Edmund Mortimer

Born: November 9, 1376

Ludlow, Shropshire, England

Died: February, 1409

Harlech, Gwynedd, Wales (Age 32)

Mortimer in History

Sir Edmund Mortimer was a member of the prominent Mortimer family of the Welsh marches and was the youngest son of Edmund Mortimer, third Earl of March. The younger Edmund was well taken care of by both his father and elder brother Roger, the fourth earl. He accompanied Roger to Ireland in 1397 to help with the always volatile situation and, when Roger was murdered by the Irish the following year, Edmund became the leading member of the Mortimer family. It was well-known at the time that the Mortimers had a significant claim to the throne of England. Edmund and Roger's father, the third Earl of March, had married Philippa, the only child of Lionel of Antwerp, second surviving son of King Edward III. If one believes that succession can pass through the female line, the Mortimers were right in their claim. Therefore, Roger, until his death, was rightful heir to England's throne. After he was murdered, his claim was passed to his young son, also named Edmund (the fifth Earl of March), who, at the time, was a mere six years of age. Although Richard II had openly acknowledged the young earl as his rightful heir (Richard himself having no children), Henry Bolingbroke (the eldest son of John of Gaunt, Edward III's third surviving son) ultimately took the throne for himself, disinheriting the young earl just as Richard had disinherited him in seizing his recently deceased father's lands and titles that were rightfully his. When Bolingbroke returned to England from his exile to (eventually) seize the throne, Edmund put his support behind him (most likely because he knew Bolingbroke would be the one to triumph in the end).

The new King Henry IV kept a close watch on Edmund's nephew, the young Earl of March (as well as his younger brother Roger), whom he knew to have a stronger claim to the throne than he did. It is believed, however, that the elder Edmund served the new king loyally until 1402, when he was captured by the Welsh rebel Owen Glendower. Mortimer ultimately threw his support behind Glendower and formed an alliance with the Welsh rebel by marrying his daughter Catherine. King Henry declared that Mortimer was a traitor and confiscated his lands and possessions, awarding most of them to his own sons. The way the king handled the Mortimer situation was one of the deciding factors of the Percy rebellion (the Percies had helped Henry to take the throne in the first place). Henry "Hotspur" Percy was Mortimer's brother-in-law and was unhappy with the way his kinsman was being treated. This, combined with the issue of the Scottish prisoners after the Battle of Humbleton Hill (in which the Percies won for the king) forced the powerful northern family to rebel.

In 1403, the Percies were set to join forces with Glendower and Mortimer to fight the royal forces, but when the king acted swiftly, the forces of Hotspur and his Uncle Thomas, Earl of Worcester, were isolated at Shrewsbury. A bloody battle ensued where Hotspur was killed and Worcester captured and, soon after, executed. This defeat was a huge setback for the Glendower-Mortimer rebellion. 1405, however, saw a renewal of the rebellion when the two joined forces with Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland and father to Hotspur. The three men formed the Tripartite Indenture where the kingdom would be divided between the rebels after Henry was deposed. Richard Scrope, Archbishop of York, and Thomas Mowbray, Earl Marshal, were also in rebellion against the king but their rebellion was soon enough put down. After which, the second phase of Percy-Glendower rebellion fell through. The Welsh cause weakened during the next several years and took a crushing blow when Northumberland was killed in battle in 1408. The following year, the royal forces attacked the Welsh stronghold of Harlech. It is believed this is where Mortimer met his end. He is a prime example of one of the many men who ruined their prestigious political careers by rebelling against King Henry.

Mortimer in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry IV, Part 1

There is much confusion with the character of Edmund Mortimer within Shakespeare. Partly due to misinformation within his sources (namely from Holinshed), and partly for dramatic purposes, Shakespeare combines the figures of Edmund Mortimer and his young nephew into one figure. The figure portrayed in 1 Henry IV is undoubtedly the elder Mortimer, the man who married Glendower's daughter. However, Shakespeare also gives this man the title of Earl of March and rightful heir to the throne. In reality, he was neither. Mortimer is mentioned to be Hotspur's brother-in-law, and to have been captured by Glendower, but he only appears in one scene within the play where the fictional version of the Tripartite Indenture takes place. He acts as a mediator between Hotspur and Glendower, who are bickering, and is shown attempting to communicate with his wife, who speaks no English. Shakespeare would not have been able to display this romantic scene with the younger Mortimer, who was a mere teenager at the time of the historical Tripartite Indenture, giving more evidence that Shakespeare created this particular composite figure for dramatic purposes, not merely due to misinformation or for pure convenience. At the play's end, King Henry says that he and his son will march into Wales to confront Glendower and Mortimer, but no mention is made of him during 2 Henry IV, even after Glendower's death is announced. He is not mentioned in Henry V either, despite the fact that the Southampton Plot, portrayed within the play, involved putting the younger Edmund on the throne in place of King Henry. For more information on the Mortimers within Shakespeare, see the biography for the Edmund Mortimer who appears in 1 Henry VI.


Norwich, John Julius. Shakespeare's Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages: 1337-1485. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Tout, T. F. ‘Mortimer, Sir Edmund (IV) (1376–1408/9)’, rev. R. R. Davies, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/19343, accessed 30 Oct 2009]


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