The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville

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On one hot summer’s day, Rod entered the cool precincts of The Church of St Thomas Beckett at Warblington. Near the bookstand at the door was an out-of-date brochure proclaiming a Roman Catholic Mass in honour of Margaret, Countess of Salisbury. Intrigued, he noticed that the date of the mass had been three months before, celebrated in this Anglican Church, and that the Lady had an association with a mansion at Warblington. The ruined tower of this property is on private land nearby.

On the north wall of the church and near the chancel was a heraldic shield bearing armorial devices. There were many quartering, indicating an ancient lineage of noble forbears and in the Grand Quarter the royal arms of Richard I (three leopards) quartered with those of Royal France (three Fleurs de Lys). This exhibit was surmounted by a Coronet, which was recognisable as that of an aarl. At the foot was the phrase - ‘Blessed Margaret - Pray for Us’.

Margaret Plantagenet was born in 1473 and was executed on the orders of Henry VIII in 1541. She was one of the few members of the previous Royal line - with her close relatives a threat to the throne. She married Sir Richard Pole in 1492. The time was most turbulent, involving land and property and throne succession rights. Many potential claimants were killed or forced into exile. Others were dispossessed and lost all their civil rights by the process called Bills of Attainder. This was a legislative system by which anyone suspected of a serious crime (felony or treason) could be ‘attainted’ without the need for any guilty verdict by a court of law. A most barbaric system, flouting all the notions of justice and only repealed in 1870. It may be thought that the concept lives on today, when an individual is pilloried and pre-judged in the media before being found guilty in a court of law.

King Henry VII had grievously wronged her and her relatives and when Henry VIII assumed the throne he initially favoured her. She was widowed in 1505 and elevated in her own right as ‘Countess of Salisbury’. One of her main dwellings was her castle at Warblington. Henry called her ‘the most saintly woman in England’, though later she was to have many setbacks in her fortune and incurred the king’s disfavour. In 1541 she was brutally executed in the Tower by an inexperienced axeman. In her cell presumed to have been written by her, were scratched the lines:

For traitors on the block should die.

I am no traitor, no, not I.

My faithfulness stand 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.

As a martyr, Countess Margaret was beatified by Pope Leo XIII.

It appears that the Mass referred to has been celebrated in this church for an unbroken time of 31 years - by the grace and agreement of the Anglican congregation.

Rod Dawson

Christmas Edition 2013

The Lady of Warblington