Roger Mortimer was an English nobleman and a powerful March lord who had gained many estates in the Welsh Marches and Ireland after an advantageous marriage to the wealthy heiress Joan de Geneville, the 2nd Baroness Geneville.
In November of 1316 he was appointed as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and six years later the tides would change for him. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London for having led the Marcher lords into a revolt against King Edward II of England, in what had become known as the Despenser War. He would later escape to France, where he would be joined by Edward’s queen consort Isabella, whom he took as a mistress. Afterwards, they would lead a successful invasion and rebellion against Edward who was subsequently deposed. Roger had allegedly arranged for the murder of the king at Berkeley Castle.
For three years, Roger was the de facto ruler of England before being overthrown himself by Edward’s eldest son, Edward III. He was then accused of assuming royal power and other crimes and was then executed by hanging at Tyburn.
Roger’s Early Years
Roger was the grandson of Roger Mortimer, the 1st Baron Mortimer and his grandmother was Maud de Braose, Baroness Mortimer. He was the first born of the Marcher Lord Edmund Mortimer, the 2nd Baron Mortimer and Margaret de Fiennes, and was born at Wigmore Castle in Herefordshire, England. When his elder brother Ralph suddenly died, Edmund was recalled from Oxford University and was installed as heir.
According to his biographer, Ian Mortimer, Roger had possibly been sent away from home as a boy to be fostered in the household of his formidable uncle, Roger Mortimer de Chirk. Uncle Roger had carried the severed head of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd of Wales to King Edward I of England in 1282. On the 25th of February 1308, Roger had attended the Coronation of Edward II. He would carry the table bearing the royal robes in the ceremony’s procession.
Like many noble children at the time, Roger was betrothed to Joan de Geneville at a young age. Joan was the daughter of Sir Piers de Geneville of Trim Castle and Ludlow. They were married on the 20th of September in 1301, when he was just fourteen-years-old. The couple’s first child was born in 1302. Through their marriage, Roger had not only acquired numerous possessions in the Welsh Marches, which included the important Ludlow Castle that would become the chief stronghold of the Mortimers, but he also acquired extensive estates and influence in Ireland.
Joan was not an “heiress” at the time of her marriage. Her grandfather Geoffrey de Geneville was eighty-years-old in 1308 and then had given most, but not all of his Irish lordships to Roger, then he retired and eventually passed away in 1314. Joan would succeed as sue jure 2nd Baroness Geneville. Geoffrey also conveyed most of the remainder of his legacy, such as Kenlys, to his younger son Simon de Geneville, who had meanwhile become the Baron of Culmullin through his marriage to Joanna FitzLeon. Roger had therefore, succeeded to the eastern part of the Lordship of Meath, which was centered on Trim, and its stronghold, Trim Castle. He would not succeed however to the Lordship of Fingal.
Roger’s Ireland and Wales Military Adventures
When his father was mortally wounded in a skirmish near Builth in July of 1304, Roger’s childhood came to an abrupt end. Since he was underage at the time, he was placed in the guardianship of Piers Gaveston, the 1st Earl of Cornwall by King Edward I. However, on the 22nd of May 1306, in a lavish ceremony at Westminster Abbey, with two hundred and fifty-nine others, Roger was knighted by Edward and was granted livery of his full inheritance.
In 1308, his adult life quickly began. When Roger went to Ireland to enforce his authority it brought him into a conflict with the de Lacys. They would go to Edward Bruce, the brother of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, for support. Roger was appointed as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland by King Edward II on the 23rd of November 1316. Not long after, at the head of a large army, he drove Bruce back to Carrickfergus and the de Lacys into Connaught, wreaking vengeance on their adherents any time that they were found.
Roger would return to England and Wales in 1318 and was kept busy there for many years with baronial disputes on the Welsh border.
Roger Opposes Edward II
Roger grew out of sorts with his king and joined the growing opposition to Edward II and the Despensers, after the younger Despenser was granted lands belonging to him. He and the Marchers began conducting devastating raids against the Despensers property in Wales and Roger would support Humphrey de Bohun, the 4th Earl of Hereford, in refusing to obey the king’s summons to appear before him in 1321, as long as “the younger Despencer was in the King’s train”.
Mortimer would lead a march against London, with his men wearing the Mortimer uniform, which was green with yellow sleeves. He was kept from entering the capital, even though his forces were able to put it under siege. These acts of insurrection would compel the Lords Ordainers, which were led by Thomas, the 2nd Earl of Lancaster to order the king to banish the Despensers in August. When the king led a successful expedition in October against Baroness Badlesmere, Margaret de Clare, after she had refused admittance to Queen Isabella into Leeds Castle, he used the victory and his new popularity among moderate lords and the people to summon the Despensers back to England. In the company of other Marcher lords, Roger would lead a rebellion against Edward, which is now known as the Despenser War.
During May of 1322, Roger joined up with Lancaster at the Battle of Boroughbridge and warrants were then put out for his arrest in July. A death sentence was given to him, but it would be commuted to life imprisonment. He was consigned to the Tower of London. However, in August of 1323, Roger, with the aid of Constable Stephen de Segrave, had drugged the guards and escaped the Tower. He would then try to capture Windsor and Wallingford Castles to free the imprisoned Contrariants. Roger would eventually flee to France, when warrants were put out for his capture, whether dead or alive.
In the following year, Queen Isabella, looking to escape from her husband, obtained his permission to go to France to use her influence with her brother, King Charles IV, in favor of peace. While at the French court, the queen came across Roger, who would end up becoming her lover soon after. At his instigation, she refused to return to England as long as the Despensers remained the king’s favorites.
Historians have speculated as to when Roger and Isabella actually became lovers, but today’s view is that it began while they were actually both still in England. After a disagreement, Isabella had abandoned Roger to his fate in the Tower, and his subsequent escape became one of medieval England’s most colorful episodes. However, it is almost certain that Isabella had risked everything by taking a chance with Roger’s companionship and emotional support when they had first met again at Paris four years later during Christmas of 1325. King Charles IV’s protection of his sister at the French court from the Despenser’s would-be assassins would also play an important role in the development of their relationship.
In the year 1326, Roger moved as Prince Edward’s guardian to Hainault, but only after a furious dispute with the queen. He would demand that she remain in France, and Isabella would retire to raise troops in her County of Ponthieu. Roger would arrange for an invading fleet that was supplied by Hainaulters and an army that was supplied by his supporters back in England. These supporters had been sending him aid and advice since at least March of 1326.
Roger Invades England and Defeats Edward II
The scandal of Isabella’s relationship with Roger had compelled them to withdraw from the French court to Flanders. It was here that they obtained the assistance for their invasion of England from Count William of Hainaut, even though Isabella didn’t arrive from Ponthieu until the fleet was ready to set sail. They would land in the River Orwell on the 24th of September 1326, where they were accompanied by Prince Edward and Henry, the Earl of Lancaster.
London would rise in support of the queen, and Edward would flee for the west. He was pursued by Roger and Isabella and after wandering helplessly for a few weeks in Wales, the king was taken as prisoner on the 16th of November. The king would then be compelled to abdicate the throne in favor of his son, who was crowned as king Edward III of England on the 25th of January 1327. However, the country was ruled by Mortimer and Isabella. On the 21st of September, Edward II would die while he was in captivity, under suspicious circumstances. His death has been the subject of many conspiracy theories, including that Roger had killed him, none have been proven though.
Powers Won and Powers Lost
After the removal of the Despensers, Roger set to work restoring the status of his supporters, primarily in the Marches. Hundreds of pardons and restorations of land and money were made in the first year of the new king’s reign. Rich estates and offices of profit and power were heaped on Mortimer.
During September 1328, Roger was made a constable of Wallingford Castle and was also created Earl of March. In terms of military, he was far more competent than the Despensers, but his ambitions were troubling to all. His son Geoffrey, his only son to survive into old age, would mock him as “the king of folly”. During his short time as a ruler of England, Roger had taken over the lordships of Denbigh, Oswestry, and Clun, the first of which had belonged to Despenser, and the latter two had been the Earl of Arundel’s. Roger was also granted the marcher lordship of Montgomery by the queen.
Many of the nobles had grown jealous and angered with Roger’s use of his power. Henry, the Earl of Lancaster, one of the principals behind Edward II’s deposition had made an attempt at overthrowing Roger, but the action was ineffective as the young king passively stood by. In March of 1330, Roger put out an order for Edmund, the Earl of Kent and half-brother of Edward II to be executed. After his execution, Henry Lancaster prevailed upon the young king Edward III, to assert his independence.
In October, a Parliament was summoned to Nottingham, just a few days before Edward’s eighteenth birthday. Roger and Isabella were seized by Edward and his companions from inside Nottingham Castle. Despite Isabella’s entreaty to her son, “Fair son, have pity on the gentle Mortimer,” he was conveyed to the Tower of London, being accused of assuming royal power and of various other high misdemeanors. He was condemned without a trial and ignominiously hanged at Tyburn on the 29th of November 1330, and his many estates were forfeited to the crown. Roger’s body hung at the gallows for two days and nights in view of the populace. His widow, Joan, had received a pardon in 1336 and would live until
1356, she would be buried beside him at Wigmore, but the site was later destroyed.
Many years later, in 2002, actor John Challis, the owner of the remaining buildings of Wigmore Abbey, had invited the BBC program “House Detectives at Large” to investigate his property. While investigating, a document was discovered. It was from Roger’s widow, Joan, and petitioned Edward III to return her husband’s body so that she could bury it at Wigmore Abbey. His lover, Isabella, had buried his body at Greyfriars in Coventry after he was hung. Edward III had replied to Joan stating “Let his body rest in peace”. The king would later relent and Roger’s body was transferred to Wigmore Abbey, where Joan later was buried beside him.