Lady Margaret Plantagenet was the daughter of Edward IV's unruly brother, George, Duke of Clarence and of Isabel Neville, co-heiress of Warwick the Kingmaker. Orphaned by the age of five, she was the responsibility of her uncles, first Edward IV, then Richard III.
At the time of the Battle of Bosworth, in August 1485, Margaret was at the castle of Sheriff Hutton, in Yorkshire with her brother, the Earl of Warwick and King Edward's daughters. The new king, Henry VII, put them all in the care of his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, although young Warwick was sent to the Tower of London after the Simnel rebellion of 1487 and eventually executed in 1499.
Margaret attended her cousin, the new Queen, Elizabeth of York, being present at the christening of the heir to the throne, Arthur, in 1486 and the Queen's coronation in 1487. Around that time, Henry VII arranged her marriage to his half-cousin and trusted supporter, Sir Richard Pole. She thus became Lady Margaret Pole.
This was not a grand marriage for Margaret, who had once been a great heiress, and Sir Richard was at least 15 years here senior, but the couple seem to have got along well together. She chose to stay by his side as much as possible as he moved between their home in Buckinghamshire and his duties in the Marches of Wales.
Sir Richard was Lord Chamberlain to Prince Arthur, and he and Margaret accompanied the Prince and his bride, Katharine of Aragon, to Ludlow on the Welsh border in 1501. This was the beginning of a close friendship between Margaret and Katharine.
In 1504, Sir Richard died, leaving Margaret to bring up four children, aged between 12 and babyhood on a small income. King Henry was not generous in his recognition of Sir Richard's past services and Margaret probably found it difficult to make ends meet. Her life was transformed in 1509 when her friend, Katharine, became queen at the accession of Henry VIII. For the next few years, she was a member of the Queen's household, and her older son received recognition too.
In 1512, Margaret's application to have her great-grandmother, Alice Montacute's, Earldom of Salisbury restored to her was successful. From the widow of a knight she was catapulted to the position of fifth or sixth richest magnate in England, as Countess of Salisbury in her own right.
Over the next eight years, Lady Salisbury, as she was known from this time, was at the centre of the English court – godmother, then governess to the King's daughter, Mary, and a busy promoter of her children's careers and marriages. Her daughter, Ursula, seemed to have made the best match in the country, when she married the heir to the Duke of Buckingham, senior Duke in the realm.
Unfortunately, Buckingham was found guilty of treason in 1521, and all his estates confiscated. The Pole family fell under suspicion of involvement and Lady Salisbury's elder son, Henry Pole, Lord Montague, spent some time in the Tower. Eventually, however, the King seems to have been reassured about their loyalty and the Poles continued in high favour. The King paid for Margaret's son, Reginald, to study abroad. Reginald spent much time in Italy and was thought of highly, both by other Humanist scholars, and also by the Church hierarchy, although he was not at that time a priest.
In 1525, Lady Salisbury was appointed as Lady Governess to Princess Mary, and travelled with her to Ludlow to supervise her life there as de facto (although not official) Princess of Wales, just as she and Sir Richard had supervised Mary's uncle Arthur in 1501. Margaret remained in her post of Lady Governess for eight years. In 1528, Mary and Margaret were recalled to London, and the household downgraded slightly as Henry pursued an annulment of his marriage to Katharine of Aragon. He hoped to remarry and replace Mary with a male heir.
It was not until 1533, however, that Mary's household was finally broken up and Lady Salisbury dismissed from her post when Mary was sent to join the new household being created for her baby half-sister, Elizabeth. Margaret offered to remain with Mary and provide a suitable entourage for her at her own cost, but this offer was refused. Henry VIII was angry as he believed that Margaret, a staunch supporter of Katharine's marriage, and Mary's rights, was encouraging Mary to disobey him.
In 1536, Margaret returned briefly to Court after the death of Anne Boleyn, but was almost immediately faced with the unbounded wrath of the King, who had received an open letter from Margaret's son, Reginald. Written in the most insulting and offensive language, he accused the King of tyranny, robbery, murder, violence and of damaging the Church for his own lustful ends.
Lady Salisbury and her older son were horrified, and attempted to dissociate themselves with Reginald, writing to him and exhorting him to serve the King, his master as was "his bounden duty". However, from this point on the Pole family were heading for destruction. In 1538, Margaret's youngest son, Geoffrey, was arrested. There is good evidence that he was communicating with Reginald, and was talking foolishly about the King's policies. It also appears that, in some way, information from the King's Privy Council was being fed to Reginald.
At a time when the government feared an invasion by France or the Empire to restore Papal authority, this was enough to bring on charges of treason. Also accused were Lord Montague, the older brother, the Marquess of Exeter, Montague's friend and the King's cousin, and Exeter's wife, another close friend of Katharine of Aragon. Margaret was questioned and confined to Cowdray Castle, under the supervision of the Earl of Southampton. Montague and Exeter were beheaded, Montague's young son sent to the Tower and never seen again, and Geoffrey and Lady Exeter eventually pardoned.
No evidence was found against Margaret that could support a charge of treason, but an Act of Attainder was passed by Parliament stripping her of the Earldom of Salisbury, and all her lands. She was sent to the Tower of London in December 1539 and left there until March 1541, at which time it appeared the King was relenting, as he personally ordered warm clothes and shoes for her.
Another disturbance in the North, however, created anxiety, and on 27 th May, 1541 she was woken early in the morning and told she would be executed that day. She was bewildered, saying she did not know what she had been accused of or how the sentence had been arrived at. Bundled out onto Tower Green, she was hurried through her last speech (in which she exhorted the onlookers to pray for the King, the Queen, Prince Edward and Princess Mary) and had her head hacked off by a "bungling youth".
So died the last Plantagenet.