1902 Encyclopedia > Reginald Pole (Cardinal Pole)

Reginald Pole
(also known as: Cardinal Pole)
English Cardinal in the Catholic Church during Counter Reformation
(1500-58)




REGINALD POLE (1500-1558), generally known as Cardinal Pole, was born at Stourton Castle, Staffordshire, March 3, 1500. He was the son of Sir Richard Pole and Margaret, countess of Sal-isburv. Designed from early youth for the church, he was educated in the Carthusian monastery at Sheen, and at Magdalen College, Oxford. He was admitted to deacon's orders at the age of sixteen, and at once received high preferment, holding, among other benefices, the deanery of Exeter. He continued his studies at the university of Padua, where he made acquaintance with Erasmus and other prominent men, and, after a visit to Rome in 1525, returned to England. Henry VIII. was eager to keep him at court, but Pole appears to have held aloof from politics until the question of the king's divorce drew him from his retirement. He was probably from the first opposed to Henry's policy, but we find him, nevertheless, in 1530, at Paris, charged with the duty of obtaining the decision of the Sorbonne on the question at issue. That decision given, he returned to England, but refused to approve the king's divorce, or the other measures connected with it. The king, anxious to gain his adhesion, offered him the archbishopric of York, vacant by the death of Wolsey in 1531. After some hesitation, he refused the offer and left the country.

This was the turning-point in his career, and concludes the first of the three periods into which his life may be divided. During the second period, for upwards of twenty years, he lived abroad, the declared and active enemy of the Protestant movement in his own country. After passing a year at Avignon, he took up his residence a second time at Padua. As he had not yet declared him-self publicly against Henry, the latter continued favour-ably disposed towards him, allowing him the revenues of his deanery, and exempting him from the oath of allegi-ance to Queen Anne's children. In 1535, however, there came a change. The king sent to ask his formal opinion on the divorce and the ecclesiastical supremacy. Pole's answer, afterwards published, with considerable additions, under the title Pro Unitate Ecclesix, was sent to England early in the next year. It contained a vigorous attack upon Henry's policy and menaced the king with condign punishment at the hands of the emperor and the king of France if he did not return to his allegiance to Rome. Summoned to England to explain himself, he refused to come. Late in 1536 he was made cardinal, and early next year he was sent as papal legate with the object of uniting Charles V. and Francis I. in an attack upon Eng-land, which was to coincide with a rising of the Romanists in that country. The terms of peace between England and France making it impossible for him to remain in the latter country (for he was now attainted of high treason), he passed into Flanders, and soon afterwards (August 1537) returned to Rome. A year later (November 1538) he published his book, together with an apology for his own conduct, addressed to Charles V. In 1539, after the bull of excommunication had been issued against Henry VIII., Pole went to Spain in order to urge Charles to attack England. An invasion was threatened but given up, and Pole retired to Carpentras. From 1539 to 1542 he acted as papal legate at Viterbo. In 1543 he was con-templating an expedition to Scotland with an armed force to aid the anti-English party, and in 1545 he was corre-sponding with the same party and with Charles V. for a joint attack on England. In the same year he went to Trent in disguise, to avoid the danger of seizure on the way, and presided at some of the preliminary meetings of the council. On the death of Henry VIII. he made an attempt to reconcile himself with the English Govern-ment, but in vain. In 1549 he was a candidate for the papacy on the death of Paul III., and at one moment was on the point of being elected, but in the end was unsuc-cessful, and retired to Maguzzano, on the Lake of Garda. When Edward VI. died Polo was engaged in editing his book Pro Unitate Ecclesix, with an intended dedication to that king.





The accession of Mary opens the third period of his life. The pope at once appointed him legate, and entered into negotiations with the queen. A marriage between her and Pole was at one moment contemplated, but the state of public feeling in England rendered his return impossible, and he was kept waiting for a year in Flanders and Germany. The reaction at length produced a parliament favourable to Rome, and enabled him to return (November 1554). As legate he received the national submission, and pronounced the absolution, accepting at the same time, on behalf of the pope, the demands of parliament with respect to ecclesiastical lands, &c. Next year he was on two occasions a candidate for the papacy, but was twice disappointed. After Philip's departure, and the death of Gardiner (October 1555), Pole became Mary's chief adviser, and, with her, must bear the blame of the perse-cution which followed on the reunion with Rome. On Cranmer's death (March 1556) he became archbishop of Canterbury, but soon afterwards (May 1557) fell into dis-grace with the pope, Paul IV., who was his personal enemy. On the outbreak of war with France, Paul, the political ally of that country, cancelled Pole's legatine powers and even charged him with heresy. No remonstrances on the part of Mary and Pole himself could induce the pope to retract this sentence, and Pole died (November 18, 1558) at enmity with the power in whose support he had spent his life.

His chief works are Pro Unitate Ecclesiae, ad Henricum VIII. (ed. princ, Rome, n. d.); Reformatio Angliae (Rome, 1556); De Concilio (Rome, 1562); De summi Pontificis officio et potestate (Louvain, 1569); De Justificatione (Louvain, 1569); Letters, &c. (ed. Quirini, Brescia, 1744).

See Beceadelli, Vita Poli Cardinalis, Venice, 1553, London, 1690; Quirini, "Vita Ricardi Poli," prefixed to the Letters; Phillipps, History of the Life of R. Pole, Oxford, 1764; also Strype's Memorials; Froude's History of England; Hook's Archbishops of Canterbury; &c. (G. W. P.)






The above article was written by: G. W. Prothero.



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