Monday, October 22, 2012

Sir Roger Mortimer - His Rise to Power and Influence

by Arthur Russell

Sir Roger Mortimer, 3rd Baron Mortimer – His Rise to Power and Influence.

Mortimer Shield
Roger Mortimer was the son of Edmund Mortimer, 2nd Baron Mortimer, a marcher lord whose stronghold at Wigmore castle was an important point in the defence against the Welsh princes in medieval times. It was his grandfather, Roger Mortimer, 1st Baron Mortimer who defeated and killed the Welsh Prince Llwelyn the Last in 1282. Edmund’s brother, Roger Mortimer of Chirk, carried Llwelyn’s severed head to King Edward I (nicknamed “Longshanks”).
Sir Roger’s father, Edmund Mortimer, was actually a second son who was destined for minor clerical orders in Oxford University before the sudden death of his older brother Ralph, heir to the title; caused his family to set his feet on quite another path.
Subsequently, Edmund married Margaret deFiennes who on April 25th 1287, bore their first son Roger, who was destined to become one of the most powerful and controversial figures in the England of his time.  
As a boy, Roger was sent to the house of his Uncle Roger Mortimer de Chirk in Cornwall. He was betrothed to Joan deGeneville, the daughter of Sir Piers deGeneville, Lord of Trim, Lord of Ludlow and Justiciar of Ireland. Sir Piers had inherited his Irish title by virtue of his own marriage to Maud who was a member of the deLacy family who were the original holders of the huge Trim Lordship in central Ireland.
The marriage of Roger and Joan took place in 1301. They had 12 children during the next 17 years which indicated a relatively close and loving relationship in spite of problems which emerged later in their marriage.
Wigmore Castle - Mortimer's headquarters
Roger Mortimer had to quickly learn the art of survival in the Welsh marchlands. His father was killed in a skirmish with the Welsh at Builth in 1304 leaving him as heir to Wigmore. The young heir designate was placed under the care of the Prince Edward’s favourite (some would say lover) Sir Piers Gaveston, until he was knighted with 250 others at a glittering ceremony in Westminster Abbey at Whitsun 1306 by King Edward I (“Longshanks”).
In March 1307, the young Prince Edward became King Edward II after the death of his father at the head of an English army marching north to attack Robert Bruce of Scotland. The coronation of the new king brought his friendship with one Piers Gaveston into sharp focus as he proceeded to heap Royal honours and titles on the young low born favourite, to the extreme annoyance of most of his barons. This was to cause many problems for Edward as many barons became disaffected.

Mortimer’s First Irish Campaign :
In 1308 Roger and Joan Mortimer went to Ireland to assert their Irish claims and immediately came into conflict with the cousins, Hugh and Walter deLacy, who disputed the will of their geriatric uncle Piers deGeneville, who had disinherited them in favour of Mortimer. While in Ireland it is supposed he met and campaigned with his former mentor and friend Piers Gaveston, who had preceded him to Ireland after being appointed Justiciar of Ireland by the King. By this time, Gaveston had been effectively banished from England at the insistence of his many enemies who objected to his influence over the King.
Trim Castle, Co Meath, Ireland - the largest in Ireland
Over the next few years, Roger and Joan divided their time between their Irish and Welsh marchland estates, as well as attending regularly to the King’s court where their loyalty were highly regarded. It is likely that Ireland provided a welcome absence from England for Mortimer as it kept him away from the intrigues surrounding his friend Gaveston, who having returned to England, was eventually captured and killed by his enemies in 1312, an act which divided the country and precipitated war between the King and his barons. This eventually ended in October 1313, when the recalcitrant barons sued for and were granted a Royal pardon.  King Edward was not strong enough to do much else.

The Scottish campaign and Bannockburn :
The Gaveston debacle served to distract King Edward II from paying enough attention to what was happening in Scotland, a campaign which had been so close to his father’s heart. The success of Bruce and the fact that as time went on, the Scots posed serious threat to England itself, finally prompted Edward II to prepare to march north to meet the Scottish challenge. Mortimer mobilized and sent considerable resources to help his King, and himself took part in the desperate final rearguard action at the end of the Battle of Bannockburn on June 24th 1314, after the defeated King Edward had left the field where so many of his followers fell.
After the battle, Mortimer was captured and due to the fact that he was a third cousin of the victor, Robert Bruce, and an ally of the Earl of Ulster, whose daughter Bruce had married; he was not ransomed, but was given the dubious duty of carrying King Edward’s privy seal and shield, both of which had fallen into Scottish hands during the battle; back to its owner, as a token of Bruce’s magnanimity towards a defeated foe. Mortimer returned to a demoralized English Royal court from Scotland and spent the remaining months of 1314 with King Edward whose spirits were at a low ebb having in a few short years of his reign, lost so many of his closest boyhood friends and allies.

Bruce’s Invasion of Ireland (May 1315)
It was while he was at the Royal Court that Mortimer by some means was made aware of Scottish plans to open a fresh front in their war with England by invading Ireland and putting Edward Bruce on the long vacated throne as Ireland’s Ard-Rí (High King).  Mortimer actually arrived in Ireland mere weeks before the invading Scottish army under Edward Bruce landed in Antrim on May 26th 1315, though he did not contribute to any resistance to Bruce’s march southwards. After Bruce destroyed Dundalk, Justiciar Edmund deBoteler decided to use Mortimer’s forces as a rearguard to his own forces. Mortimer stationed himself in the town of Kenlys (Kells) to defend his Irish estates. On November 14th his forces were utterly defeated by Bruce and he was lucky to escape with a handful of knights to Trim Castle and from there to Dublin, where he met the King’s representative. It was decided that he should return to England to report to King Edward on the perilous state of the English colony in Ireland. 
The disastrous situation in Ireland coupled with that of England after Bannockburn, was further compounded by the weather. 1315 and 1316 saw two disastrous harvests in Europe, which meant that famine and pestilence was rife everywhere. Any plans Mortimer had of persuading King Edward to provide men and resources to reverse the situation in Ireland had to give way to the more immediate need to address the dire situation in England itself.
Apart from agreeing and attending the wedding of his 14 year old son Edmund to the infant daughter of the rich and influential Bartholomew Badesmere (nicknamed “the Rich”); Sir Roger spent most of 1316 attending to the King’s business in England. Significantly he was responsible for the defeat of the Welsh prince Llwelyn ap Gruffydd ap Rhys otherwise called Llwelyn Bren, and the suppression of a revolt by the townsmen of Bristol.
Finally in November of that year he persuaded the King that the best way of advancing the two front war with the Scots, was to confront them in Ireland by sending a huge royal army there during the following year.  Edward officially appointed Sir Roger King’s Lieutenant of Ireland with wide ranging powers to condemn or forgive rebellious subjects, appoint, confirm or remove officials, remit debts, sell or assign land grants, negotiate treaties and covenants, arbitrate disputes, marriages, wills. Most important, he was given whatever funds he needed and a free hand to operate as virtual ruler of Ireland – in the King’s name. This was the first Royal appointment of his career.
After many delays and logistical difficulties, Sir Roger landed in Youghal, Co Cork Ireland. His arrival was greeted with understandable joy by the hard pressed colonists; but also by many Irish who were angry and weary of the depredations of the Scottish invaders, who over the previous 2 years, had looted the country from one end to the other. The invasion had not bothered to “win hearts and minds”.  In truth, by 1318, the Scots were a spent force, in large part due to the destruction of Ireland’s resources which rendered much of the island incapable of sustaining life. Edward Bruce was forced to fall back on his base in Ulster to link with help and resources from his brother King Robert of Scotland.
Sir Roger could afford to bide his time and spent several months reversing the advances made by the Scots by using his authority to restore English rule in the East and South of the island.  The end of the Bruce brothers’ Irish adventure came at Faughart, near Dundalk, on October 14th 1318, when Edward Bruce rashly committed his badly outnumbered force to battle without the reinforcements led by King Robert himself, which had already landed and were marching south to help him.

The Irish campaign was a notable victory for Mortimer, as it marked the end of Scottish interest in Ireland and restored balance to the relationship between England and Scotland, which culminated in the Treaty which affirmed Scottish independence for the next 3 centuries, and the establishment of more normal relations between England and Scotland. It also cemented Mortimer’s claims on his substantial Irish estates.

During those critical years, during which he had shown remarkable ability and astuteness, Mortimer became indispensible to King Edward II, who arising from all the disasters and difficulties of the early years of his reign, continued to sit most uneasily on his throne.
Those early years set the scene for many of the events of the next 12 tumultuous years; events that would see the violent deaths of both Mortimer and his King.

These events will be outlined in a future post. 

Bibliography - The Greatest Traitor (Ian Mortimer); A History of Ireland - Volume 1 (Eleanor Hull)

This post is submitted by Arthur Russell, Author of the historic novel 'Morgallion' which is set in 14th century Ireland at the time of the Bruce invasion. The invasion was eventually defeated by Sir Roger Mortimer, who among his many titles, was also Lord of Trim. 
'Morgallion' was launched at the O'Carolan Harp Festival on Sunday Oct 14th 2012.
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  1. Really interesting Blog Arthur. Am looking forward to the continuation of it ?

  2. What a fine, informative article. Thank you, Arthur.

  3. Thanks to Jayne and Katherine for your comments. The second follow-up post on Sir Roger Mortimer's life and career is planned for December

  4. This is so fascinating, I've recently become interested in Roger Mortimer and am reading everything I can find about him! I'm looking forward to reading the next post.


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