This post is the first in a new mini-series of posts about Roger Mortimer, Lord of Wigmore and later the 1st Earl of March. Being the nemesis of both Hugh Despenser and Edward II, as well as the possible lover of queen Isabella, he deserves a little section all to himself!
Roger was born on the 25th April 1287, most likely at Wigmore castle, the eldest son of Edmund Mortimer, Lord of Wigmore and Margaret de Fiennes. His father had been a second son and was educated as a clerk while the elder brother and heir, Ralph, became a knight with an impressive record at tournaments. However, Ralph died in 1276 and Edmund suddenly found himself thrust into the role of feudal lord, with all that went with it, including military action (this must have all come as a bit of a shock to someone educated at Oxford and expected to become a royal administrator!). He took part in the battles against Welsh independence and was present when the body of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the Welsh prince was identified. His younger brother, Roger (more of him later) then took the head back to show to Edward I at Rhuddlan Castle.
So ‘our’ Roger grew up in an atmosphere steeped in military lore, an attitude further reinforced by the fact that the Mortimers were first and foremost Marcher Lords, controlling lands inhabited by an often rebellious native Welsh population. The aristocracy had always been a warrior class, its males brought up to handle weapons and fight battles – but for Roger, warfare seemed to be truly in his blood. Up until the age of seven, he probably remained at Wigmore – under the control of his mother (when she was there), and grandmother. After that, like all boys, he would have been sent out to the household of another lord – usually a relative – to receive further training to prepare him for knighthood. There is nothing to tell us where he went, but two possibilities stand out more than others.
First of all, he may have gone to his uncle Roger’s castle at Chirk. Mortimer of Chirk had a rather unsavoury reputation for violence and ruthlessness – even for the 14th century. When the Lord of Powys died in 1277, Mortimer was given the wardship of his two young sons. These boys then mysteriously disappeared – and Mortimer took over their inheritance. It was rumoured that he had had them drowned. In another incident, a priest was sent to Chirk to lecture him on his womanising ways and was promptly thrown into a deep, dank dungeon. So, maybe not the best role model for a young impressionable youth to grow up around – but their later close alliance in both military and business affairs does suggest that there was some stronger link between them than just family ties.
The second possibility is that Roger grew up in the household of Prince Edward of Caernarvon – later to become Edward II. The prince had several young nobles in his retinue as companions, and all tended to play a part in his later life. After Edmund Mortimer’s death, Roger became a royal ward under Prince Edward. Edward then gifted the wardship upon his dearest companion, Piers Gaveston. This was an extremely valuable wardship for someone of Gaveston’s status and it would have had to have been agreed to by Edward I. According to Ian Mortimer, the fact that it happened so smoothly suggests that Roger had already had some sort of relationship (not that sort!) with either Gaveston or Edward.
The wardship did not last long however. By 1304, an amount had been agreed with Gaveston for Roger to buy himself out of it. 2,500 marks was a lot of money, but it seems that Roger somehow found the amount (although maybe not in one go) by 1305. Even so, he was not granted full control over his estates until April 1306. That he could do so must have been agreed by the king himself for Mortimer was still technically underage by two years – Edward I was obviously impressed enough by this young man to entrust him with the heavy responsibilities of a feudal lord.
Indeed, he was already further advanced along the path of manhood than many of his contemporaries for he was also a married man and a father. His marriage had taken place on the 20th September 1301 (when he was 14) at the family manor of Pembridge. His bride was Joan de Geneville, the daughter of Peter and granddaughter and heiress of Geoffrey de Geneville, a lord who held large estates in both England and Ireland. Joan was fifteen at the time of the marriage so it is likely that the marriage was consummated immediately. In any case, the marriage certainly was to prove fruitful (and, it must be assumed, successful) in light of the numbers of children they produced together. By the time Roger came into full possession of his lands in 1306 at 19, they already had at least two children together.
In 1306, Roger was knighted at the Feast of the Swan along with 266 others – including his uncle Roger, who for all his years on the battlefield, had not yet been dubbed. It was a ceremony without precedence for its size and grandeur – England had never seen so many men made into knights at one go. This wasn’t just for show though – the king had a purpose in bringing so many of his lords together: he was planning another campaign into Scotland. The Feast of the Swan was the ultimate morale booster.
The Greatest Traitor, Ian Mortimer