Margaret Plantagenet, daughter of the Duke of Clarence and niece of King Edward IV and Richard III of England, was born in 1471 at Farley Castle near Bath, England. When she was about 20 years old, she married Sir Richard Pole and bore him five children. When Henry VIII became king, she was widowed and had her estates, which had been forfeited by attainder, returned to her by Henry, who made her countess of Salisbury in her own right.
She was governess of the king’s daughter Mary, but incurred his enmity by her disapproval of his marriage to Anne Boleyn. Despite his remark that she was the holiest woman in England, she was forced to leave the court. When her son Reginald Cardinal Pole wrote against the Act of Supremacy, Henry swore to destroy the family. In 1538, two other sons were arrested and executed on a charge of treason, even though Cromwell had previously written that they had “little offended save that he [the Cardinal] is of their kin.”
Margaret was arrested ten days later and in May 1539, Parliament passed a bill of attainder against her for complicity in a revolt in the North, and she was imprisoned in the Tower for two years, where she was “tormented by the severity of the weather and insufficient clothing.” When another uprising occurred in Yorkshire in April 1541, it was then determined to enforce without any further procedure the Act of Attainder passed in 1539.
On the morning of May 28, 1541, Margaret was told she was to die within the hour. She answered that no crime had been imputed to her; nevertheless she walked calmly from her cell to East Smithfield Green, within the precincts of the Tower, where a low wooden block had been prepared, and there, by a clumsy novice, she was beheaded at the age of 70. She was never tried and no guilt was ever proven against her except her possession of a white silk tunic embroidered with the Five Wounds, which was supposed to connect her with the uprising in the North.
1. Every one of us hopes to die peacefully in our beds, and what else should a 70-year-old widow have expected? She had been a faithful wife, mother, and governess to a princess, loyal to her king in all things except for his unlawful marriage to Anne Boleyn. Perhaps she could have saved her life by keeping quiet or by denying her son’s position against the king. But Margaret remained faithful to her true King; while she suffered on earth, we know that she has been rewarded according to His promise: “Everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children, or land for the sake of my name will be repaid a hundred times over, and also inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).
2. Today our lives may not be on the line for our beliefs, but are there opportunities to speak the truth that we are avoiding because we don’t want to lose friends, the respect of our co-workers, or because we fear possible derision? Let us pray to Blessed Margaret to help us calmly and fearlessly stand up for the truth, no matter the cost to ourselves.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Augustine of Canterbury (604), Bishop, Apostle of England
St. Bernard of Montjoux (1081), Priest, Religious, Patron of Mountain Climbers
St. Germanus (576), Abbot, Bishop