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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.


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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