On this day in history: The birth of Roger Mortimer, 4th earl of March

A quick post today to mark the birth of the fourth earl of March, Roger Mortimer. I shall come back and write about him in much more detail at a later date using full sources and citations.


On Monday April 11th 1374 eighteen year old Philippa, countess of March gave birth to her second child and first son. She and her husband, Edmund Mortimer, 3rd earl of March already had a daughter Elizabeth, named after Philippa’s Mother Elizabeth de Burgh, in 1371.  The baby was born around four in the afternoon at Usk Castle on his Fathers lands in Wales and was named Roger after his grandfather and great, great-grandfather. [1.]  His Father, earl Edmund had only returned from Ireland the previous month where he had been since September 1373, perhaps in expectation of the impending birth.  The baptism was delayed until the following Sunday, the 17th of April when he was baptised by William Courtenay, bishop of Hereford and then confirmed by Roger Crandock, bishop of Llandaff.  The latter also acted as his godfather alongside Thomas Horton, the abbot of Gloucester and an unnamed prioress of Usk as godmother.

Earl Edmund left England  again shortly before Roger’s first birthday in 1375 to campaign in Brittany and was gone for nearly half a year. The campaign came to an inglorious end, mainly because of John of Gaunt’s ill-timed peace talks with France and the earl later had to be ordered back to England by Edward III. Countess Philippa was in the early stages of pregnancy when the earl left for Brittany and a daughter, Philippa, was born in November of that year with Edmund following a year later in December 1376.  Countess Philippa died at some point in the spring of 1377 and was interred at Wigmore Abbey. [2.] It is unlikely that Roger would have remembered much, if anything, of his Mother and his younger two siblings certainly wouldn’t have remembered her at all.

In 1376 ugly scenes during the sitting of parliament when Philippa’s uncle, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, the younger brother of her Father Lionel of Antwerp, duke of Clarence (d.1369), had asked parliament to consider adopting the French Salic law. Gaunt, with an ageing, ill king, and an underage heir saw a glimmer of possibility  for himself or his son inheriting the throne but Philippa and her son Roger, heirs of Lancaster’s older brother Clarence stood in the way. Lancaster’s extraordinary request should be seen for what it was: a means to oust the Mortimer family from the succession. Parliament refused, quite rightly, as the heir to the throne was still only a child and would quite likely Father sons of his own in due course. Nevertheless, much bad blood had been caused with Earl Edmund and until his death in June 1376, Edward prince of Wales tackling the corruption of the household officers of Edward III, friends of Lancaster who was all but ruling England during the last year of Edward III’s life.[3.]  The following year Lancaster undid all of the work of the 1376 Parliament and threw the earls steward and Speaker of the 1376 parliament, Peter de la Mare into prison.[4.]

On June 21st Edward III died and his grandson Richard of Bordeaux succeeded him as Richard II of England at the age of ten. Earl Edmund, well aware of Lancaster’s enmity and  fearing assassination if he stepped foot out of England resigned his post of Marshal of England rather than follow the order to inspect the defences of Calais. On October 22nd 1379 he was confirmed as lieutenant of Ireland, a post which made sense for he was also the earl of Ulster and lord of Connacht in right of his wife.  He had been busy with diplomatic missions to Scotland  and always popular with the Commons, had been given a place on the regency council for the underage King. However with Lancaster a very real enemy, he was probably relieved to have a reason to leave England and accepted the post with huge financial advantages. He wrote his will before he left, leaving gifts to his daughters and money to his younger son, as well as his bastard half-brother Thomas. The earl landed at Howth in May 1380 with Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, his half brother Thomas and his eldest son Roger in attendance.  Later on in the year he knighted Thomas who he appears to have relied on during their time in Ireland.

Earl Edmund died at Cork in December 1381 and the six year old Roger succeeded him as fourth earl of March. The Anglo-Irish, panic-stricken at the loss of earl Edmund chose his brother Sir Thomas on account of his military abilities to take control, as the native Irish caused mayhem in the confusion. On January 24th 1378 Richard II appointed Roger as the Lieutenant of Ireland with his uncle Thomas as his deputy and charged him to remain constantly at the side of his nephew.  It appears that Sir Thomas did all he could to smooth over events in war-torn Ireland but the Anglo-Irish were not satisfied with a child as their lieutenant (and one would assume neither were they satisfied with his bastard uncle, a mere knight bachelor, in charge.) In June 1378 they reacted in fury and petitioned Richard II in outrage that Roger had not been present at parliament because he had a cold. Nevertheless Roger would remain in Ireland until autumn 1383.

Roger’s inheritance was vast and no sooner had he returned to England, approaching his tenth birthday then his wardship was granted to Richard Fitzalan, 11th earl of Arundel, a guardian who Sir Thomas appears to have been close to. [5.] The Mortimer estates were granted to a group of men, Arundel, Henry Percy 1st earl of Northumberland whose son and heir Henry was married to Roger’s older sister Elizabeth, Thomas de Beauchamp, 12th earl of Warwick, the first cousin of Roger’s grandfather the 2nd earl, and John, Lord Nevill. Sir Thomas would act as ‘caretaker’ for the Mortimer estates.  Had he continued to be the ward of Arundel then Roger would have probably married one of Arundel’s daughters, likely Joan or Alice who were of a similar age to him. However Joan of Kent, Richard II’s Mother persuaded her son that Roger should be given in ward to her oldest son by her first marriage. After less than a year of living in Arundel’s household, Roger was sent to live with Thomas Holland, 2nd earl of Kent who paid his half-brother the King 6000 marks for the guardianship of Rogers person and his marriage.

The removal of Roger from Arundel’s guardianship to that of Kent’s is interesting. It may well be that Joan, with an eye to the future, wanted one of her own family to marry into the Mortimer family in the event of Richard II having no children and Roger perhaps being named as heir to the throne. King Richard had a special dislike for his uncle Lancaster and the latter’s heir Henry Bolingbroke.  In 1386 in a rash outburst during very tense scenes at parliament Richard would claim that Roger was his heir. Even if Richard II had no intention of having a Mortimer succeed him, the idea was still present in people’s minds, as I have previously discussed in my article on Roger’s younger brother here.  Roger’s position growing up was a difficult one. He was very close to his uncle Sir Thomas who was likely a father figure to him, but Thomas had become increasingly involved with Arundel [6.] and emerged as one of the lesser ‘Lords Appellents.’ The Appellants were a group of highborn men led by Edward III’s youngest son Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester, Richard Fitzalan, 11th earl of Arundel, Thomas de Beauchamp, 12th earl of Warwick, Henry of Lancaster (Bolingbroke- Lancaster’s only legitimate son) and Thomas de Mowbray, earl of Nottingham who took it upon themselves to curb what they saw as Richard’s increasingly tyrannical rule.  In December 1387 Thomas was present at the battle of Radcot Bridge and was personally responsible for the killing of one of Richard II’s trusted men, Sir Thomas Molyneaux. This series of events saw the king being placed in the tower and perhaps unofficially deposed for as long as two days. It is thought that arguments over who would succeed him as king (as he had no children) is the only reason why Richard was allowed to retain his throne. one would imagine that sir Thomas, present throughout would have argued Roger’s claim to the throne. In any event, sir Thomas’s behaviour can hardly have made Richard II look favourably on the Mortimer family as a whole.

Roger was in the unenviable position of being in the care of Richard II’s uterine half-brother during this time of turmoil. Adam Usk later referred to Roger’s brother-in-law, Thomas Holland, 1st duke of Surrey as his ‘enemy,’ and it may well be that the two men never saw eye to eye and this may well be because of Mortimer defiance towards Richard II. Roger’s relationship with Sir Thomas certainly did not suffer as they are later recorded as exchanging gifts and going on hunting trips together. This may well have affronted (perhaps understandably) the Holland family who were extremely loyal to Richard II.  Nevertheless, in early 1388 Roger was married to Alianore, Holland’s eldest daughter. This marriage probably took place shortly after Roger’s fourteenth birthday and Alianore would have been approaching her eighteenth birthday. Despite Roger’s youth, their first child, a daughter Anne was born on Mortimer estates in Hampshire on the 9th anniversary of earl Edmund’s death on December 27th 1389. [7.]  A son, Edmund, followed on 6th November 1391, another son, Roger was born less than two weeks after Roger’s nineteenth birthday on April 23rd 1393 and a second daughter Eleanor in 1395.

Roger was knighted in 1390 and was granted his lands in Ireland in 1393 and those in England in 1394 despite still being underage. Like his father before him he was duly sent off to Scotland on diplomatic missions, and upon his return in early 1394 took a tour of his Welsh and marcher estates. Roger was part of Richard II’s trip to Wales in 1394 and his uncle Thomas as well as his younger brother Edmund were part of his retinue.[8.]  When Richard II left Ireland the following year, Roger remained behind serving as Lieutenant.  Despite his obvious liking for Irish customs, Roger was aggressive towards the native Irish particularly with the O’Neill family who had all but taken over his lands in Ulster. The king’s campaign in Ireland had temporarily subdued the native Irish lords but nobody could doubt that warfare would continue as soon as he had left. Prior to Richard’s leaving Ireland Niall O’Neill wrote to him stating that he had been told that Roger intended to attack him as soon as the King was on his way back to England.

We hear of Roger ‘treacherously’ raiding and burning O’Neill’s lands the following year and they certainly were not the only native Irish family who he attacked. Certainly he was warlike and was celebrated for his military abilities by Welsh bard Iolo Goch;

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.’

Roger returned to England for around six months in the first part of 1397 leaving his younger brother Edmund as his deputy and then returned to Ireland. It may well be that Roger’s aggression and attacking the native Irish lords who Richard had worked hard to subdue in 1394/5 annoyed the king but it is far more likely that the king, completely secure again after the turmoil of the latter half of the 1380’s was looking for revenge.  In a series of astonishing coups, Gloucester was dragged from his sickbed, shipped to Calais as a prisoner and subsequently murdered, Arundel was arrested and after an explosive row with Gaunt in Parliament was condemned to death and was beheaded, his son Thomas, only sixteen was sent to live with John Holland,  1st duke of Exeter (the brother of Thomas Holland, 2nd duke of Kent) who ‘greatly mistreated’ him to the point that the boy escaped and fled to France (one has to wonder if Roger was subjected to similar treatment during his youth), Warwick, pleading for his life lost everything and was imprisoned for life.  Arundel’s brother, Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury was exiled. Richard then turned his attentions to Thomas Mortimer.

In an act of astonishing cruelty the king sent orders to Roger to arrest Sir Thomas. If this was a test of where Roger’s loyalties truly lay, with the King or with his Mortimer kin, then he was always doomed to fail. The Mortimer’s in the 1390’s were a very close family, relations between Roger and his brother Edmund exceptionally close, and both men appear to have enjoyed a very close relationship with their uncle Thomas, as aforementioned, the only Father they had ever known. Both men were also close to their brother-in-law, Henry Percy so one may presume that their relationship with their sister Elizabeth remained strong. Their youngest sister Philippa had married Arundel circa 1390 with whom Thomas and most likely Roger and Edmund were on excellent terms with. It is very unlikely that Richard II ever truly expected Roger to arrest and hand his uncle over to face what was almost certain death and at the time it was reported that Richard’s plan was to ‘use the uncle to ensnare the nephew.’  Whatever the truth, Thomas  first fled ‘into the mountains of Ireland’ where Irish rebels protected him before escaping to Scotland. Lancaster convicted him of treason in his absence in November 1397. [9.]

Roger himself must have known that he was in a precarious position. He was recalled to England to attend Parliament at Shrewsbury in 1398, leaving his brother Edmund as his deputy once again. It is not known what the king had planned for him exactly but the huge show of support by the commoners 20,000 strong and wearing his colours according to Usk (almost certainly an exaggeration) on the 27th of January appears to have stayed his hand. Roger, at twenty-three years old was a very popular young man and given what we know of his personality it is not difficult to see why. His popularity and status as unoffical heir presumptive in face of Richard’s increasingly unpopularity probably did Roger more harm than good long time. However, politically savvy and likely well aware of Richard’s distrust Roger was very careful to support everything that Richard said and wanted during the course of the parliament, giving nobody any grounds to move against him at that time.

Safe for the time being, Roger returned to Ireland, his term there having been extended for another two years.  It is very unlikely that Roger believed that this would be the end of it, he had failed to deliver Sir Thomas to Richard who was hellbent on revenge and was probably already plotting against the remaining two former Appellants Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray. Perhaps over confident, Roger does not appear have been altogether fazed by this. His younger sister Philippa, widowed at the execution of Arundel married again, this time to Thomas Poynings, Baron St. John of Basing. This marriage does appear to be provocative, Poynings was the first cousin of Agnes Bardolf, the wife of Sir Thomas Mortimer and another Arundel associate. The final say for this marriage was with Roger who doesn’t appear to have been unduly concerned by what the king may or may not have thought about the Arundel/Mortimer/Poynings ‘clique.’  On the 26th of July 1398 the king replaced Roger as Lieutenant of Ireland despite having extended his term for two years just a few months before in April. Holland described as Roger’s ‘enemy’ by Usk was to serve from September 1st 1398 and in the interim he was to travel to Ireland and arrest the twenty-four year old Roger.

In this king Richard was to be frustrated because Roger had been dead for six days when Richard made Holland Lieutenant. The warlike young earl had rushed into battle against the native Irish O’Byrne family not wearing any armour. He was cut down and his body badly mutilated. English sources stated that Roger was ambushed, however given what we know of Roger’s career in Ireland it is much more likely that he rushed into battle, as his only grandson, Richard duke of York, would do sixty-two years later and his great grandson Richard III would do in 1485 with the same fatal consquences.  Roger’s body was returned to England and buried at Wigmore Abbey.

Roger is recorded as having being an extremely good looking young man, perhaps taking after his grandfather Lionel who was referred to as ‘beautiful’ in his own lifetime.  He was noted to have been very easy going, laughing easily and a good and merry conversationalist who liked to give gifts. He was also noted, dissaprovingly as being lax in his morals, paying no more than lip service to the church and ‘lustful.’  It is perhaps not hard to see why this young man would have been extremely popular for not only does he seem to have been an entertaining person to be around, he was known to be brave and excelled as a knight, much like his grandfather and namesake the second earl of March.


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A late 14th century knight and his dog. Artwork reproduced by kind permission of Matthew  Ryan. 

Brief notes.
  1. The  habit of naming their two sons either Roger or Edmund often leads to a lot of confusion over who was who with the late 14th century Mortimer family. This practice had been adopted by Roger Mortimer, 1st Baron Wigmore when he named his second son Edmund (2nd Baron Wigmore) and his third son Roger (Roger Mortimer of Chirk). The eldest son, Ralph was named after his grandfather but died as a youth so Edmund inherited at his Father’s death in 1282.  Edmund, duly named his eldest son Roger and this Roger was the infamous 1st earl of March.  Earl Roger named his eldest son Edmund, (who never inherited the earldom of March owing to the downfall of his father in 1330), named his eldest son Roger but broke with convention and named his second son John, probably after his younger brother who had recently died. Edmund’s son Roger, (who had the earldom of March restored to him in 1354), broke with convention also, naming his eldest son Roger rather than Edmund. However Roger died in the lifetime of his father and it was the youngest son Edmund who inherited the earldom of March as the 3rd earl at the death of his Father in 1360.
  2. The Black Book of Wigmore lists a document dated 6th January 1378 where Earl Edmund responds to a papal bull, referring to the his wanting to pray for the souls of his ancestors and especially his ‘most beloved wife’ Philippa interred at Wigmore Abbey. This suggests that by this point Philippa had already been dead for some time as it took time to petition the pope, receive and response etc. Warm thanks to Barbara Wright for this information. See the chronicle of Adam Usk for the inscription on Philippa’s tomb.
  3. See George Holmes exhaustive work on ‘The Good Parliament of 1376’
  4. De la Mare was released the following year and received a warm welcome when he returned to London and took up his role as Speaker once again.
  5. Arundel was married to Elizabeth de Bohun, Roger’s great-aunt. She was the younger half-sister of Roger’s grandfather Roger Mortimer 2nd earl of March. He later married Roger’s sister Philippa circa 1390 without a license.
  6. In early 1386 Thomas, already in his mid to late thirties had married Agnes Bardolf the widowed daughter of Michael de Poynings, a long time retainer of the Fitzalan earls of Arundel. For slightly more detail on this marriage and the political ramifications see my previous article here.
  7. Anne’s year of birth is consistently given as 1390 however the family chronicle clearly states that she was born in 1389. Nor was Anne born in Ireland as commonly stated. Roger did not step foot in Ireland between 1383 and 1394 and his wife certainly would not have done so either.
  8. Thomas appears to have had an invested interest in Ireland. He had been appointed justiciar of Ireland during the height of Appellant power at the end of the 1380’s but had never taken up the office. He was sent to Ireland in July 1393 with reinforcements to aid the beleaguered Anglo-Irish.
  9. It is also reported that Thomas fled to Scotland then went back to Ireland but this would have been extremely unlikely. Scotland was out of Richard II’s juristication, Ireland was not and his nephew was already running a huge risk in helping him.
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3 thoughts on “On this day in history: The birth of Roger Mortimer, 4th earl of March

  1. I really enjoyed this as well, a lot of great information. I have a question, the Lord John Neville who was granted part of the Mortimer estates, is this John Neville, 3rd Lord Neville, who was married to Maud de Percy? I want to make sure I am adding this info to the correct person. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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