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The mystery of the disappearance of Henry Pole…in the Tower

princes_in_the_tower_2When we think of children disappearing into the Tower and never being seen again we tend to think of Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York – a.k.a. The Princes in the Tower.  Henry Pole the Younger, the teenage son of Lord Montagu and grandson of Margaret of Salisbury was sent to the Tower in November 1538 – he was not charged, he was not executed…he simply failed to re-appear in public – and he doesn’t have the same cachet as the Princes in the Tower so tends to remain largely forgotten

margaret salisburyMargaret of Salisbury was the daughter of George Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville.  She had been orphaned at five years old when George had an unfortunate accident in the Tower with a large barrel of Malmsey wine.  She and her younger brother Edward grew up under the rule of their uncles Edward IV and Richard III.  In 1485 when the Plantagenets lost the Crown on the field of battle at Bosworth Margaret found herself being handed into the wardship of Lady Margaret Beaufort, who in all fairness seems to have had a protective instinct for young women (perhaps not surprising given her own history).  So, Margaret of Salisbury was about fourteen when she was married off to a loyal Tudor supporter – Sir Richard Pole and sent off to the Welsh marches where she could be safely ignored.

 

Unfortunately for the long term survival of the Pole family, despite the fact that Margaret had been deliberately married to a man whose loyalty was to the Tudors and who was far below Margaret in social status – though as the daughter of an attainted traitor this was not such an issue Margaret remained close to the court. When Henry VIII became king it was he who returned to Margaret the title of Countess of Salisbury whilst her eldest son, Henry, became Lord Montagu.  It was probably just as well that Henry VIII had taken a shine to the family when Sir Richard died in 1504 the family had been so impoverished that they had to borrow money to pay for the funeral. There were five little Poles bearing Plantagenet blood in their veins – Henry, Reginald, Geoffrey and Arthur (who died of sweating sickness) as well as a daughter named Ursula who had thirteen children of her own.

 

katherine of aragon sil meMargaret’s loyalty was to Katherine of Aragon and to her daughter Princess Mary to whom she was governess and godmother. (Along with Margaret her sister-in-law Eleanor Pole was also a lady-in-waiting to Katherine. Eleanor was related through marriage to Lady Margaret Beaufort’s extended family.) Despite this and their conservative adherence to Catholicism (something they had in common with much of the old aristocracy – the Courtenay family were caught up with Elizabeth Barton the so-called Nun of Kent) they managed to walk on the tightrope of faith that Henry VIII strung up when he divorced Katherine and married Anne Boleyn.

 

Matters were not helped between the Tudor and Plantagenet cousins when Margaret’s son Reginald Pole – Henry VIII’s “pet” learned academic who had been educated at Henry’s expense wrote a book snappily entitled Pro ecclesiasticae unitatis defensionein 1536. It denounced both his marriage to Anne Boleyn and his religious policies – in short it did not have the content that Henry wanted. The Pole family in England wrote letters castigating Reginald, sure that they would be read before reaching their intended recipient. Pole wrote back to his mother telling her not to interfere with his conscience. Despite his high moral tone Pole started to have to look over his shoulder.  Men were sent to assassinate him on Thomas Cromwell’s orders. Requests were sent to have him bundled up and sent home to face the music.  It probably didn’t help that the Pope made him a cardinal at more or less the same time.

 

The Poles retreated from court and very sensibly kept their heads down – presumably quite liking the idea of keeping them.  It wouldn’t be enough to save them.  In 1538 the so-called Exeter Conspiracy was revealed when in August Margaret Pole’s youngest son Geoffrey was arrested and taken to the Tower.

 

Henry Pole, Lord Montagu was familiar with the process of being arrested for treason, after all he had been arrested for in connection to the 3rdDuke of Buckingham’s plot against the king in 1520. Stafford had been found guilty of treason based on evidence given by his servants – the evidence was hearsay rather than concrete proof of plotting but it was enough to get him executed in 1521. Henry Pole had been released and had demonstrated loyalty to Henry VIII in a variety of capacities.

 

In August 1538 however, he was not in the Tower he was wondering what his little brother Geoffrey was saying and what charges that he might face.  Margaret Pole wrote for permission to visit Geoffrey and to ask what he had done.  In October 1538 Geoffrey was finally questioned – a couple of months in the Tower kept in isolation was enough to make him say what Thomas Cromwell wanted to hear. In November the treason net stretched around the Pole family.  Henry VIII would have vengeance against Reginald and also surety that those pesky Plantagenets wouldn’t regain the throne. Geoffrey devastated that he had destroyed his own family rather than face further rather more active torture made two attempts on his own life.

 

Lord Montagu, his teenage son Henry, Montagu’s brother Sir Geoffrey, Montagu’s father-in-law Sir Edward Neville and his cousin Henry Courtenay, and Courtenay’s son were arrested on charges of conspiring to depose Henry VIII and replace him with Courtenay. Henry VIII’s proclamation about the plot identified that the plotters also conspired to validate their actions by marrying Princess Mary off either to either young Henry Pole or Edward Courtenay. It would have to be said that their Plantagenet blood made the need to justify their attempt on the throne with marriage to a Tudor somewhat unnecessary but it certainly gave Thomas Cromwell the opportunity to arrest as many scions of the Plantagenet bloodline as possible.

 

Margaret Pole was taken along to the Tower with her grandson having been rigorously questioned by William FitzWilliam, First Earl of Southampton without any notable success.  Margaret would be attainted in 1539 but the only evidence was a coat bearing the insignia of a pilgrim of the Pilgrimage of Grace – there was no suggestion that it belonged to her personally.  She would be messily executed in 1541 without trial.  The attainder meant there was no need for one.  Up until that time her existence in the Tower – complete with a furred gown can be traced in Henry VIII’s accounts along with that of her grandson.  A novel entitled The Courier’s Tale, by Peter Walker, about Michael Throckmorton of Coughton Court, Reginald Pole’s messenger and agent includes an after note about the historic traces that remain of Henry Pole in Cromwell’s documents – there is a suggestion that Henry Pole was simply forgotten and allowed to die.

Letters written by Reginald Pole in Italy and also the testimony of Sir Geoffrey Pole sent Montagu and Courtenay senior to their deaths. Edward Courtenay remained in the Tower until Mary Tudor became queen in 1553 and then became caught up in Wyatt’s Rebellion the following – Mary politely suggested that he might like to travel more widely.

Henry Pole the younger simply disappeared without trace. It is of course possible that he died of natural causes but given the circumstances it is all to believable that he was simply bumped off in time-honoured fashion.

Bernard, G.W. The King’s Reformation: Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church

Pierce, Hazel. Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership

 

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