Mortimer, Roger (V), first earl of March (1287–1330), regent, soldier, and magnate
by R. R. Davies

Mortimer, Roger (V), first earl of March (1287–1330), regent, soldier, and magnate, was the son and heir of Edmund (I) de Mortimer, lord of Wigmore, and his wife, Margaret de Fiennes.

Early years and territorial power

Roger Mortimer was born in April or May 1287. On the death of his father in July 1304 his wardship was granted to , the favourite of Edward, prince of Wales. He was given livery of his lands in April 1306 while still under age and on 22 May 1306 was knighted by Edward I, along with Edward, prince of Wales, Edmund Fitzalan, earl of Arundel, and a large crowd of bachelors. He was first summoned to parliament as Roger Mortimer of Wigmore in February 1307. The Wigmore Priory chronicle reports that Mortimer gave Gaveston 2500 marks to recover his lands before the end of his minority and for the right to choose his own marriage partner. In fact he had already been betrothed on 20 September 1301, during his father's lifetime, to Joan (1286–1356), the only daughter of Peter (d. 1292) and Joan de Geneville. It was a singularly important marriage for the Mortimer family. Two of the daughters of Peter and Joan de Geneville became nuns at the priory of Acornbury, Herefordshire, leaving their sister Joan as sole heir to the large Geneville inheritance currently held by her grandfather, Geoffrey de Geneville.

Roger Mortimer was already a powerful landowner in respect of his paternal inheritance. His family had been lords of Wigmore in western Herefordshire since the days of William I and had pushed thence deep into central Wales. But it was from the late thirteenth century—partly through marriage links to the Marshal and Briouze families and especially through the munificence of Edward I—that the Mortimers graduated to be among the most prominent of English baronial families. By 1304 the Mortimers, in addition to the family headquarters at Wigmore and manors in Herefordshire, Shropshire, Gloucestershire, and Worcestershire, also held seven important marcher lordships, mainly in the uplands of central Wales (Maelienydd, Gwrtheyrnion, Cwmwd Deuddwr, Radnor, Ceri, and Cedewain), but with outliers in south-west Wales (Narberth and a third share of St Clears). They also owned properties in southern England and, from the Briouze–Marshal connection, in Ireland (especially Dunamase in co. Leix). It is true that more than half of these Mortimer lands were in the hands of Roger's mother, Margaret, and since she outlived him (dying in February 1334) he never enjoyed the whole of his paternal inheritance.

However, Mortimer's misfortune in this respect was more than counterbalanced by the Geneville inheritance which came under his control through his wife. These estates greatly consolidated Roger Mortimer's territorial power in western England and the march of Wales. They included half of Ludlow—which soon became a favourite Mortimer residence—a group of manors in Shropshire, and the marcher lordship of Ewyas Lacy. But it was in Ireland that the Geneville estates transformed Roger Mortimer's power and standing. They included the castle of Trim and a share of the great Lacy liberty of Meath. These Irish lands—worth at least £300 p.a.—were formally transferred to Roger Mortimer and Joan, his wife, in December 1307 by Joan's grandfather, Geoffrey de Geneville, who retired into the house of the Dominicans in Trim.

Career in Ireland, 1308–1320

Much of Mortimer's career during the next twelve years was to be spent in Ireland where he was now one of the premier English landowners. He and his wife first crossed to Ireland in October 1308 and returned there twice in the next two years. He was soon securing privileges for his estates there—such as a seven-year grant of murage and pavage (licences to levy tolls for walls and paving) for his town of Trim and, most valuable of all, in July 1310 the restoration of full liberty rights (including chancery and exchequer) in the lordship of Trim. But power in Ireland also brought with it challenges and responsibilities, as Mortimer was to discover from 1315. Edward Bruce, brother of Robert I of Scotland, landed at Larne on 25 May 1315. In early December 1315 Roger Mortimer's forces were defeated by Bruce (partly, according to the Dublin annals, because of the desertion of some of Mortimer's troops) and Mortimer fled to Dublin. He spent most of 1316 in England and Wales. On 23 November 1316 he was appointed justiciar of Ireland with the responsibility of defeating Edward Bruce, quelling the risings of the native Irish, and sorting out the quarrels and bitter recriminations among the English communities in Ireland. Crossing from Haverfordwest with a large army he arrived at Youghal on 7 April 1317. During the next twelve months he dealt vigorously and effectively with a whole host of problems in Ireland: he secured the release of Richard de Burgh, earl of Ulster, who had been imprisoned in Dublin for suspected complicity with Edward Bruce, in May 1317; he defeated and eventually exiled the Lacy family of Rathwire, who were claimants to the Irish lands of Mortimer's wife and who had likewise allegedly collaborated with Bruce; he held a parliament outside Dublin in June; he led forays against the Irish in the Wicklow Mountains; and generally reimposed the government's authority in the south and south-west of Ireland. When Mortimer was recalled to England on 5 May 1318, Edward Bruce's forces were still entrenched in north-east Ireland, but in October of that year Edward himself was killed and his forces crushed at the battle of Faughart.

Roger Mortimer's record in Ireland in 1317–18 was one of which he could be proud. It is no wonder that he was reappointed justiciar there in March 1319, taking up his office in June of that year. He was also entrusted with the custody of the royal castles of Roscommon, Randown, and Athlone. During his second period in office Mortimer seems to have pursued a policy of reconciliation towards the Irish, and was given power to receive into English law all Irishmen who wished to come to it. In May 1320 he held a parliament at Dublin, issued statutes regarding order and administrative efficiency, and initiated a review to see which items of English legislation should be appropriately applied to Ireland. When he departed for England in September 1320 the citizens of Dublin, not normally noted for paying compliments, commended his efforts ‘in saving and keeping the peace’ (Gilbert, 392). As he became increasingly involved in English politics in 1321 he did not forget his Irish interests. At Wigmore on 11 February 1321 he concluded a marriage agreement whereby he granted to one of his sons, Roger, all his Irish lands on the occasion of Roger junior's marriage to Joan, daughter of Sir Edmund Butler, who paid £1000 for the marriage.

Career in England and Wales to 1321

Up to 1318 Roger Mortimer's career in England was by no means exceptional or particularly noteworthy. He was given a ceremonial role in Edward II's coronation in 1308 and was present at the great gathering of earls, barons, and knights at Dunstable for a tournament in late March–early April 1309. He was naturally called upon to raise troops from Wales for service in Scotland and went to Gascony on the king's behalf in 1313. Returning from Ireland in late 1315, he was soon involved in repressing the revolt of Llywelyn Bren in Glamorgan in February–March 1316. The fact that Llywelyn was executed by the younger Despenser two years later may well have served to inflame Mortimer's growing dislike of Despenser, especially as one of the other leaders of the Welsh revolt, Llywelyn ap Madog ap Hywel, was pardoned specifically at Mortimer's request. Later, in July 1316, Roger Mortimer was one of those who helped to suppress a revolt in Bristol.

There was nothing as yet to suggest that Mortimer was involved in the tensions of English politics. He did, it is true, support the king's chamberlain, John Charlton, in his bid to secure the lordship of Powys; and given the political alignments of the period, this could be seen as identifying him with the king's supporters. But local rather than national political considerations probably shaped his decision. Roger Mortimer's primary concern in these years was to arrange for the future of his estates and of his growing family. In May 1315 he had provided 100 librates of rent for his son John. In May 1316 he made a contract whereby his eldest son and heir, Edmund, was to be married to Elizabeth, daughter of Bartholomew Badlesmere. Badlesmere paid 2000 marks for the marriage and in return Roger endowed his son and daughter-in-law with the Mortimer manors in Somerset and Buckinghamshire and the reversion of lands in the western shires of England and the march of Wales, and granted five Mortimer manors to Elizabeth for life and a reversionary interest in 200 marks of rent. It was a marriage link with portentous consequences for the future.

The rewards of service which Mortimer picked up were modest: the grant of Cwmwd Deuddwr in the Welsh uplands in August 1309; the constableship of Builth Castle in February 1310; and the marriage of the heir of Nicholas Audley (specifically for his service in Ireland) in December 1316. His circle of followers was also as yet largely drawn from the Mortimer estates—families such as the Harleys and Hakluyts and individuals such as Hugh Trumpington, who was later appointed constable of Kildare Castle at Mortimer's request and was killed defending his lord in 1330.

It was with his return from Ireland in May 1318 that Roger Mortimer began to occupy a much more prominent role in English politics. His own record in Ireland may have stood him in good stead; so doubtless did the marriage link with Bartholomew Badlesmere (promoted to be steward of the household in October 1318); and so did the fact that he was regarded as a political neutral in the venomous politics of the period. His growing stature and acceptability were demonstrated by the fact that he was a member of the delegation which conducted negotiations between Edward II and Thomas of Lancaster in July 1318, culminating eventually in the treaty of Leake on 9 August 1318. Mortimer was a member of the standing council of sixteen appointed under the terms of the treaty and he served as such until spring 1319. He was also placed on the commission appointed to reform the royal household. Mortimer's personal fortune as well as his public standing was also rising rapidly. On 20 July 1318 he was granted a handsome share worth 1600 marks in the marriage of the heir to the earldom of Warwick—a clear indication of his status. Marriage links further enhanced his power in the west: in 1319 one of his daughters married the son and heir of Maurice, Lord Berkeley, and another daughter married John Charlton, likewise son and heir of the lord of Powys.

When Roger Mortimer returned from Ireland in September 1320 he found that the political situation had altered yet again in England. The Despensers, father and son, were now monopolizing the king's ear and using every opportunity to feed their insatiable greed for land and power in the most ruthless fashion. Roger Mortimer, like all the barons of the Welsh march, had a particular reason for fear. It was to the southern march of Wales that the younger Despenser's ambitions were especially directed. Personal venom was added to territorial greed, for a well-informed chronicle suggests that the younger Despenser was anxious that the Mortimers should now pay the price for his grandfather's death at the battle of Evesham (1265) at the hands of Roger Mortimer (d. 1282). The immediate trigger for the confrontation between the Mortimers—both Roger and his uncle and namesake, of Chirk—and the Despensers lay in the dispute over the lordship of Gower. The Mortimers were only one of several marcher families who believed that they had paid a deposit on the succession to the lordship on the death of its indigent lord, William (VII) de Briouze. Edward II, however, was intent that the younger Despenser should add Gower to his vast territorial empire in the march, and on a legal technicality he ordered the seizure of the lordship in November 1320. It was an action which drove Mortimer, and most of the other marcher lords, into open defiance.

An opponent of the king, and a prisoner in the Tower

By early 1321 the rift that had now opened between Edward II and the lords of the southern march over Despenser's ambitions, especially regarding Gower, was irreparable. The earl of Hereford, Hugh Audley, Roger Damory, and Roger Clifford were prominent opponents of Despenser; but the two Mortimers were particularly singled out by contemporaries as fomenters of the quarrel. In February 1321 Roger Mortimer was formally replaced as justiciar of Ireland. By now the marcher dissidents were holding discussions with the earl of Lancaster, and by late March–April 1321 repeated royal commands were issued to the marcher lords (including Roger Mortimer) to keep the peace and not to devastate Despenser's lands. But such commands and prohibitions were in vain. Roger Mortimer took a prominent part in the five-day rampage through the Despenser lordships in south Wales from 4 to 9 May 1321. He was involved in the taking of Cardiff Castle on 9 May, and led its constable as prisoner to his own castle at Wigmore; he also seized the earl of Arundel's castle at Clun and took the homage of the tenants of the lordship.

Mortimer was now, along with other marchers, firmly allied to the king's opponents. He was present at the assembly convoked by the earl of Lancaster at Sherburn in Elmet on 28 June 1321, with the purpose, at least in part, of forging closer bonds between the earl and the marchers and preparing the ground for drafting an indictment against the Despensers. Mortimer and the other marchers then moved towards London. He was supported by troops ‘all clothed in green, with their right sleeves yellow’ (Dugdale, Monasticon, 6, pt 1, 352), and took up his lodging at the hospitallers' house at Clerkenwell. On 14 August the king in effect capitulated and the Despensers were exiled. Roger Mortimer was one of those pardoned for acting against them between 1 March and 19 August 1321.

The victory proved to be a very short-lived one. The refusal of Bartholomew Badlesmere (the father-in-law of Roger Mortimer's heir) to admit Queen Isabella to Leeds Castle in Kent on 13 October provided Edward II with a pretext to resume hostilities and annul proceedings against the Despensers. Roger Mortimer with his uncle and the earl of Hereford collected a large force to go to the rescue of Leeds Castle: but they got no further than Kingston. Mortimer and his allies were driven back into Lancaster's arms and attended the meeting he had convened at Doncaster on 29 November. The king now went on the offensive, leading a force westwards to challenge the marchers. His forces reached Worcester on 31 December. The marchers, who had already captured Gloucester, seized Bridgnorth. But they were quickly outmanoeuvred by the king who reached Shrewsbury on 14 January 1322 and crossed to the west bank of the River Severn. On 23 January Roger Mortimer and his uncle surrendered to the king at Shrewsbury. Contemporary accounts provide different reasons for their sudden capitulation from what seemed to be a position of strength. Some ascribed it to the mediation of the earls of Richmond and Arundel; others to the duplicitous promises of the earls of Pembroke, Surrey, and Norfolk; yet others mention shortage of cash. But the most likely reason is that given in the Vita Edwardi secundi: the failure of the earl of Lancaster to come to their aid on the appointed day. Both Roger Mortimer and his uncle were dispatched to the Tower of London, contrary (according to one report) to a promise made earlier to them by the king. In July 1322—following the defeat of Lancaster and his allies at Boroughbridge on 22 March 1322—they were tried and condemned to death; but on 22 July their sentence was commuted to one of perpetual imprisonment.

Roger Mortimer and his uncle were kept in close and uncomfortable custody in the Tower. On 1 August 1323 (the feast of St Peter in Chains), with the connivance of Gerard de Alspaye, who had custody of him, and after the guards (and Stephen Seagrave, the constable) had been drugged, Roger Mortimer escaped. He crossed the Thames in a boat which awaited him, rode to Dover, and, in spite of strenuous efforts to recapture him, succeeded in crossing to France. He was welcomed in Paris by Charles IV, then at war with Edward II over Guyenne. , Edward II's wife, came to Paris in April 1325 and on 12 September she was joined by her son, the young Prince Edward, dispatched to do homage on his father's behalf by Edward II. During the next few months a close liaison blossomed between Queen Isabella and Mortimer; by 1326 it was known in England that they were lovers. Mortimer's hold on Isabella was now so strong that Walter Stapledon, bishop of Exeter and former treasurer of England, who had accompanied the young Prince Edward to Paris, felt that he had no alternative but to flee back to England, if only for his own safety.

By 1326 there was no doubt that Mortimer and Isabella had decided on a scheme to invade England. They moved from Paris to the Low Countries, arranged the betrothal of Prince Edward to Philippa of Hainault, and gathered the troops and the money for the invasion. Mortimer and John of Hainault led the forces which crossed to England, landing at Orwell on 24 September 1326. They had judged the moment and the mood of the country well. They found ready support from many quarters united in their hatred for the Despensers. Within weeks the cause of Edward II had collapsed completely, and the king himself was captured at Llantrisant in the lordship of Glamorgan on 16 November. Mortimer and Isabella were triumphant.

Mortimer's years of domination, 1326–1330

For almost exactly four years Roger Mortimer was, with Queen Isabella, the dominant figure in England. He and his allies set about liquidating the supporters of the old regime at once, Roger Mortimer himself (though still only a baron) taking a prominent personal role in the process. He was present at Bristol when the elder Despenser was executed on 27 October 1326; it was by his command that the earl of Arundel met the same fate at Hereford on 17 November; and it was there likewise that the younger Despenser was sentenced to death by Mortimer and the earls of Lancaster and Kent. There was a certain appropriateness that it was in the west, close to Mortimer's centre of power, that the new regime was asserting itself. Roger Mortimer spent Christmas with Queen Isabella and her son at Wallingford.

The parliament that was summoned to effect the deposition of Edward II met on 7 January 1327. Mortimer curried favour with the Londoners by visiting the city on 13 January and confirming its liberties, to be followed in March by the grant of a new charter. He was naturally prominent at the coronation of the young Edward III on 1 February, and it was on that occasion that three of his sons (Edmund, Geoffrey, and Roger) were knighted. His hold on the royal family was made more complete by the transfer of the unfortunate Edward II from the custody of the earl of Lancaster in April 1327 to that of Mortimer's son-in-law Thomas Berkeley at Berkeley Castle. The particulars of Edward's fate, and Mortimer's role in it, remain shrouded in mystery.

Roger Mortimer held no official position in the governance of England in the next few years. He was not a member of the council established to direct the government during the minority of Edward III; but some of his closest associates, notably Bishop Adam Orleton and Sir Oliver Ingham, served on it. The crucial key to Mortimer's power lay in the position he held in the royal court and in the affections of the queen. He was regularly referred to as ‘the king's kinsman’, and was treated in effect as a member of the royal family, receiving his livery as part of the family. He spent long periods in personal attendance on the king and was to be awarded 500 marks per annum in May 1330 ‘in consideration of his continual stay with the king’. His influence was such that contemporaries came to charge him with usurping royal power and accused him of preventing the king from speaking to anyone except with his permission and of bypassing the council of fourteen set up to govern the kingdom.

Some of these charges no doubt were made with the advantage of hindsight; but it is clear that by autumn 1328 there was growing restiveness among the higher aristocracy about the personality and behaviour of Mortimer. Dissatisfaction also centred on the record of the government itself. In particular the Scottish raids into northern England and Ireland in 1327 showed the vulnerability of the kingdom; and the ‘shameful peace’ which the English were eventually forced to conclude with the Scots at Edinburgh and Northampton (March and May 1328) was regarded as particularly Mortimer's responsibility. The terms—including the recognition of Scottish independence and the title of Robert I as king of Scots—were so demeaning that rumours were rife that Isabella and Mortimer had made a pact with the Scots while they were in exile in France.

Humiliation at the hands of the French and the Scots damaged Roger Mortimer's reputation; but it was his own overweening power and greed which doubtless prompted the emergence of domestic opposition to him. Henry, earl of Lancaster, who was in effect head of the standing council of regency, felt that his influence was being increasingly ignored. He had been deprived of the custody of Edward II in April 1327 and during the next eighteen months or so—as his followers and kinsmen were eased out of key posts—he became steadily disillusioned and his followers increasingly unmanageable. Lancaster registered his protest at the Mortimer regime by refusing to attend the parliament convened at Salisbury on 16 October 1328. It was a parliament overawed by Mortimer's supporters and the occasion for conferring the novel title of earl of March on Roger Mortimer. Lancaster tried to whip up opinion against Mortimer in London and drew up a formidable list of accusations against him. But on this occasion Mortimer completely outmanoeuvred Lancaster, persuaded his allies (especially the earls of Kent and Norfolk) to desert him, raided his lands, and seized Leicester. By mid-January 1329, with many of his followers deserting him, Lancaster had no option but to make a humiliating surrender: enormous fines were imposed on him and some of his followers; some of his closest dependants (including Thomas Wake, his son-in-law, and Henry Beaumont) were forced to flee the country and saw their estates confiscated.

Mortimer's position was now even more unassailable. When Edmund, earl of Kent, the brother of the late Edward II, was duped into a plot based on the assumption that his brother was alive, Mortimer seized the opportunity to remove another possible threat to his position. On 19 March 1330 the earl of Kent was executed, some of his confiscated lands being given to one of Roger Mortimer's younger sons. In fact the judicial murder of Kent served only to heighten tensions and to compound the sense of hatred and fear that was now welling up against Mortimer. He took measures to secure his personal safety, making arrangements in May 1330 for some of his leading followers such as Maurice Berkeley and Simon Bereford to provide a specified number of men of arms to be continuously present at court, in effect to act as personal bodyguards for Mortimer and Queen Isabella.

Mortimer's personal aggrandizement

Mortimer's regime was based on fear; it was also based on what almost all contemporaries agreed was his insatiable greed and his determination to put himself into the premier rank of the English aristocracy in landed wealth, status, and display. He proved more than a match for the younger Despenser in his anxiety to turn his political power to his own personal and family advantage. His territorial ambitions were concentrated in the two areas in which Mortimer power was already remarkable—Wales and Ireland. In Wales he stepped into the shoes of the opponents whom he had liquidated in the coup of 1326. He secured the great lordship of Denbigh (15 December 1326) on the forfeiture of the elder Despenser; the lordships of Oswestry and Clun and the Fitzalan estates in Shropshire from the estates of the earl of Arundel (13 September 1327); and custody of the vast lordship of Glamorgan (12 June 1327) from the younger Despenser's widow. He also obtained the reversion of the crown lordships of Montgomery and Builth (2 September 1329) from Queen Isabella and was later granted the lordship of Montgomery in fee (April 1330). Most brazen act of all, he appropriated the marcher estates (Chirkland, Blaenllyfni, Narberth, and a share of St Clears) of his uncle and namesake, Roger Mortimer of Chirk, who had died in the Tower in 1326, even though the elder Roger had a legitimate son of full age. The custody and also (or perhaps alternatively) the marriage of James Audley (lordships of Cemais and Cantref Bychan), Laurence Hastings (lordships of Pembroke, Abergavenny, and Cilgerran), and of the heir to the earldom of Warwick (lordship of Elfael) gave him control of more marcher lordships. If to this is added the official positions he held—justiciar of the principality of Wales (22 February 1327, converted into a life grant 8 June 1328), justiciar of the bishoprics of Llandaff and St David's; chief keeper of the peace in Worcestershire, Herefordshire, and Staffordshire (8 June 1327), and custodian of Bristol (16 August 1330)—it can be seen that he had accumulated unparalleled territorial and official power in Wales and the far west of England.

The other area in which Roger Mortimer used his special power at court to enhance his own territorial standing was Ireland. He was one of Ireland's leading lords in respect of his wife's inheritance. He knew the country well from his earlier visits there and his two spells as justiciar. Once he had concluded a peace with Scotland (May 1328) he was free to devote more of his attention to Irish affairs. He worked hard and effectively to repair some of the deep divisions in the ranks of the English aristocracy in Ireland. It was as part of that process that in October 1328 James Butler was created earl of Ormond and later given Tipperary as a liberty. Similarly in August 1329 Maurice Fitzthomas Fitzgerald was promoted to be earl of Desmond and granted the liberty of Kerry. Both men would henceforth be beholden to Roger Mortimer. But Mortimer also looked after his own interests in Ireland, especially during 1330. He reserved for himself the custody of the lands of the earldom of Kildare and the marriage of the heir and in June 1330 he secured for himself royal jurisdiction throughout Meath and Louth to add to the privileged status he already enjoyed on his wife's lands in Trim. His acquisitiveness seemed to know no bounds. On top of all that he had already acquired, he was granted in May 1330 a further annual pension of 500 marks a year from royal estates in Wales. It was little wonder that a contemporary chronicler accused him of ‘appropriating to himself royal power in many things and the treasure of the king also’ (Chronicon Henrici Knighton, 1.447).

But Mortimer was attracted not only by land and wealth but also by the trappings of power. As one chronicler commented: ‘Roger Mortimer persisted in his displays of magnificence’ (Chronica monasterii de Melsa, 2.359). He held round tables at Bedford in 1328 and another at Wigmore which lasted for several days and at which he distributed large presents to various earls and barons. Most magnificent of all was the great tournament he arranged at Hereford in June 1328 at which the young Edward III and his mother were the principal guests. It was on this occasion that he gave two of his daughters in marriage—Beatrice to Edward, the son of the earl of Norfolk and the king's cousin, and Agnes to Laurence Hastings, the heir to the earldom of Pembroke. Both marriages indicated Mortimer's anxiety to bind his family into the premier comital families of his day. This was an appropriate prelude to his own elevation to the rank of earl at the Salisbury parliament in October 1328. Contemporaries were astonished at the novelty of the title he gave himself, that of earl of March, not least because it was the first comital title not linked to a named English county. But the new title correctly identified the territorial basis of Roger Mortimer's power, and any anomaly in the title was soon rectified by granting him £10 a year from the issues of Shropshire and Staffordshire (just as other earls received a similar fee from the shire whose name they bore in their title).

Downfall, execution, and reputation

The grandiose title that Mortimer gave himself and his flaunting of his power certainly offended contemporaries. According to one chronicler no one dared to address him other than by his title as earl of March; his retinue was larger than that of the king; and his arrogance was visibly displayed by walking side by side with the king, sometimes indeed going ahead of the king and even allowing the king to rise to him. Such outrageous breaches of etiquette were manifestations of the overweening power that Mortimer exercised and of the insensitive way he flaunted it. If to such behaviour were added his boundless acquisitiveness, the sense of outrage at his liaison with Queen Isabella, and the way in which he used his armed bands of followers, including unruly crowds of Welshmen, to overawe his opponents, it was not surprising that rumours circulated that he intended to usurp the kingship itself.

Tension built up against him in particular after the execution of the earl of Kent on a trumped-up charge in March 1330. None of the English magnates could now feel safe; but after the abysmal failure of the rising of Henry, earl of Lancaster, in 1328–9, and given the way Mortimer had entrenched his power, success could only attend a plot in which the young king (now aged seventeen) was himself personally involved.

Edward III was more than a willing party to such a plot. He was abetted by a group of close friends—notably Richard Bury, keeper of the privy seal, William Montagu (future earl of Salisbury), Robert Ufford (future earl of Suffolk), John Molyns, Edmund de Bohun, and John Neville of Hornby. When Mortimer summoned a parliament to meet at Nottingham in October 1330—most of the parliaments during Mortimer's years of domination met away from Westminster—the conspirators seized the opportunity to put their plan into action, especially when the constable revealed a secret underground passage into the castle. On the night of 19 October, Montagu and his fellow conspirators entered the castle where they were joined by the king. In spite of some doughty resistance by Mortimer and his bodyguard, Mortimer was arrested. He and his close associates, Sir Oliver Ingham and Sir Simon Bereford, were taken under close escort to the Tower of London. Meanwhile the king issued a proclamation that he had taken the government into his own hands.

Mortimer was brought before the parliament, which had been prorogued from Nottingham to Westminster, on 26 November. Fourteen charges were preferred against him. He was accused, inter alia, of accroaching royal power and the government of the realm, moving Edward II from Kenilworth to Berkeley, granting lands and rewards to himself and his family, appropriating crown money and jewels and the 20,000 marks that the Scots had paid for the peace of 1328, riding against the earl of Lancaster, knowingly misleading the earl of Kent and securing his execution, sowing discord between Edward II and Isabella, and encompassing the death of those close to Edward III. The sentence was a foregone conclusion. Indeed Mortimer was given no opportunity to answer the charges; he was declared guilty by the peers on the basis of the common notoriety of his crimes. He was executed as a common criminal at Tyburn on 29 November 1330 and his body was left on the gallows for two days and nights, before being interred at Coventry at the house of the Franciscans, who proved very reluctant to hand it over to his widow to be reinterred in the family priory at Wigmore. His widow, Joan, died in 1356, and his eldest son and heir, Edmund, in 1331.

Roger Mortimer found few friends among contemporary chroniclers; modern historians have been equally harsh in their condemnation. Only the chronicler of the family's own foundation at Wigmore found it in him to call him ‘a large-hearted and vigorous man’, and he was remarkably economical with the truth in his account of Roger's career (Dugdale, Monasticon, 6, pt 1, 351). Perhaps his greatest achievements lay in Ireland: there, after initial defeat, he laid the ground for the defeat of Edward Bruce; he showed considerable imagination in his attempts to bring more of the native Irish within the ambit of English law; and his actions in 1328–9 showed that (as might be expected) he had a better grasp of the quarrelsome world of Anglo-Irish politics than the vast majority of English political leaders. Even the treaty with Scotland in 1328 which brought Mortimer such opprobrium can be regarded as an imaginative attempt—even if it was made under duress—to recognize the reality of Scottish independence and to bring a period of prolonged and costly warfare to an end. On the other hand, the contemporary view of Roger Mortimer and of his uncle in Wales was that of avaricious, ruthless men who ruled ‘by extortion’. Indeed the Welsh in 1322 threatened to leave their lands if the Mortimers were pardoned and restored to their former position in Wales.

Had Roger Mortimer ruled under a strong and competent king, he would doubtless have been regarded as an effective soldier and as a baron who pursued his career, especially in Wales and Ireland, to the maximum advantage of himself and his family. It was the unusual circumstances of Edward II's reign, especially after 1318, and the exceptional power Mortimer wielded in the court after 1326 through his liaison with Queen Isabella that brought him to prominence and notoriety. From 1326 onwards he showed himself as self-seeking, acquisitive, and vain to a quite exceptional degree. His extravagant and unrestrained abuse of his position in these years—and the shameless way in which he expropriated his uncle's family—showed that he was, ultimately, a man without political principle or political judgement. His overweening ambition seemed to have destroyed a family with an unbroken record of 250 years as leading English barons.

R. R. DAVIES

Sources  

Chancery records · Rolls of parliament · J. T. Gilbert, ed., Chartularies of St Mary's Abbey, Dublin: with the register of its house at Dunbrody and annals of Ireland, 2 vols., Rolls Series, 80 (1884–6) · ‘The Wigmore chronicle’, Dugdale, Monasticon, 6/1, esp. 351 · N. Denholm-Young, ed. and trans., Vita Edwardi secundi (1957) · Ann. mon. · Chronicon Henrici Knighton, vel Cnitthon, monachi Leycestrensis, ed. J. R. Lumby, 2 vols., Rolls Series, 92 (1889–95) · Chronicon Galfridi le Baker de Swynebroke, ed. E. M. Thompson (1889) · W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the reigns of Edward I and Edward II, 2 vols., Rolls Series, 76 (1882–3) · J. G. Edwards, Calendar of ancient correspondence concerning Wales (1935) · C. M. Woolgar, ed., Household accounts from medieval England, 1, British Academy, Records of Social and Economic History, new ser., 17 (1992), 173–7 · J. T. Gilbert, ed., Historic and municipal documents of Ireland, AD 1172–1320, from the archives of the city of Dublin, Rolls Series, 53 (1870) · Chronica monasterii de Melsa, a fundatione usque ad annum 1396, auctore Thoma de Burton, ed. E. A. Bond, 3 vols., Rolls Series, 43 (1866–8) · G. A. Holmes, The estates of the higher nobility in fourteenth-century England (1957) · R. Frame, English lordship in Ireland, 1318–1361 (1982) · R. R. Davies, Lordship and society in the march of Wales, 1282–1400 (1978) · Tout, Admin. hist., vol. 3 · J. C. Davies, The baronial opposition to Edward II (1918) · J. R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster, 1307–1322: a study in the reign of Edward II (1970) · J. R. S. Phillips, Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke, 1307–1324: baronial politics in the reign of Edward II (1972) · N. Fryde, The tyranny and fall of Edward II, 1321–1326 (1979) · GEC, Peerage · G. A. Holmes, ‘The rebellion of the earl of Lancaster, 1328–9’, BIHR, 28 (1955), 84–9 · E. L. G. Stones, ‘The date of Roger Mortimer's escape from the Tower of London’, EngHR, 65 (1951), 97–8 · CIPM, 3, no. 43; 4, no. 235 · W. Rees, ed., Calendar of ancient petitions relating to Wales (1975), 89, no. 3027

Archives  

BL, inventory of his confiscated goods at Wigmore, 1322, Add. MS 60584 · Hereford Cathedral Library, papers relating to his rising against Edward II |  BL, charters in the Black Book of Wigmore, Harley MS 1240 · BL, Egerton roll 8723–8724 · BL, list of charters, Add. MS 6041 · TNA: PRO, ministers' accounts, some estate accounts, SC6 [incl. 1206/1]



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Roger (V) Mortimer (1287–1330): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/19354