The Exeter Conspiracy

Chapter 3 : Pole Family

Lady Salisbury and her sons Lord Montague, Arthur, Geoffrey and Reginald Pole, had received much generosity and favour from the King. Arthur was dead by 1536, and Geoffrey was in repeated trouble for debt, but Reginald had been handsomely supported by Henry at Oxford and then at Padua University.

Cardinal Reginald Pole (1500 - 1558)

In 1532, Reginald had been sent to the University of Paris to persuade it to rule in Henry's favour in the matter of annulment of his marriage to Katharine of Aragon. Reginald however, from a position where he appeared to be supportive of the annulment, changed his mind. He did not return to England, but remained in Europe, still receiving a pension from Henry, despite his opposition to the King's will.

In June 1536, Reginald sent a letter to Henry VIII. Known as De Unitate it was a coruscating attack on the King, delivered in highly insulting terms. Leaving aside, for a moment, the meat of the letter, its mere existence was an insult and a monstrous example of ingratitude. But the content was even more outrageous. It openly incited rebellion and called upon France and the Empire to invade England, and depose the King. Outraged, the English Government sent assassins to try to murder Pole (although Henry was somewhat equivocal about that type of activity) but he remained safe in Rome.

Confronted by his brother's letter, Montague was shocked, and afraid. He wrote in strong terms to his brother, telling him to desist from such attacks, or he would cast him off as his brother. He persuaded his mother to do the same, which Lady Salisbury did, but in rather less severe tones.