Today in Chelmsford is kept as the memorial of Blessed Margaret Pole. She was born near Bath in 1473 to the Duke of Clarence and was a niece of both Edward IV and Richard III. She married Sir Richard Pole in 1491 and bore him five children. One of her sons, Reginald was to become cardinal and the last Archbishop of Canterbury. Margaret was created Countess of Salisbury by King Henry VIII and was granted various lands, many of which were in the county of Essex. She acted as both godmother and governess to the future Queen Mary and was a close friend of Queen Katherine of Aragon. In her service to the young Princess Mary she spent much time at New Hall (now the well-known school just outside Chelmsford) and continued to reside there even when she had been separated from Mary.
Margaret’s fortunes changed when her son became vocal in his opposition to the royal supremacy and the King’s attempts to divorce his wife, Queen Katherine. The Countess supported her son in his upholding of the Catholic faith and morals and she was arrested in 1538, eventually being made prisoner in the Tower of London. She was accused of treason and, on account of her devotion to the Five Wounds was charged with supporting the Northern Rising (which used the Wounds as a banner). On the morning of 27th May 1541 the Countess was informed she was to be executed that day. Margaret protested her innocence, but walked calmly to her martyrdom. On the walls of her cell was found written:
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!
By now the 67 year old Countess was frail and ill, but on the scaffold she commended her soul to God and begged the people to pray for the royal family, especially her god-daughter Princess Mary. As a noble she was executed by beheading and her last words were those of Our Lord in His Beatitudes “Blessed Are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake”. Her relics were laid to rest in the chapel of St. Peter-ad-Vincula in the Tower of London, a resting place she would share with other martyrs to come. In 1877 these precious relics were discovered and laid to rest in front of the communion-table. Her son, Cardinal Reginald Pole, wrote of her;
“until now I had thought God had given me the grace of being the son of one of the best and most honoured ladies in England, but now He has vouchsafed to honour me still more by making me the son of a martyr.”
Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, was solemnly beatified by Pope Leo XIII, of happy memory and most zealous in his devotion to this Island, on 29 December 1886.
Blessed Margaret Pole, pray for England!