Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury was born in 1473 as the only surviving daughter of George, Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville. Therefore she was a niece of Edward IV and Richard III.
Margaret was one of the few women in the realm who was a peeress in her own right. Margaret was married to Richard Pole but Richard died in 1505, while being in his early 40s and left Margaret a widow with their five young children: Henry, Reginald, Arthur, Geoffrey and Ursula.
Margaret’s late husband was related to Henry VII and Henry VIII by being the son of Edith St John, half-sister to Henry VII’s mother Margaret Beaufort, making Richard a first cousin of the half-blood to the king. Richard Pole was also related to Jane Parker, wife of Anne Boleyn’s brother George. He had been in the service of Henry VII by opposing the Rebellion of Perkin Warbeck in 1495 and fought in the wars against the Scots in 1497. He was granted various offices in Wales, was made Chief Gentleman of the Privy Chamber of Prince Arthur and President of the Council of Wales and the Marches. All this didn’t stop Henry VIII from executing Margaret.
Margaret was Lady in Waiting to Henry VIII's 1st Queen, Catherine of Aragon, and was later appointed as governess to Catherine and Henry VIII's daughter Mary. However, when Henry divorced Catherine, Mary was declared a bastard and Margaret was no longer allowed to serve her.
In later years, Margaret and her sons were seen as a danger by Henry VIII. Her son Cardinal Reginald Pole, had expressed himself against the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and was appointed by the Pope to support the Pilgrimage of Grace. Her son Geoffrey was arrested in August 1538 accused of corresponding with Reginald. After he was interrogated, both his elder brother Henry and their mother were arrested. Geoffrey was pardoned the following January, but Henry was executed. Margaret was attainted because of her Catholicism and support for her son Reginald and the King's “bastard” daughter Mary. Margaret was sentenced to death and could be executed at the King's will. She was kept in the Tower for an additional two years, until on the morning of 27th May 1541, when she was informed that her execution would occur within an hour.
The following poem is said to be found carved on the wall of her prison cell:
For traitors on the block should die; I am no traitor, no, not I! My faithfulness stands fast and so, Towards the block I shall not go! Nor make one step, as you shall see; Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me![
The two accounts about Margaret’s execution that still survive are from the French ambassador Charles de Marillac and the ambassador of the Holy Roman Emperor Eustace Chapuys. Their accounts do differ from one another. Marillac reported two days after the execution and wrote that the execution took place in a corner of the Tower with such a small amount of people present that news of Margaret’s execution was doubted. Chapuys wrote two weeks after the execution that 150 witnesses had been present including the Lord Mayor of London.
He furthermore stated that the execution was done 'by a wretched and blundering youth who literally hacked her head and shoulders to pieces in the most pitiful manner'.
Margaret was buried on the grounds of the Tower of London at the Chapel St Peter ad Vincula. She was 67 years old. She was beatified by Pope Leo XIII on 29 December 1886 and her feast day is on 28 May.