The theme of this month’s 12 Ancestors in 12 Months writing challenge is “Check It Out!”, something uttered regularly by family historians with each new find, myself included. With each new “discovery”, I regale loved ones and strangers alike with what I learned, whether they care or not. 🙂
So what makes this discovery any different than the hundreds of others I have made already? Why should you “check it out”? Let’s find out…
My genealogical research has uncovered dozens of ancestors who devoted themselves to God, so many that I began a series of posts titled Doing God’s Work: Our Families’ Faithful. This is the eleventh installment.
In the previous post of this series, I presented brief biographies of three direct ancestors who were monks. Yes, you read right… monks.
In this post, I will present three individuals so revered that they have been declared “Blessed” by the Catholic Church. For those who might not be aware, there are several steps in the Church’s process of declaring someone a saint. From first to last, these designations are Servant of God, Venerable, Blessed, and Saint. “Blesseds” are those who have been beatified. Beatification (derived from the Latin words beatus, meaning blessed, and facere, meaning to make) is a recognition accorded by the Catholic Church of a dead person’s entrance into Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name. Beatification requires one attested miracle and allows beatified people to be venerated by their local churches.
Pepin and Itta
Pepin, born circa 580, was the son of Carloman. From the years 623 to 629, Pepin was the mayor of the palace of Austrasia under the Merovingian King Dagobert I. Praised by his contemporaries for his good government and wise counsel, Pepin was on good terms with the king until 629. However, following an incident in which he reprimanded the king for committing adultery, Pepin was exiled from the court and retired to his estates.
On Dagobert’s death in 639, Pepin came out of retirement to become mayor of Austrasia for King Sigebert III and oversee the distribution of the treasury. He served in that capacity from 639 until his death on 27 February 640. During his life, Pepin defended the interests of the Catholic Church, promoted the spread of Christianity, and worked to have only “truly worthy” bishops appointed to Frankish sees.
Itta was born in 592. Itta and Pepin married circa 612 and had four known children: Begga, born in 613 (from whom I am descended); Grimoald, born in 616; Bavo, born in 622; and Gertrude, born circa 628.
After her husband’s death in 640, Itta withdrew from the political life, opting for a religious life instead. Later, circa 647, she founded the Abbey of Nivelles, where she resided as a nun until her death on 8 May 652. Daughter Gertrude was its first abbess.
All four of their children followed in their parents’ footsteps. While son Grimoald opted for the political life like his father, becoming a palace mayor; daughter Begga became a nun not long after the death of her husband, Ansegisel, circa 679; son Bavo entered the monastic life after the death of his wife; and Gertrude determined at an early age that she wanted to be a nun and never married.
Margaret (Plantagenet) Pole
Born on 14 August 1473, Margaret Plantagenet (my 15th great-grandmother) was the daughter of George Plantagenet and Isabel Neville. She was the second child of the couple: the first was Anne, who was born on 16 April 1470, on a ship off the coast of Calais and died soon thereafter.
On 25 February 1475, when Margaret was three years old, brother Edward was welcomed to the family’s Warwickshire, England home.
Brother Richard was born the next year on 5 October 1476, in Warwick Castle. Ankarette Twynyho, one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting, served as midwife. Although mother Isabel fared well, baby Richard was not as strong. Ankarette, who had experience with herbal remedies, offered to help the baby grow stronger. Approximately two months later, Isabel Neville became seriously ill. Poisoning was suspected, and Ankarette Twynyho was nowhere to be found. On 22 December 1476, Isabel Neville died a painful, premature death. Baby Richard passed away two weeks later on 1 January 1477.
Margaret’s father, George, was heartbroken and vowed revenge. He was certain that his wife and son had been murdered and was determined to make the accused, Ankarette Twynyho, pay. In addition, he asserted that his sister-in-law Elizabeth Woodville, queen of England, had prompted Ankarette to commit the alleged murders. Although George could not prove Elizabeth Woodville’s complicity, he was able to convince others of Ankarette Twynyho’s guilt and had her arrested at her home in Keyford, Somerset on 12 April 1477. Despite the queen’s insistence that Ankarette was just an elderly, harmless widow who had been blamed unjustly, she was tried before justices of the peace at the Guildhall, found guilty, and hanged three days after her arrest on 15 April 1477.
The following year, when Margaret was just four years old, her father George Plantagenet was charged with slandering his brother Edward IV and his wife and organizing a rebellion. George was attainted in Parliament of high treason, and his lands and titles were forfeited. He was executed on 18 February 1478 in the Tower of London. Two days later on 20 February 1478, Roger Twynyho, Ankarette’s grandson, obtained an annulment of her conviction from Edward IV.
Now orphaned, Margaret and her brother Edward were fostered by others. On 9 April 1483, when Margaret was 10 years old and her brother seven years old, their uncle, Edward IV, died. The next year, in an effort to wrest the crown from Edward’s heir, Margaret’s uncle Richard (Edward’s other brother) convinced Parliament to issue a Titulus Regius. With the passage of this statute, Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was invalidated, and their children were made illegitimate. Edward IV’s heir and spare, sons Edward and Richard, were locked away in the Tower of London, eventually “disappearing.”
Richard III was Margaret’s uncle twice over, as her mother’s sister, Anne of Neville, was married to him. In this role, Richard III assumed oversight of his niece and nephew, sending them to live at Sheriff Hutton Castle, one of the Neville holdings. Margaret and Edward resided there until Richard III’s death in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth, the last significant battle of the War of the Roses. His adversary, Henry Tudor, took the throne as Henry VII and then married Margaret’s cousin Elizabeth of York, Edward IV’s daughter. Soon thereafter, Margaret and her brother were taken into Henry and Elizabeth’s care.
At some point, Margaret’s brother Edward was sent to reside in quarters located in the Tower of London because some nobles felt that he was the rightful heir to the throne, and Henry VII wanted to lock away the competition.
Circa November 1487, Henry VII gave Margaret in marriage to his cousin, Sir Richard Pole, whose mother was his mother’s half-sister. Together, Margaret and Richard Pole would have five children: Henry, born circa 1492; Arthur, born circa 1498; Reginald, born circa 1500; Geoffrey, born circa 1501; and Ursula, born circa 1504 (my 14th great-grandmother).
While Margaret was busy building her family, her brother Edward allied himself with a man claiming to be one of the “lost princes,” Richard, the second son of Edward IV. Unfortunately, this man was proved to be a false pretender to the throne, and he and his closest allies, including Margaret’s brother, were charged with treason. On 28 November 1499, Edward Plantagenet was beheaded.
Meanwhile, Margaret was serving the royal court as a lady-in-waiting for the Prince’s wife, Catherine of Aragon, until 1502, when Arthur, Prince of Wales, died. Margaret’s husband, Richard Pole, also served Henry VII in a variety of offices, the highest of which was chamberlain for the Prince of Wales. His tenure ended circa December 1505 with his death.
At the age of 32, Margaret was a widow with five children to raise. Although she inherited a small estate from her husband, she had little income to support her family. Her son, Reginald, was placed under the Catholic Church’s care so that he might pursue a career as clergy. Her elder two sons were most likely fostered in other noble’s households to prepare them as knights. The youngest two children went with Margaret to reside in Syon Abbey.
For four years, Margaret and her children resided in the abbey. Then, in 1509, Henry VII married his son’s widow, Catherine of Aragon, and Margaret was once again appointed as a lady-in-waiting.
In May 1510, Margaret’s eldest son Henry wed Jane Neville, daughter of George Nevill and Joan Arundel. The couple would have four known children.
In 1512, Parliament restored to Margaret the Earldom of Salisbury and its entailed lands. Margaret was adept at managing her estate, eventually becoming one of the wealthiest women in England.
On 16 February 1518, daughter Ursula Pole wed Henry Stafford, son of Edward Stafford and Lady Alianore Percy. (Together, they would have more than a dozen children, including daughter Dorothy, my 13th great-grandmother.)
That same year, Margaret disagreed with Henry VIII over lands that he awarded to the Duke of Somerset. The monarch was not happy with her differing opinion.
In 1520, Margaret was assigned to serve as governess to Henry VIII’s daughter, Mary. She was removed from that position in 1521 but was reinstated in 1525.
Circa October 1522, Margaret’s second son Arthur married Jane Lewkenor, daughter of Roger Lewkenor and Eleanor Tuchet.
In July 1526, son Reginald came home to England after concluding his religious studies abroad, and Henry VIII offered him the offices of the Archbishop of York and the See of Winchester. The reason for this generosity became apparent a year later when in 1527, Henry VIII demanded that Reginald support his annulment of marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
Heartbreak came to Margaret when her second son, Arthur, became very ill and died in August 1528. He left behind four children.
In 1529, Reginald bowed under the pressure placed on him by Henry VIII. He traveled to Paris as the king’s representative and persuaded the Church theologians to support Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon.
Meanwhile, Reginald was still at odds with Henry VIII, although he could not publically challenge the king. In 1532, Reginald fled England for the continent. Once beyond Henry VIII’s influence, Reginald publicly criticized Henry VIII’s marital machinations. In an effort to save herself and her family from Henry VIII’s resulting rage, Margaret Pole was forced to denounce her own son.
In 1533, Henry VIII declared his daughter, Mary, illegitimate. Much to the sovereign’s ire, Margaret stood by Mary and offered to look after her. The king refused.
On 19 May 1536, Henry VIII had his second wife, Anne Boleyn, beheaded.
In 1537, Reginald, who was a cardinal, urged the other European monarchs to depose Henry VIII and install a Catholic ruler in England. Henry VIII was irate. Unable to punish Reginald, the king arrested Reginald’s family instead.
In August 1538, Margaret’s son, Geoffrey, was arrested as part of the investigations into the Exeter Conspiracy, a plot to supposedly overthrow the king. He was sent to the Tower of London.
On 4 November 1538, Margaret’s son Henry Pole was arrested on the charge of treason. Although the charges were not substantiated, Henry VIII stripped Henry Pole of his title and lands and ordered his execution, which was carried out on 9 January 1539.
In November 1538, Margaret Pole was arrested and sent to the Tower of London, and her houses and property were searched for any possible evidence of treasonous activities. Eventually, a silk robe, embroidered with the arms of England, pansies (a symbol of the Pole family), marigolds (a symbol of Princess Mary), and the five wounds of Christ (a symbol of the Pilgrimage of Grace), was produced as evidence. (Considering the robe wasn’t produced until six months after Margaret Pole’s possessions had been searched, many historians believe it was planted.)
On 4 December 1538, Margaret’s son Geoffrey plead guilty to treason, after months of imprisonment and torture; however, just a month later on 4 January 1539, he was pardoned.
Margaret spent two and a half years in the Tower without trial. Then, on 27 May 1541, she was informed that she would die that day. Chapuys, an ambassador to the Holy Roman Emperor, was there as a witness:
“At first, when the sentence of death was made known to her, she found the thing very strange, not knowing of what crime she was accused, nor how she had been sentenced; but at last, perceiving that there was no remedy, and that die she must, she went out of the dungeon where she was detained, and walked towards the midst of the space in front of the Tower, where there was no scaffold erected nor anything except a small block…She was told to make haste and place her neck on the block, which she did. But as the ordinary executor of justice was absent…a wretched and blundering youth…literally hacked her head and shoulders to pieces in the most pitiful manner.”
After her death, the following verse was supposedly discovered carved on the wall of her 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!
Her son, Reginald Pole, said that he would “never fear to call himself the son of a martyr.” More than 300 years later, on 29 December 1886, Pope Leo XIII beatified Margaret Pole as a martyr of the Catholic faith.