MORTIMER (Family). . The Mortimers of Wigmore, earls of March and Ulster, were of a stock akin to the dukes of Normandy and to many great houses of the duchy. Their ancestor Hugh, bishop of Coutances in 990, had at least three sons by a niece of Herfast the Dane, forefather of the Norman earls of Hereford, and brother-in-law of Duke Richard I. The eldest of these sons was Ralph, father of William of Warenne, earl of Surrey. The second was Roger of Mortemer-en-Brai, in the Pays de Caux, who, like his elder brother, is called filius episcopi. If we assume that Roger was born before his father's consecration, he must have lived to a great age. In the battle fought within his own village of Mortemer, Roger was a leader of the force which defeated the French, but, releasing an enemy of his duke, he was punished by the loss of his castle, which was given to his nephew, William of Warenne. The chronicle of Ordericus Vitalis makes the Conqueror relate in a long death-bed speech how he had thrust Roger out of Normandy, and, though reconciled to him, had not restored the castle " in which he saved my enemy." It is somewhat remarkable that the Mortemers, thus early deprived of the castle at the source of the Eaulne, yet handed down a surname derived from it. Here also it may be noted that although Mortimer and Warenne branch off from their common stock before the beginnings of armorial bearings, the two houses assumed arms, which speak plainly enough of their common origin. The Mortimers' chief seat in Normandy became St Victor-en-Caux, where in 1074, by the last recorded act of Roger and his wife Hawise, the priory became an abbey. Roger's age would have forbidden him to be with the duke at Hastings, but, according to Wace, his son Hugh was in the fight, and Ralph the third son was probably among the knights.
By the deaths of his elder brothers, Ralph de Mortemer became heir to his father's lands. He followed his kinsman, William Fitz-Osbern, the earl of Hereford, to the marches of Wales, and the Domesday book for Hereford and Shropshire marks the growth of the Mortimer power in those countries. He remained loyal during the rising of the 2nd earl of Hereford, and was enriched by grants of many of the earl's forfeited estates, among them the castle town of Wigmore, which became the chief seat of Mortimer and Cleobury, thereafter called Cleobury Mortimer. His Domesday lands lie in eleven counties, but the most important are found in North Hereford and South Shropshire. Although keeping apart from the treason of Earl Roger, Ralph rose in 1188 with the other barons of the March, but was reconciled to William II., whom he afterwards supported in Normandy. He was living in 1104 a partisan of Henry I., and must have died soon afterwards. Hugh de Mortimer, who is found as his successor, a great Herefordshire baron in 1140, may have been either the son of Ralph's old age, or a grandson, the son of another Ralph. During the reign of Stephen, Hugh occupied himself with local feuds, but seized the royal castle of Bridgnorth. So great was his power in the marches, that he alone, deserted by the earl of Hereford, armed and held his three castles against Henry II. Although forced at last to submit, he was allowed to keep Wigmore and the ruins of Cleobury. This proud baron died at Cleobury (c. 1181) in the rhabit of a canon of the abbey which he had founded at Wigmore.
Ralph de Mortimer, the 5th baron of Wigmore (d. 1246), married Gwladys the Swart, daughter of Llewelyn the Great, prince of Wales, and by her was father of Roger, whose bride, Maude de Breuse, daughter and co-heir of that William de Breuse whom Llewelyn had hanged, brought in a third of the honour of Breuse of Brecknock, and a share of the honour of the earls marshal. So came the lordship of Radnor with other lands, and, as Eyton justly remarks, the history of the Mortimers ceases to be a provincial record. The last-named Roger stood steadfast for the Crown during Henry III.'s struggle with his barons. He found the fleet horse that carried Edward from his captivity. He led the rear-guard at Evesham, where his marchers hacked the head from earl Simon, and sent it to their lady at Wigmore. " After that victory," says Eyton, " no privilege, reward or honour was too great for Mortimer to ask." Dying in 1282, he was succeeded by Edmund, the eldest surviving son (d. 1304), Roger, a third son, founding the line of Mortimer of Chirk.
By Margaret de Fiennes, a kinswoman of Queen Eleanor of Castile, Edmund Mortimer had, with other issue, a son and heir, Roger (b. 1287), whose great- inheritance was increased on his marriage with Joan, daughter and heir of Peter de Geneville, her grandmother being a co-heir of Lacy. The whole of the Geneville lands, with the half of the Lacy fief in England and Ireland, came through her to the Mortimers, who now added the castle town of Ludlow and half Meath to their estates. As the king's lieutenant in Ireland during Edward Bruce's invasion of 1316, Roger Mortimer defeated the Lacys, his wife's jealous kinsfolk, and made her inheritance secure. With the aid of his uncle Roger Mortimer of Chirk, he assured the Mortimer power on the Welsh marches. During the war with the Despensers, the force of the Mortimers was cast against the king and his favourites, but after Bridgnorth Castle had been taken and fired, uncle and nephew submitted and suffered a harsh captivity for two years in the Tower of London. The uncle died in his prison, whence the nephew made a famous escape to France. At the court of Charles IV. the exile met Isabel, the queen of England, and early in 1326 the scandal of her close friendship with the lord of Wigmore had reached England. When the queen and her mercenaries from Germany and Hainaut landed at an English port in September, Mortimer was with her, and he followed the flight of the king to Wales. He was among the judges of the elder Despenser at Bristol, and of the younger, his chief enemy, at Hereford. After the parliament had deposed Edward II. and made the young Edward king in his stead, Roger, as the queen's paramour, ruled England. Enriched by the lands of the Despensers, and by those of the earl of Arundel, beheaded at his command, Mortimer, who was created earl of March in 1328, never ceased to add greedily to his possessions and offices. When he held a Round Table, he summoned to it, with the young king and the queen-mother, almost all the nobles of the kingdom, and was, says Robert of Avesbury, " as it were, king over them all." But his fate followed suddenly upon these doings. Lancaster turned in vain upon the aggrandized march-lord, but the young king, impatient of his own puppet-like place in Mortimer's polity, worked secretly and surely for his fall. Montague's men-at-arms entered Nottingham Castle by night, and joining the king, seized the favourite in his chamber next the queen. Mortimer, with the courage of his race, turned to bay and struck dead a knight who was the king's steward. But he was hurried to London and condemned by the peers; his death followed suddenly. Like any foot-pad, he was drawn at the horse-tail to the elms of Tyburn, where his body hung two days upon the common gallows.
The earl's son and heir, Edmund Mortimer, had been married to Elizabeth of Badlesmere, heir of her brother Giles. He died the year after his father's fall, and his young son Roger, as he grew up, was restored to a great part of their forfeited inheritance. This Roger fought at Crecy in " the king's battle." A founder of the Order of the Garter, he was summoned as a baron and obtained a reversal of his grandfather's attainder. In 1355 he was summoned as earl of March. On the death of his grandmother, Ludlow Castle became the chief seat of his house. But following his king in the invasion of Burgundy, he died suddenly at Rouvray in 1360. His wife, a grand-daughter of that William Montague, earl of Salisbury, who had captured his grandfather at Nottingham, survived him two-and-twenty years.
His only son, Edmund, a boy nine years old, succeeded him as 3rd earl of March (1351-1381). A bride was found for him in the royal house. His marriage with Philippa, daughter of Lionel of Antwerp, duke of Clarence, by Elizabeth de Burgh, the heir of Ulster, added the earldom of Ulster to his style, and brought his issue into the direct succession of the Crown. Like so many of his race, he died young, of a chill caught in fording a Munster river on a winter's day, and his countess was dead before him. Elizabeth, their eldest child, became the wife of the famous Harry Percy, called Hotspur. Their second was Roger, who succeeded to his father's two earldoms as a boy of seven, and was at once appointed lieutenant of Ireland. His marriage was given to the earl of Kent, who married him to his daughter, Eleanor Holand, the niece of King Richard. In the parliament of 1385 the king named him as heir-presumptive to the throne. The panegyrists of his family are loud in their praise of his knightly doings and his great beauty, but they speak also of his lion-like ferocity, of his lasciviousness, and of his neglect of divine things. When in Ireland he defied the statute of Kilkenny, and ordered his garments and horse-harness after the fashion of an Irish chieftain. He wore the Irish mantle on the day in 1398 when, in one of his petty wars with the Leinster men, he was struck down at Kells as he charged far before his horsemen. The body, mangled by Irish skenes and axes, was brought home to be laid by his fathers in their abbey of Wigmore.
Once more a child succeeded to the earldoms. Edmund, 4th earl of March, was six years old at his father's death, and was, for the king's party, the heir-presumptive of the kingdom. But in 1399 the boy's fate was changed by the coming to power of the Lancastrian party, and Henry IV.'s first parliament recognized Henry's son as heir-apparent. Although Edmund and his brother Roger were brought up honourably with the new king's younger children, they were in strict custody until the king's death, broken only by the attempt of their uncle, Sir Edmund Mortimer, and his father-in-law, Owen Glyndwyr, to carry them off from Windsor to Wales, where the young earl would have been proclaimed king. Henry V., however, released the earl and restored his lands, and absolved March from any share in the plot of the earl of Cambridge, who had married Anne, sister of the earl. March served the king in his French wars, although a dysentery caught in the camp at Harfleur seems to have kept him from his share in the glory of Agincourt. On the accession of Henry VI. the earl was appointed to the lieutenancy of Ireland which had been held by his father and grandfather, and in Ireland, on the 19th of January 1425, he died suddenly of the plague. His wife, Anne, daughter of Edmund, earl of Stafford, had borne him no child, and thus, his brother being dead before him, the illustrious house of the Mortimers, earls of March and Ulster, became extinct. Their lands and earldoms passed to Richard, duke of York, son of Richard of Cambridge, by the last earl's sister, and the great name of Mortimer disappeared from the English baronage.
AUTHORITIES. VictoriaHlstoryofthe Counties of England Introductions to Domesday book for Hereford and Shropshire; Eyton's Antiquities of Shropshire; Dictionary of National Biography; Dugdale's Monasticon; Stapleton's Rotuli Scaccarii Normanniae; G. E. C.'s Complete Peerage; Rymer's Foedera; Journal of the British Archaeological Association, vol. xxiv. Inquests, post mortem, close, patent and charter rolls, etc. (O. BA.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)