that Jane’s death preceded the plot and possably pressaged Montagu’s participation in it, although her brother Sir Edward Neville was among those arrested and executed. The CP, citing the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, confirms Jane’s death by 26 October 1538 and Sir Edward’s subsequent execution.

The ODNB states that Henry the Younger, together with his exiled and yet to be ordained uncle Reginald, was being considered by the plotters as a husband for Princess Mary. This may explain why he too was arrested and disappeared, yet his married elder sisters (Catherine and Winifred) were not.

Incidentally, Jane Neville was also descended from Constance of York.

The Complete Peerage (vol. IX,pp.9-7)
Margaret Pole 1473-1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership (p.64 ) (or hardback)

Whatever happened to Henry Pole the Younger? (2011)

I am not sure that every Ricardian will have survived watching the first two series of BBC2’s “The Tudors”, as first mentioned here, with its historical anachronisms, miscasting in some roles, confused chronology and obsession with bedroom scenes. Nevertheless, the third series is showing signs of improvement, particularly with its focus on the Pole family.

Last Friday, a plot involving the various Poles resulted in three of them being arrested in 1538. It is easy to blame Tudor paranoia for Plantagenets being persecuted during the reigns of the Henries but Hazel Pierce (Lady Salisbury’s biographer) concedes that there probably was a plot on this occasion. So who was involved?

Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (and niece of Richard III): shown being arrested – finally beheaded, messily, in May 1541 after Sir John Neville’s revolt.

Henry Pole, Baron Montagu: her eldest son, also shown being arrested – beheaded in the winter of 1538/9.

Reginald Pole, a Deacon (or sub-Deacon) and Cardinal: in exile on the Continent, seems to have conceived the idea of sending a foreign army to dethrone Henry – survived to become a priest and then an Archbishop under Mary.

Sir Geoffrey Pole: her other surviving son, arrested but not portrayed in the series. His servants were threatened with torture and he gave evidence against the other conspirators. Released and survived for twenty years.

Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter: grandson of Edward IV and arrested but not portrayed and executed with Montagu.

Henry Pole the Younger: son of Montagu, the boy shown being arrested – last seen in the Tower in 1542, aged between 15 and 21.

Thomas Courtenay (became Earl of Devon): son of Exeter and arrested with his father but not portrayed. Unlike the Younger Pole, he was released during Mary’s reign and contemplated marrying either her or Princess Elizabeth. Went into exile and died in 1556/7.

Henry Pole the Younger should be of interest to all Ricardians. We are often asked: “If the bodies found in the Tower in 1672 are not Edward IV’s sons, who are they?” Although defence counsel are never obliged to name an alternative culprit, of course, IF the bones are human, male, youthful and late Medieval to early Renaissance, some of them could well be his remains. As a Clarence great-grandson, his nuclear DNA (if it could ever be of use) would be similar to that of Edward of Westminster and Richard of Shrewsbury. That he was not executed with his father and Exeter would tend to suggest that his age would be towards the bottom of the range given above.

One reason for caution is that that part of the Tower was substantially rebuilt during the time of Anne Boleyn and we know that she died some six years before his disappearance

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