Wednesday, 10 January 2018

FAITHFUL TRAITOR: The Story of Margaret Pole by Samantha Wilcoxson~ a review by Linda Fetterly Root

Today Linda Root reviews FaithfulTraitor, the fabulous novel by Samantha Wilcoxson. The author has kindly offered an ebook as a giveaway. To be in with a chance of winning this fabulous story, simply leave a comment below of on our Facebook Page.
The winner will be drawn on 17th January 2018.
Good luck!

Margaret Pole's Coat-of-Arms
Writing a historical biographical novel is a challenge well met by American novelist Samantha Wilcoxson as she presents the intriguing life story of Margaret Pole, sometimes known as The Last Plantagenet.  Lady Pole, Countess of Salisbury, is familiar to most casual readers as the old woman who had run afoul of Henry VIII, ultimately to be chased around the scaffold by an incompetent headsman who took nine strokes to separate her head from her body.

Several well researched historical accounts of Countess Margaret’s life appear both in traditional histories and in historical fiction. Many of them  dwell upon the reported versions of her bizarre death. However, the glory of Ms. Wilcoxson's novel is its celebration of her life as a loving and cherished wife, a devoted mother, as well as a devout Catholic and reluctant courtier.  Her death, however it occurred, is but a footnote.  Another compelling feature of  Faithful Traitor is the  intriguing picture it presents of the countess's Cousin Henry VIII and other principals in the drama of his reign. One of my favorites is the appearance of Henry's young fifth wife Catherine Howard, who brings the imprisoned elderly countess warm clothes. 

The early pages set the stage upon which Margaret Pole’s life played out. The reader quickly discovers the protagonist is very much a Plantagenet princess, whose acceptance of the Tudors is an appeasement to the inevitable.  She is  keenly cognizant of the threat posed by any surviving Plantagenets to the nascent and fragile Tudor Dynasty. Good men had died for no more reason than their pedigree, her beloved brother Edward among them.  But the woman to whom we are introduced is a pragmatist.  She has children to raise.  Their futures depend upon her survival. From the beginning, the author lets us know that survival is the novel's theme.

Kinship:  Appreciation of her bloodline is a principal element in the novel.

Funeral effigy of Elizabeth of York
Wikimedia, via Creative Commons
  • Margaret Pole's story begins with the death of Queen Elizabeth of York, King Henry VII's consort, daughter of Edward IV and niece of Richard III, the king who lost his crown and his life to Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.  Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, took the throne as Henry VII, asserting himself as the Lancastrian claimant.  But it was his victory and not his heritage that placed Richard’s crown on Henry Tudor’s head. Many English considered him a usurper.  In a move that proved ingenious, the new king brought the patina of legitimacy to his reign by quickly marrying Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth of York, a hugely popular maneuver  in a nation fatigued of internecine warfare.  To the surprise of many, the politically astute marriage became an ideal match. Austere and frugal and not especially personable, Henry listened to his consort's advice and respected her opinions.  Among other admirable characteristics, Queen Elizabeth  sought amnesty for the surviving members of her family, of which their were precious few. Among those who survived the War of the Roses, Elizabeth's cousin Margaret Pole and her siblings, offspring of the queen's uncle George, Duke of Clarence, received the benefit of Elizabeth's protection, and hence, the king's good will. However, upon Elizabeth of York's death during a difficult childbirth which also claimed the life of the child, the surviving Plantagenets had need of caution. Thus,  with her cousin's Elizabeth's death in 1503, Margaret Pole begins to display the sound instinct and cunning which become her hallmark.  One joy of the novel is the clarity with which the author lets us see how fragile the balance between survival and death, and how well Margaret performs her balancing act.  Even when her fortunes seem the brightest, she is aware she is the last Plantagenet princess living in Tudor England, a dangerous place to be.  

Love and Friendship:  

Even Henry VII's friendly act in approving her marriage to Sir Richard Pole when a more politically beneficial union might have enriched the crown was no guarantee the king's good will would survive his consort's death. But Sir Richard was the king's friend, and the marriage was a happy one. It also neutralized the threat presented by the lady's bloodline. However,  Richard Pole was a soldier in the service of the king.  And while their marriage was a love match, it was one fraught with absences while Sir Richard marched to war. The marching season after the Queen's death brought a the lovers to a farewell which was permanent.  Thus, widowed the year after Elizabeth's death, and within days of her own delivery of a healthy son, Margaret found herself without her best friend and lover, her beloved Sir Richard Pole.  

With a daughter and four surviving sons in her care, and no money to ease the burden, Lady Margaret Pole had little time to grieve.  She borrowed money for her husband’s funeral from his friend the Duke of Somerset. Still in mourning, she left the solitude of her country home  behind and moved to Sion Abbey on the banks of the Thames for a period of recovery. As was appropriate in 16th Century England,  she sought placement of her older sons in the homes of noble families able to undertake the ward ship of the offspring of a princess. 

Catherine (Catalina) of Aragon,

During her early widowhood, Margaret made an important friend in Princess Catalina of Aragon, the adolescent Spanish wife of Arthur, Prince of Wales. Margaret encouraged Catalina to use her influence to free the husband of a friend and many other young nobles who had fought with the Plantagenets. However,  she concentrated her own efforts on the advancement of her children. As for her personal future, she was content to bide her time and  keep her head low.  It was not a long wait until circumstances changed..

Henry VIII ~  Margaret's Royal Cousin.

When Henry VII died, he was succeeded by his second- born son, Margaret‘s cousin Henry.  Princess Catalina's young husband Arthur had died.  The excitement pervading the kingdom upon the ascension of the beautiful youth who was in physical appearance the spitting image of his Plantagenet grandfather, Edward IV, still left Margaret ill at ease on her visit to the court.  When the man she regarded as ‘tall, handsome and charismatic’ approached her, she reminded herself that he was not a true Plantagenet, but a frightful Tudor.  When she fell to the floor in the deepest bow, she was as much in fear as she was in awe, until the golden man who towered over her spoke to her in a sonorous voice :

Rise, dear Margaret and give me a kiss.’[1]  

Henry VIII early in his reign.  ((PD-Art))

As the author takes us through the early days of Henry VIII’s reign, a period when Margaret Pole enjoyed her position in the household of Henry’s consort Catherine of Aragon, we glimpse signs of storm clouds gathering.  It is a well-worked and familiar story in which Margaret Pole finds herself aligned with the losing faction.  As the king tired of his wife and despaired of his lack of a male heir, Margaret Pole found her affiliation with Queen Catherine and their devout Catholicism more of a danger that her bloodline. Yet, until the king broke with the Roman Church, he held Margaret in high esteem, and appointed her to serve as his daughter Princess Mary's governess.  During this phase of the novel, we glimpse a Margaret who is not the least naive nor is she nonpartisan.  There is a movement afoot to marry the king's daughter Mary Tudor to Margaret's son Reginald Pole, who serves the Roman Church.

The author adds the intrigues of the Reformation at precisely the correct point to hold the reader's interest, introducing us to a whole new cast of characters. There is danger lurking in the shadows, in this case,  personified by the King's henchman Thomas Cromwell. When  Cromwell cannot dispose of the very Catholic Princess Mary,  he focuses on the Poles. I applaud  the author's decision to avoid rehashing the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn, thus keeping this very much the Countess of Salisbury's story.  By the time of Anne's fall and Jane Seymour's rise, Lady Margaret Pole is ousted from Princess Mary's household and isolated from the Tudor Court. Use of the novel form permits the telling of the last chapters of Margaret Pole's story with the pathos of a women whose sees her world crumbling around her.  Albeit, this remains Margaret's story, and the political intrigue is reported from a pro-Catholic point of view, but it is presented fairly. While Ms. Wilcoxson takes license  with the ending of Margaret's saga by axing the traditional version of  her gory execution, she does so honestly.  In my view,  what sets this account above other literary works in which the Countess of Salisbury appears is her poignant portrayal as an ambitious parent, loving wife and  doting grandmother.  Arranging suitable marriages for her children were a priority in her life.  The aspirations of the Poles and other Catholics may have looked too high in plotting a marriage between the  Mary Tudor and  Reginald Pole, therefore bringing Margaret Pole to the final chapters of her stunning life.

Mary I, PD Art
Cardinal Pole, PD Art
When her youngest son is taken to the Tower and the family is linked to a plot to marry Henry Tudor’s Catholic daughter Mary to Margaret son Reginald Pole, who is in the Vatican in the service of the Church, Margaret begins to see the walls closing in upon her. Soon she is under house arrest and suffering from depression.  Perhaps her lowest moment in learning one of her sons has betrayed his brother and cousins to spare his own life. She had always coddled her youngest, Geoffrey.

The Countess's execution came with little preamble, with only an hour's notice given Lady Margaret to give her time to pray. It was carried out privately within the compound  on a scaffold erected  on Tower Green near the church of Saint Peter Advincula, where others headless nobles charged with treason had been buried.  Later, when a servant was sent to clear her room, the following words were discovered etched on a wall, and to me suggest she perhaps did attempt to outrun the headsman:

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![2]
The Execution of Margaret Pole,  courtesy of  Creative Commons 

Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole is not a book for everyone.  Readers who do not like their historical novels cluttered with too much history may not like it.  In my view, it  is more of the ilk of Alison Weir’s book about Lady Jane Grey, Innocent Traitor. I classify both works in a sub-genre known as fictionalized biography. Both books are written by  authors who know their topic well, and present them with clarity and charm.

 I cannot quarrel with the author’s decision to disclaim the scene in which Henry Tudor’s headsman chases the old lady around the scaffold as she seeks to escape the ax.  It was a private execution, and only two eyewitness accounts of the Countess’s beheading survive.  Those present at the execution would have been fully vetted, and their objectivity is suspect. Neither of them are sympathetic to the unrepentant lady and neither version is consistent with the Margaret Pole who graces the pages of Samantha Wilcoxson’s novel.  I invite those of you who read the book  to judge for yourselves. Should you conclude that the traditional version is Margaret Pole's execution is true, then also consider, if you will,  whether the last Plantagenet princess might have staged-managed her bizarre ending to garner sympathy for her cause?  While her name may not be as well known as Queen Anne Boleyn's, nor is it forgotten.

Scaffold site on Tower Green outside the Church of Saint Peter Advincula,
Wikimedia and Creative Commons

Reviewer's Note:

Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole, has been highly acclaimed since its publication in June, 2016. It has been a Historical Novel Society Editor’s choice and highly praised by the notable Helen Hollick at her Discovered Diamonds review site. The author has graciously offered an e-book to the winner of a drawing chosen from those who comment on this review.  

[1] [1](Wilcoxson, Samantha. Faithful Traitor {Kindle Location 423}.).  [2] (Wilcoxson, Samantha. Faithful Traitor (Kindle Locations 4812-4813). UNKNOWN, but believed by many to have been the words of Margaret Pole.

About the author:
Samantha Wilcoxson is an American writer and history enthusiast. Her novel, 'Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen', looks at the transition from the Plantagenet dynasty into the Tudor era through the eyes of Elizabeth of York. This book has been named an Editors' Choice by the Historical Novel Society. Samantha's next novel, 'Faithful Traitor', will continue to look at the Plantagenet remnant by featuring Margaret Pole.
During rare moments when Samantha is not reading or writing, she enjoys traveling and enjoying time at the lake with her husband and three children.

About the reviewer: Linda Root is the author of The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, and four books in The Legacy of the Queen of Scots series. The fifth, Deliverance of the Lamb, is coming in early 2016. She lives in the Southern California high desert community of Yucca Valley with her husband Chris and two giant woolly Alaskan Malamutes, Maxx and Maya. She is a retired major crimes prosecutor, a member of the Marie Stuart Society, and of the California State Bar and the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.  
Linda Root's books can be found on Amazon.


  1. What a story! I remember as a child learning about this lady, though unfortunately what stuck most was her ending. This book seems to provide a great opportunity to learn more about her life and not just her death. Well done, to author and reviewer both!

  2. Fabulous and comprehensive review Linda - thank you. This is definitely on my tbr list.

  3. I am just thrilled to read this review! It is wonderful to see a reader connect so well with 'my Margaret.' Thank you so much!

  4. Book sounds great! Very interesting lady!

  5. Really good review of an amazing sounding book. Please include me in the draw. Diana

  6. Fabulous review. Loved Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen - looking forward to reading this one.

  7. Wonderful review. Having enjoyed Samantha's novel about Elizabeth of York I'm certain this won't disappoint either.

  8. Great review! I've had this one on my wishlist for a while! I've always wanted to know more about Margaret! Thanks for the post and the chance to win a copy!

    Melissa AT

  9. i think i need to read this too. So many books, so little time.Reading WHEEl OF FORTUNE AGAIN, It's time. Caught up in Paul Johson's Ethe first. Margaret Pole is such an important lady, so close to The Lady Mary Tudor and her painful childhood.

  10. This post is absolutely brilliant! Thank you so much for sharing!

  11. I m so glad to visit this blog.This blog is really so amazing