A family of Rogers and Edmunds!!
The Mortimer family were a very powerful medieval dynasty, who owned vast areas of land in not only Herefordshire, but also Shropshire and Wales. The origin of the name is one of only a few during the eleventh century to become hereditary – the first to bear the name being Roger who was seigneur of the castle at Mortemer-en-Brai in Normandy, and town of Mortemer sur Eaulne, which was high on a hill which was once surrounded by a small rather stagnant lake fed by the River Eaulne. The true translation of this place was “dead pool or dead sea”, and some people imagined that the name Mortemer had foundations in a crusade to the Dead Sea. Sadly not…..the name has its origins in a less than fragrant and rather small lake in France! The name evolved into Mortimer and stuck thereafter.
The Battle of Mortemer en Brai
In 1054 a battle known as Mortemer en Brai took place, where Roger fought for his lord, Duke William of Normandy against the French. Duke William was the victor, but sadly Roger had already sworn allegiance to the Count of Montdidier who ended up as one of the Duke’s captives, and when the Count was put into Roger’s custody he was bound to set him free. The Duke was very cross to put it mildly and the title of Lordship of Mortemer was stripped from Roger and given to his son Ralph de Warrenne, and they both subsequently came to England.
The Battle at Wigmore Castle
In 1074 they played a part in the battle at Wigmore Castle where they routed Wild Edric of Shrewsbury, and were given much land and estate including those of the late Earl of Hereford – by 1086 when the Domesday book was compiled, Ralph was not only Lord of Wigmore Castle but also held nineteen manors in Shropshire along with many more in other neighbouring counties and he continued to protect and defend his estates in Normandy. In 1088 Ralph sided against the King, William Rufus, but true to the family traits he changed sides later when it suited him to do so, and he fought for William Rufus against Robert Curthose.
The Ruthless Mortimers
At this time the family were relatively small fry in the hierarchy of the nobility, but they were nothing if not determined…….in fact they sounded somewhat ruthless and a little unpleasant if truth be told. During the early twelfth century they fought for huge areas of mid Wales, which they subsequently ruled with rods of iron; regularly killing or maiming any Welsh princes taken prisoners during battle and stopping at nothing to gain whatever they wanted.
In 1179 Roger killed Cadwallon of Wales when he was going home from the court of Henry II with a pass of safe conduct, and royally teed off, Henry put Roger in gaol where he languished until his release by Richard I in 1191. The Mortimers constantly bickered, for want of a better word, with the Welsh barons, until it all blew up when Simon de Montfort started a rebellion against the King. Roger initially supported him and then, naturally, changed sides but at the Battle of Lewes in 1260 he lost all his army and was nearly killed himself. Later, at the battle of Evesham, Roger managed to get his own back and chopped of de Montfort’s head then sent it as a present to Lady Mortimer back at Wigmore……presumably it was Valentine’s Day! He was richly rewarded for de Montfort’s defeat, and was given the confiscated estates of the Earls of Oxford.
Roger was surprisingly loyal to King Henry III and rescued the future King Edward I from his prison in Hereford Castle, but perhaps it was, as always, done to further his own interests. He became one of the Regents who governed England on behalf of Edward I when he was away at the Crusades and the family rose in status. It is rather sad that Roger finally died in 1282, not in battle or on some glorious quest, but from illness.
Roger’s son, Edmund, captured the Welsh prince, Llewelyn, at Builth and after having him killed he sent his severed head to the King. He himself died soon afterwards at Wigmore having suffered fatal wounds during another battle at Builth.
Edmund’s son, Roger (yes, yet another one) inherited Ludlow Castle through marriage, and indeed many of his forebears estates, and at the age of thirty was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Eventually he became one of the leaders of Edward I’s army, and when Edward II came to the throne he helped to regain English control in Ireland.
Roger Mortimer revolts against the King
In true family tradition though, events caused Roger to start a revolt against the King. Someone betrayed him, and he was overcome and sentenced to death for treason, however he was not ready for this fate and managed to escape on 1st August 1324 once accomplices had drugged the guards. He fled to France, and ingratiated himself with Edward II’s wife, Isabella, before returning to England in 1326 with a small invading army and after gathering support, drove the Royalists to the Welsh borders and managed to arrest King Edward. Poor Edward, not only had Roger stolen his wife, but now his realm.……however, in effect Roger was the true ruler of England at this time, through Isabella, and amongst other things he forced the king to recognise the independence of Scotland, and acquired the premier earldom of England, becoming the Earl of March in 1328. In 1327, Roger and parliament tried to force Edward to abdicate but he stubbornly refused, so Roger kept moving him around and leaving him in disgusting and very damp dungeons in the hope that he would just die. Roger virtually starved Edward, and almost tortured him with the appalling treatment, but Edward was a strong chap and just kept on living. Finally Roger lost patience and had the King murdered at Berkely Castle in Gloucestershire, which meant that Edward III succeeded to the throne, however he was still a minor and in effect Roger and his allies were the true rulers of England at this time, through Isabella, and amongst other things he forced the young king to recognise the independence of Scotland, and acquired the premier earldom of England, becoming the Earl of March in 1328. Many people detested Roger for his arrogance and love of displaying his riches, and Edward III was not best pleased that Roger was clearly bedding his mother, nor was he unaware of the tyrannical way in which his country was being run. Eventually King Edward gained the courage to arrest Roger at Nottingham on 19th October 1330 and thereafter had him hung for Treason at Tyburn on 29th November 1330.…… actually, he was not content with mere hanging, and included drawing and quartering!
The 2nd Roger Mortimer
One can imagine the King dusting off his hands with satisfaction, but surprisingly his hatred of Roger Mortimer did not extend to the rest of the family, and even though he had taken control of all the Mortimer estates when Roger was executed, the gave them all back including the Earldom to Roger’s grandson………yet another Roger. (Sorry, it’s wretchedly confusing, but they only ever seemed to use two names – Roger and Edmund).
This second Earl Roger was to be knighted alongside the Black Prince at Crecy in 1346 and seemed to be loyal to the King, but he died suddenly in 1360. His son Edmund (what else!) then became the 3rd Earl of March and Edward III clearly thought him a very decent sort of chap because he gave permission for Edmund to marry Philippa, his niece – and granted him the extra Earldom of Ulster and Connaught. He became known as “The Good Earl” but was killed in Ireland, and his son Roger (sigh) became the 4th Earl of March.
The 3rd Roger Mortimer – 4th Earl of March
When Edward IIII died and Richard II became King he was not at all popular and the barons took great advantage, but later the king rallied and was able to regain power. Richard and his wife were childless and it became evident that the Black Prince’s bloodline stopped with Richard II, and amazingly now it seemed that Roger Mortimer was now the heir to the throne, partly due the above marriage of Edmund to the royal Philippa…….in the fourteenth century this was not the most exciting of prospects that it might appear, and in fact was mostly downright dangerous. However, Roger was never to discover this as he was killed in Ireland, and the burden fell on his son, Edmund. (This family really didn’t believe in importing new names did they!)
Edmund Mortimer – 5th Earl of March
Richard II was deposed in 1399 when he went to Ireland, during which time one of his enemies, Henry Bolingbroke invaded Yorkshire. Richard rushed back but was ambushed, and Bolingbroke imprisoned him in the tower, (he died the following year) whereupon Henry IV took power by laying claim to his descent from Edward II. Many people conspired to put the young Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, on the throne, considering him to be the true heir……including his uncle, another Edmund (not even going to bother commenting on these names any more), however he was thrown in gaol in Harlech Castle, and his family were murdered.
During this time, the Welsh Marches roundly resented the Mortimers’ association with Richard II, and this partly caused Owain Glyndwr’s revolt which ended in the loss over ten years of all but a few castles in Wales to the English.
Edmund, 5th Earl of March was fiercely loyal to Henry, probably because he had no wish to be King himself, and told tales on anyone who tried to put him on the throne, and in 1415 joined him in France – unfortunately he developed dysentery at Harfleur and had to go home, leaving the army to fight at Agincourt.
Being Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Edmund was really under obligation to go over there from time to time, but maybe because both his father and grandfather had been killed there he managed to avoid his duties for some time, however in 1424 he was forced to make the trip to quell a rebellion. He wasn’t killed, but he caught plague and died in 1425, and along with him went the last of the male line of Mortimers as he had no children. He did have a sister, Anne, who married the Earl of Cambridge and she inherited all the titles and estates of the Mortimer family. These in turn went to her son Richard, Duke of York, (father of the future Edward IV and also Richard III) who fought against Henry VI and sided with the Earl of Warwick with the Yorkists at the start of the Wars of the Roses.
When he died at the battle of Wakefield, his son carried on the fight against the Lancastrians, and won the battle of Mortimer’s Cross in 1461.
All the Mortimer estates and titles became absorbed by the Royals.