Feast of Margaret Pole (May 28)   Leave a comment

The Tower of London


Countess of Salisbury and Roman Catholic Martyr

Religious history can be a controversial and difficult genre.  Consider England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I, for example.  Non-Roman Catholic monarchs persecuted Roman Catholics, and Queen Mary I did the same to many non-Roman Catholics–all in the name of God and country.  The depiction of figures from this time and place depends greatly on one’s point of view.  The biography of Blessed Margaret Pole from the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN) refers to Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell as “the Tudor Tiberius and his Sejanus.”  But let us eschew invective.  Rather, let us honor those whose honest Christian faith–whether Roman Catholic or not–led them to martyrdom.  Therefore this Ecumenical Calendar of Saints includes martyrs from both sides of the divide.

Margaret Plantagent was the daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, brother of King Edward IV.  A passing familiarity with either the Wars of the Roses or Shakespeare’s great play of Richard III places her in context.  Unlike her father, she survived that turbulent political period.  She married Sir Richard Pole in 1491.  He was a trusted and loyal aide of King Henry VII.  Richard and Margaret were married until he died in 1505, leaving her with five children.

Margaret Pole was close to the royal court.  Henry VIII created her Countess of Salisbury and restored her family lands, along with her wealth.  And the Blessed was a good friend of Queen Catherine of Aragon and godmother of the future Queen Mary I.  For years Margaret Pole helped raise the princess and functioned as a second mother of sorts.

Then came the “King’s Great Matter,” the divorce between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon and the royal marriage to Anne Boleyn.  (Henry VIII did not cover himself in glory with either relationship.)  Margaret sided with Catherine and Mary against Henry.  So the Blessed ceased to enjoy royal favor.  Her Yorkist ancestry made her politically suspect, as well.

So it was that in 1539 Henry VIII had her transferred to the Tower of London, where she remained until her execution by a poorly-trained axeman in 1541.  The Blessed, long considered one of the saintliest women in England during her lifetime, had died.  Her son, Cardinal Reginald Pole, said that he “would never fear to call himself the son of a marytr.”

Reginald served as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1556 to 1558, the last person to hold that office in communion with Rome.  Pope Leo XIII declared the Cardinal’s mother a Blessed in 1886.

May the death of Blessed Margaret Pole remind us of the sinfulness of religious violence.  And may her life inspire us to simple kindness and holiness.

Blessed Lord of Love, may we respect simple kindness and well-placed personal loyalties.  And may we, out of love of you and each other, refuse to scapegoat anyone and to commit or sanction murder.  In the name of Christ, himself a murdered scapegoat. Amen.

I wrote the collect.  The readings are those for a martyr, according to Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), hymnal and service book of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Ezekiel 20:40-42

Psalm 5

Revelation 6:9-11

Mark 8:34-38





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