In June 1402 26 year old Sir Edmund Mortimer was ordered by Henry IV to raise an army to meet a force led by Welsh rebel Owain Glyn Dwr. This Edmund duly did from his birthplace and Mortimer fortress of Ludlow Castle raising men from Herefordshire and Mortimer held Maelienydd before meeting Glyn Dwr in battle at Bryn Glas near Pilleth in Wales on June 22nd 1402.
It was a crushing defeat for the English. The Welsh took the higher ground on the hill of Bryn Glas itself setting fire to the church of St Marys to distract the English. When Edmund ordered the attack, his men raised from Maelienydd promptly betrayed him, going over to Glyn Dwr and turning on their comrades. Edmund, badly injured, was taken captive and spirited away to the mountains of Eryri.[1.]
[St Mary’s Church nestled in the hill of Bryn Glas. Photograph authors own ]
As Glyn Dwr had previously done with Lord Grey de Ruthin, Edmund was offered to Henry IV for ransom, however unlike Ruthin, Henry IV refused to pay the ransom for Edmund Mortimer. When Edmund’s relatives began to raise the required amount, Henry forbade them to continue and confiscated Edmund’s plate and jewels. This was tantamount to a death sentence, with no valuables to raise cash to pay off his ransom for himself, friends and relatives disallowed, and the King refusing to pay; Edmund had no hope of regaining his freedom and would then become a useless prisoner and likely executed. This was probably the eventuality that Henry IV was actually hoping for and we do not have to look very far for an explanation.
Edmund was the fourth child and second son of Edmund Mortimer, 3rd earl of March and his wife Philippa of Clarence. His older siblings were Elizabeth b.1371, Roger, 4th earl of March b.1374 and Philippa b.circa 1375.[2.] Edmund never had the chance to get to know his Mother as she died between 1377 and 1378.[3.] and his Father died at Cork in December 1381. Edmund was the youngest grandson of Lionel of Antwerp who in turn was the second surviving son of King Edward III. This arguably gave the Mortimer family a better claim to the throne than Henry IV who was the son of John of Gaunt, Lionel’s younger brother.[4.] Edmund’s older brother Roger had died in 1398 leaving two young sons Edmund Mortimer, 5th earl of March and Roger who had been taken into Henry IV’s custody.[5.]
Excluding Sir Thomas Mortimer, the illegitimate son of Roger 2nd earl of March who was in exile [6.] Edmund, in 1402 was the only male adult Mortimer living. Thus, if anything happened to Edmund’s two young nephews then it was Edmund who was the Mortimer claimant to the throne. [7.] The Mortimer claim was not unknown and had been argued over during the Good Parliament of 1376, was current in the mid 1380’s and was likely discussed in the dark days of December 1387 when Richard II was in the Tower amidst talk of deposition. In 1400 the dreadful weather in England was blamed on the fact that Henry IV was merely the son of a Ghent butcher and the earl of March was the rightful King of England [8.]
As Henry IV had no real excuse to move against Edmund he had to tolerate him but the idea of an unfortunate accident befalling the young man was probably not unwelcome. Much of Henry’s attitude towards Edmund likely stemmed, at least in part, from the bad relationship between Thomas Mortimer and himself [9.] and his worsening relationship with the Percy family as much as the spectre of the Mortimer claim. After Bryn Glas Henry IV voiced the opinion that Edmund had actually been acting in collusion with Glyn Dwr and had allowed himself to be captured. To what purpose this served is unknown, Edmund, despite being a second son was a relatively wealthy man being looked after financially by both his Father and brother, the latter of whom he was exceptionally close to. Thus Edmund had much to lose and for what gain is not immediately obvious. There was no guarantee that Glyn Dwr would even best Henry IV and the might of England in his struggle for Wales and in any case; it was unlikely. As it happened, Henry IV’s behaviour after Bryn Glas left Edmund with no worldly goods left to lose and his first priority must have been survival.
Was Edmund in collusion with Glyn Dwr? It is hard to say with absolute certainty. They certainly knew one another, Glyn Dwr had served under Richard Fitzalan, 11th earl of Arundel in the 1380’s – Edmund’s brother in law, as did Thomas Mortimer, Edmund’s uncle. Glyn Dwr’s Father had been a steward of Arundel’s Father, a man in close contact with the Mortimer family.[10.]
There is no evidence to suggest that Glyn Dwr was present at Radcot Bridge in December 1387 but as a member of Arundel’s retinue as was Thomas Mortimer who was indeed present, then it is just possible. It is not known for certain if Glyn Dwr was a part of Richard II’s force that went to Ireland in 1394, but if he was as is speculated then he would have served alongside Roger, 4th earl of March, Thomas Mortimer and Edmund himself. The Mortimer lordship of Denbigh also bordered Glyn Dwr’s lands and not withstanding this, Iolo Goch, Glyn Dwr’s ‘unofficial’ bard also wrote a (very long) praise poem of Edmund’s brother Roger, part of which reads;
‘Sir Roger of the azure shield,…
Sir Roger of great Mortimer,
young Roger, plank of battle,
you are a warlike serpent of Sir Ralph’s line,
lord of Rhos, golden bright Roger,
hero, conqueror of a hundred forts,
heart of the angels of England,
and her chief supporter and her bridge,
sweet tree of talent, he causes good below,
white lord, bud of Usk.’ [11.]
Most importantly, in October 1401 Glyn Dwr passed a message on to Henry IV via Edmund and his Percy relatives suggesting that he would acquiesce to the king in return for his life being spared.[12.] This suggests a degree of trust between them, as well as an open dialogue despite being in the throes of warfare. The involvement of the Percy family is unsurprising given their responsibilities in Wales on behalf of the crown and in particular, Henry of Monmouth, Prince of Wales. Edmund is trickier to explain and it may just well be that Edmund did know Glyn Dwr personally which is why the beleaguered Welshman reached out to him. Furthermore, the fact that Glyn Dwr spared Denbigh and other Mortimer lands when on the rampage earlier in the year [13.] may indicate a friendship or at the very least, a degree of respect between the two. Glyn Dwr’s lands lay close to the border with Wales and he would have made friends and acquaintances throughout his life as would Edmund Mortimer. Their lives did not just abruptly start in 1402. The prior relationship between the two may well explain Henry IV’s suspicion after Bryn Glas but it does not necessarily mean that it was correct, it may just well be that Henry IV, nervous of the Mortimer claim wanted it to be true.
[The effigy of King Henry IV at Canterbury Cathedral; photo courtesy of Trish Pettie]
Of course, there may be some truth to the kings accusations but it is speculative at best. Ramsay states that Edmund had been ‘co-habiting’ with Catrin Glyn Dwr and married her after throwing in his lot with Glyn Dwr but unfortunately does not give a source for this assertion.[14.] Edmund himself had no cause to love or even like Henry IV [15.] and may well have been disaffected but as aforementioned, he had too much to lose and little to gain throwing in his lot with Glyn Dwr and a rebellion that was far from the national uprising that it would later become. Edmund as shown above was only too aware that Glyn Dwr would accept a pardon if offered.
However supposing that Edmund was having a love affair with Catrin Glyn Dwr prior to Bryn Glas in June 1402 it would explain the delay of their marriage until the end of November of that year as the Glyn Dwr’s request for a pardon was not dealt with until November when parliament sat. But on balance, its highly unlikely that Edmund was openly in a relationship with Catrin Glyn Dwr prior to June 1402 and it is even less likely that Glyn Dwr sanctioned his daughter sleeping and living with a man that she was not married to. Further to this, a violent argument had broken out between Edmund’s brother in law Henry Percy and Henry IV in October 1402 over, amongst other things, Percy’s accusation that Henry had dishonoured himself by not ransoming Edmund. It is reported that Henry ended up punching Percy in the face. [16.] Furthermore Usk lends his voice to suggestion that Edmund was indeed still loyal to Henry IV at Bryn Glas stating that Edmund only married Catrin Glyn Dwr in order to obtain an earlier release.
Whatever the truth of the matter, Edmund was still a prisoner in November 1402 and on the last day of the month he married Catrin Glyn Dwr.[17.] We know very little about Catrin herself unfortunately. She was probably the eldest daughter of Glyn Dwr and Marged ferch Dafydd and born in the 1380’s so somewhat younger than Edmund himself. She would have grown up in relative comfort, living at Sycharth and Glyndyfrdwy. Llywelyn y Glyn, a Welsh bard later composed a poem complimenting the beauty of Catrin’s sister Gwenllian, praising her white skin and golden hair [18.] and it may be that Catrin was a beauty like her sister.
[The motte at Sycharth; authors own]
Of course it is entirely possible that Edmund fell in love with Catrin Glyn Dwr during his captivity. This does not mean that Edmund was complicit in the defeat at Bryn Glas, nor his capture. If he did develop feelings for the daughter of his captor then it did not necessarily influence his decision to renounce his allegiance to Henry IV.
Edmund is a very shadowy figure within history and even in academic study, when relegated to the side-lines in favour of Henry IV, Glyn Dwr and Henry Percy. Usually he is seen as a foolish man; mediocre and vacillating. This is rather unfair. Edmund had spent much of his youth in war-torn Ireland where he would have gained valuable military experience which would have given him much insight during the Glyn Dwr rebellion. Not withstanding this, Edmund also acted as the deputy of his brother whilst in Ireland [19.] probably taking over from Thomas Mortimer after he fled Scotland in 1397. Roger was absent from Ireland for as much as six months in the first part of 1397[20.] and it would have been Edmund in charge of a volatile and violent landscape. With this in mind it is perhaps fairer to say that Edmund had more experience than Glyn Dwr himself. His importance as an ally of Glyn Dwr cannot be understated.
Unfortunately Edmund’s reputation has suffered beside that of his famous Father in law Glyn Dwr. For example;
“At my nativity,
the front of heaven was full of fiery shapes,
Of burning cressets, and at my birth
The frame and huge foundation of the earth
Shaked like a coward.” [21.]
Shakespeare attributes these supernatural portents to the birth of Owain Glyn Dwr and even in modern works on the latter they have been quoted. However ‘strange portents’ were recorded at the birth of Edmund, not Glyn Dwr and exist in contemporary source.[22.] Shakespeare saw fit to attribute this to Glyn Dwr for dramatic value and one is left to wonder at how much else Glyn Dwr is given credit for to the detriment of Edmund himself. That Edmund was a capable and vigorous knight should not be doubted, Usk records that long after Edmund’s death he was celebrated for his prowess in song. [23.] Certainly Edmund was the commander at Harlech Castle during the siege years as he would have been second only to Glyn Dwr himself. Far from being treacherous, after Edmund decided to forge an alliance with the Welsh rebels; he kept to it for the rest of his short life.[24.]
[Harlech Castle, home of Edmund and Catrin Mortimer between 1404 & 1409; photo authors own]
We cannot know how successful the marriage to Catrin Glyn Dwr was. They had four children together, born between 1403 and 1408; three girls whose names were not recorded and a son named Lionel. The decision to name his only son Lionel may very well give us clues as to why Edmund was persuaded to join Glyn Dwr.
As already noted, Sir Edmund was the youngest son of Philippa of Clarence the only child of Lionel of Clarence who in turn was the second surviving son of Edward III. In the autumn of 1376 Philippa was effectively disinherited by her grandfather who entailed the crown on his heirs male; that is Lionel’s younger brother John and his son Henry – later Henry IV. The settlement, benefitting John of Gaunt enormously, coming so soon after the Good Parliament where John, who was all but ruling England for his ailing Father at this time, raised the question of adopting the Salic Law. [25.]This would have achieved the same end as Edward III’s will just a few months later, barring Philippa and therefore her sons, Roger 4th earl of March and Edmund from the throne. In any case parliament refused the request. Despite this, throughout Richard II’s reign Edmund’s older brother Roger was widely thought to be the heir to the throne if the king died had childless, an eventuality that came to pass.[26.]
Scholars have categorically dismissed the claims of the Eulogium Historiaum that Richard II named Edmund’s brother Roger as his heir to the throne during the parliament of 1385.[27.] However given the political climate at the time, with an ever growing rift between John of Gaunt, his son and Richard II,[28.] its not altogether unlikely that Richard, nearly an adult would seek an alternative heir and throw off the restraint of Edward III’s will. In the late 1380’s the author of the Westminster Chronicle stated that if the King died, then Roger Mortimer, 4th earl of March who had by now married Richard II’s half niece Alianore would be King. At the very least this shows that the idea of a Mortimer succession was widely known. However Richard II was a mercurial, fickle man and he would turn on the Mortimers as he had the Lancastrians and this was likely stemming from the involvement of Thomas Mortimer during the challenge of the Lord Appellants. Possibly, had he not have been killed in battle in Ireland in July 1398 then Edmund’s brother Roger may have met a much more sinister fate at the hands of Richard II. [29.]
The Mortimer family, after the 1360 death of the second earl do appear to have been marginalised by successive Kings.[30.] It is apparent that Edmund’s brother Roger saw himself as Lionel’s heir, and resented not inheriting the dukedom of Clarence and as the brothers were known to be very close it is not unreasonable to assume that Edmund shared this belief. Naming his only son Lionel, Edmund was making a very clear statement to all and sundry that his family were the heirs of Lionel of Clarence and as such had a better claim to the throne than Henry IV. It is perhaps for the same reason that Edmund’s nephew and namesake Edmund Mortimer 5th earl of March chose to be buried at Clare, where the dukedom of Clarence derived its name, alongside Lionel of Clarence instead of the Mortimer mausoleum at Wigmore Abbey. It was a very simple yet stark statement.
Certainly Henry IV feared this. He allegedly ordered the Glastonbury Chronicle destroyed as it supported the Mortimer claim, also was the elaborate and quite frankly, ridiculous, scheme of claiming the crown through descent from Edmund Crouchback, 1st earl of Lancaster, the younger brother of Edward I in 1399. This was quickly abandoned as nobody was fooled by the story that Crouchback had been the older brother but had a bodily infirmity which meant that his brother Edward became King in his stead. This effectively named Edward I, Edward II, Edward III and Richard II usurpers. The snag in this scheme, ironically, was that this meant that Henry would then be claiming the throne through a female, his Mother Blanche of Lancaster who was the great granddaughter of Crouchback as the Mortimers claimed the throne through Philippa of Clarence. If there was absolutely no concern of the Mortimer claim to the throne then Henry and his friends would never have had to go to such extraordinary lengths to justify his claiming the crown.
Thus in 1402 after suffering the indignity of being betrayed by his own men, captured and then abandoned to his fate and having all means of procuring freedom cut, and perhaps already bitter over the treatment of his uncle, as well of his family et al Edmund was at the end of his tether. It is not difficult to see why Edmund would chose to join Glyn Dwr who apparently showed him nothing but kindness and then chose to press the Mortimer claim to the throne; which he did. Less than a fortnight after his wedding Edmund, as a free man, appeared in Maelienydd. He’d already sent letters out his tenants stating that Henry IV had no right to the throne and that if Richard II was still alive then he should be restored to his throne, and if not then Edmund’s nephew the captive young earl of March was the true King of England.[31.]
Glyn Dwr could not have found a better ally. The Mortimers could claim descent from the Princes of Gwynedd through the 1230 marriage of Llywelyn ab Iowerth’s daughter Gwaladys Ddu to Ralph Mortimer, he was a great grandson of Edward III and a grandson of Lionel of Antwerp, duke of Clarence and had the loyalty of Mortimer adherents spread out across the Welsh Marches. Henry IV, perhaps thinking that a dead Mortimer was more useful than a living Mortimer, had done nothing but give his great enemy a Glyn Dwr a son in law of English royal blood and had incurred the wrath of the Percy family for the dishonour done to their relative. He couldn’t have got it more wrong if he had tried.
We shall come back to Edmund Mortimer and explore more of his life both prior and after his marriage at a later date.
- Elizabeth married Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy had by him two children, Henry Percy 2nd earl of Northumberland and Elizabeth Percy. She later Thomas Camoys and may have had a son by him. Roger succeeded his Father was the 4th earl of March in 1381 and married Alianore Holland, a marriage that produced four children Anne b.1388, Edmund b.1391, Roger b.1393 and Eleanor b.1395. Philippa married three times; John Hastings 3rd earl of Pembroke, Richard Fitzalan 11th earl of Arundel and Sir Thomas Poynings.
- Philippa was buried in front of the high altar at Wigmore Abbey, in 1382 her husband was buried beside her. Their epitaphs are as follows;
Edmund- “One wise and good and well beloved beneath. This marble turns again to earth in death. Edmund’s pure body lies within this grave; But Christ from prisoning tomb his soul shall save.”
Philippa- “A noble countess here entombed doth lie, In deeds of charity she strove; Though sprung from kings, the friend of poverty; Forever may she live in heaven above!”
See the Chronicle of Adam of Usk
- In late 1376 Edward III changed his will, settling the crown on his heirs male; effectively disinheriting his granddaughter Philippa and her Mortimer children. I shall be writing a detailed analysis on the Mortimer claim to the throne in my forthcoming book and likely, in another post on this blog.
- The Lancastrian Kings concern over the Mortimer claim to the throne tends to be glossed over, ignored or explained as a fabrication. However it was very real during the reign of Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI.
- “See how wet it is and what awful weather there is these days and has been all the time of the present king, since all this time there has not been seven days’ of good and seasonable weather’. And she said more, that the present king was not the rightful king and that the earl of March is king by right. And that the present king was not the son to the most noble prince John, duke of Lancaster, whom God forgive, but was born the son of a butcher of Ghent.” See KB 27/564, rex rot 12. Warm thanks to Dr Sean Cunningham at the National Archives for the text and translation.
- The two boys were raised with John and Philippa, two of Henry IV’s younger children following Edmund Mortimers defeat at Bryn Glas. See Cal.Pat.Ro. p.103 membrane 10. “Appointment of the Kings knight Hugh de Waterton to dwell continually in the kings castle of Berkhamsted until the kings return from Wales and to govern there the kings children John and Philippa and his kinsmen the earl of March and his brother.” July 5th at Westminster.
- Thomas will be the subject of another post. He was the “sixth Lord Appellant” who took arms against Richard II in the 1380’s and was responsible for the killing of Sir Thomas Molyneaux at the battle of Radcot Bridge in 1387 which led to his arraignment for treason ten years later. Rather than risk ending his life the same way as his cousin and nephew in law Arundel had, Thomas chose to flee into exile in Scotland. There is some confusion regarding when he died exactly with some sources stating 1403. However Thomas was certainly dead by May 27th 1399. See Pat, 22, Richard II, p.3 membrane 7.
- Edmund Mortimer, 3rd earl of March was betrothed to Alice Fitzalan as a child, a match brought about by Roger Mortimer, 2nd earl of March and Richard Fitzalan, 10th earl of Arundel to bring the Arundel lordship of Chirk back into Mortimer hands (it had been lost at the downfall of the first earl in 1330). The marriage never took place, Edmund Mortimer married Philippa of Clarence and Alice Fitzalan married Thomas Holland 2nd earl of Kent the parents of Alianore Holland; wife of Roger Mortimer 4th earl of March and Mother of Edmund Mortimer, 5th earl of March.
- This poem is undated and given Iolo Goch’s long life could be praising one of two men, Roger Mortimer 4th earl of March or his grandfather Roger Mortimer 2nd earl of March who died in 1360 when Goch was already around 40 years old. It is the reference to Usk that makes Roger, 4th earl of March the likeliest Roger of the poem. He was born at Usk Castle in Wales in April 1374. His grandfather the 2nd earl was born at Ludlow. Thanks to David Pilling for the copy of this poem.
- Glyn Dwr’s request was refused by Westminster in November 1401 amid a rising anti-Welsh atmosphere. Had it been accepted then Edmund’s life would have been extremely different.
- See the Chronicle of Adam of Usk
- Alistair Dunn suggests that Thomas Mortimer was the closest to thing to a Father that Roger Mortimer’ 4th earl of March had. There is no reason to believe that he was not a Father figure to Edmund also. Roger was seven and Edmund just five when their Father died in 1381. They were in the custody of their uncle Thomas until 1383 and there is no evidence that I have so far found that Edmund as the younger son and less important than his brother ever left the care of Thomas. Edmund lost his uncle and Father figure and his brother in the space of less than a year. Edmund may well have harboured a deep resentment for this, as well as the separation from his own nephews. See Alistair J Dunn, Richard II and the Mortimer Inheritance for the relationship between Thomas Mortimer and Roger Mortimer 4th earl of March. Warm thanks to Alistair J Dunn for his guidance and suggestions on this and Ian Mortimer for sending a copy of the text to me.
- See, Lancaster and York vol I, James H. Ramsay p, 53 fn.1 I have searched the Ellis letters quoted by Ramsay but have been unable, so far, to find any mention of Edmund Mortimer co-habiting with Catrin Glyn Dwr, the letter [full text on request or see M.S. Cotton. CLEOP. f.122b) does not even mention the marriage let alone cohabitation. Without further evidence I have drawn the conclusion that cohabitation was Ramsay’s own view.
- See Chronicon abbatiae de Evesham, ad annum 1418 ed. William Dunn Macray. The monk of Evesham tells us that they married “circa festum Sancti Andreae” on or around St Andrews Day, 30th November.
- Original text; “Sir Henry [Henry IV ] sawe no grace for Mortimer ; his [Henry Percy’s] wifes brother.” See the Chronicle of John Hardyng. Hardyng was in the service of Henry Percy and was a northerner like his lord. He may well have been witness to this event or at the very least heard of them soon after. He was just two years younger than Edmund and would live until 1465 thus living to see the accession of Edward IV, the great grandson of Roger Mortimer, 4th earl of March. Henry Percy appears to have been close to his brother in law and they had known each other most of Edmund’s life. Percy travelled to Ireland with his Father in law Edmund Mortimer 3rd earl of March, Thomas Mortimer, and Roger Mortimer (later) 4th earl of March and likely Edmund also in 1380. See A.J Otway-Ruthven, A History of Medieval Ireland
- Llywelyn y Glyn was born around ten years after Gwenllians death but as a young man it is not impossible that he met and spoke to people who had known her or at the very least; laid eyes on her himself.
- 19. See ODBN entry on Edmund Mortimer by Tout and Davies. There are some errors in this entry such as the date of death of Edmund’s brother and the mention of his will; earl Roger left no will. Thank you to Ian Mortimer for clarifying that non existence of earl Roger’s will.
- CPR, Richard II, 1396-1399, p.58
- William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part One, Act 1, Scene 1
- See the Chronicon abbatiae de Evesham for the portents recorded at Edmund’s birth in full.
- See the Chronicle of Adam of Usk “his wonderful deeds to this day told at the feast in song.”
- Thanks to Paul Martin Remfry for his guidance and sending me a copy of his work, Harlech Castle and its True Origins
- See George Holmes’ exhaustive work The Good Parliament
- The Mortimer claim to the throne shall be the subject of a later post
- Ian Mortimer dates this to 1386 not as commonly believed, 1385. See, Richard II and the Succession to the Crown, warm thanks to Michael Bennett for bringing this to my attention and Alistair J Dunn for obtaining and sending a copy to me
- The Westminster Chronicle tells us that during a tournament held at Westminster on 13th/14th February 1385 there was a plot to kill John of Gaunt with the apparent approval of Richard II, however John was forewarned and managed to escape with a few companions. On the night of the 24th of the same month John visited Richard at Sheen and, wearing a breastplate beneath his clothes, he remonstrated with nephew about how he ruled England. It was at the intervention of Richard’s Mother Joan of Kent that a fragile harmony was restored.
- Roger was to be arrested but had died before it could be carried out
- This was never more apparent than after Roger, 4th earl grew to manhood. See, Leo Carruthers, The Duke of Clarence and the Earls of March: Garter Knights and “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Roger appears to have felt very strongly about this matter. Thanks to Alistair J Dunn for bringing this to my attention and obtaining and sending me a copy of the text
- M.S. Cotton. CLEOP. f.122b I shall publish the full text of this letter at a later date