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The Attainder on Margaret of Salisbury

In March 1539 Margaret of Salisbury was arrested and put in the Tower. On 12th May 1539 a very general Act of Attainder was passed by Parliament naming her, her already executed son and many others. Two years later, on the 27th May 1541 she was brutally executed in her 68th year, by the same Act.

Her son Henry Pole had been executed earlier in 1538 after a trial by Lord Audley with a jury of peers and subsequently his son died in the Tower as well, though by means unknown.

Margaret's second son was Reginald, later Cardinal Pole. To some extent he was the cause of this bloodbath through a critical document about Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon. But there is evidence that another motive for the executions was that of getting rid of a family around whom some opposition to Henry might centre, Henry Pole being a second cousin to Henry VIII on his mother's side and a third cousin on his father's side.

When Mary came to the throne, she brought Reginal Pole with her. And very soon after that an Act was passed that restored his nieces, the daughters of Henry Pole his executed brother, to "the blood" and gave them some of their grandmother's estates.

There is a clear view that an unrepealed attainder means that the honours of that person cannot be inherited. In 1987, the Somerset Herald said that this applied to the arms claimed by descendants of the Pole daughters; they were disallowed if they came from their grandmother, Margaret of Salisbury. Curiously these arms have been born by all the male descendants, and through any heiresses of them, ever since the sixteenth century. And no comment has been made until now.

The attainder, unjust at it undoubtedly was on Margaret of Salisbury, was equally undoubtedly invoked according to the dodgy law of that time. The question is what has happened to that attainder since then. There are three evidences that I have found:

  • Dictionary of National Biography for Henry Pole where is says "His two daughters became his heirs and were fully restored in blood and honours in the first year of Philip and Mary".
  • The Barrington Family Letters 1628-1632, edited by Arthur Searle and published in the Camden series in 1983: (Of Winifred Pole, the younger daughter) "More important by far, her first marriage had been childless, so that she also brought to the Barringtons her share of ther grandmother's estates, granted to the two sisters when first Mary and the Elizabeth effectively reversed the attainder of the Countess".
  • GEC's Complete Peerage for Montagu: "His two daughters (who survived their brother) were restored in blood by Act of Parl. (1554-55) 1 Philip and Mary-viz (i) Catherine, who m. in June 1532 Francis (Hastings), Earl of Huntingdon ...; (ii) Winifred, whose only issue was by her second husband, Sir Thomas Barrington ..."
  • "The Hastings Manuscripts", the 'Report of the Manuscripts of the late Reginald Rawdon Hastings, Esq of The Manor House, Ashby de la Zouche', pub HMSO 1928, pp. 315-6:
    23 October 1553--"Petition in Parliament of Katherine Countess of Huntingdon and Dame Winifride Hastings to be restored in blood as daughters to Henry Pole, Lord Montague."--23 October, 1 Mary. Draft on paper, defective at end.
    A footnote says the petition was successful. The House of Lords has a record of the petition but not even these details as it was a private act of Parliament.

These statements give rise to some uncertainty whether the effect of Margaret of Salisbury's attainder still holds. Certainly it should be possible to get that attainder reversed, possibly (so I have been informed) through the College of Arms, but the expense of doing so is likely to be prohibitive. Another tack might be to take advantage of the new facility of obtaining judicial pardons for crimes not committed. In conclusion I am taking the view that we can disregard this attainder; the genealogical descent is undoubted, perhaps we can leave it to a later generation to unravel the effects of one of the worst acts of butchery of Henry's reign and in the meantime enjoy this litany of arms witnessed by Sir William Arthur Cochrane, Clarenceaux King of Arms around 1928.

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