Margaret Plantagenet: Life Story

Chapter 8 : Mother of the King’s Enemy (1536 – 1538)

In 1536, the Wheel of Fortune seemed to begin to turn again in Margaret's favour. Anne Boleyn was disgraced and executed, and Henry's third wife was a strong sympathiser with his elder daughter, now degraded from "Princess" Mary, to mere "Lady" Mary. Margaret reappeared at Court in June 1536, but the price of Mary's rehabilitation and forgiveness was the acceptance that her parents' marriage had been invalid. She was finally forced to accept the Act of Supremacy, and swallowed the bitter pill on 22 nd June 1536.

It was believed that, with this change of Queen, and the return of Mary to Court, Margaret's influence would increase, and she began to be supplicated for favours as before, but Fortune had smiled, only to dash Margaret to the ground.

Reginald Pole (1500 - 1558), Cardinal and Archbishop of Canterbury

Reginald Pole, her son, had been studying in Europe at Henry's expense, for many years. He was extremely well-thought of in Church circles, as a scholar, a man of sober life, and, of course, as a cousin of the King of England. He was a very influential figure in Rome and having studied the matter of Henry and Katharine's marriage, appeared, initially, to be in favour of annulment. He did not make any definitive statements in the early 1530s, despite being offered the Archbishopric of York, but then, in October 1535, he had written to Cromwell asking the latter:

"to assure His Highness of my readiness to do him service at all times".

Henry obviously took this as a sign that Reginald was about to declare in his favour, so the arrival of a second, open letter, entitled De Unitate, in June 1536, was the Tudor equivalent of a bombshell. Reginald referred to Henry as:

"a robber, murderer and greater enemy to Christianity than the Turk."

Not only that, he actively called upon Charles V and Francois I to invade the kingdom and depose Henry.

The first news Margaret had of this incendiary missive, was when she was summoned to the King's presence and he told her in person of the outrageous, treasonable, ungrateful, perverse ignorant etc etc behaviour of her son. There is no record, of course, of the actual conversation, but we can imagine Henry's fury. He was beside himself with rage - and the wrath of a Prince is death…

Margaret immediately consulted with her eldest son, Henry, Lord Montague, as to the best course of action for the family to take. Margaret and Montague were no doubt genuinely horrified that Reginald had uttered such appalling insults against the King. Even if, in their hearts, they opposed the divorce, and perhaps, the Royal Supremacy (although there is no indication they had made any difficulties in the matter on religious grounds), the King was still an almost sacred being. Insulting him was a shocking act of disobedience.

Montague and Margaret were both well aware that treason was a miasma that could envelope a whole family. They decided to inform all of their servants that Reginald was a traitor, and that he was to be reported to the authorities if he arrived in England. Margaret

"took her son for a traitor and for no son, and that she would never take him otherwise."

The King wanted more, and so Margaret wrote directly to Reginald, saying she could not bear the King's wrath. He should

"…take another way and serve our master as thy bounden duty is to do unless thou wilt be the confusion of thy mother".

If he did not remember what was due to the King he could "trust never in (her)."

Henry continued to fume, and sent for Montague whom he harangued with quotes from Reginald's letter. Montague wrote to Reginald in anger and frustration, telling him not to visit the Pope, as he had heard Reginald planned, and pointing out that

"Learning you may well have but doubtless no prudence nor pity."

If Reginald were to continue in his foolish course, Montague would disown him.

Margaret now retired from Court. Although Mary had been returned to the King's good graces, and had been allowed to select members of her new household, there was no place for Margaret in it. Having capitulated and accepted the annulment, Mary had more sense than to provoke her father again. Margaret and her god-daughter exchanged gifts at New Year (although, significantly, there were no gifts from the King) but did not meet again.

The Countess was in her sixties, and perhaps was content with a more retired life although she still took a very active part in managing her estates, and was kept occupied with the business of educating her grand-daughters and training them up to be great ladies in their turn.

Sadly, this quiet retirement did not last long.

Lady Margaret Plantagenet

Lady Margaret Plantagenet

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