Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March

Born: April 25, 1287

Wigmore, Herefordshire, England

Died: November 29, 1330

Tyburn, Middlesex, England (Age 43)

Mortimer in History

Roger Mortimer was born the eldest son of Lord Edmund Mortimer of Wigmore and Margaret de Fiennes on April 25, 1287. From the very beginning of his life, Roger’s prospects were extremely high. He was a great-great grandson of the legendary  William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke (known to history as “the Marshal”), who served as regent of England during the opening years of the reign of Henry III and played a major role in bringing the First Barons’ War to an end. His paternal grandfather (another Roger) was one of the heroes of the Battle of Evesham during the Second Barons’ War, where he fought for the royalist army. By the time of Roger’s birth, his father Edmund had also set himself up in the steed of his great ancestors by taking part in the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last native Prince of Wales, in late 1282. These connections cemented the expectations that the younger Roger would continue the solid connections to the English throne that his prestigious ancestors had helped to establish. Yet he was also a great-great grandson of the notorious Welsh ruler, Llywelyn ap Iorwith “the Great,” who had dedicated his life to causing trouble for whoever happened to be wearing the English crown. With ancestors such as these, it should come as no surprise that Roger would become conflicted as to where his loyalties lay during his later years.

The Mortimers had also built up an enormous powerbase  in Wales and its marches and were most certainly one of the wealthier noble families within the British isles. Roger was set to inherit it all. If the vast Mortimer inheritance was not enough, Roger’s fortunes would be increased still further through a highly advantageous marriage. In late 1299 or early 1300, Roger was betrothed to Joan de Geneville, the granddaughter and sole heiress to the aged Peter de Geneville, a powerful marcher lord who not only held extensive lands in England and Wales, but also in Ireland, as well as within the greater duchy of Aquitaine in south-western France. When the fourteen-year-old Roger married Joan in September 1301, he undoubtedly knew that she was making him a considerably wealthier man. As it would turn out, Roger would be coming into a part of his inheritance prematurely. This occurred in the summer of 1304 when his father was fatally wounded in a skirmish with Welsh rebels. At the young age of seventeen, Roger Mortimer was now one of the premier nobleman in England.

Since Roger was technically not yet of age to take personal control of his inheritance, the lands were temporarily absorbed into the crown, and Roger himself became a royal ward. The ageing King Edward I gave in to the pleadings of Prince Edward, his eldest son and heir, and put Roger’s lands into the custody of Piers Gaveston, a close personal friend and confidant of the prince’s, despite the fact that Gaveston was only on the lower fringes of the nobility and was only a few years older than Roger. While Gaveston was not the instigator for civil war that he would later become at this point, and therefore Roger had no personal issue with him of all people enjoying the incomes from his lands until he came of age, it must be imagined that the young Mortimer was not very pleased that he did not hold his inheritance in his own right. This dissatisfaction prompted Roger to come up with the solution of buying his right to take possession of his lands before he reached the age of twenty-one (the typical age of majority for noblemen). Though he was forced to do so at a highly exorbitant price, Roger succeeded in wrestling away his lands from Gaveston and took official possession of them in the spring of 1306.

By this point Roger had become highly interested in jousting and other chivalric pursuits and seems to have been a member of the newer generation of courtiers led by the young Prince Edward – an entourage that was very much the antithesis of the elderly and more traditional Edward I. In the month following his gaining possession of his inheritance, Roger was one of many men who received the honor of knighthood by Prince Edward (who was himself just knighted). He then went on to serve in the royal army in the summer Scottish campaign in which the English had a fair amount of success, defeating Robert Bruce (the self-proclaimed King of Scots) on several occasions and forcing him to go into hiding. Roger was apparently one of the young knights who intended to take part in a jousting tournament in France after the conclusion of the 1306 campaign, but was forced to change these plans when the king reacted angrily and confiscated his and his companions’ lands for taking part in recreational activities when there was a war going on. The king eventually  relented and returned the lands, at the behest of the prince, and planned yet another Scottish campaign for the spring of 1307, which Roger was set to take part in. Unfortunately, the death of Edward I, and the accession of Edward II, in July put this expedition on hold – at least temporarily.

The change of monarch was very much to the benefit of Roger, his uncle (and chief political ally), Roger Mortimer of Chirk, and a number of younger courtiers (with Piers Gaveston chief among them) who had become the inner circle of the then-prince’s court. Roger was now a stalwart of the English court and was high in the new king’s favor. This allowed him to be considered for such prestigious positions as Seneschal of Gascony. If having a friend and ally now sitting on England’s throne was not enough, Roger soon learned that he would be enriched even further when Geoffrey de Geneville, his grandfather-in-law (and a man now in his eighties), decided to endow him with all of his Irish estates early, given that Geoffrey himself had grown too old and infirm to manage them efficiently. At the same time, Roger of Chirk was appointed as Justiciar of Wales, further extending Mortimer influence in the region. The younger Roger’s close relationship with the king was the reason why he was able to attend the royal wedding between Edward and Princess Isabella of France at Boulogne and play an important role in the coronation ceremony that followed shortly after back in England.

The conflict that broke out in the aftermath of the coronation (and which indeed had been brewing for some time before) is well known and is more appropriately discussed in detail in the biography of Edward II himself. In short, most of the upper nobility threatened rebellion if the king did not rid the court of Piers Gaveston, his closest friend and a man who he had shown a disproportionate amount of favor to since his accession to the throne (creating him Earl of Cornwall and marrying him off to a wealthy heiress and member of the extended royal family). Roger and his uncle were some of the more significant magnates within the kingdom to remain completely and unswervingly loyal to the king and his hated favorite, showing just how deep the Mortimer connections to the crown were. Unfortunately, the support of the Mortimers was not enough to save the haughty Gaveston, who had done himself no favors in saving his reputation with the majority of the English people, and the king was forced to send him into “exile” in Ireland.

Sending Gaveston to Ireland had been a compromise of sorts. The nobles were happy that he was out of English affairs and sent off to a turbulent land which had been the ruin of many ambitious commanders, while the king was pleased that his close companion was holding a semi-prestigious position and still had some involvement in the affairs of the British isles. Roger and his wife Joan left for Ireland soon after Gaveston (in the fall of 1308) – partly out of support for a man that Roger still considered to be a friend and a chivalrous man, and partly to take possession of the Irish estates that Geoffrey de Geneville had agreed to relinquish to their control. They did indeed take possession of these lands (which consisted of at least half of the county of Meath, including the important castle of Trim), and it seems likely that Roger assisted Gaveston in some of his campaigns against the rebellious native Irish lords, helping to further establish English authority in the region. All in all, it appears that both Roger and Gaveston handled a difficult task quite admirably, even if details of their exploits are sparse and poorly documented, and they could most certainly say that they gained some highly valuable military experience in harsh terrain and against a slippery enemy.

Roger returned to England in the summer of 1309, quite possibly with Gaveston in his company. As can be imagined, the barons were none too happy to see Gaveston back in England, especially since his success in Ireland looks to have given him renewed confidence, and he proceeded to act more condescending then ever towards these important men. Roger continued to show his allegiance was with the king and, while his support appears to have been less vocal this time around, he did not join the Lords Ordainers, the group of nobles and prelates that had formed to advise the king on how to better govern the realm. By the late summer of 1310, Roger had declined an invitation from the king to take part in a campaign in Scotland so that he may return to his lands in Ireland. Other than his part in the suppression of the de Verdon rebellion in the spring of 1312, very little is known of Roger’s activities on his Irish lands during the two years plus that he remained stationed in them, but it seems apparent that he defended them admirably against the hostilities of the native Irish and that he was happy to escape, at least temporarily, from the continued (and increasingly hostile) conflicts at the English court.

Roger played no role whatsoever in the events in England which led to the murder of Gaveston by the powerful Earl of Lancaster (the king’s first cousin and by far the wealthiest magnate in the kingdom), and he may not have even returned to England until the opening weeks of 1313, more than six months after the favorite’s unsanctioned execution. By the end of 1313, once the tensions between Edward and the barons had temporarily subsided, the king was forced to concentrate his attentions on the Scots, who had taken back much of the territory that had come under English control during the reign of Edward I. The culmination of this campaign was, of course, the famous Battle of Bannockburn, in which the English suffered a crushing and humiliating defeat at the hands of the considerably smaller army of Robert Bruce and the Scots. Roger fought in the battle, and it appears that he was captured by his enemies near the end of the battle. Surprisingly, he was not held for ransom. He was, however, given the humbling task of returning the privy seal and the lifeless bodies of the Earl of Gloucester and Robert Clifford to the king.

Taking part in the disastrous English defeat at Bannockburn could not have been very reassuring for a man who was still attempting to establish his military credentials, as Roger most certainly was. Robert Bruce’s next enterprise, however, would have more far reaching personal effects on Roger. Now that he had effectively expelled the English from Scotland, Bruce was looking to extend his power to another region that had long resisted any kind of consolidated rule – Ireland. The Scottish king intended to accomplish this feat by sending his brother, Edward Bruce, with a sizeable force to attempt to win over the fickle and volatile Irish lords, who would, hopefully, completely abandon any sort of rule by the English and accept the younger Bruce as their king. For obvious reasons, Roger felt an obligation to do his part in making sure that the Scots did not succeed in their mission. When Edward Bruce crossed to Ireland in May 1315, Roger followed shortly thereafter, apparently having knowledge of the invasion before most other members of the court, including the king himself (likely because of spies he had stationed in his Irish lands).

Much to the chagrin of the English, the Scots had considerable success in Ireland, cajoling many of the native lords into joining their cause, causing mass devastation throughout the countryside and defeating an Anglo-Irish force under the Earl of Ulster at the Battle of Connor in September. None of this boded well for Roger, who had his own interests to look after, as well as his general duty to defend and strengthen English authority in the region. In November, Roger and his forces established themselves in the town of Kells and awaited the Scottish forces of Edward Bruce. At the subsequent battle, Roger’s forces were routed. While the brutal defeat at Bannockburn (which Roger participated in) can easily be chalked up to the king’s own failures as a leader and military commander, the English defeat at Kells represented Roger’s personal shortcomings and demonstrated that he still had much to learn about martial endeavors. In the battle’s aftermath, Roger was forced to retreat in embarrassing fashion, leaving his own lands vulnerable to Scottish attack. To say the very least, English fortunes in Ireland were in disarray at the conclusion of 1315 – and Roger had played a sizeable part in their decline.

The dire situation in Ireland forced Roger to return to England in January 1316 so he may request further funds to salvage his flailing campaign. Unfortunately, England was suffering from her own very serious problems, as a combination of severe weather and a devastating famine had decimated the kingdom’s population and left many people with few options for survival. No part of the British isles was spared from the famine to any great extent, but certain areas felt its effects more so than others. Wales, which was, overall, an impoverished principality to begin with, was hit particularly harshly. The situation was made worse by less-than-sympathetic English officials who were assigned to administer large swaths of Wales in the aftermath of the death of the Earl of Gloucester, the wealthiest and most influential of the English noblemen in Wales and the marches, at Bannockburn.

Since the earl left no male heir, his vast estates were temporarily put into royal custody until they could be divided between his three sisters and their husbands. One of the local Welsh lords whose fortunes were particularly affected by the maladministration of the English custodians was Llywelyn Bren, who appealed directly to the king after he was, for all intents and purposes, accused of treason for daring to question the actions of the royal officials. When Edward’s response to Llywelyn’s grievances turned out to be no more sympathetic than that of his officials (the king, in fact, threatened to execute the him if the charges of treason proved true), the Welshman, backed into a corner, felt he had no choice but to start a rebellion. Llywelyn promptly mustered a small army and murdered several of the local sheriff’s men at Caerphilly Castle before beginning to plunder and destroy the surrounding area. The king’s response to Llywelyn’s treasonous actions was swift, and Roger, as one of the most powerful of the marcher lords, was summoned to assist in suppressing the revolt. With the significantly larger, and better equipped, forces of Roger and his fellow marchers bearing down on him, Llywelyn had no choice but to surrender peacefully before their combined might in order to prevent the inevitable slaughter that would have occurred should he and his men chosen to fight. Despite the fact that the Welshman was clearly guilty of treason, Roger treated Llywelyn empathetically, convincing the king to commute his sentence from death to life imprisonment, and the two men became friends.

Besides the brief rebellion of Llywelyn Bren in Wales, the famine also proved to be the primary cause of a dispute between the government and the influential merchant class within the city of Bristol. When the quarrel turned violent, the king had no choice but to intervene. Roger played a substantial role in the ensuing siege of the city and, in under a month, the rebels were forced to surrender. While the rebellions of Llyywelyn Bren and the Bristol merchants were relatively minor events within the reign of Edward II (barely worthy of mention), they were highly significant to the advancement of Roger’s military career, which had been somewhat in tatters after his defeats at Bannockburn and Kells. Indeed, these victories in Wales and Bristol were just what Roger needed to help build up his martial prowess and his general self esteem.

By the year’s end it was becoming more than apparent that Roger’s services were once again needed in Ireland. Edward Bruce was continuing to make substantial progress in conquering the island, and his army was parading around like a pack of ravenous beasts, destroying everything in their path. To make matters worse, Robert Bruce had decided to assist his brother in his quest to become King of Ireland in person and accordingly travelled to the region with his own forces in early 1317. By this point, Roger had already been assigned the prestigious position of King’s Lieutenant of Ireland, proving that Edward II had a great deal of confidence in him after his recent string of successes. The position gave Roger near-regal power in Ireland and made him all the more eager to travel across the sea to suppress the Bruce brothers and reestablish English authority, relatively speaking. While Roger was continuously delayed, and he indeed was not able to land in Ireland until April 1317, his arrival with a well-equipped (and well-provisioned) force was not beneficial for the Scottish cause. The famine that had been so devastating  in England and Wales was also wreaking havoc in Ireland, aiding in the gradual depletion of the sizeable Scottish army in the process. For these combined reasons, the Scots’ fortunes were now in slow decline. Not wanting any more part of his brother’s lost cause, Robert Bruce returned to Scotland the month following Roger’s arrival.

There was much to be done in Ireland, but it seems that Roger’s first priority was to deal with his rebellious vassals, Hubert and Walter de Lacy, who had deserted him at Kells and joined the Scots. The situation between the two sides was exacerbated by the fact that the de Lacy brothers denied any wrongdoing and, more significantly, when they took it upon themselves to murder one of Roger’s messengers in cold blood. Roger, at his wit’s end, turned his forces against those of the de Lacy’s with a vengeance and defeated them in battle at an undisclosed location. Hubert and Walter were able to evade capture, but Roger had them attainted at the next Irish parliament and banished from the realm. In the months that followed, Roger moved south out of Dublin and was able to win back all of the lands that had the Scots had conquered, forcing the increasingly desperate Edward Bruce and his dwindling army to remain in their base in the north. The success that Roger achieved was impressive and, in many ways, unprecedented in Ireland, a land which was notorious for being difficult to govern or achieve practically anything within; to say the least, it made up for his defeat at Kells. Unfortunately, Roger was not destined to be present at the final victory against the Scots in Ireland, as he was summoned back to England in the spring of 1318 to take part in the increasingly tense relations between the king and his staunchest domestic opponent, the Earl of Lancaster.

In short, the quarrel between Edward II and his cousin Lancaster revolved around the rise of a second group of royal favorites at court, the most significant of whom was Hugh Despenser the Younger. The king’s refusal to dismiss these men from his presence, and Lancaster’s antagonistic actions towards them and the crown, had once again brought the kingdom to the very threshold of civil war. Luckily, there were still a number of sensible lords and prelates who were willing to act as moderators between the two sides (they have come to be known to history as the “middle” party). It appears that Roger was one of these moderate lords, and he indeed played a role in the construction of the Treaty of Leake in the summer of 1318, which brought peace (albeit only temporarily) between Lancaster and the king. One of the stipulations within the treaty was that a royal council was to be established to aid the king in governing and prevent him from showing any unfair preferment to any man, or men, at court. The council was to consist of eight bishops, four earls and four barons; Roger had the honor of being one of the four barons. Aside from being appointed to this prestigious position, Roger received a large cash reward from the king for his services in Ireland and had the pleasure of hearing that Edward Bruce was defeated and killed at the Battle of Faughart, finally putting an end to the Scottish invasion of Ireland and putting Roger’s Irish estates in a much safer position.

Still, both the king and Roger himself felt that his services would, for the time being, be put to better use in Ireland, where the land was still very much in disarray after nearly four years of continuous war. Roger made his return to Ireland near the end of the spring of the 1319 as the Justiciar of the land. The title did not hold the same prestige as King’s Lieutenant, but it carried considerable authority, and Roger was still the most powerful man in the realm. In the nearly year and a half that Roger remained in Ireland, he made great strides in bringing it further under English authority. He made  sure that those who remained loyal to the English cause were well-rewarded and that those who had supported the Scots were punished in humiliating fashion. Roger also went on a massive rebuilding campaign throughout the island and established himself as a just and popular lawmaker and commander – an immense rarity in a place that had always shown a lukewarm reception to English authority, at best. While Roger seems to have enjoyed his time in Ireland, and the native Irish seem to have warmed up to him, his attentions were needed once again back in England. He departed Ireland for the final time in the fall of 1320 and would play a very different role in English politics in the final decade of his life.

Upon returning to England, Roger found that Hugh Despenser the Younger was attempting to build himself his own virtual palatine within Wales and the marches. As the husband of one of the three heiresses of the late Earl of Gloucester, Despenser had already inherited (through right of his wife) a sizeable portion of the lands that made up the earldom (and indeed a larger portion than the husbands of the other two heiresses). Through a combination of intimidation and crafty “diplomacy” (i.e. more intimidation), he was able to extend his authority and landholdings even further. All along, he had the king’s wholehearted support. Being that Wales and its marches were where a vast majority of Roger’s own lands were located, he had no choice to take Despenser’s increasing prominence in the region seriously – and personally. The Mortimer and Despenser families already had a history of conflict, as Roger’s grandfather, fighting for the royalists, had personally killed Despenser’s grandfather at the Battle of Evesham. Most recently, Despenser had Llywelyn Bren, a man who Roger had personally pleaded to the king to spare, executed in brutal fashion, seemingly under no one’s authority but his own (though Edward almost certainly gave his blessing – to an extent).

Up to this point, Roger had remained completely loyal to the king, even during the latter’s darkest moments. When a majority of the baronage called for the exile of Gaveston, Roger continued to consider him a friend and a man he admired. Gaveston, however, posed no personal threat to Roger, as Despenser undoubtedly did. Despenser’s ambitions in the marches threatened Roger’s own livelihood, and the amount of influence he possessed over the day-to-day functions of government was unprecedented for a relatively minor noblemen – even Gaveston. When the lordship of Gower became available, Despenser saw yet another opportunity to extend his influence in Wales. William de Braose, the land’s owner, ultimately sold it to his son-in-law, John de Mowbray. This move greatly angered Despenser, who then appealed to the king. Wanting nothing more than to please his friend, Edward seized Gower from de Mowbray and granted it to Despenser. The marcher lords could withstand no further insults and prepared for an inevitable rebellion against the king’s loathed favorite.

Roger seems to have been one of the final marchers to defect from the royal party but, in the end, despite his family’s long history of loyalty to the crown, he knew that he had no choice but to defend his own lands against an upstart favorite who had no business being in the position of power that he was in. When the king heard of Roger’s defection, he promptly stripped him of his position as Justiciar of Ireland and replaced him with one of Despenser’s own men. With Roger now firmly (albeit reluctantly) in the corner of the rebel marcher lords, the coalition began a massive campaign of destruction on the lands and possessions of Despenser and his father. The marchers caused thousands of pounds worth of damage and stole everything that was not tied down; it was all part of a plot to impoverish and humiliate Despenser as much as humanly possible. To show that they were no traitors, the marchers actually went so far as to unfurl the king’s banners so as to demonstrate that they were rebelling against Edward’s hated favorites (i.e. Despenser), not the king himself. Once they had thoroughly demolished Despenser’s lands, the marchers set their sights on London in order to convince the king to rid the English court of the hated Despensers. Edward resisted the marcher lords’ pressure, but when it became apparent that they had the support of much of the realm, he had no choice but to give in to their demands and exile the Despensers, which he reluctantly did in the late summer of 1321. To ensure that no punishments were to be handed out, the marchers requested that the king offer all of them pardons for any offenses they had committed since the outbreak of the rebellion, another order which Edward had no choice but to agree to.

Roger and his fellow marchers had won the battle but, as it would turn out they had not won the war, as the humiliated and vengeful king almost immediately began to contemplate how he would get his revenge against these men who he now considered to be his bitter enemies. An opening for a renewal of hostilities came when Queen Isabella was refused entry to Leeds Castle, a fortress controlled by Bartholomew de Badlesmere, one of the participants in the recent rebellion and, coincidentally, the father-in-law of one of Roger’s sons. Not only was the queen refused entry (a violation of the common code of chivalry, particularly for someone as important as the royal consort), but the garrison then proceeded to kill several of the men in her party. While it is likely the garrison was only acting in self-defense (or at least they believed they were), Edward now had the reason he needed to take up arms again and destroy the marcher lords. The king promptly laid siege to Leeds, forcing the marchers, including Roger, to come to its aid. Unfortunately, they were not able to do so because the Earl of Lancaster seemed to be wavering in his support for their cause, partly to protect his own assets and partly out of his hatred for de Badlesmere. Leeds soon after surrendered, and a dozen executions took place at the king’s command.

As the king’s forces gained more momentum, Roger’s position became more precarious, and it seems that his only dependable ally at the time was his uncle, Roger of Chirk. The Mortimer army was able to defeat a royal force at Bridgnorth, but it was more than apparent that they were only delaying the inevitable, and that surrender to the king was in the near future. A majority of the Mortimer lands in Wales and the marches had already been taken by the royalists, and Lancaster continued to keep his intentions ambiguous in the north, pushing Roger and his uncle towards negotiations with a group of royal mediators. It was quite apparent, however, that Edward had the upper hand, and the Mortimers had no choice but to take the word of the mediators that their lives would be spared if they submitted themselves to the king’s judgment. In January 1322, Roger and his aged uncle officially surrendered their persons to the king and were promptly imprisoned in the Tower of London.

The king did not stop at imprisoning the two Roger Mortimers. Soon after, Roger’s wife and a majority of his children were arrested, sent to various castles and kept under close guard. Edward then proceeded to confiscate all of Roger’s remaining lands and possessions, leaving him as a broken and impoverished man with nothing to call his own. If Roger’s situation was not bleak enough, it became even worse when the Earls of Lancaster and Hereford were defeated and killed (or executed), effectively ending opposition (for the time being) to the Edwardian/Despenser regime. All of the king’s enemies were now either dead or rotting away in prison. Roger was brought before a royal court and was, apparently, condemned to death for his crimes against the king. Edward, however, felt that he had little to fear from the fallen marcher lord and therefore commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. Roger languished in the Tower for over a year, living in conditions that were far below his usual standards as an important baron.

Throughout this time, the power of Hugh Despenser the Younger grew to unprecedented heights, and not even members of the royal family were immune to his quest for land and power. As Despenser’s tyranny grew, those within the kingdom opposed to his meteoric rise began to look for anyone who might be powerful enough to stop him; having very few options, they turned their attentions to Roger. It appears that Roger was able to smuggle letters into, and out of, the Tower during his stay there and was therefore able to maintain contact with a small group of supporters that very likely included a number of influential clergymen, as well as Queen Isabella, who had no love whatsoever for Despenser and his vast influence over her husband. As Roger’s cause gained more and more support, rumors of an escape plot began to surface. This, of course, was a plan that the king and Despenser could not allow to come to fruition, and they began searching for ways to eliminate their most dangerous living enemy. Knowing this, Roger’s supporters acted swiftly and were able to allow him, with the aid of a few sympathetic officials and other various employees in the Tower, to escape his prison and cross the channel to France in August 1323. Roger was now a shining beacon of hope for anyone who wanted to see Despenser and the king’s other hated favorites permanently removed from England – and the number of these disgruntled English citizens was growing rapidly.

When King Edward learned of Roger’s escape from the Tower, his reaction consisted of a mixture of anger and fear. He was angry that an important prisoner had been able to escape a fortress that was supposed to be impregnable, but was also deathly afraid that his worst enemy was now free to plot against him and his increasingly unpopular regime; a nationwide manhunt ensued. The king finally discovered that Roger was being lodged in Picardy, France with some of his maternal relatives. This was indeed a dangerous situation for Edward, as he was on bad terms with the French king, Charles IV, at the time, due to the former’s failure to pay homage for the duchy of Gascony. Charles IV was jubilant that he now had an extra bargaining tool in the war against the King of England and was prepared to milk the situation for all it was worth. If this meant harboring a major fugitive, then so be it.

Since Edward was not able to get his hands on Roger himself, he decided to take out his aggressions on any man, woman or child that had any sort of connection to his enemy, whether familial or otherwise. The lands and possessions of a number of Roger’s retainers were seized, and his family was still kept under continual guard. Even Queen Isabella was not free from persecution, as she was suspected (most likely correctly) of playing a role in Roger’s escape. Much of the queen’s household was arrested, and Edward stripped her of a majority of her lands, forcing her to live off a small allowance – and under constant surveillance. With this treatment at the hands of her husband and his favorites, it would come as no surprise that Isabella would naturally be forced to form an alliance, and more, with his worst enemy. Meanwhile, relations with France continued to rapidly deteriorate, forcing Edward to send his wife to the continent to negotiate a truce with her brother, the French king. Edward knew very well that there was a good chance that Isabella and Roger would get together and plot against him, but he also knew that his options were fairly limited at this point. As events would soon show, sending Isabella to France was part one of two fatal mistakes that Edward would make in the coming years.

When the queen first arrived in France, however, she played the role that her husband had sent her to play precisely, and a treaty was agreed upon two months after her arrival on the continent, in May 1325. It appears that she had little, if any, contact with Roger during this time period. King Edward had no choice but to except the agreement his wife had helped draft, despite the fact that it was by no means beneficial to him, but he still did not wish to travel to France in person to pay homage for Gascony, knowing that he would be in danger on the continent and his favorites would be in harm’s way in England. Therefore, the king made his second fatal mistake and sent his young son, Prince Edward, to France to pay homage for the lands in his place. Once Isabella obtained possession of her son, she refused all entreaties to return to England, and her brother refused to force her to do so. While Isabella was severing her final ties to her husband (with the undue influence the Despensers possessed over him as her primary reason for doing so), Roger, who had supposedly been exiled from France by Charles IV as a prerequisite of any peace talks between France and England, was in the adjacent county of Hainault, doing his best to convince the local count, William, to provide him with a small force to invade England.

It must be believed that, by this point, Roger and Isabella were in frequent contact with one another, and that they had every intention of marrying Prince Edward to a daughter of Count William of Hainault (gaining an army from him in the process), invading England, deposing the king and destroying his favorites (all of which would go on to happen). In addition, it is more than likely that it was in late 1325 that the two began their notorious illicit affair. Despite the fact that both Roger and Isabella were married, both their marriages, for varying reasons, had deteriorated. Isabella’s marriage to the king was obviously at an end, and Roger had not seen his wife Joan in five years, thereby severing much of the affection they had once felt for one another. More significantly, Roger and Isabella were drawn to one another by their hatred of the Despenser regime and their wish to see it annihilated. Finally, they had both been effectively shunned by the same man: King Edward. Isabella felt that her husband was concentrating too much of his attentions on his favorites, and neglecting her in the process, while Roger undoubtedly felt betrayed that he himself had been pushed aside by the upstart Despensers despite all of his years of loyal service. Roger and Isabella were both intelligent, attractive and ambitious people – a seemingly ideal match. Now, by the fall of 1326, they were ready bring their plans to fruition and invade England.

The invasion of England conducted by Roger and Isabella and their relatively small band of mercenaries began well and ended well. They landed on the Suffolk coast and were immediately welcomed with open arms by the king’s own brother, the Earl of Norfolk, who allowed them to stay on his own lands. Over the following weeks, the rebel forces continued to grow and included nearly all of the upper nobility, as well as some of the more important prelates. While Isabella and Prince Edward were paraded publicly as the instigators and primary procurers of the revolution against Edward II, it was clear that it was Roger, the experienced military commander, who was in charge of the day-to-day operations of the enterprise. It was important, however, that the people of England knew that the purpose of this revolution was to replace a tyrannical king and his favorites with the rightful heir, not another upstart lord who would soon be corrupted by power in the form of Roger Mortimer. Meanwhile, the king’s authority was rapidly collapsing as the rebels gained momentum, and he and Despenser were forced to desert London, plunging the city into chaos and dooming a number of royalists within its walls.

While Edward and his small group of favorites retreated through Wales (most likely with plans to set sail for Ireland), Roger and his forces were making major progress in bringing the entire kingdom under their control. The rebels besieged and ultimately captured Bristol, gaining possession of Hugh Despenser the Elder, Earl of Winchester, in the process; the elderly earl was shown no mercy. He was given a show trial, with a group of hostile lords (including Roger) as his jury, found guilty of all charges that were levied against him and suffered the full traitor’s death of hanging, drawing and quartering. To strengthen his authority even further (and it was rapidly becoming his authority) Roger appointed the young Prince Edward as guardian of the realm since his father had supposedly abandoned his kingdom. The prince was clearly under the influence of his mother, who was clearly under the influence of Roger, thereby implying that Roger was responsible for many of the important policy decisions at this point – and his ascendancy was only to continue.

Roger gained his greatest triumph to date when the Earl of Leicester was able to gain control of King Edward, Hugh Despenser the Younger and several other hated royal favorites in Wales. The king had put out word to Roger and Isabella that he wished to come to terms with them but was refused outright, just as Roger and his uncle had been by the king nearly five years earlier when they pleaded for mercy. Edward himself was promptly imprisoned to await is fate, which he knew almost certainly included deposition. His favorites were treated much more harshly. Roger made sure that the Earl of Arundel, the only earl to remain faithful to the king until the end and old rival of Roger’s, was promptly beheaded. Most of his attentions, however, were turned towards Despenser. The same tribunal that had been convened to pass judgment on Despenser’s father was again called in. There was never any doubt that Despenser would be found guilty of all charges (and the charges were many). After judgment was passed, Roger decided that a standard execution was not enough for his arch-nemesis. He therefore had a custom fifty-foot gallows constructed outside Despenser’s own castle of Hereford. It was there, high above the city streets for all to see that Roger’s gruesome sentence was carried out. Despenser was castrated, disemboweled and posthumously beheaded and quartered, ridding the kingdom of the last of King Edward’s loathed favorites.

The biggest question in the aftermath of Roger’s successful revolution was, by far, what should be done with the captive Edward II. A majority of the nobles, including Roger himself, pushed for the king to be charged with treason and executed for said crime. The rationalization behind this solution is fairly straightforward: If Edward were to remain alive, anyone who became disillusioned with Roger’s own puppet regime could stir up a rebellion in the fallen king’s name. Additionally, since nearly all of the English nobility had been responsible in some way for Edward’s downfall, it would most certainly not be in their best interests if he were able to somehow gain back power. The prelates, however, believing that Edward had been crowned and anointed as God’s vessel on earth, did not feel that it was morally right to have him executed, and therefore pushed for mercy. Ultimately, the latter viewpoint prevailed. Obviously, Roger was not happy with this turn of events, but had no choice but to accept them.

When parliament was called in January 1327, it came as no surprise that the primary topic of discussion was Roger’s next best option of disposing of Edward II: the latter’s deposition and replacement with the young prince. Roger and one of his primary political allies, Bishop Adam Orleton of Hereford, almost immediately began to press the issue when parliament convened. At this point in the proceedings, their primary argument was that Edward had refused to attend parliament when summoned, as he was required to do by law, giving the parliamentarians ample cause to depose him. When this met with a fairly lukewarm reception, Roger and his allies were forced to turn up the charm, and a number of powerful speeches were given about how Edward had abused royal power and should therefore be replaced with his son so as to prevent him from engaging in any more of this tyrannical behavior. The members of parliament were much more receptive to these arguments, and there was near-unanimous support for the king to be deposed. This was indeed an historic occasion, as a monarch had never been removed from the throne by way of parliamentary proceedings. However, committing to an action and making said action happen are by no means synonymous. Parliament could say that Edward was deposed, but the king was under no obligation to accept their decision, making it highly dubious. The only action that would give parliament’s decision real substance would be the king’s “voluntary” abdication of the throne. Continuous pressure was put on the king to relinquish the crown in favor of his son – including threats that both of the royal princes would be disinherited altogether if he did not cooperate. Finally, the king agreed to abdicate, and the prince was proclaimed as King Edward III on January 27, 1327. Roger’s revolution was now complete, and the time had come to begin consolidating his own power in the new king’s name.

No one at the time doubted that Roger was in a position of considerable influence at the beginning of the reign of Edward III and that it was he, more so than anyone else, who was responsible for the abdication of Edward II. There were times when Roger’s behind-the-scenes power shined through, with some occasions being more obvious than others. For example, Roger did not receive any significant grants or rewards after the revolution had been completed, whereas Queen Isabella had nearly tripled her previous income by granting herself a number of wealthy estates. Roger did receive back all of the lands he had held before his rebellion of 1321-22, as well as the position of Justiciar of Wales which had previously been held by his uncle, Roger of Chirk, who had died in the tower under questionable circumstances shortly before Roger and Isabella’s invasion. On the other hand, Roger made sure to show that he was in a position of strength by dressing up his own sons as earls at the new king’s coronation ceremony. But, these displays of authority were few and far between in the opening months of the new reign, as Roger did not  want to come off as the next Piers Gaveston or Hugh Despenser the Younger.

Roger also seems to have been anxious to stay on cordial terms with the more powerful lords of the realm who had aided him with his revolution. The most powerful of these nobles was, by far, Henry of Lancaster (brother of the late Earl of Lancaster who was executed in 1322), who was restored to a majority of his brother’s lands and titles, to which he was the rightful heir. This was an action that Edward II had refused to commit to, not fully trusting Lancaster in the wake of his brother’s rebellion. Unfortunately, Roger and Lancaster were not destined to maintain amiable relations for any extended period of time, and the alienation process between the two began fairly early in Edward III’s reign. This was helped along by the fact that Isabella insisted on seizing several of Lancaster’s more important castles for herself in an attempt to boost her own household income. Perhaps even more significantly, Roger insisted on transferring the “deposed” Edward II out of the earl’s custody and into his own. The former king was duly transferred from Kenilworth, a Lancastrian stronghold, to Berkley Castle, whose lord was a staunch ally of Roger’s.

It was already becoming blatantly clear, however, that Roger had more pressing concerns for the immediate future, as the Scots, looking to take advantage of the nascent English regime, were doing what they did best: stirring up trouble in England’s northern counties. The Scots had remained neutral during the revolution, but they now wanted more than ever to be acknowledged as an independent kingdom, completely free of English rule. While the young king wanted nothing more than to show that he was fit to run his kingdom by winning a glorious victory on the battlefield against one of England’s enemies, Roger had no interest whatsoever in engaging in a prolonged conflict for a cause that had long been lost – particularly since it would distract him from establishing his own power. Yet, in order to appease the northern lords, of whom Henry of Lancaster was the most significant, Roger had little choice but to send an army to at least give off the appearance of wanting to continue the goal of conquering Scotland that been set by the previous two regimes. While the Earls of Lancaster, Norfolk and Kent, as well as the king, were given nominal control of the army, Roger was, for all intents and purposes, its commander; it was clear that he was still maintaining his behind-the-scenes approach to governing.

From the very beginning, the so-called Weardale campaign seemed destined for failure. The Englishmen within the army did not get along well with the contingent from Hainault, and the two sides quarreled frequently, sometimes with fatal results. To make matters worse, the weather was horrific at times, and the Scots refused to meet the English in a pitched battle, choosing instead to allow their enemies to slowly become frustrated and downtrodden due to their miserable situation. The English army’s seemingly quixotic quest to defeat the Scots on the battlefield dragged on for weeks with little action. In August, the only real encounter of the campaign took place, as the Scots defeated their English counterparts at the brief Battle of Stanhope Park. The battle was little more than a glorified skirmish, as it took place in the form of a nighttime raid on the English camp where the Scots slaughtered a number of soldiers as they slept; even the king himself was not safe from their brutality, and he indeed nearly fell victim to it. After this success, the Scots departed home. Knowing that all hope was lost, Roger ordered that the English army follow suit. While Roger never had any desire to engage on this campaign, he cannot have been happy with the result, considering the fact that it made him and his commanders look foolish and incompetent. As it would turn out though, Roger now had to focus his attentions again on strictly English affairs, as it now had become apparent that a more permanent solution for the problem of the disgraced Edward II would have to be put into effect.

The supposed death of Edward II in Berkeley Castle in September 1327 represents one of the great unsolved mysteries of the Middle Ages. Perhaps only the disappearance of the so-called Princes in the Tower in 1483 rivals it in terms of obscurity and ambiguity. We are highly dependent on a series of highly undependable contemporary chronicles to provide us with information on these events but, just as most historians believe that Richard III had his two nephews murdered in the Tower of London in 1483 so that he could take the throne for himself, the general consensus has been that Edward II was murdered at Berkeley Castle under direct orders from Roger Mortimer so that the latter could further establish his own blossoming authority over English affairs. The most famous portrayal of Edward’s death tells of how the deposed king was held down on a table and sodomized to death with a red-hot poker in an attempt to leave no marks on the body and therefore make it seem as if there was no foul play involved in his demise (with possible secondary implications of Edward being punished accordingly for his supposed homosexual behavior with Gaveston and/or Despenser).

While this tale indeed represents the most interesting hypothesis on the death of Edward II, and most certainly provides historians with ample fodder, it is not necessarily what really happened. Other theories revolve around Edward being simply smothered or starved to death, while certain historians will claim that Edward did not die at all in 1327 and went on to lead the rest of his life hiding in various secret locations for more than a decade – though this latter theory is speculation in its purest form and will always remain so. What we do know is that Roger had very little to gain by keeping Edward II alive and that the former king’s death was announced in the early fall of 1327. Edward II had, apparently, temporarily escaped custody while Roger was away on his failed Scottish campaign with the help of a few of the former’s remaining loyal subjects. This had been the second attempt to free the disgraced monarch and was more than enough to convince Roger that he needed to be done away with. It appears that he sent his trusted retainers, John Maltrevers and Thomas Gurney (with Lord Berkeley also likely playing some sort of role), to do away with Edward, if indeed he was done away with. Whatever the case may have been, September 21 or 22 are the usual dates that are attributed to the death of Edward II, and these dates seem to have been accepted by the English people at the time.

The probable death (or at least neutralization) of Edward II in the early fall of 1327 was an immense boon to Roger. Now that enemies of his puppet regime had no alternative, he was able to flex his political muscles much more openly. While Roger still did not make any overly-generous grants to himself, he made sure to lavishly reward his allies, retainers and family members. In addition, it was Roger who had the most influence when it came to appointments to government offices, both local and national. This is made apparent by the fact that most, if not all of, the primary offices of state (i.e. chancellor, treasurer, etc.) were held by men who Roger could call his friends. He also made sure to have a large say in who the local sheriffs and castellans were.

Additionally, Roger’s growing influence extended into foreign affairs, and it was he who was most responsible for drafting the Treaty of Northampton – a peace agreement, ratified in May 1328, with King Robert of Scotland which acknowledged Scottish independence. The primary stipulation of the treaty was fairly straightforward: Edward would drop his claim to the Scottish throne in exchange for twenty thousand pounds, and the agreement was to be sealed through the marriage of King Robert’s son and heir, Prince David, and Edward’s sister Joan. While Roger lauded the Treaty of Northampton as a major diplomatic victory for himself, which would put an end to Scottish raids in England’s north and allow him to focus more attention on domestic issues (i.e. making sure he stayed in power and was able to thoroughly reward all those loyal to him), the king himself, who was forced to ratify the treaty, was deeply resentful of it, as he was still looking to prove himself on the battlefield; peace with Scotland would limit his opportunities on this front. Edward was also not particularly happy with the fact that the land that his grandfather, Edward I, had twice conquered (and that his father had at least put some effort into defending) was now simply being given away for a lump cash sum and a diplomatic marriage between two young children – especially when one of the reasons given for his father’s deposition was that he had lost Scotland.

Perhaps even more serious than the king’s grievances were those of a number of powerful English lords of the north, including the all-powerful Earl of Lancaster. Another lesser-known stipulation with the Northampton Treaty was that all English lords who had once held property within Scotland were now forced to give up any claim to said lands. For obvious reasons (primarily of a monetary nature), Lancaster and the other northern lords were none too keen on this particular clause. While Roger had rid himself of one enemy – the Scots – he was beginning to cultivate new enemies at home in the form of Lancaster and, to a lesser extent at this point, the king himself. Of these two men, Lancaster posed the more immediate threat and was allowing his anger to build up until it came to a boiling point. When the earl was summoned to parliament, he did not attend; he instead chose to meet Roger and Isabella’s retinue with an army, claiming that he was unhappy with the fact that the queen mother had lavished so many rewards on herself in the aftermath of her husband’s abdication (many of which were supposed to have been returned to the earl’s custody) and that the Treaty of Northampton had been ratified despite its unpopularity in the eyes of the king and many others throughout the realm, among other things. While Lancaster’s complaints were legitimate, they were also clearly of a selfish nature. And the fact that he had raised an army that was being used as a display of force against a party that contained the king could easily be construed as high treason, punishable by death. Despite the rashness of Lancaster’s actions, however, he could at least defend himself by saying that his grievances were aimed squarely at Roger (and to a lesser extent Isabella), not at King Edward himself. While this was a common strategy, and indeed one which Roger himself had used in 1322 (rebelling against the Despensers, not Edward II), Roger had little trouble persuading the king that the earl’s rebellion had to be taken seriously and needed to be suppressed as quickly and efficiently as possible.

As Roger began mustering an army of his own, and Lancaster continued to build up his own forces, a series of moderators did their best to prevent the outbreak of a full-blown civil war. Negotiations, however, were drawn out and, for the most part, fruitless. Neither man trusted the other, and neither was willing to give any leeway on their respective causes. While Roger had the reluctant support of the king, Lancaster was beginning to gain some important supporters, including the city of London and, later on, the king’s two uncles, the Earls of Norfolk and Kent. As Lancaster continued his quest for support against Roger’s increasingly –despotic regime, Roger was having himself raised to the highest reaches of the English nobility. At the parliament which ended in October 1328, Roger was created Earl of March. The title itself was not only unique, but also had the potential to bring immense power to its holder, as it implied that Roger had the entirety of the Welsh marches under his control. This was fairly unprecedented, and not even Hugh Despenser the Younger, the man whom Roger had rebelled against for supposedly possessing a monopoly of sorts over the marches, had held such a title and the prestige that went with it.

Roger’s elevation in the peerage only antagonized his opponents even further, and Lancaster renewed his efforts to remove him from his high horse. It was at this point that the royal uncles joined his cause. For a brief period, there was a real danger of Lancaster succeeding. Unfortunately, a regime with Lancaster in charge was not a viable alternative to one with Roger at its head, and the latter was able to proclaim that the army that he had raised was a royal one, while Lancaster commanded a rebel force. This was a key factor, as the Earls of Norfolk and Kent ultimately declined to provide their cousin with assistance when they realized that he would be fighting the king’s forces directly. By January 1329, Lancaster’s cause was all but lost. He was outnumbered and in danger of being declared a traitor if he persisted in his attempts of removing Roger from power. Knowing this, Lancaster decided that it would be best to surrender and beg the king (or, in reality, Roger and Isabella) to forgive him – and this he did, providing Roger with a substantial victory, while suffering an enormous blow to his own pride.

With Lancaster neutralized for the time being, Roger could now boast of possessing near-uninhibited power. It was at this point that he threw off all signs of humility and began living like a king. In addition to handing out harsh punishments to Lancaster and all those who had supported his failed rebellion, Roger granted himself large swathes of land, controlled the distribution of wardships, had spies throughout England and the continent and lived an extravagant lifestyle. It is even rumored that Isabella became pregnant by Roger and secretly gave birth to his son towards the end of 1329, though this seems somewhat unlikely. If these blatant exercises of near-sovereign authority were not insulting enough to Edward III, the fact that Roger and Isabella played the respective roles of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere at a recreation of the famous Knights of the Round Table, held at Roger’s castle of Wigmore, poured more salt on the wound. This degrading form of symbolism was more than the king could take, and he began gathering supporters of his own in secret to rid himself of his mother’s lover. These supporters included the Pope himself, who even went so far as to set up a system with Edward to differentiate between letters written by Mortimer or in the king’s own hand.

King Edward was not the only enemy that Roger needed to worry about during the final year of his time in power. The younger of the king’s two uncles, Edmund, Earl of Kent, had heard rumors (from a source that he was not willing to concretely identify) that his brother, the deposed King Edward II, was still alive and living under Roger’s custody at Corfe Castle. Kent actually went so far as to travel to the continent and inform the Pope of this development. While it is widely accepted amongst historians that Edward II was dead by this point, we will never truly know if this was the case. Therefore, it must be concluded that whatever Kent heard about his brother’s whereabouts may very well have held at least an iota of truth. Whatever the case may have been, Roger was in no position to take any chances, as his hold on power was already wobbling. He needed to silence the royal uncle swiftly, efficiently and permanently. Kent was promptly arrested under Roger’s direct orders and put on trial for treason. He was accused of plotting to overthrow his nephew, the current king, by way of releasing his brother, the former king, from his prison and placing him back on the throne. The fact that Kent was proposing to remove the sitting monarch from power, for whatever reason, could easily be constituted as high treason; and this is exactly the verdict that Roger aimed for. Roger presented a letter before the court written in Kent’s own hand. Its contents clearly implicated the earl in a plot to free Edward II from prison and return him to power. Roger was able to gain possession of this highly incriminating piece of evidence because Kent had inadvertently entrusted its delivery to two of Roger’s own men, having not the slightest clue that they would betray him. Clearly, Kent had been duped.

The whole situation reeked of foul play, as well as irony. After all, Roger was attempting to have a member of the royal family charged with treason for a supposed plot to remove Edward III from power when Roger himself had been most responsible for cajoling Edward II to abdicate the throne against his will, implying forceful removal. Additionally, Kent was being charged with attempting to free a man from prison who had supposedly been dead for nearly three years. If Edward II was indeed still alive at this point, Roger’s motives become more clear: He did not want anyone knowing that the former king was still breathing, as he would then become a symbol for future rebellions – the same reason as when Roger first seized power. Not definitively knowing the fate of Edward II, we are forced to conclude that the Earl of Kent was simply another opponent that Roger needed removed in order to maintain his increasingly-fragile hold on power. In the end, no one present was surprised by the fact that Kent was found guilty of the crimes in which Roger had set him up to be accused of. When the judge declared that the earl was to be executed and his heirs to be disinherited for his attempt to free Edward II, the court was horrified.

There were numerous objections to the earl’s execution, and Kent attempted to save himself by implicating numerous other figures who were involved in his plot and begging forgiveness from his nephew the king, but it was Roger who was really in control of the proceedings – and he wanted Kent dead. To say the very least, the king was reluctant to have his own uncle executed, but he realized that the earl had indeed attempted to have him removed from power and replaced by another. Even if that other happened to be his own father, Edward could not simply sit back and allow any sort of attack of this magnitude on his throne to go unpunished. Therefore, he had no choice but to assent to his uncle’s execution. In March 1330, Kent was led out to his place of execution, but no one was willing to judicially murder a member of the royal family. Ultimately, Roger was forced to free a convicted murderer from prison to perform the execution in exchange for a pardon for his crimes. The fact that Roger had basically forced the king to have his own uncle killed was the final insult that the latter was willing to take from this over-mighty subject. From this point on, Edward worked diligently to free himself from Roger for good – and he would not stop until he had succeeded.

In the aftermath of Kent’s execution, Roger made no effort whatsoever to hide his royalesque authority. He rewarded his followers by distributing the late earl’s vast estates to them and did not hesitate to grant himself large swathes of land in England, Wales and Ireland. When he had first completed his successful coup, Roger had been extremely careful not to seem as he was ruling over Edward III in a Despenser-like fashion, but aiding the young king in his transition to the throne. He did not reward himself in any significant way and gave himself no official title which implied that he possessed any sort of royal authority. All of the power he held was very much of an unofficial nature. However, for every significant enemy he eliminated, Roger had grown bolder. The supposed death of Edward II had given Roger security, while the humbling of the Earl of Lancaster had allowed him to exercise power more openly. With the execution of the Earl of Kent, Roger now felt that his authority was undisputed, and he had no problem flaunting this assumption. Roger’s hubris brought him few allies; it indeed gained him widespread, and near universal, hatred.

King Edward was now vigorously gathering a group of faithful followers to aid him in Roger’s destruction. While Roger was well aware of the fact that his enemies were numerous and that plots were being formed against him on all fronts, he must also have known that the tide was turning to his detriment and that he needed to constantly be on guard. King Edward, on the other hand, was in a far stronger position than he had been in 1326. He was now approaching his eighteenth birthday and had already sired an heir, Prince Edward, earlier in the year. There was little need for Roger to remain in power. In October 1330, Roger and Isabella were at Nottingham Castle preparing for a parliament. It was here that Edward intended to make his stand. The king and a small group of followers entered the castle via a secret passageway and took Roger by surprise, killing several of his men and placing the earl under arrest, despite the emotional objections from Isabella. Roger’s reign of tyranny had come to an abrupt end. He was promptly imprisoned in the Tower and put on trial for high treason. The charges against him were numerous and included, but were not limited to, the general encroachment of royal authority, luring the Earl of Kent into a plot that led to his death and, highly significantly, the murder of Edward II. There was no doubt that Roger would be found guilty on all charges and sentenced death. On November 29, 1330, Roger was very publicly dragged through the streets of London to his place of execution at Tyburn. It was here, at the age of forty-three, that Roger met his maker by way of hanging. His lifeless body was left on the noose for two days before it was cut down for burial to make sure as many people as possible saw that the self-made earl was indeed deceased.

Assessment and Analysis

To history, Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, will always be looked upon as one of the archetypal over-mighty subjects. In the nearly four years from the fall of 1326 to that of 1330, Roger held near-sovereign power. For all intents and purposes, he and his mistress, Queen Isabella, were co-regents of England, ruling in the name of a king who had prematurely taken the throne at a young age. Yet, there was always something off about the power that they held. It was not official as in was, for example, in the case of Roger’s ancestor, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, who was the designated regent during the first three years of the reign of the underage Henry III. Whereas the Marshal had been carefully chosen as the right man to fill an important post during the midst of a civil war, Roger had actually begun a revolution to take his place as unofficial regent of England – a very stark contrast. For this reason, whatever authority he wielded would always possess a certain degree of tenuousness. In other words, he would never legally hold any real power as his ancestor had.

When conducting an analysis of the life of Roger Mortimer it is important to bring to light of two other noblemen who, for very similar reasons, wielded sovereign-like power over English affairs in the Middle Ages – one from before Roger’s time and one from after. During his time in power, Roger almost certainly gained comparisons to Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, the champion of the Provisions of Oxford/Westminster during the later part of the reign of Henry III. During the early 1260s, Montfort held major sway over royal affairs as he utilized a parliament-based government to limit the authority of the king and put unprecedented reforms into effect. After decisively defeating the royal forces at the Battle of Lewes in 1264, de Montfort gained possession of the persons both the king and the royal heir. He proceeded to use them to wield power equal to that of regent in the guise of a parliamentary government. It came to a point, however, that his own regime was no better than that of one he had essentially overthrown. Therefore, de Montfort became dependant on a small number of loyal family members and retainers, whilst a majority of the powerful men who had once supported his cause gradually began to desert him. He was ultimately defeated and killed at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, a mere year after he had taken power in the first place.

Roger’s rise to power bears striking resemblances to that of Simon de Montfort. While Roger played little or no role in the creation of the Ordinances, the equivalent of the Provisions of Oxford, only during the reign of Edward II, he went even further on de Montfort’s use of parliamentary proceedings to wield power by actually going so far as to have the king deposed in parliament. While the deposition ruling was, in many ways, symbolic and depended upon the king accepting the verdict to “voluntarily” abdicating the throne to give it substance, it was, nevertheless, a revolutionary development. Roger was able to wield power for longer than Montfort was because of the fact that he had relatively firm control over a young and experienced king, whereas Montfort ruled through an experienced (though ageing, and barely competent) monarch who had a strong heir waiting in the wings. In the end, both men became corrupted by power, providing themselves, their families and their supporters with lavish rewards and becoming everything that had begun their respective revolutions to eliminate.

In the fifteenth century, Roger’s actions would very much be mimicked by a man who is considered to be the last great all-powerful English nobleman of the Middle Ages: Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick – known to history as the “Kingmaker.” Warwick, like Roger, felt that his hard work and loyal service was going unnoticed by the sitting monarch. In Warwick’s case that monarch was King Edward IV, a man who heavily depended on the earl to gain him his throne. When the king began to give out more rewards to his many in-laws instead of men such as Warwick, the earl ultimately joined forces with the rival house of Lancaster and helped chase Edward IV out of the kingdom. For six months, Warwick ruled in the name of the passive and seldom lucid King Henry VI, the man whom he had helped to depose ten years earlier in favor of Edward IV. The reasons for the earlier deposition of Henry VI were nearly identical to those of Edward IV: the unfair distribution of royal patronage to a small group of favorites, to the detriment of the earl’s own interests. In the end, Edward IV returned to England to take back his throne, and Warwick was killed during the Battle of Barnet. He, like Simon de Montfort and Roger before him, learned the consequences of unrightfully wielding royal authority.

Roger too was looking to rid the kingdom of Edward II because of the undue power he allowed men such as the Despensers to hold over royal affairs. This is precisely the reason why he began his revolution of 1326. Yet like Montfort before him and Warwick after him, Roger ultimately did not realize power will always bring corruption to a certain extent and that it must be wielded carefully and sparingly. Roger’s final abuse of this power came in the form of the Earl of Kent’s execution, but it had been clear for some time that his rising authority was becoming a problem. His supposed murder of Edward II, the ratification of the highly unpopular Treaty of Northampton, his creation as Earl of March and his lavish gifts to his supporters (and eventually himself) all helped to prove that he had become inebriated with power and had rose to the level of a hypocritical, over-mighty subject, the very thing he had rebelled against.

In retrospect, we seem to have very little choice but to view Roger Mortimer as a hypocrite, a despot and a man who had gone far beyond the reaches of his authority as a mere baron by setting himself up as the maker, breaker and controller of kings. But we must remember that the Mortimer family had long been loyal the crown. Roger’s grandfather fought for the royalists at Evesham, while his father and uncle had aided Edward I in extending his authority into Wales by taking part in the raid that led to the death of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. Even Roger himself displayed immense loyalty to the crown, sticking by the king’s side during the whole Gaveston debacle and Lancaster’s troublemaking in 1318, as well as playing a prominent role in fighting back the Bruce invasion of Ireland. It was only when he was personally threatened by Hugh Despenser the Younger on his home turf (i.e. the Welsh marches) that Roger reluctantly decided to rebel against the crown. In many ways, Roger Mortimer was merely a victim of circumstances; he had a role to play. It was his job to rid England of the tyrannical Edward II and place his son on the throne, a man who would gain a reputation as a man who was far more just, competent and overall more fit to wear the crown of England than his father. Once Roger had successfully played his part in history, he was simply no longer needed – and was therefore discarded.

Mortimer in Marlowe

Appears in: Edward II

Throughout Edward II, Roger Mortimer is portrayed as the primary antagonist whose power gradually increases as the play progresses. It is assumed from early on that he and Queen Isabella are lovers and the king indeed accuses his wife of adultery on several occasions. Historically, the love affair between Mortimer and Isabella did not begin until 1325 while they were together in France and Mortimer did not rebel against the king until 1321. Marlowe's depiction of Mortimer's hatred towards Piers Gaveston is completely false and Mortimer was actually a ward of the royal favorite at one point. Within the play, Mortimer has no problem accusing the king openly of his failures as a monarch and ultimately makes it his goal to depose and murder him. He joins forces with the queen and the reluctant prince to pull off the coup (after he escapes from prison) and is eventually successful in doing so. The Despensers are both executed and the king is sent to various places of imprisonment. Mortimer then has the Earl of Kent (the king's brother) executed and devises a devious plot to have Edward II murdered by a man named Lightborne (who symbolically represents Satan). The king is murdered but Mortimer, who at this point thinks he is de facto King of England, is betrayed by his own men and the plot is discovered by the new King Edward III, who is furious at his father's murder and promptly has Mortimer beheaded, despite his mother's pleadings. Overall, Mortimer is portrayed in a very negative light as a man who, much like the historical Mortimer, had overstepped his boundaries and was responsible for the death of a king.


Mortimer, Ian. The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Roger Mortimer, Ruler of England 1327-1330

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