On this day in Tudor history, 29th August 1538, Geoffrey Pole, son of Sir Richard Pole and Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, was arrested. He was already on thin ice, having been a staunch supporter of Queen Catherine of Aragon and Princess Mary, but he now was suspected, like other members of his family, of being in communication with his brother, Cardinal Reginald Pole, a man who had upset King Henry VIII by writing a treatise against him and his policies.
Unlike other members of his family, including Margaret Pole, Geoffrey managed to survive this trouble - how? Why? What happened?
I explain all in today's talk.
Also on this day in history:
- 1503 – Death of Oliver King, Bishop of Bath and Wells, diplomat, former Secretary to Edward V and Registrar of the Order of the Garter.
- 1582 – Death of Sir Thomas Offley, Mayor of London, in London. He was buried in the church of St Andrew Undershaft.
- 1583 – Death of Maurice Browne, courtier, adventurer and mariner. Browne captained The Swallow and then The Delight on a venture to colonize North America in 1583. The venture failed and Browne, and the voyage leader, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, both died.
- 1584 – Death of Lucas de Heere, the Flemish painter and poet, probably in Paris. His works included “Solomon and Sheba” (1559) in which de Heere gave Solomon the face of Philip II of Spain.
- 1599 – Death of Henry Charteris, Scottish printer and bookseller.
The Pole/Courtney families were not wild traitors but they did court trouble and some of their actions could be seen as treason as the law stood in 1538. Cardinal Reginald Pole probably didn’t do their cause any good with his treatise which was written as much out of grief for the way Henry had treated Katherine of Aragon as it was anger against his cousin, King Henry. The Courtney family and the Poles were part of the old Plantagenet lines of descent but not interested now in taking the crown. In fact they had served long and faithfully under the great Tudor monarch. The families had prospered and were royal servants. However, the religious changes and marital changes Henry introduced put the loyalty of many old Catholic nobles to the test. It wasn’t wise for young Geoffrey to write to his brother saying that the King’s leg had recently been so bad that it had nearly killed him and as Henry probably wouldn’t live long, it would soon be merry in England. It might have been a bit of family gossip and nothing more, but it was treason under the 1534 Treason Act and earlier legislation because he had imagined the King’s death. None of this justified rounding up the entire family, their servants and young grandchildren. Nor did it justify the execution of his older brother and brother by law. It certainly didn’t justify the murder of a woman of 69 by a brute who hacked her to death. That was sheer revenge and extremely cruel. Henry had attempted to assassinate Cardinal Pole and failed and Cromwell invented a conspiracy in order to destroy his entire family.
Even an eight year old boy was put in the Tower, which must have been ominous for Margaret, as this had happened to her brother at the same age. Edward, Earl of Warwick never emerged from the Tower either, being executed on ridiculous charges in 1499 to appease Spain. Young Henry Pole was held in such conditions as to reduce his chances of survival. We don’t know for certain, but he is believed to have been allowed to starve to death and vanished.
Gertrude Courtney was released in 1540 but her own grandson, Edward Courtney, was held in custody until he was released and offered as a husband for Queen Mary, despite being wholly unsuitable.
Margaret Pole was the ultimate scapegoat for whatever sins her sons and grandchildren had committed, real or imagined, the ultimate innocent sacrifice and she was declared blessed in the nineteenth century. Blessed Margaret Pole pray for us. Amen
By coincidence this months Ricardian Bulletin there is an interesting article on the Short Life of Henry Pole the Younger, the grandson I mentioned. His father was Henry Pole, Lord Montague, executed in 1539 and his mother was Jane Neville, whose brother Edward was also executed during the Exeter Plot. Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury was his grandmother and the tragic young man in this talk, Geoffrey one of his uncles.
The family were descendants of George, Duke of Clarence. Henry’s two older sisters, Catherine and Winifred married significantly the Earl of Huntingdon and his brother, Sir Thomas Hastings, both of whom were important to the later Tudors.
We don’t actually know his date of birth but it is deduced that he was about eleven or twelve, rather than eight as has been claimed, by myself as well, at the time of his arrest alongside his family. It was you recall the publication of a treatise by his uncle Reginald Pole, later Cardinal who opposed the divorce from Queen Katherine of Aragon in 1536 called “Pro Eccesiasticae Unitatis Defensionem” “In Defence of Ecclesiastical Unity” which caused trouble for the Poles and Henry’s failure to capture his target forced him to take it out on the rest of the family, who were accused of corresponding with the Cardinal and plotting to replace or wishing the King dead.
Hazel Pierrce, the biographer of Margaret Pole believed a plot did exist but the evidence is really none existent. It certainly didn’t justify locking up this young boy. Everyone arrested were descendants of the siblings of King Richard iii. Henry Courtney, Earl of Exeter and his son, Edward were also arrested and it was alleged that young Henry or his cousin were being set up to marry Princess Mary and be placed on the throne. Geoffrey above turned King’s evidence and this resulted in the adults all being executed. Young Henry and Edward were considering too young as minors but were taken deep into the Tower and kept in harsh conditions. We can deduce that both boys were under sixteen but more than twelve and therefore old enough to be considered as potential husbands for an adult Princess of 22. Margaret herself was now arrested and held in the Tower until her execution on 27th May 1541.
The fate of little Henry who had lost most of the adults he would have known during his childhood has never been confirmed but it is likely that he starved to death, neglected by the King and his regime and payments for his food stopped the following year. Pierce mentioned an eyewitness source which comments on the continued imprisonment of the junior sons and brothers, Charles de Marillac from the Letters and Papers of King Henry Viii who states that Edward Courtney was given more liberty and was given a tutor, but that poor Henry was denied company and lessons. Henry was kept in very poor and strict conditions. The last payment for food for him was issued in 1542 and he vanished, presumably he died soon afterwards. Edward Courtney was released under Mary I and the attainders of the Poles and Courtneys was reversed but there is no mention of young Henry in this. He retired to Italy. Sir Geoffrey Pole, above, was released in 1539 due to a number of suicide attempts, a broken man and like his brother, Reginald he died in November 1558, ironically so did Queen Mary.
Young Henry Pole has been of interest more recently being identified in 2004_by Michael K. Jones as England’s real monarch and then his sister, Catherine and the descendants of his Aunt, Ursula. He was depicted more recently in the Tudors, in prison with his grandmother. He was hauntingly led away out of sight afterwards, alone and to an unknown fate. Chilling. His DNA sequence, or rather that of his mother, Jane Neville has been identified in 2016 and was discussed by the late John Ashdown Hill in his book “The Private Life of Edward iv” who has discovered three lines of descendants who are all female and one from the Wydeville family, which it hoped one day will solve the mystery of the “Princes” in the Tower or identity the bones in a certain urn in Westminster Abbey. Margaret Wydeville, sister of Elizabeth, was the maternal grandmother of Henry Pole’s mother, Jane Neville. The line continues through Catherine Pole, his older sister to the present day. Full DNA sequence can be found in The Mythology of the Princes in the Tower published in 2018. However as the Princes and Henry Pole belonged to the same mtDNA line, actually identifying the bones may prove a problem. In fact given that Edward V and Henry Pole were a similar age when they disappeared, somewhere in the Tower, where they were last seen, one set of bones may actually be his and not that of a son of King Edward iv. Of Henry Pole nothing else was known, so was he another forgotten victim of a King purging his alleged enemies or did he live on unrecorded? We may never know. Another Tudor mystery.
I do love a good Tudor mystery! It’s just so awful what happened to the Pole family. Thank you for all that information!
Thank you, Claire. You are very welcome. The destruction of this grand old family who had done their best to conform to Tudor rule and even signed the various oaths under Henry Viii was just as you say, awful, terrible. Yes, Cardinal Pole published things which condemned Henry’s political and religious and domestic changes, but to absolutely destroy an entire family, their servants and elderly grandmother is one of the many bad marks against Henry Viii. Just awful.