I am very pleased to publish the second part of David Pillings excellent article on Sir Roger Mortimer of Wigmore. This Roger, as noted in part one, left behind a legacy of absolute loyalty to kings Edward I, and his Father Henry III. He personally slew Simon de Monfort, earl of Leicester and Hugh Despenser at Evesham, and was famed as a fierce warrior, his epitaph recording that “all Wales feared his power” and that “it (Wales) knew his campaigns, he subjected it to torment.”[1.]
Roger died before the conquest of Wales was complete, just weeks before the death of his cousin Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. His loss was felt keenly by King Edward I, who in a letter to Roger’s younger son and namesake Roger (Mortimer of Chirk) states that “As often as the King ponders over the death of Roger’s Father he is disturbed and mourns the more his valour and fidelity, and his long and praiseworthy services to the late King and to him recur frequently and spontaneously to his memory.”[2.] Edward was never to enjoy the same sort of relationship with Roger’s heir Edmund but was on good terms with the younger son, the aforementioned Roger.
In this second part of David’s article he recounts Roger’s life after the battle of Evesham up until his death, recording events such as the antipathy between Roger and Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester[3.] and the complex relationship between Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and Roger.
SIR ROGER MORTIMER OF WIGMORE, PART TWO
After the royalist victory at Evesham Mortimer was first among those who sought to profit from the defeated; ‘greedy for spoil’, as one chronicler described him. Along with other hard-liners, he argued that the surviving Monfortians ought to be disinherited and their lands parcelled out among King Henry’s loyal followers. He certainly secured an ample share of the carve-up of rebel estates. His son Edmund was granted a prebend in York Cathedral, previously granted to Amaury, Simon de Montfort’s youngest son. Mortimer himself snaffled the township of Newbury in Berkshire, Shirley in Hampshire, the lands of Henry de Bonewod in the same county, the manor of Cold Overton in Leicestershire, the Hundred of Corby in Northant, land in Somerset and the manor of Martley in Worcestershire. He briefly acquired the earldom of Oxford, though this was eventually purchased back from him by the original earl, Robert de Vere. As if all this wasn’t enough, Mortimer’s eldest son Ralph annexed the manor of Dymock in Gloucestershire.
Mortimer was now riding high, flushed with military success, territoral acquisition and royal favour. Nearer his own turf, he was made Sheriff of Hereford and constable of Hereford Castle, and until 1267 retained his custody of the Bohun castles of Hay and Huntingdon. Perhaps Mortimer became overconfident, for his next move was disastrous. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was still active in the March, and on 4th May 1266 Mortimer and Prince Edmund were empowered to repress the king’s foes in that region. On 15th May, on the same day as the royalist victory at Chesterfield over Montfortian rebels, Mortimer’s army was wiped out by Welsh forces in Brycheiniog. According to the Annals of Waverley, all of his men were slain, and Mortimer himself only escaped the field with difficulty. Details of this battle are frustatingly vague, but it may be that Mortimer had bitten off more than he could chew. Brycheniog was a former lordship of his, conquered by Llywelyn in the early 1260s. After Evesham official custody of the lordship had passed to Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, who later accused Mortimer of planning to murder him. Mortimer’s invasion was probably an attempt to recapture former territory and strike at de Clare as well as Llywelyn.
His dismal failure doesn’t seem to have affected Mortimer’s reputation or standing. Two weeks later he was with the king at the siege of Kenilworth, where he was given command of one of the four royal divisions surrounding the castle. Possibly King Henry considered a defeat in the March, however shocking, as insufficient grounds for the dismissal of one of his most faithful captains.
Mortimer’s fortunes slumped again via the terms of the Treaty of Montgomery, signed on 29th September 1267. In return for annual tribute, Henry III agreed to recognise Llywelyn as Prince of Wales. This was the crowning success of Llywelyn’s astonishing career, but Mortimer had no cause to welcome it. The treaty demanded that he cede his manors of Ceri, Cydewain and his share of the lordship of Brycheiniog to Llywelyn. He was also threatened with the loss of Maelienydd, if Llywelyn could prove his legal claim to it, though in the meantime Mortimer was permitted to build a castle there at his own risk.
Shortly afterwards Mortimer engaged in a violent quarrel with de Clare at Bury St Edmunds. In consequence de Clare withdrew from court and went into open rebellion against the king. Details of Mortimer’s involvement in the brief civil war that followed are lacking, though he probably served with the king or the Lord Edward. In June 1267 the crisis ended peacefully, largely thanks to the intervention of Ottobuono, the papal legate. Therafter Mortimer’s star rose to unprecedented heights, and the next five years witnessed a constant stream of royal grants in his favour. In 1270, when Edward went on Crusade, Mortimer was appointed guardian of the prince’s children, lands and interests. He was also made part of a four-man council that virtually amounted to a regency government, since King Henry’s health was failing and he was unable to attend personally to affairs of the realm. Mortimer was now the chief agent of the royal administration of justice and maintenance of law and order. He seems to have done well enough: there were no major disturbances in the realm, and he continued to enjoy the fruits of royal favour.
After a life full of toils, King Henry finally died on 16th September 1272. Four days later Mortimer’s position in government, as well as that of his colleagues, was ratified by the magnates of the realm. Mortimer was now co-regent in full, and used his power to restore his authority in the March. His efforts to build a castle in Maelienydd were met with protests from Llywelyn, who complained this went beyond the terms of the Treaty of Montgomery. Llywellyn was also at loggerheads with de Clare and the Earl of Hereford, and forcibly occupied part of the lands of Peter Corbet, a Marcher baron. The regency council sent peace commissioners to Wales, but Llywelyn refused to pay any more of the annual tribute unless de Clare and Hereford withdrew. In June 1273 Mortimer and his colleagues strictly forbade Llywelyn from building his castle of Dolforwyn in Montgomeryshire. He responded angrily, claiming he had the right to build castles and hold markets anywhere he liked on his land.
In an undated letter to the new king, Edward (still abroad at this time) he suggested that the prohibition had been imposed without Edward’s knowledge, and that the king would not have taken such action against Llywelyn himself. At this point, ironically considering later events, Llywelyn viewed Edward as his defender against Marcher ambition. In 1274, shortly before Edward’s return, Mortimer was alerted to a conspiracy in northern England. Details are vague, but it was probably related to the re-emergence of Robert de Ferrers, Earl of Derby, who had once again broken out in rebellion. Ferrers seized his old castle of Chartley in Staffordshire, while his loyal tenant Roger Godberd overran the Midlands at the head of an army of outlaws. John de Eyvill, the old rebel, launched a series of raids in the northern part of Sherwood Forest. While Reginald de Grey laid siege to Chartley, Mortimer and Prince Edmund raced north and scattered the conspirators, killing some and driving the rest into flight. Chartley was soon retaken and Godberd captured inside a grange belonging to Rufford Abbey in the middle of Sherwood Forest. Shortly afterwards Edward finally came home, and this unjustly forgotten rebellion faded into the mists of history.
Relations between the new king and Llywellyn gradually soured. Both men were as proud and stubborn as each other, and equally unwilling to give ground. Edward five times summoned Llywelyn to perform homage, as was due from a vassal to his lord. Five times Llywelyn refused on various pretexts. Edward, he claimed, was harbouring his brother, Dafydd, and Gruffudd ap Gwenwywyn, lord of Powys. Both these men were Llywelyn’s enemies and had previously conspired to kill him. By refusing to attend on these grounds, Llywelyn cast a public slur on the king’s honour and implied that Edward would allow a guest in his court to be assassinated. In return Edward had Llywelyn’s young bride, Eleanor de Montfort, kidnapped on her way to meet her husband. Conflict was inevitable, and in 1276 Edward finally declared war.
Mortimer played a major role in the campaign that followed. He was appointed captain of the king’s army in Shropshire, Staffordshire and Herefordshire, and authorised to receive into the king’s peace all Welshmen who desired it. Mortimer’s army formed the spearhead of the English advance into the Middle March. There was to be no repeat of the calamity at Brycheiniog, and by January 1277 Llywelyn had been driven out of Shropshire. Along with Roger Lestrange and John Giffard, Mortimer pushed into Powys and Elsfael and laid siege to Llywelyn’s new castle at Dolforwyn.
In a letter dated to early April, Mortimer truimphantly announced his capture of Dolforwyn, along with some neat cost-cutting measures. He handed custody of the castle over to Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn, for otherwise the king would have been required to pay out a thousand marks per annum for its maintenance. Perhaps as safeguard for Gruffudd’s good behaviour, Mortimer left ten dismounted crossbowmen in royal pay to serve in the garrison, and a party of miners to dig out the rock and enlarge the fosses (ditches and moats). The capture of Dolforwyn was Mortimer’s chief action in this war. Afterwards the scene switched to North Wales, where Edward took the field in person and eventually induced Llywelyn to surrender. Mortimer stayed in the Middle March, where he continued to receive Welshmen into the peace and follow his policy of self-aggrandisement. In December 1277, along with others, he was appointed to escort Llywelyn to London, where the Welsh prince finally performed his long-delayed act of homage to Edward.
Mortimer’s remaining five years were largely spent in regional government and the steady acquisition of manors and offices. In 1279 he hosted a spectacular ‘round table’ tournament at Kenilworth, in honour of the conferment of knighthood upon three of his sons. In apparent celebration of his Brythonic heritage Mortimer proceeded from Kenilworth to Warwick, where he took on the persona of Hector of Troy, a hero of classic Antiquity: Mortimer’s princely Welsh forebears had claimed descent from the heroes of Troy. He also made a flamboyant effort to tap into Arthurian legend by taking his pet lion to Warwick, where he was awarded the prize of the ‘golden lion’. All this heavy-handed symbolism was supposed to invoke the memory of Sir Yvaine or Owain, called the Knight of the Lion in Arthurian tales.
In 1281 Mortimer signed a remarkable agreement with Llywelyn, his kinsman and lifelong foe. Via this pact both men agreed to support the other, in time of peace or war, saving their loyalty to King Edward. The ageing Mortimer may have indulged dreams of a crown for himself and his heirs. Llywelyn was old for the time, and had no sons. His direct heir as Prince of Wales was his brother, Dafydd, whose career was shrouded in treachery and mistrust. Via his royal Welsh blood, Mortimer was just one of many potential other claimants, but he had the advantage of military pre-eminence and a foot in both camps.
When war broke out in 1282 Mortimer made one last appearance in the field. He was once again appointed captain-general of the king’s army in the Middle March, and empowered to receive Welshmen into the peace. Oddly, he was also instructed not to convey supplies meant for the king’s army to the Welsh. This has been suggested as evidence that Mortimer had betrayed Edward and thrown in his lot with Llywelyn. Perhaps he was even contemplating an almighty double-double cross, whereby he hoped to betray both king and prince and seize the crown of Wales for himself. The theory is exciting, but falls down on closer inspection. The problem of English merchants trading with the enemy was a wide-ranging one, and Edward was several times obliged to forbid it. Mortimer’s own consistently loyal track record of service to Edward would itself argue against such a shameless act of treachery.
Whatever the truth, the battered old warrior’s extraordinary career was drawing to a close. A patent of 27th October reveals he was incapacitated with illness. In response to this news Edward granted, as a special favour never before granted to a blood-relation or any other, that if Roger died of his present malady, his executors would not be impeded in the execution of his will by pursuance of his debts. Instead Edward would seek satisfaction from Mortimer’s heirs. Thus the king demonstrably held faith with Mortimer to the very end, and must have been unaware of any treason on his old comrade’s part, if indeed any existed. After receiving this assurance Mortimer yielded up his last breath at Kingsland in Herefordshire. Two of his sons would shortly conspire in the death of their father’s cousin, enemy and sometime ally Llywelyn, but that’s another story….
Notes on intro.
1. The epitaph recorded by Dugdale reads:
“Here lies buried, glittering with praise,
Roger the pure, Roger Mortimer the second,
called Lord of Wigmore by those who held him dear.
While he lived all Wales feared his power,
and given as a gift to him, all Wales remained his.
It knew his campaigns, he subjected it to torment.”
Roger was buried at Wigmore Abbey which was destroyed at the reformation and his grave is now lost.
2. “To Roger son of Roger de Mortimer. Request that he will so conduct himself against the king’s Welsh enemies in the parts where his father was captain of the king’s garrisons that the king, so far as lies in Roger’s power, may seem to recover to some extent in the son what he has lost in the father, and so that the king may be the more strongly bound to him in the future. As often as the King ponders over the death of Roger’s Father he is disturbed and mourns the more his valour and fidelity, and his long and praiseworthy services to the late King and to him recur frequently and spontaneously to his memory. As it is certain that no one can escape death, the King is consoled and Roger ought to be consoled on his part because there is good hope that his Father after the trials of this life has now a better state than he had.”
3. Matthew Paris recorded that Gloucester said that “he would use his utmost endeavours to trample under his feet Roger Mortimer.”
Roger Mortimer at Evesham. Artwork courtesy of Matthew Ryan.