Saints and sinners in Tudors to Windsors

Saints and sinners in Tudors to Windsors
By Jordan Grantham

King Henry VIII is notorious for his shocking divisS&S 1 350pxion of Christianity and cruel treatment of his six wives. The consequences of his actions reverberate across the world and the centuries.

A brave few resisted him, at great personal cost, including the direct ancestor of local Victorian man, Simon Abney-Hastings, hereditary Earl of Loudoun.

Simon’s ancestor, Margaret Pole, was killed for her fidelity to the Catholic faith, after serving as Catherine of Aragon’s Lady-in-Waiting and tutor to the young Princess and future Queen, Mary Tudor.

The family has many personal connections to figures in the National Portrait Gallery, London’s exhibition Tudors to Windsors, currently on tour at Bendigo Art Gallery.

Blessed Margaret and Simon belong to the House of Plantagenet, the dynasty that preceded the Tudors and defined England more than any other dynasty, capturing the romantic medieval imagination with the legends of Richard the Lionheart, King Edward Longshanks, the War of the Roses and the building of soaring Gothic cathedrals.


When Henry appointed Margaret as Mary’s godmother and Countess of Salisbury, he described her as the “holiest woman in England” but, after Pope Clement VII found Henry’s soured marriage to Queen Catherine was valid and no annulment possible, holiness and Catholic fidelity became liabilities.

Blessed Margaret was placed under arrest for close to a year on the pretence of treasonous activity. Even more dangerously, her cleric son Reginald Pole was appointmented to high office by Pope Paul III, making him a Cardinal and the Papal representative to England.

“The treatment of Blessed Margaret was very unjust, even by the standards of the time. It was absolutely rushed through,” Simon said.S&S 4 350px

Her execution on 27 May 1541 fell on the vigil of the feast of St Augustine of Canterbury, who was the first Papal representative to the British Isles. Blessed Margaret’s son Cardinal Pole had since become Pope Paul III’s representative to England.

“This could well have been a point made by Henry, formalising the execution around that date,” Simon pointed out, “Cardinal Pole wasn’t within the grasp of Henry VIII so with regards to cruelty, he went to whoever was closest to Cardinal Pole.”

“Her grief-stricken son recognised the real motive for his mother’s sudden execution,” Bishop Peter Elliott, retired Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne, homilised at a Mass in honour of Blessed Margaret Pole at St Mary Star of the Sea, West Melbourne. “She suffered the penalty because of her open fidelity to the Catholic faith and her loyalty to the Pope. Her death was also a calculated act of cruelty against the Cardinal,” Bishop Elliott said.

Henry VIII also killed Blessed Margaret’s other children, hurting the whole Plantagenet side of the family through his machinations. Pope Leo XIII recognised Margaret’s extraordinary sanctity in 1886 when he beatified her, granting the title ‘Blessed’. Generations later, Simon is reviving Blessed Margaret’s cause for canonisation, to be recognised as a saint.

A Mass for the intention of the canonisation of Blessed Margaret will be held in the Sacred Heart Chapel of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne on May 28 at 6.30 pm.

Blessed Margaret was “steadfast and courageous, facing many oppositions as a woman during her time, especially a titled woman in her own right, a consuming responsibility,” Simon said.

“Her strength of character during turbulent times, dynastic struggles and opposing leaderships only gives credence to Margaret’s distinction,” he said.

“Margaret Pole had an unwavering devotion to her Catholic faith despite the Reformation and the very real risk of treason, Margaret was committed to living by the word of God.

“In times of trouble and times of uncertainty, people turn to their faith for support. Her family had gone through a great deal of tribulation.”

This included the terrible War of the Roses, in which King Richard III, her uncle and the last Plantagenet King, was defeated in the Battle of Bosworth Field.

“Her Catholic faith also provided a moral responsibility towards those around her.”

This included her highly influential son, Cardinal Reginald Pole and goddaughter, Queen Mary Tudor.

“Although in its infancy, the cause for Blessed Margaret Pole’s canonisation has gained valuable and much appreciated support from the wider community.”

Blessed Margaret is a potential patron for victims of religious persecution, torture, the death penalty and female civic leaders.

Tudors to Windsors depicts many of Henry VIII’s victims, including his six wives, two of whom he had executed.

St Thomas More, Henry’s Lord High Chancellor, was executed several years before Blessed Margaret for opposing Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and schism from the Catholic Church.

A 17th century oil painting of St Thomas More hangs in the Tudors to Windsors exhibition in Bendigo.
“I imagine their combined strength of character and uncompromising Catholic faith would have held each other in good esteem.”

Today they are buried close together in the crypt of St Peter in Chains Chapel in the Tower of London.

S&S 3 350pxTudors to Windsors also contains portraits of several Catholic queen consorts, such as Mary of Modena and Catherine of Braganza (left).
Simon and the Plantagenets are close to the House of Braganza, the former royal family of Portugal. “The Plantagenets married into the Braganza family and vice versa.” Dom Duarte Pio, the current Duke of Braganza, had an illustrious ancestor who was canonised in 2009 after centuries as a Blessed, St Nuno of Portugal. Simon is a Knight in several Braganza orders of chivalry and hopes that Blessed Margaret’s cause follows a similar path to St Nuno.

King Charles I, Catherine of Braganza’s father-in-law, created the Earldom that Simon has inherited, originally awarded “for commitment and services given to Scotland for the Crown,” he said.

 Simon is an affable figure but bears the weight of responsibility for upholding centuries of tradition, culture and faith. He is heavily involved in engagements supporting the community organisations of which he is patron, including the Australia Day Council, the Loudoun Branch of Clan Campbell, Ringwood Highland Games, St Andrew’s First Aid Australia and hereditary patronages in the United Kingdom.

Simon’s father, Michael emigrated to the Riverina after a typical childhood among the British elite, boarding at Ampleforth College while Michael’s mother, Barbara Abney-Hastings, was working as a member of the House of Lords.

“He came out to Australia for twelve months. He met my mother and decided to remain in Australia. I also think the Australian lifestyle suited him with his personality and his experience of the way he was brought up,” Simon said.

Australia’s more relaxed way of life deeply agreed with Michael Abney-Hastings, who was accepted by locals, serving as a local councillor and working as an agricultural researcher. Today Plantagenet descendants and relatives can be found throughout rural Victoria and NSW.

Duty calls Simon back to the United Kingdom regularly and may even require him for the future coronation of Charles, Prince of Wales. Simon’s predecessors as Earl of Loudoun have traditionally been bearers of the Golden Spurs during the coronation ceremony, such as at King George V’s coronation in 1911.

“There is a long history of commitment and service given from the Earldom by each generation during their tenure,” Simon said. “I feel a profound sense of duty and responsibility and the opportunity to make a difference, guided by faith.”

Enquiries regarding Blessed Margaret and Simon Abney-Hastings should be addressed to Private Secretariat, Earl of Loudoun, PO Box 2118, Camberwell West 3124, Victoria.

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