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Mortimer, Roger, fourth earl of March and sixth earl of Ulsterlocked

(1374–1398)
  • R. R. Davies

Mortimer, Roger, fourth earl of March and sixth earl of Ulster (1374–1398), magnate and soldier, was the eldest son and second child of Edmund (III) Mortimer, third earl of March (d. 1381), and his wife, Philippa of Clarence (d. 1378), granddaughter of Edward III and daughter of Lionel of Antwerp. He was born at Usk on 11 April 1374. He inherited from his father the huge Mortimer complex of estates in Wales and the borderlands, and the lordship of Trim and half of Meath in Ireland; while through his mother he was heir to major estates (formerly of the Clare family) in eastern and southern England and south-east Wales, and also to the earldom of Ulster and lordship of Connacht in Ireland.

The question of who should have the guardianship and marriage of such an important heir as Roger (VII) Mortimer, and the wardship of his estates, became issues of political moment in the years 1382–4. The estates (other than those in the hands of Earl Edmund's executors) were divided initially between a number of minor grantees; but such a policy offended many of the leading magnates, who insisted that their interests and those of the young Mortimer heir were being overlooked. Richard II eventually relented, and on 16 December 1383 the Mortimer estates in England and Wales were granted en bloc for an annual rent of £4000 to the young Mortimer himself, the earls of Arundel, Northumberland, and Warwick, and John, Lord Neville. Almost simultaneously the guardianship of Mortimer himself was bestowed on Richard (III) Fitzalan, earl of Arundel; but it, along with his marriage, was subsequently transferred in August 1384, at the instance of Richard II's mother, to Thomas Holland, earl of Kent and the king's half-brother, for £4000. By about 1388 Roger Mortimer had married Holland's daughter, Eleanor.

The extent of the Mortimer estates, and the fact that so many of them were concentrated in large blocks in Wales and the borderlands and were now controlled by a consortium headed by the earls of Arundel and Warwick, gave them a strategic importance in the struggle between Richard II and the lords appellant in 1387–8. Furthermore, so long as Richard II remained without an heir of his body, Roger (VII) Mortimer, as lineal descendant of Edward III's second surviving son, Lionel of Antwerp, could lay a claim to be next in line to the royal succession. Although the story that Richard publicly proclaimed Mortimer as heir presumptive to the throne in parliament in October 1385 is without foundation, it is clear—especially from the account in the Westminster chronicle, which is all the more significant for being composed well before 1399—that his claim in this respect was being openly discussed.

During Mortimer's prolonged minority the Mortimer estates were run by a council headed by his uncle Sir Thomas Mortimer and Walter Brugge as chief financial officer. The family chronicler claimed that so effective had they been that they had accumulated a surplus of over £26,000 for the young earl. The young Mortimer was dubbed a knight by the king on 23 April 1390; but when Richard II tried to give him possession of his family estates before he was of full age he met with opposition from the consortium which had controlled them since 1383. In March 1393, however, the king took Earl Roger's homage and gave him livery of his Irish estates. His English and Welsh estates were granted to him in February 1394, and at that juncture Richard II retained him to stay with him for life.

Roger Mortimer now began on his short public career. He went on a progress around his Welsh estates in 1393, and in February and March 1394 served on an embassy to the Scottish border. But Ireland was to be the main theatre of his activity. His father, Edmund, was serving as the king's lieutenant in Ireland at his death, and the same office was, briefly and incongruously, bestowed on the seven-year-old Roger in January 1382. He was reappointed to the post just over ten years later in July 1392, but was not able to take up the position for another two years. He resumed his Irish ambitions in earnest in the summer of 1394 when he accompanied Richard II on his first expedition to Ireland, attended by a large force assembled at Conwy and Chester. Mortimer had a huge personal stake in the outcome of the expedition, nothing less than the recovery of his family's control in Meath, Ulster, and Connacht. The native Irish leaders in Meath and Ulster came in to make their submissions to the king in 1394–5; but the relative claims of the Ó Neill family and Roger Mortimer to power in Ulster remained unresolved and the temporary accommodations that were reached soon collapsed. On 28 April 1395 Richard II appointed Mortimer lieutenant in Ulster, Connacht, and Meath, and the earl spent much of the next three years in Ireland. He remained the royal lieutenant there until his death, his appointment being renewed for three years in April 1397; but his authority in the lordship was circumscribed by the power conferred on the king's favourite, William Scrope, as justiciar of Leinster, Munster, and Leith.

Mortimer's Irish preoccupations and relative youth meant that his role in English political life in the 1390s was limited. He had close relations with his brother Edmund (IV), whom he endowed generously with lands and annuities; with the Percy family—Henry Percy (Hotspur) was married to his elder sister; and with the earl of Arundel, who had married Mortimer's younger sister and for whose good behaviour towards the king Mortimer became a guarantor in August 1394. His own wealth and lineage meant that, sooner or later, he would be caught up in the political turmoil of Richard II's last years. In parliament in September 1397 one of Richard's confidants, John Montagu, earl of Salisbury, was given permission to begin a legal action to try to recover the lordship of Denbigh from the Mortimers. Earl Roger and his advisers successfully fought off the challenge, and pre-empted a further challenge by persuading Thomas Despenser, newly created earl of Gloucester, to quitclaim any rights he might have in the Mortimer lordships of Denbigh, Usk, and Caerleon.

Mortimer's sense of insecurity was doubtless greatly compounded by the order sent to him on 4 September 1397 to arrest Sir Thomas Mortimer, his father's illegitimate brother and close companion and the man who had headed the Mortimer council during Earl Roger's minority. Sir Thomas was now declared to be a hunted man for his part in the campaign of the lords appellant in 1386–7. Earl Roger seems to have made little attempt to arrest him, thereby arousing the king's suspicions. On 15 October 1397 Mortimer was specially summoned to attend the parliamentary session convoked at Shrewsbury for January 1398. According to Adam Usk (himself a protégé of the Mortimer family) and to the Wigmore family chronicler, the young earl was rapturously received on his return from Ireland by a vast crowd of supporters, wearing hoods in his colours of red and green. He swore on the cross of Canterbury to observe the ordinances agreed in parliament in the previous September and acted with great circumspection in the fraught political atmosphere in England.

Adam Usk claims that Richard II was now bent on Mortimer's downfall, and that, when Earl Roger returned to Ireland, his brother-in-law, Thomas Holland, duke of Surrey, was dispatched there to take him. What is undoubtedly true is that on 27 July 1398 it was announced that Mortimer's term as lieutenant for Ireland (which had been renewed for three years fifteen months earlier) was to be terminated on 1 September and that he was to be replaced by the duke of Surrey. In the event death anticipated the royal command by one week. On 20 July 1398 Earl Roger was killed in a skirmish with the Irish at Kellinstown, near Carlow. According to the family chronicle he was dressed in Irish clothes at the time and was not recognized by those who killed him. His badly mutilated body was eventually brought back to the family abbey at Wigmore for burial.

Roger Mortimer cut a dashing figure during his short life. He was remembered for his fine and handsome appearance, his ready wit and affability, his liberality with gifts and banquets, his skill in tournaments, and his conspicuous, if rash, bravery. His moral conduct did not please the chroniclers; but none doubted his popularity. He was the subject of a panegyric ode by the Welsh poet, Iolo Goch. He left two sons (the eldest of whom, Edmund (V) Mortimer, eventually succeeded him as fifth earl of March), and two daughters. His widow married Edward Charlton of Powys and died in October 1405.

Sources

  • Chronicon Adae de Usk, ed. and trans. E. M. Thompson, 2nd edn (1904)
  • ‘The Wigmore chronicle’, Dugdale, Monasticon, 6/1, esp. 354–5
  • L. C. Hector and B. F. Harvey, eds. and trans., The Westminster chronicle, 1381–1394, OMT (1982)
  • E. Curtis, ed., Richard II in Ireland, 1394–1395, and submissions of the Irish chiefs (1927)
  • G. A. Holmes, The estates of the higher nobility in fourteenth-century England (1957)
  • R. R. Davies, Lordship and society in the march of Wales, 1284–1400 (1978)
  • A. J. Otway-Ruthven, A history of medieval Ireland (1968)
  • A. Tuck, Richard II and the English nobility (1973)
  • D. Johnston, ‘Richard II and the submission of Gaelic Ireland’, Irish Historical Studies, 22 (1980–81), 1–20

Archives

  • BL, Egerton collection, Thoresby Park MSS
  • TNA: PRO, ministers' accounts

Wealth at Death

£3400—in England and Wales: TNA: PRO SC 11/23; Davies, Lordship and society, 188

Chancery records (Public Record Office)
Oxford Medieval Texts
W. Dugdale & R. Dodsworth, eds., , 3 vols. (1655–72); 2nd edn, 3 vols. (1661–82); new edn, ed. J. Caley, J. Ellis, & B. Bandinel, 6 vols. in 8 pts (1817–30); repr. (1846) and (1970)