1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mortimer

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 IIO4 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 theroyal 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 habit 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 carne 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. A