by Susan Flantzer
© Unofficial Royalty 2023
Because he was a potential claimant to the English throne during the reign of King Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch of England, Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick was beheaded. His only surviving sibling Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury had the same ending during the reign of King Henry VIII.
Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick, was born on February 25, 1475, at Warwick Castle in Warwickshire, England. He was the third of the four children and the elder of the two sons of George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville. His paternal grandparents were Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, and Cecily Neville, both great-grandchildren of King Edward III of England. Edward’s maternal grandparents were Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick (the Kingmaker of the Wars of the Roses) and Anne de Beauchamp. Edward’s paternal uncles were King Edward IV of England and King Richard III of England. His maternal aunt Anne Neville was the wife of King Richard III.
Edward had three siblings but only one survived childhood:
Edward’s mother Isabel died when he was not quite two years old. Now it is thought that Isabel died of either tuberculosis or childbed fever, but George, Duke of Clarence falsely believed his wife had been poisoned by a servant who was subsequently tried and hanged. In 1478, when Edward was three-years-old, his father was tried for treason against his brother King Edward IV and privately executed in the Tower of London. Edward and his elder sister Margaret were placed in the care of their maternal aunt Anne Neville.
On March 16, 1485, Edward’s maternal aunt Anne, then Queen Consort as the wife of Edward’s paternal uncle King Richard III, died from tuberculosis. Five months later, on August 22, 1485, Edward’s uncle, the last Yorkist king, Richard III, was defeated and killed at the Battle of Bosworth and the Lancaster claimant Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond assumed the throne as King Henry VII. Henry VII then married Edward’s first cousin Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of King Edward IV.
Edward’s sister Margaret ended up at the Tudor court as a lady-in-waiting to a royal cousin. However, ten-year-old Edward, who was the next male Yorkist claimant to the throne, was soon imprisoned at the Tower of London. After the rise of the Tudors, the remaining members of the House of York were a threat to the new House of Tudor and were systematically dealt with through marriage, imprisonment, and eventually, execution. Edward remained a potential threat to King Henry VII, particularly after the appearance of the pretender Lambert Simnel in 1487. In 1490, Edward was confirmed in his title of 17th Earl of Warwick despite his father’s attainder because his claim to the earldom of Warwick was through his mother.
In 1491, Perkin Warbeck claimed to be Edward’s first cousin Prince Richard, Duke of York, the second son of King Edward IV, immortalized as one of the two “Princes in the Tower” who mysteriously disappeared in 1483. Warbeck received support from some European royals and nobles including Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy, the paternal aunt of Edward and the real Richard, Duke of York, and James IV, King of Scots. In 1497, Perkin Warbeck was captured in England and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Edward became involved in a plot with Warbeck to escape from the Tower of London. On November 23, 1499, Perkin Warbeck was led from the Tower of London to Tyburn, London where he was hanged.
It is unsure whether Edward’s participation in the plot was willing or unwilling. However, this incident convinced King Henry VII that a radical solution to the threat Edward posed to Henry VII’s throne was necessary. On November 28, 1499, 24-year-old Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick, who had spent fourteen years imprisoned in the Tower of London, was beheaded on Tower Hill. King Henry VII allowed his remains to be taken to Bisham Priory in Berkshire, England for burial. Bisham Priory was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of King Henry VIII. It was thought another reason for Edward’s execution was the pressure from King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile to ensure there would be no potential heirs who could jeopardize the eventual accession to the throne of King Henry VII’s heir Arthur, Prince of Wales who was to marry Ferdinand and Isabella’s daughter Catherine of Aragon. Catherine was said to feel very guilty about Edward’s death and believed that her trials in later life were punishment for it.
Edward’s sister Margaret had a similar ending. King Henry VII arranged for Margaret to marry Sir Richard Pole. It is thought that this marriage was arranged because Sir Richard’s mother was a half-sister of the king’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, and this would make it more difficult to use her in a plot to overthrow the Tudors. After the accession of King Henry VIII in 1509, Margaret was initially in favor at court. She was created Countess of Salisbury in her own right in 1513 and was godmother and later governess of Mary Tudor (later Queen Mary I), daughter of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Some of the lands that the family lost when George, Duke of Clarence was attainted were restored and Margaret became the fifth richest English peer.
Margaret, whose family remained Roman Catholic, had a strong and independent personality and eventually, she angered King Henry VIII. In 1539, Margaret was accused of conducting treasonable correspondence with her son Cardinal Reginald Pole and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. An Act of Attainder was passed by Parliament and Margaret lost all her land and her title. It is suspected that the charges and the evidence were fabricated by Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII’s chief minister, who himself fell out of favor and was executed in 1540.
On May 27, 1541, Margaret was told that she would be executed that day. She argued that there was no proof that she had committed a crime. The 67-year-old Margaret was dragged to the block on Tower Green where she refused to place her head saying, “So should traitors do, and I am none.” The inexperienced executioner proceeded to “hack her head and shoulders to pieces” with ten blows of the ax. Margaret was buried in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London. Pope Leo XIII beatified her as a martyr of the Roman Catholic Church on December 29, 1886, and she is known as Blessed Margaret Pole.
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