Roger Mortimer, 1st Lord Mortimer

Born: c. 1256

Died: August 3, 1326

Tower Hamlets, London, England (Age c. 70)

Mortimer in History

As a member of the prestigious Mortimer family of the Welsh marches, Roger Mortimer was destined to be a prominent military leader and politician in said region. Little is known about Mortimer's early activities, but after their father's death (1282), both Roger and his elder brother Edmund played large roles in the subduing of the rebellion of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in Wales. The principality was soon brought under English control, and the Mortimer family proved to be invaluable marcher lords to King Edward I. Throughout the reign of Edward I Roger played a major role in Welsh politics, putting down sporadic rebellions in the region, and accumulated a vast amount of wealth and estates. In addition, he also participated in military expeditions to France and Scotland, gaining the king's disfavor in the latter region when he was one of several lords to withdraw his troops (1307). However, the following year, Edward I died and was succeeded by his son, Edward II, who returned Mortimer to favor. Mortimer and his nephew, another Roger, did not appear to play any part in the downfall and death of the king's favorite Piers Gaveston and seem to have been more than preoccupied with their duties in Wales and the marches.

The Mortimer family did not openly rebel against the king until the early 1320s when a majority of the nobility was up in arms, led by Edward II's cousin, the powerful Earl of Lancaster. It is most likely the rising power of to men named Hugh Despencer (father and son) within the king's government that drove the Mortimers into open rebellion. The younger Despenser in particular was a threat to Mortimer dominance in Wales and the marches, being that he was married to one of the co-heiresses to the late Earl of Gloucester, who had possessed just as much power and influence in the region as the Mortimers had. Therefore, Despenser possessed the vast majority of the lands that were associated with the Earldom of Gloucester. With the help of the king, he was extending his influence even more so.  The Mortimers quickly mustered an army but were not fast enough for the king, who showed uncharacteristically brave behavior when subduing the rebellion of his magnates. When Lancaster proved to be an undependable ally (and virtually deserted his allies), the two Rogers were forced to surrender and were taken captive in January 1322. Later in the year, the rebellion would completely collapse (for the time being at least) when Lancaster was defeated and killed at Boroughbridge. Both Mortimers were thrown in the tower. The younger Mortimer was able to escape and travel to France the following year, but the elder was left to rot and died in August 1326, as a man of around seventy, after four and a half years of captivity.

Mortimer in Marlowe

Appears in: Edward II

Within Edward II, Mortimer Senior (as he is referred to to avoid confusion with his nephew) is one of the lords who is opposed to the return of the king's favorite Piers Gaveston and pushes for his exile. When the king and the lords temporarily reconcile their differences, Mortimer in sent to fight in the Scottish wars, where he is taken captive. The younger Mortimer hears of this and immediately demands that the king personally ransom his uncle, considering the fact that he was captured while fighting in his wars. Edward II refuses to comply, and the elder Mortimer is not seen or heard from again for the remainder of the play. Mortimer's capture by the Scots is completely fictional, and the Mortimers were not involved in any sort of rebellion against the king until 1321; they most certainly did not participate in Gaveston's mock trial and execution. It appears that Marlowe was simply attempting to be consistent with the fact that the nobility were constantly opposed to the king's actions throughout his reign. Despite Mortimer's disappearance in the play, he played a large role in the rebellion of 1321-22 and was captured (by Edward, not the Scots), ultimately dying in prison.


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