EARLS OF MARCH

When Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March was executed in 1330, most of his lands and titles were forfeited. His eldest son, Edmund, survived his father for only a year. Although never given the title Earl of March he was called to Parliament as Baron Mortimer in 1331.

Roger Mortimer (1328-1360), 2nd Earl of March - Rebuilder of Mortimer Prestige
It was left to Edmund’s son, Roger, to recover the family’s fame and fortune. Roger was just two when his grandfather was executed and when his father died a year later the outlook for the Mortimers was not promising. It is quite remarkable that by the time he died at the age of 31, he had recovered everything that had been lost. Things began to improve quite early in his life. In 1335 his mother, Elizabeth Badlesmere, married William de Bohun, a close companion of Edward III. With support from other nobles, William appears to have looked after his stepson’s interests and Roger was granted some of the Mortimer estates in 1341, regaining control of Wigmore by 1342 at the age of 13. But it was his military ability that really marked him out. He distinguished himself in a tournament at Hereford when only 15. Throughout his life, he was an ardent and loyal supporter of the king and a close friend of the heir to the throne, Edward, the ‘Black Prince’. Knighted with the Prince at the start of the French campaign in 1346, he fought with him at the great victory of Crecy. By 1348, he was important enough to be chosen as one of the founder members of the Order of the Garter and in 1354 his grandfather’s earldom was restored and he became the 2nd Earl of March in control of most, if not all, the estates held by the 1st earl. He died while campaigning in France but was brought home and buried at Wigmore Abbey.

Edmund Mortimer (1352-1381), 3rd Earl of March – The Royal Marriage
Roger’s son Edmund was betrothed as a child to Philippa Plantagenet, daughter and heir of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and granddaughter of Edward III. By the time they were married in 1368, Philippa was Countess of Ulster in her own right, bringing to the marriage extensive lands in Ireland. Edmund’s expeditions against the French were largely unsuccessful. At home he was generally hostile to the court party headed by John of Gaunt, Earl of Lancaster, allying himself more closely to the Commons. After the accession of Richard II, he was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland seeing action there before dying of pneumonia in Cork. Edmund took a special interest in Wigmore Abbey which was partially restored during his lifetime, and which received many gifts from him, and he was buried there with his wife. Although he doesn’t seem to have made much of it at the time, Edmund’s position as husband of the only child of Edward III’s second son, made him a potential claimant to the throne, particularly after the death of the Black Prince. This royal connection through the Mortimers was to become an important part of the Yorkist’s claim to the throne during the Wars of the Roses in the next century.

Roger Mortimer (1374-1398), 4th Earl of March – Heir of Richard II?
Roger’s father died when he was only seven, and from the age of ten he was in the guardianship of Richard II’s half-brother, Thomas Holland, earl of Kent. At the same time he was especially close to his illegitimate uncle, Sir Thomas Mortimer, who sat on the council that oversaw the family estates. These two relationships were greatly to affect his life. In the heated exchanges of the Merciless Parliament of 1386, Richard II identified Roger as the heir to the throne, apparently in an attempt to thwart the claims of Henry of Lancaster (the future Henry IV). In so doing Richard was ignoring both the accepted rules of succession and the entailment of the throne drawn up by Edward III*. It filled the Mortimers with false hope. Richard never officially recognised the Mortimers as having a claim; in fact, he placed them in an inferior position to his uncles in the order of precedence, and pointedly refused to acknowledge Roger as his heir in 1394. Nevertheless, it was widely believed that Roger would be the next king, if Richard died childless. For several years, he served as the King’s Lieutenant in Ireland, which removed him from the poisonous politics of the English court. But as Richard II became more unpopular, Roger found himself increasingly associated with the Lords Appellant, a powerful group of lords (including his uncle, Sir Thomas Mortimer) who had taken action against the king’s favourites in 1387. The king never forgave the Appellants. In 1397 he ordered Roger to arrest Sir Thomas Mortimer – a test which Roger conspicuously failed. Roger was summoned to a parliament in Shrewsbury in 1398 and was rapturously received there by a huge throng of supporters wearing his livery (20,000 according to one account). Soon afterwards he was sent back to Ireland by the king, initially as King’s Lieutenant. Richard did not keep up the charade for long. He ordered his nephew, Thomas Holland, duke of Surrey, to remove Roger from office, and probably to arrest him. By that date, however, Roger was already dead - killed in a skirmish at Kells while leading his army in native Irish dress. His marriage to Eleanor Holland, his guardian’s daughter (and sister of the man sent to arrest him), yielded four children by the time of his death, at the age of 24.

* For a detailed discussion of these matters see Ian Mortimer’s book Medieval Intrigue (Paperback - Continuum Publishing Corporation 2012)

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