MORTAIN, a small town in the department of La Manche, France, the chief town of an arrondissement and seat of a sub-prefect. It is beautifully situated on a rocky hill rising above the gorge of the Cance, a tributary of the Selune. The parish church of St Evroult is a magnificent example of the transitional style of the early 13th century, with a massive tower of the 14th and a Norman doorway dating from the original collegiate church (1058). Close to the town is the AbbayeBlanche, founded as a Benedictine convent in 1105 and soon afterwards affiliated to Citeaux. The church is a perfect example of a Cistercian monastic church of the late 12th century, and portions of the lath-century cloisters also survive. The population is between 2000 and 3000.
Mortain was, in the middle ages, the head of an important comtf, reserved for the reigning house of Normandy. In or about 1049 Duke William took it from his cousin William, " the warling," and bestowed it on his half-brother, Robert, thenceforth known as " count of Mortain," whose vast possessions in England after the Conquest (1066) gave name to " the small fees of Mortain," which owed less (knight) service than others. Robert was succeeded as count by his son William, who rebelled against Henry I., was captured at the battle of Tinchebrai (1106) and forfeited his possessions. Some years later, Henry bestowed the comt& on his nephew Stephen, who became king in 1135. On Stephen's death (1154) his surviving son William became count of Mortain, but when he died childless in 1159 the comte was resumed by Henry II. On the accession of Richard I. (1889) he granted it to his brother John, who was thenceforth known as count of Mortain till he ascended the throne (1199). With his loss of Normandy the comti was lost, but after the recapture of the province by the House of Lancaster, Edmund Beaufort, a grandson of John of Gaunt, was created count of Mortain and so styled till 1441, when he was made earl of Dorset.
As the counts are often described as " earls " of Mortain (or even of " Moreton ") the title is sometimes mistaken for an English one. It has also, through erroneous spelling, been sometimes wrongly derived from Mcrtagne-en-Perche. (J. H. R.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)