Henry Pole, 1st Baron Montagu was a living, breathing threat to the Tudor throne. He was the grandson of George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence and thus the nephew of the York kings Edward IV and Richard III. In his veins flowed the blood of King Edward III’ second surviving son, Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence, and a more legitimate claimant to the throne than the Tudors’, who were offshoots of Edward III’s third surviving son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.
Henry Pole was born in 1492, the eldest son of Sir Richard Pole and Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, the only surviving daughter of the Duke of Clarence. There would eventually be four more surviving Pole children: Arthur Pole, Cardinal Reginald Pole, Geoffrey Pole, and Ursula Pole, Baroness Stafford.
King Henry VII was leery of the Poles and the royal bloodline they embodied. Henry VII sent widowed Margaret Pole to live at Syon Abbey with Bridgettine nuns after her husband’s death to prevent her from having a larger brood of dangerous alternative heirs, and took her children into his court to be raised as loyalists to the Tudor heirs. Thus, the future King Henry VIII learned to think of them as only as the cousins he had grown up with and played with in the nursery, rather than as rivals. After the death of his father in 1509, the new king recalled their mother to court and lavished his Plantagenet cousins with honors.
The king gave Henry Pole a knighthood in 1513, and then created him 1st Baron Montagu on 12 October 1514. Henry VIII allowed his cousin to wed heiress Jane Neville, daughter of George Nevill, 5th Baron Bergavenny, a few years later, even though this meant Montagu would have legitimate heirs that could be considered rivals to the king’s own hoped-for sons. To further supplement Montagu’s income after a new generation of little Poles began arriving, the king appointed him the steward of several manors belonging to Tewkesbury Abbey in 1526.
King Henry VIII also made Montagu justice of the peace for Somerset, Dorset, Hampshire and Sussex in 1530, and appointed him to the jury for the trial of Queen Anne Boleyn. Montagu was one of the king’s most trusted courtiers, and considered a dear friend.
Then, King Henry VIII began to change. Whether it was a result of McLeod Syndrome or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the king was no longer the same genial, loving cousin that Henry Pole had grown up with. This new man was a murderous tyrant.
On 4 November 1538, Montagu, his young son Henry, his brother Geoffrey Pole, his brother-in-law Edward Neville, and his cousin Henry Courtenay, 1st Marquess of Exeter, were all arrested for treason against the king. Thomas Cromwell, who may have had a hand in Henry Courtenay’s arrest, wrote that Henry Pole had “little offended save that [Reginald Pole] is of their kin”. Nevertheless, after questioning Geoffrey Pole for several hours, Cromwell had come up with a list of treasonous things Montagu had said or done:
like a false traitor, &c., to favour, promote, and confirm the said Reginald Pole in his traitorous proceedings, said (1) to Sir Geoffrey Pole, his biother, 24 March 28 Henry VIII., and divers times before and since, at Salisbury House, in the parish of St. Mary Botulph and ward of Walbroke, London, “I like well the doings of my brother the Cardinal, and I would we were both over the sea, for this world will one day come to stripes. It must needs to come to pass one day; and I fear me we shall lack nothing so much as honest men,” and also “I dreamed that the King is dead.” And again, (2) on the 28th March 28 Hen. VIII., “He is not dead, but he will die one day suddenly. His leg will kill him, and then we shall have jolly stirring.” And again, (3) 1 April 28 Hen. VIII, “The King said to the lords that he should go from them one day,” and added thereupon “If he will serve us so we shall be happily rid. I never loved him from childhood,” and again “He will be out of his wit one day,” and again, (4) 2 April 28 Hen. VIII., falsely said “Knaves rule about the King. I trust the world will amend, and that we shall have a day upon these knaves. And this world will come to stripes one day,” and also (to the said Geoffrey) “Cardinal Wolsey had been an honest man if he had had an honest master.”
Armed with this heresy, Cromwell went to the king and gave Henry VIII the ‘evidence’ he needed to condemn his friend and cousin to death. Henry was clearly looking for an excuse. The king had become paranoid and was terrified that Reginald Pole would help the Catholic Emperor Charles V invade England to install Princess Mary on the throne. The unmarried Cardinal Pole could also received a papal dispensation releasing him from his vows, so he could wed Princess Mary and rule England through her. This was unlikely, but not so farfetched that King Henry was ‘crazy’ for fearing it.
On 9 January 1539 Henry Pole, 1st Baron Montagu, was taken from the Tower and beheaded for the iniquitous crime of being closely related to a mentally compromised king and a zealot brother in Rome. His little boy, Henry, who was attainted with him disappeared from the historical record and presumably died in the Tower. His daughters, however, were left unmolested and in the fullness of time married and two of them had children of their own.