Reginald Cardinal Pole
The Last Archbishop of Canterbury
And yes that is the title of the book which I have just finished reading! The only thing which I really knew about Cardinal Pole was that he returned to England during the reign of Queen Mary to try to bring the country back to the Pope. Of course, Queen Mary is often referred to as “Bloody Queen Mary”, but that is just the work of Protestant spin-doctors, in just the same way that Queen Elizabeth the First is called “Good Queen Bess, the Virgin Queen”. Mary was no more “bloody” than any other rulers of the time; all rulers at that time required the burning of people they believed to be heretics – even Sir Thomas More ordered the burning of Lollard heretics!
Reginald Pole was an interesting man, living in interesting times. He was born into a Plantagenet family; he had just about as good a claim to the throne of England as Henry VIII, who was a Tudor and who was always worried that Pole might challenge him for the throne. He studied at Oxford and then went to Padua with the King’s blessing and a pension of £100 from Henry. He was described as “possibly the most virtuous, learned and grave young man in Italy today”. He returned briefly to England, but when the King’s divorce to Catherine was the subject of the day, Pole returned to Paris where he made it clear that he did not approve of what Henry was doing. Several assassination plots were made against Pole, but none succeeded. He was friendly with, among others, Michelangelo and many of the best thinkers of the period. He assisted Ignatius of Loyola in gaining acceptance for the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.
In 1536, he became a Cardinal (before being ordained) and was appointed Papal Legate to England. In revenge, Henry murdered Pole’s mother and brother. When the Council of Trent began in 1540, he was appointed Legate to the Council (with two others he was in charge of the Council and its direction). In 1549 he was almost elected to become the next Pope – if he had promoted his cause he would have found the votes he needed.
He returned to England in 1554 and absolved the country from its heresy. He was ordained priest and then Archbishop of Canterbury. He began his re-conversion of England by calling the London Council, which, if it had had the chance, would have reinvigorated the country for Catholicism and the Pope. Sadly, the chance did not exist. Queen Mary died suddenly in 1558 and in an extraordinary coincidence Reginald Pole died within a few hours of her death.
The most lasting legacy of Reginald Pole, an idea which the later session of the Council of Trent built into the fabric of the Church, was the establishment of proper seminaries for the training of priests.