Imagine … At dawn a grey-haired old lady is awoken. They tell her she is to be put to death in an hour, condemned without trial. She is led to a secret place of execution, where she must die by the axe. Her neck is placed on the block, but she resists and the first stroke falls on her shoulder. She flees. The axeman pursues her, catches her, and delivers eleven bloody strokes to her neck and shoulders. In manus tuas …
The old lady was Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury and last of the Plantagenets. She was put to death about the 28th of May 1541.
Portrait of woman c.1535 – formerly believed to be Margaret Pole
The countess was a significant figure in the hellish game of succession to the English throne, and this grisly event has received much comment over the centuries.
But what is the source?
We know of two accounts by foreign ambassadors to the court of King Henry VIII.
The first is by Eustace Chapuys, ambassador of the Holy Roman Emperor in the period 1529-45. It is taken from his letter to the Queen of Hungary, written in French and dated 18 June 1541 – Calendar of State Papers Spain, vol.6 part 1 no.166 (pp.329-334): Continue reading