Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Roger Mortimer, 2nd Earl of March

Roger was born at Ludlow on 11 November 1328, son of Edmund Mortimer, the eldest son and heir of Queen Isabella’s lover, who had been created Earl of March eleven days before his grandson’s birth, and Elizabeth Badlesmere, the daughter of Bartholomew de Badlesmere.

He was two years old at the time of his grandfather’s execution, and barely a year later, he lost his father. Edmund Mortimer died on 16 December 1331, only two months after Wigmore and other key Mortimer lordships had been restored to him by Edward III.

Little is known of Roger’s early life. His mother married William Bohun, younger brother of the Earl of Hereford, in 1335. Roger, aged six at the time of the marriage, may have spent time in the household of his stepfather, who was created Earl of Northampton in 1337. There is also the chance that he could have spent some time in the household of the king’s eldest son, Edward of Woodstock, who Roger was to be associated with later in his career. Regardless of where he spent his childhood and adolescence, it is unlikely that he ever heard any good of his notorious grandfather.

Roger was restored to some of his estates, including Radnor, in 1341, aged just 12 or 13, when five knights, including two relatives, stood surety for £250 until he came of age. The following year, Wigmore was restored to him, which must have been an immensely proud moment for the young man, even though he was too young to do homage for the castle and lordship himself, and his stepfather had to do so on his behalf. Only two years later, Roger, aged just fifteen or perhaps just turned sixteen, attracted attention as a result of his performance in a tournament at Hereford.

In 1346, Roger was one of the young men knighted with the Black Prince at the start of the campaign that led to the Battle of Crecy. Although there are conflicting accounts as to where Roger fought in the battle, it is clear that, whether he fought in the front line or remained in the rear with the King, that he must have distinguished himself that day, for less than two weeks after the battle, he was granted all his father’s lands, although he was still only seventeen years old, and his retainers were pardoned for any crimes they may have committed before setting out for France. The following year, his grandmother Joan was allowed to grant him the castle and lands of Trim along with other lands in Ireland.

In 1348, he was given a great honour when selected to be one of the founder members of the Order of the Garter, and in December 1349, he was one of the select group chosen to accompany King Edward and the Black Prince to Calais to spring a trap on the French who were hoping to recapture the city.

From 1350 onwards, Roger spent a lot of time at court, and was frequently a witness to official documents. He also held various commissions in the Marches, including hearing offences against the Statute of Labourers, and acted as a mediator between the Dominican friars of Hereford and the bishop in a dispute over property in the city.

In 1354, Roger made a major coup by obtaining the reversal of the judgement on his grandfather on the basis that the elder Roger had not been allowed to speak in his own defence. Also in 1354, he was one of the English envoys to a peace conference with the French at Avignon.
Although the reversal of the judgement against his grandfather meant that Roger automatically became Earl of March, many of the lands that were now legally his had been in other hands for nearly a quarter of a century, and getting these lands back occupied much of Roger’s time for the remaining six years of his life. Roger’s reassembling of his inheritance could take up an entire post on its own, and I will not go into detail here.

Roger married Philippa, daughter of William Montagu, 1st Earl of Salisbury – the man who had captured Roger’s grandfather at Nottingham Castle in October 1330. I am not aware of the date of the marriage, although it could not have been any later than Spring 1351, as Philippa gave birth to their son, Edmund, on 1 February 1352.

The marriage does raise the question of what Roger thought about his grandfather. As previously mentioned, it is unlikely that Roger heard any good of his grandfather during his early years. This may have changed as he grew older, however - he would have had the chance to make the acquaintance of older Mortimer retainers who had known his grandfather, and tell him that although power had gone to his head during his last years, his grandfather had had another side to him, and was more than the caricature villain that Roger had almost certainly been taught to see him as.

Certainly, Roger seems to have become close to his grandfather’s mistress, Queen Isabella, during her last years – once visiting her three times at Castle Rising in the space of one month. I was amused to see that on one occasion, 29 April 1358, a few months before Isabella’s death, he visited her in company with Edward III and the king’s daughter Princess Isabella.

One thing that annoys me is that on several occasions I have seen Roger misidentified as the son, not the grandson, of the first Earl. This probably stems from him being the second, not third, Earl of March, a result of Roger’s father Edmund dying soon after his own father and before the judgement against the first earl was repealed. However, surely it is obvious how unlikely it is that Roger’s grandfather would have a legitimate heir born in November 1328 in the middle of his affair with Isabella!

Roger died while besieging Rouvray on 26 February 1360, during what turned out to be Edward III’s last campaign. It is unclear whether he died of an illness or as the result of a skirmish, although I tend to think the latter is more likely – although men did die of natural causes on campaign, Roger was young and the suddenness of his death tends to suggest to me that his death was the result of the actions of the French, not an act of God.

Roger was 31 years old, a knight of the Garter, and marshal of the English army. He had redeemed the family honour. Edward III had his body brought back to England and gave expensive offerings at his burial at Wigmore and his obsequies at Windsor. Yet he is barely remembered today, always in the shadow of his infamous grandfather. Largely this is because he was a loyal, brave and capable soldier in a period where there were many loyal, brave and capable soldiers, and he has been overshadowed by men like the Black Prince, his wife’s father, his stepfather, and Henry of Grosmont, first Duke of Lancaster.

Yet if it had not been for his loyal service, which rehabilitated his family after the disgrace of his grandfather’s execution, Edward III would not have considered Roger’s son Edmund as a husband for his (Edward’s) granddaughter Philippa of Clarence, and Roger’s descendants would not have had a claim to the throne.

And yet, I cannot help wondering, if Roger had lived, what role would have played in the reign of Richard II?

In memoriam, Roger Mortimer, 1328 – 1360, second Earl of March, founder member of the Knights of the Garter, Marshal of the English army, died on this day 648 years ago.

Friday, 22 February 2008

The Treaty of Northampton (1328)

The treaty’s terms were:
  • England to recognise Scotland’s independence and Robert Bruce to be acknowledged as the legitimate King of Scotland.
  • A mutual defence alliance, by which the Scots agreed to aid England against any enemy except the French.
  • The Scots paid £20,000 compensation for damage they had inflicted during raids in the north.
  • No English lord could hold land in Scotland, and vice versa.
  • The borders at the time of King Alexander III of Scotland (d. 1286) to be recognised.
  • All English actions against Scotland at the papal curia to be dropped.
  • Edward III’s sister, Joan, to marry Robert Bruce’s son and heir, David.

The treaty in many ways was a sensible recognition that fighting the Scots was futile. However, Edward III felt that Scotland was rightfully his, and although he was compelled by his mother and Roger Mortimer to ratify the treaty, he made it very clear afterwards that the “shameful peace” was not his wish, and refused to attend his sister’s marriage – and on hearing of Edward’s refusal to attend, Bruce said he would not attend either.

The most controversial clause, in the eyes of the northern English lords, was the one which compelled them to give up their Scottish lands – although in reality these lands had been lost to them since Robert Bruce had seized effective control of Scotland in the period leading up to and including the English defeat at Bannockburn. This lost Isabella and Mortimer many of their allies, and from this time onwards, their actions became more and more ruthless as they attempted to keep hold of power.

They did not help themselves by appropriating for themselves the £20,000 that Robert Bruce paid as part of the treaty, which only increased their reputation for greed and rapacity.

Had the treaty been concluded by an adult English king of his own free will, the treaty would probably be remembered as a great act of statesmanship, which freed England from fighting a war which could not be won, and which had cost many lives, including the death of the Earl of Gloucester at Bannockburn which so changed the course of Edward II’s reign. Under the circumstances in which it was signed, however, the treaty has come forever to be remembered as “the shameful peace”, and that peace did not last, either – a direct result of the treaty not being valid in the eyes of the 15 year old Edward III.