POLE, Geoffrey (1501/5-58), of Lordington, Suss.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. 1501/5, 4th s. of Sir Richard Pole (d. 20 Dec. 1505) of Ellesborough, Bucks. by Margaret (Countess of Salisbury 1513), da. of George, Duke of Clarence. m. by 1528, Constance, da. and coh. of Sir Edmund Pakenham of Lordington, 5s. 5da. Kntd. aft. 3 Nov. 1529.1

Offices Held

J.p. Hants, Suss. 1531-8; commr. sewers, Suss. 1534, 1538; jt. keeper, Slindon park, Suss. in 1553.2


The favour of Henry VIII made the first half of his reign an Indian summer for the Pole family. Geoffrey Pole’s mother, widowed in 1505, was restored to her father’s earldom of Salisbury and granted large estates in Essex, Hampshire, Wiltshire and the west; soon afterwards her eldest son Henry was created Lord Montagu, and in 1527 the second, Reginald, who had been educated at the King’s expense, returned after five years’ study abroad to be made dean of Exeter. Sir Richard Pole had been gentleman of the bedchamber to Prince Arthur, and hence the christian name of another of his sons, who died not long after marrying Jane Lewknor. He also bequeathed to Margaret Pole his association with Catherine of Aragon; this developed into the lifelong friendship between the two which, cemented by the countess’s appointment as governess to Princess Mary, helped to shape the Poles’ disastrous attitude towards the divorce and the breach with Rome.3

Geoffrey Pole lived at Lordington, in the west Sussex parish of Racton, where his father was once mistakenly thought to have held the manor: this was in fact inherited from Sir Edmund Pakenham in 1528, together with a moiety of the manor of Gatcombe in the Isle of Wight. Geoffrey Pole is mentioned only once in his father-in-law’s will, in the bequest to his wife of the £10 already paid to him ‘for his interest that I had by him in the farm of Gatcombe’. Pakenham seems to have thought more highly of his other son-in-law Edmund Marvyn, the future judge, who received a number of personal gifts and was made an overseer of the will. Perhaps Pole was already showing signs of extravagance: in May 1530 he wrote to Master Frynd, a schoolmaster at Chichester, begging the loan of £6 until Michaelmas, and a few years later, when the family lay under the King’s suspicion, Lord Montagu was persuaded to pay off Pole’s heavy debts by the fear that he might otherwise flee and so precipitate disaster.4

Pole was at odds with some of his neighbours. In a suit before the court of requests he was accused of conspiring with his mother-in-law and Edmund Marvyn to draw the income of lands at Bosham from which they had forcibly expelled the occupier on Christmas eve 1529. Shortly afterwards he was himself the plaintiff in a series of actions in the Star Chamber over trespasses on his lands at Lordington and the destruction of hedges. The defendants were all humble men, but in one of the cases Pole claimed that he and his wife had recently begun to enclose part of a wood until on the night of 1 May 1531 their hedge was pulled down by some 60 armed men at the command of the 11th Earl of Arundel. Later there was a contest with the Fitzalans over the keepership of Slindon park, for in 1536 Pole took possession of it and Cromwell had to order the 9th Lord de la Warr to enforce the King’s decision in favour of Arundel’s heir, Lord Mautravers.5

At Wilton, Pole was clearly nominated to the Parliament of 1529 by his mother, who had held the borough since 1513, and whose connexion with the threatened Queen seems to have been no obstacle to such patronage. As for Pole himself, it is possible that he sought a place in the Commons less on political or social grounds than as a protection against creditors. He certainly behaved circumspectly enough to be given a knighthood in the course of the first session, and for a time he appears to have acquiesced in the march of events: thus his name is not to be found on the list of Members drawn up by Cromwell in 1533 and thought to be of those opposed to the bill in restraint of appeals. By contrast, on 20 Apr. 1533 he wrote to Cromwell thanking him for past favours and trusting in his goodness. When Anne Boleyn was crowned on 1 June 1533 he was among those who served at her coronation banquet, and in 1534 he was paid £40 by a servant of Cromwell.6

Pole was none the less being drawn into the ranks of the opposition. In January 1532 his brother Reginald, who had declined the see of York and refused to countenance the divorce, was allowed to leave England, and in the following autumn, when the King went to Calais to seek the approval by Francis I of his proposed marriage, Lord Montagu secretly took his younger brother with him: Pole, in disguise, gathered intelligence sufficient to send Montagu to Queen Catherine with an assurance that Francis would never recognise Anne Boleyn. In the next year, when the Countess of Salisbury was dismissed for refusing to surrender Mary’s jewels, the new Queen’s coronation did not prevent Montagu, Pole and others from dining with the princess at Otford five days later. George Croft, the chancellor of Chichester who was to be tried with him in 1538, testified that when Pole returned to Sussex from sessions of Parliament he often voiced dislike of its proceedings, notably of the rejection of papal supremacy.7

Early in November 1534 Chapuys informed Charles V that Pole and many others never tired of urging him to tell the Emperor how easily England might be conquered; he added that Pole had warned his brother Reginald not to come home and had made the countess write to the same effect. In March 1535 Chapuys advised Pole, for the sake of his relatives, not to flee to Spain, and on the eve of Queen Anne’s arrest the ambassador learned from Pole at dinner that the King had been inquiring about the validity of his marriage to her. Although Pole’s association with Chapuys must have betrayed his discontent, nothing so damning as incitement to invasion was to be cited at his trial. The fall of Anne must have gratified the family: the countess reappeared at court and Pole himself may have been re-elected to the Parliament which completed the Queen’s destruction.8

It was the raising of his brother to the cardinalate which preluded Pole’s and his family’s downfall. He was the first to lapse into disfavour, perhaps because of his debts. On 1 Feb. 1537 he was warned that John Gostwick, treasurer of the first fruits and tenths, ‘looks for you for the King’s money’, and when Prince Edward was christened in the following October the King refused to receive him at court. In a letter to Chancellor Audley, written from Lordington probably on 5 Apr. 1538, he voiced his distress at the humiliating prospect of visiting London on legal business after Cromwell and others had warned him not to wait upon the King: he may have spared himself, for a week later he joined his fellow justices in examining suspected thieves at Chichester. As late as 9 July he was reappointed to commissions of the peace but at the end of August he was arrested in Sussex and lodged in the Tower: according to Chapuys, he was suspected of having corresponded privately with the cardinal.9

Pole remained in prison for nearly two months, while Cromwell was hearing an improbable story that the cardinal had secretly visited England to confer with his relatives. On 26 Oct. 1538 the first of seven interrogations was conducted by Sir William Fitzwilliam I, Earl of Southampton. Although Southampton was less concerned with Pole’s views than with those of greater figures, two days later John Hussee reported to his master Viscount Lisle that Pole had hurt himself badly in an attempt at suicide, and it was perhaps soon after this, when he was rumoured to be in a frenzy, that Lord Montagu countered his wife’s fears with the reply that it did not matter what a madman said. His kinsmen had indeed but little confidence in him: the cardinal had urged him not to meddle and in the summer of 1538 Montagu had sent to his house to destroy incriminating letters. The government had shrewdly picked on the weakest of its suspects: Pole revealed enough for Montagu and the Marquess of Exeter to be arrested and for a string of confessions to be wrung from their friends and servants.10

By 12 Nov. Pole’s own interrogations were over and his mother’s about to begin. Having thrown himself on the King’s mercy, he was tried at Westminster on 4 Dec. with Sir Edward Neville, a mariner named Hugh Holland, and two priests, John Collins and George Croft. He was accused of having praised the cardinal to Montagu in 1536, of treasonably corresponding with the exile through the seaman Holland, and of declaring that he would make only a formal appearance in arms against the northern rebels. Clearly he would have fled abroad if Holland had agreed to take him, although he denied any intention of joining his brother. The messages he had sent to Reginald included a warning against the King’s plans for assassination and the bleak prediction: ‘The world in England waxeth all crooked, God’s law is turned upsodown, abbeys and churches overthrown ... and I think they will cast down parish churches and all at the last’. All the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death. The sting of Pole’s confession had lain in the rash statements he attributed to Montagu and Exeter, condemned on the two previous days, and propagandists made play of Montagu’s conviction out of the mouth of his brother. Exeter, Montagu and Neville were beheaded on 9 Jan. 1539, when Chapuys wrote that their accuser had tried to suffocate himself and might escape with life imprisonment: he had in fact been pardoned a week earlier and by April he seems to have been back in Sussex, where his name was included on a muster certificate.11

The rest of Pole’s life was a melancholy epilogue. In June 1539 he wrote to Cromwell from Lordington to seek help for a lawsuit brought by his wife, who for a time had been kept with him in the Tower, and in December the minister sent him £20. In the following May he was used to convey a royal command to the local justices of peace but he was clearly still in a wretched state. Early in September Southampton wrote from Cowdray that Pole had assaulted John Gunter, once a fellow magistrate, for having disclosed private conversations to his inquisitors: considering ‘the ill and frantic furious nature of the unhappy man’, the earl feared that to arrest him might cause a dangerous relapse, while ‘no man of wit will become his surety’. The Privy Council replied by insisting that the culprit should be publicly committed, and he was pardoned, although banished from court, only at his wife’s intercession. In April 1541, a month before his mother’s execution, he was found to have incited his chaplain to make a malicious accusation against the parson of Racton, but on this occasion no action seems to have been taken. In May 1543 the King granted to Pole and his wife the manor of Grandisons in Kent, with the profit from Michaelmas 1537; although it had belonged to the countess, the new owners alienated it a year later to (Sir) Thomas Moyle. As a final favour, in December 1545 Pole secured a licence to export 1,000 dickers of leather.12

In 1548, having quitclaimed Lordington to Edmund Ford and his wife, Pole fled from England. After the cardinal had taken him to receive absolution from the pope, he led a restless existence in France, the Netherlands and Germany. By the summer of 1550, as he told Sir John Mason at Poissy, he longed to return, and in the following May he sought—in vain—an interview at Malines with Nicholas Wotton, the English ambassador to the Emperor. His wife shared a great-grandfather with John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, whose ascendancy may have encouraged Pole. In December 1552 he wrote to the Privy Council from Liége, thanking Northumberland and others for their kindness to his dependants, and enclosing a letter to his wife whom he pined to see after four years; he rejoiced that his son Arthur was out of prison and in the service of ‘his grace’. His plea was unavailing, for he and his brother were among those specifically excluded from the general pardon granted in the Parliament of March 1553 (7 Edw. VI, c.14).13

It was Mary’s accession which allowed Pole to return. He was made joint keeper of Slindon park and granted an annuity of £50 for life, but the past was not forgotten. Exeter’s son Edward Courtenay, freed from the Tower and restored to his father’s earldom of Devon, swore to kill Pole in revenge for the slaughter of his kin. The affair took on political importance, for in September 1553 the imperial ambassadors reported that Pole was being specially guarded and in October the Emperor himself referred to the feud in warning the pope that the time was not yet ripe for Cardinal Pole to go home. After this last flicker of notoriety Pole disappears, probably to spend his last years in rural seclusion. He died shortly before his brother in November 1558 and was buried in the church of Stoughton near Chichester, where his widow also asked to be laid in her will of 12 years later.14

Pole’s royal blood and religious dissidence continued to haunt his children. Two of his sons, Arthur and Edmund, embarked on a futile conspiracy in 1562 and disappeared as prisoners in the Tower, and the second son Thomas inherited Lordington only to die without issue, the manor passing to another brother Geoffrey, a recusant who alienated it before his death in exile.15

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: T. F.T. Baker


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from father’s death and elder brother Reginald’s birth. CIPM Hen. VII, iii. 876; PCC 36 Porch; Vis. Suss. (Harl. Soc. liii), 89; DNB.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, v, vii, xiii; E371/300/49; Stowe 571, f. 55.
  • 3. CP, ix. 96n.
  • 4. Suss. Arch. Colls. xxi. 75-76; VCH Suss. iv. 116; VCH Hants, v. 247; PCC 36 Porch; LP Hen. VIII, iv, xiii.
  • 5. Req.2/2/182; Suss. Rec. Soc. xvi. 48-50; St.Ch.2/19/306, 315, 334, 337, 20/176, 285, 25/260; LP Hen. VIII, xi.
  • 6. VCH Wilts. vi. 28; LP Hen. VIII, vi.
  • 7. LP Hen. VIII, vi, xiii.
  • 8. CSP Span. 1534-5, pp. 325, 471; 1536-8, p. 107.
  • 9. LP Hen. VIII, xii, xiii.
  • 10. Ibid. xiii.
  • 11. Ibid. xi, xiii, xiv; Hall, Chron. 827.
  • 12. LP Hen. VIII, xiv-xvi, xviii-xx.
  • 13. Suss. Feet of Fines (Suss. Rec. Soc. xix), 281; CSP For. 1547-53, pp. 52, 106, 108; VCH Hants, v. 247; HMC Hatfield, i. 104-5.
  • 14. CPR, 1554-5, p. 351; Stowe 571, f. 55; Lansd. 156 (28), ff. 95-99; CSP Span. 1553, pp. 241-2, 274, 287; PCC 28 Lyon.
  • 15. DNB (Pole, Arthur); Suss. Arch. Colls. xxi. 74; Suss. Feet of Fines, 281; H. Foley, Jesuit Recs. iii. 791-2.