Angelic Cardinal Reginald Pole - C. M. Antony




Birth, Education, and Early Life
1500-1526

Reginald Pole, the fourth and youngest son of Sir Richard Pole and his wife Margaret Countess of Salisbury, was born on March 3, 1500, at Stourton Castle, Staffordshire.

His father, the representative of an ancient and honorable Welsh family, was in high favor at the Court of Henry VII., under whom he had served in Scotland; and the king had appointed him, on account of his valor and accomplishments, to be chief gentleman-of-the-bedchamber to his elder son, Arthur, Prince of Wales. He died a few years after Reginald's birth.

Through his mother, Blessed Margaret Pole, daughter of George Duke of Clarence, niece of Edward IV., and only sister and heiress of that unfortunate Earl of Warwick long in prison on a charge of pretended treason, and finally beheaded by Henry VII., Reginald was of purely royal descent. In his veins ran the blood of the ancient houses of England, Spain, France, and Castile; but an even greater distinction was to be his. He was destined to be the son of a martyr, "which," as he wrote in 1541, "is certainly grander than to be born of any royal house."

Of his three brothers, the eldest, Henry Lord Montague, was beheaded in 1539 on Tower Hill, nominally for high treason; in reality for sympathy with his exiled brother and for opposing Henry VIII.'s supremacy. The second, Geoffrey, seems to have been a rather restless person, much mixed up in political schemes. It was his evidence, extorted under fear of torture and death, which was instrumental in the condemnation of his mother and elder brother, and for which the grateful Henry granted him a free pardon. The third brother, Arthur, was sentenced to death under Elizabeth, but reprieved, on account of his relationship to the Queen. His only sister, Ursula, married Lord Stafford, son of the Duke of Buckingham.

Reginald Pole's mother, as we learn from their letters to each other, offered him unreservedly, at his birth, to God; and so perfect was her trust that she took no pains to provide for his education and future, willing that her son should owe even his temporal welfare directly to God, and not to her. Nor was she disappointed of her hope, for Henry VIII., Reginald's second cousin, before his succession in 1509, undertook the entire charge of the little boy's education, and when he was only seven, sent him to school as mediaeval custom was—to the Carthusians at Sheen, where he spent five happy years, and developed unusual intellectual gifts. His parents seem to have always intended him for the priesthood; and his character and peculiar gifts all tended to an ecclesiastical career.

When he was twelve he went to Oxford and entered at Magdalen, where he was called a "nobleman of the college," and had an apartment in the president's house. Hence forward we find such entries as these in the King's Book of Payments: "To Reginald Pole . . . for his exhibition at school this year, 12." This was on March 28, 1512, and on June 8 of the next year there is another: "For Reginald Pole, student in the University of Oxford, Pension which the . . . Prior of St. Frideswide is bound to give to a clerk of the King's nomination, until he be promoted to a competent benefice by the said Prior." At Oxford he made extraordinary progress. The great Renaissance movement, then spreading all over Europe, had reached the English universities. Students and scholars everywhere were learning to love learning for its own sake, and to read the wealth of classic literature in the languages in which it was written. England, however, was behind the Continent. Though Oxford could boast of Linacre and Latimer, men whose names were of European fame, the study of Greek in the universities was neglected, chiefly from a lack of capable teachers. Notwithstanding, Linacre, the King's physician, a sound scholar, and man of ready wit, may, with his friend Latimer, lay claim to have been the true restorer of learning in England, and to have laid the foundation of that reputation which Oxford now enjoys.

Under these masters Reginald Pole progressed as fast as even they could desire. He could "dispute for thirty days in logic and ethics," had a ripe knowledge of Latin, and a graceful knack of writing clever Latin verse. The thought of the priesthood seems to have been, for the present, put aside to allow more time for the fascinating study of "polite learning"—always a passion with Pole.

His friendship with Blessed Thomas More seems to have begun at Oxford, in connection with which a charming little story comes down to us. The future Lord Chancellor was ill, and sent to Oxford for medical advice. Pole happened to hear of this, and hastened to collect the very highest opinions upon More's case which the university could afford. Linacre, no doubt, was consulted; and the prescription thus obtained was sent home by Pole to his mother, the Countess of Salisbury, to be made up for the invalid. Long after this More speaks of the great pleasure caused him by Pole's commendation of a Latin letter written by his favorite daughter, Margaret. The friendship was life-long, though the friends saw but little of each other.

In 1515 Pole took his B.A. degree, for which we read that he petitioned to have "a gown and robes suitable;" and also for admission to the public library. As was customary with intending candidates for the priesthood, especially those of noble family, Pole was presented by Henry VIII. with the titles and revenues of several benefices, though he was not yet even in minor orders; but he was responsible for the maintenance of priests, at his own charges, to fulfill the duties which he was incapable of undertaking himself. In Pole's case this obligation was rigidly carried out. In 1517 he became Prebendary of Roscombe, "in the Cathedral Church of Salisbury," and of Yatminster, or Gatcombe Secunda, in the same diocese. On February 12, 1518, "Reginald Poole, clk," was presented to the "collegiate church of Wynbourne Mynstre, Salisbury diocese;" and about the same time he received the appointment of Dean of Exeter.

But he had no intention of settling down quietly to enjoy these preferments. For some years he had felt the need of a more perfect study of Greek. Much as he loved Oxford, much as he owed to it, it was only on the Continent that his desire could be fulfilled. His eyes turned, not to the brilliant university of Paris, but to Italy to the wonderful city in which at that time the greatest scholars in the world, with perhaps one exception, were gathered. His mother, who loved him intensely, understood his longing and gave her consent. His tutors at Oxford approved. The king promised him an allowance of 500 crowns yearly, beyond his ecclesiastical revenues of 1000 crowns; and in February 1521 we find the first entry of this in the King's Book of Payments: "to Mr. Pole, whom the King sends to Italy, finding for one year, 100." And so, at the close of 1520, Reginald Pole, crowned with university honors, left Oxford for Padua.

On April 1, 1521, King Henry sent a message to the Signory of Venice, recommending "a nephew" of his, "the Lord Reginald . . . who is going to study at Padua;" and on May 21 of the same year a patent was made out for "Sir Reginald Pole, a kinsman of the King of England, who is come to study at Padua," authorizing him to export plate, clothes, etc.

The ancient city of Padua, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was in truth the Athens of Europe. Annexed by Venice, after a long and checkered history, in the year 1406, the city of St. Antony had become the center to which all the greatest scholars, thinkers, and literati of the day were instinctively attracted. Its noble university was the pride of Italy and the world. The humanities, physics, logic, rhetoric, ethics, science, here found their most subtle exponents and professors. No branch of literature, ancient or modern, was neglected, but the study of Greek was considered of paramount importance, and took precedence of that of any other language. Pope Leo X., himself a brilliant man of letters, was a patron of the University of Padua, and in Pole's day to have studied there was the highest distinction obtainable by any scholar.

The city, with its picturesque, cobbled, arcaded streets, its many-arched bridges, and massive walls and towers, has probably changed but little since the days when the young English student, enthusiastic and sensitively receptive, rode with his well-appointed retinue through the fertile country of northern Italy, where Antony the Miracle Worker, dead for 300 years, lived as "the Saint," in the hearts of the people just as he lives, a vivid reality, to-day.

It must have been a journey quick with strange new impressions. After the gigantic barrier of snow-capped Alps behind them had faded into the clouds, and the beautiful mountain-country, richly wooded, or grey and barren, furrowed with the stony beds of rapid-rushing rivers had been left behind, the road ran for many miles across a richly cultivated plain which a few months later would be thick with leafy vineyards and miles of flower-meadows and corn-fields; and which even then in early spring must have been a fragrant sea of flowering orchards, rosy apple-blossom and snowy pear; and leagues of pale pink peach-bloom beyond the cold brown fields a—feast of color.

It was the country that he loved, and to which his thoughts, until his death, continually turned. Here and there would be a little brown red-roofed town, clustering round some ancient hoary castle, whose turrets were visible far across the plain; and everywhere, like the masts of distant ships rose the slender shafts of the village campanili.

And then at last the grey walls of the city, with its fortress-like Duomo, and two vast Basilicas; in whose picturesque streets and market-place gaily dressed peasants met and mingled with students and scholars from England and France, Germany and Spain, Greece and the Low Countries—men of all ranks and of almost every nation under heaven.

No wonder Pole, from the beginning, felt at home there. He carried introductions to the heads of the university, and his arrival seems to have created a certain sensation in Padua which was in nowise lessened during his six years residence there. He took a suitable house and, as was customary amongst wealthy students, especially those of noble blood, he set about forming a "household" of learned men, by whose conversation and companionship he could profit daily, and whose instruction would be most valuable in his studies. The chief of these was Longolius, a young and brilliant Fleming, one of the most gifted men in the university, a genius who made his mark on his age, though he died when only thirty-four, before the great work of his life was finished; his dying message, in a touching letter, being to Reginald Pole, to whom he left his library. He had undertaken to refute the heresy of the apostate Luther, but only one of the five great volumes of the treatise was completed before his early death. He had an absolute mastery of the Latin tongue, which even in the days when it was the common language of the learned, marked him out as the most brilliant orator and faultless writer of Latin prose and verse in the university. Under another great professor, Leonicus, Reginald Pole studied his beloved Greek; and a third member of the household was Thomas Lupset, the young secretary of the English Ambassador at Venice, with whom Pole formed a warm friendship. Here, too, were Thomas Starkey, who became a few years later so conspicuous a feature in Pole's life; John Bonamico; and a young Venetian noble, Count Bembo, perhaps Pole's greatest friend in Padua.

For his character and personality were unusually attractive; all Padua considered him as a member of the English royal family and was correspondingly proud of him. He was young, rich, gifted; possessed great charm of manner, and an eager and ingenuous enthusiasm which seems to have won all hearts. His great natural modesty, and a certain simplicity and directness, together with a gravity in some respects beyond his years balanced his more brilliant qualities and gave his judgment a weight which was respected not only in the university, but a few years later by Henry VIII. himself, on the question which was to convulse Christendom. With Aloysius Priuli, another representative of a noble Venetian house, Pole formed a friendship which lasted until his death; and for which Priuli gladly sacrificed his prospects and destined career, forsaking everything to become the companion and secretary of the man who was dearest to him on earth.

The famous Erasmus, the greatest scholar in Europe, was then at Padua, and was greatly attracted by the young Englishman. In his letters at this time there are several references to Pole, dwelling not only on his brilliant attainments, but his personal charm and character. He seems to have impressed everyone who knew him.

On March 26, 1523, we find an entry in the annals of the Council of Ten to enjoin their "Governors of Padua . . . to permit the Most Illustrious and Reverend Reginald Pole, British-born, a student in our University to carry weapons there . . . .he and four of his servants, for the security of his person . . . according to his request made through the English Ambassador." This ambassador was an old friend, Dr. Richard Pace, of whom we hear more two years later, when on February 6, 1525, en route for Venice he visited "the King's nephew" at Padua; and it was with him that Pole stayed when he visited Venice the following June. "It is Corpus Christi Day, and the Doge, clad in cloth of gold, with a crimson satin mantle and crimson ducal cap, came to Mass in St. Mark's Church, with the ambassadors from the Pope, England, Austria, Milan, Ferrara and Mantua. . . . Behind them, with the councilors, was the nephew of the King of England, who is studying at Padua, and who walked with . . . [the] Bishop of Paphos," A year later, in July 1526, after his visit to Rome, we find him at Venice again, on the occasion of the magnificent pageants organized at the publication of the Holy League. "The only personage in the [Doges] palace was the cousin of the King of England, by name Reginald Pole. He is studying at Padua, and came hither to the house of the English ambassador to see this pageant which was a very beautiful one." In September of the same year he was still at Padua, for: "the English ambassador has gone to Padua [from Venice] to visit the relation of the King who is studying there."

In 1524 Dr. Fox made him a Fellow of the new college of Corpus Christi at Oxford, of which he was the founder; and this distinction gave at least as much pleasure to his Italian friends as to Pole himself.

In 1525 he paid a short visit to Rome, setting out with a small retinue, and in tending to travel very quietly, as became a pilgrim to the Holy City. But to his surprise he found himself feted and honored wherever he went. When he arrived at Verona Monsignor Ghiberti, the bishop, a personal stranger to him, came out and welcomed him with great courtesy and affection, and Pole discovered that it was to this prelate that he owed the reception with which he had met at every halting place on his journey. He was deeply touched by Ghiberti's kindness, and the bishop became one of his closest friends; one indeed to whom he turned at all times for sympathy and encouragement.

His stay in Rome was short. After visiting the Holy Places he returned to Padua by way of Verona without being presented at the Papal Court, probably for political reasons. At the close of 1526 he returned, by the king's wish, to England; and at his command, to Court.

His public career was now to begin. Henceforth Reginald Pole was to help to make English history.