The Birth of Margaret Pole: The Last Plantagenet Woman
On August 14, 1473, Margaret Plantagenet was born. She was the first child of George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville, the daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. However, she was left as an orphan after her mother’s death and father’s execution. In the end, Margaret was executed when she was 67-years-old.
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Margaret Pole’s Mother: Isabel Neville
Isabel was the elder daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, and Anne Beauchamp. Her parents were extremely ambitious and her father was known as the Kingmaker during the time of the War of the Roses. It was because of the Earl of Warwick that Edward IV, the Yorkist King, defeated Henry VI.
To further his ambition, Isabel found herself betrothed to George Plantagenet, Edward IV’s brother. This was a marriage that Edward did not want to happen. It would mean that the Earl of Warwick was too close to gaining the throne; and he was already powerful enough. However, Warwick and George, Duke of Clarence, ignored King Edward’s wishes and performed a secret ceremony on July 11, 1469 in Calais. It was conducted by the Archbishop of York at the time, who just so happened to be a relation to the Nevilles, George Neville.
The Duke of Clarence joined with Warwick after the marriage in an attempt to become King. Isabel found herself with child quickly but it was stillborn while travelling by ship to France. This led to Warwick teaming up with Margaret of Anjou and arranged an alliance with the Lancastrians. Anne Neville, Isabel’s sister, was married to Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, son of Margaret of Anjou and they found themselves on separate sides.
Isabel died after giving birth to Margaret's youngest brother, Richard, on December 22, 1476. Just a few weeks later, Richard died at less than three months old. At the time, Margaret's father believed Isabel had been poisoned but it is likely that it was either consumption or child bed fever, which were extremely common at the time. Isabel's death led to George's downward spiral and execution.
Margaret Pole’s Father: George Plantagenet
George, Duke of Clarence was born on October 21, 1449 in Dublin, Ireland. At this time, his father, Richard Plantagenet, was aiming to take the crown from Henry VI. However, his father died and his eldest brother, Edward, took the crown instead. George wanted the power and worked with Richard Neville to get it from his brother. Part of the reasons for the attempt to take the crown was Edward IV was possibly illegitimate but nothing was proven.
He soon realised that his actions were in vain and he should never have tried to fight against his brother. Despite being made second in line for the throne by Henry VI, behind Henry’s own son, Edward, George decided that it was best to go back home. After the death of Warwick and Edward getting his crown back, George was returned to favour and was given the title Earl of Warwick. However, he never gained all the estate since his younger brother, Richard, married the younger Neville daughter.
After Isabel's death, George suspected it was poisoning from one of Isabel's ladies-in-waiting. After having her judicially murdered, his mental state deteriorated further and he was involved in another plot to rebel against his brother. Edward IV had had enough by this point and expected more loyalty from his brother. George was executed, the method still unknown, on February 18, 1478.
Over to You
Did Margaret's parent's early deaths have anything to do with her difficult life?
The Birth of Plantagenet Children
Margaret Pole was the first child of Isabel and George to survive infancy but was not the last. There was one other who was able to survive to adulthood, Edward, but he was later executed by Henry VII. Margaret was the only one to continue the family bloodline, leading to five other children. There was a child before Margaret, who died onboard the ship to France. Most historians agree that the baby was a girl named Anne of York although a few sources state that she was a girl.
Margaret was an initial disappointment for both Isabel and George. Women were seen as inferior to men and they wanted a boy. This would help to strengthen George’s line to the throne as around that time Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s wife, had only bore girls and one son. Their second son was born three days after Margaret.
After their father's death, Margaret and Edward went to live with their mother's sister, Anne Neville, until her death in March 1485. From there, they were placed under Richard III's care and then under the care of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.
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The Life of Margaret Pole
After the death of her father, Margaret inherited everything that George originally had. While her brother was known as the Ear of Warwick, he was never made a peer. Margaret was one of two women at the time to have a title and peerage in her own right; instead of marrying into it. Margaret’s life came crashing down on her though after her father’s attainder and execution for treason.
When Edward IV died, Margaret found herself slipping further from power. Her uncle, King Richard III of England, declared Edward IV’s children illegitimate and debarred Margaret and her brother from the throne because of their father’s actions. He had been made guardian of the two children since Isabel had died of child bed fever or consumption by this point and were orphaned. They were held at Sheriff Hutton Castle.
After Henry Tudor defeated Richard at the battle of Bosworth and became Henry VII of England, the first thing he did was place Margaret’s brother in the Tower of London. For a short time he was displayed at St. Paul’s Cathedral in public after an imposter, Lambert Simnel, claimed to be the Earl of Warwick. Unfortunately, Edward was executed after Perkin Warbeck attempted to impersonate Richard, Duke of York, one of the legendary Princes in the Tower.
Margaret was lucky. Instead of being executed, she was married to Sir Richard Pole, Henry VII’s cousin through Margaret Beaufort’s line. This marriage was designed to prevent plotters from using her as a way to remove Henry Tudor from the throne. He was always worried about the fact that he was technically debarred from the throne through an Act of Parliament by Henry IV.
Sir Richard Pole was the Chamberlain for Arthur Tudor and after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Margaret was made a lady-in-waiting to her. She had five children during her short marriage and by 1504 was left raising them as a widow. There were no prospects for her and no salary and it led to devoting Reginald Pole, her second son, to the church. Despite an excellent career, Reginald resented his mother throughout his life viewing her actions as abandonment.
It was in 1509, when Henry VIII took the throne, that Margaret had more prospects. Her father’s lands were returned to her and the Earl of Salisbury was returned to her. She became the 5th richest peer in the whole of England by 1538 through good management skills and her children started to rise up in favour and power.
The Death of Margaret Pole
It seems like all Plantagenet adults end up the same way—executed. Margaret followed her father’s and brother’s footsteps in angering the monarch at the time and meeting their maker. The difference for Margaret was that she had never done anything wrong to mean a traitor’s death. It was mainly her sons’ actions, especially Henry Pole, that led to her being imprisoned in the Tower of London. It also didn’t help that she had a strong claim to the throne and even Henry VIII was worried about that.
She was held in the Tower for over two years, along with her grandson, and was cared for by the King—in moderation. At one point, Katherine Howard felt so sorry for her that she sent her clothes and shoes. She continually pleaded innocent but she was sentenced to death on May 27, 1541, when she was 67-years-old. It wasn’t an easy execution for Margaret Pole either, taking 11 blows to finally chop of her head.