In genealogy research there comes a point in history where the only sources available are very subjective and questionable at best. We must consider how many persons the account was retold to before it was finally put to paper. We also must ask about the motives and biases of those recounting the story over time, and of the author. Such is the case of the history of Sir Roger de Mortimer and Queen Isabella of France.
Considering these issues, something close to the truth can be gleaned by comparing the accounts from numerous sources and finding points of similarity. All facts cited must be sourced as well as possible and where there are questions, they should also be documented for further investigation.
I have spent ten years researching hundreds of branches which include thousands of individuals. I consulted the best and most respected sources available and thinking this may be one instance where the old adage “safety in numbers” may apply, I cited as many good sources as possible.
This post is just one regarding our family’s connections to noble and royal figures in European history. I have chosen Queen Isabella (Queen of England and 25th great grandmother to my children) and Sir Roger Mortimer (third cousin 21 times removed to my children). I, myself, am but a lowly commoner.
This story intrigues me because it’s a love story that ultimately ends in tragedy with the execution of Sir Roger.
Sir Roger de Mortimer was the son and heir of Sir Edmund de Mortimer and his wife Margaret, daughter of Sir William de Fiennes. Sources differ on the date of his birth, some saying he was born April 25 and others saying May 3 of 1287. His main stronghold during his lifetime was Ludlow Castle.
Sir Edmund having died in 1304, Piers de Gavaston was granted wardship of the lands Sir Roger inherited and an agreement was reached for Sir Roger to pay off the debts of his father at 20 pounds per year. Upon full payment, although still underage at the time, Sir Roger was given full control of the lands. Soon after, on May 22, 1306, Edward II, the King, knighted him at Westminster. Roger performed service for the King in Scotland, but in October his lands were seized for leaving service without permission. The following January, he was pardoned and his lands were restored because of the influence of Queen Margaret.
Sir Roger received his family’s lands in Ireland under order of the Justiciar of Ireland. December 24, 1306, Lord Geoffrey de Geneville surrendered the lands in Ireland that he held in name of his deceased wife Maud, which were to have descended to Sir Roger and his wife Joan (daughter to Piers and granddaughter to Geoffrey de Geneville) upon Geoffrey’s death.
As a result of his own inheritance and that by right of his marriage to Joan, Sir Roger de Mortimer became a wealthy man of influence in Ireland and Wales.
During the next years, Sir Roger de Mortimer performed service for the King against the Scots and to raise soldiers in Wales. In 1315, he aided in suppressing Llewelyn Bren’s revolt, ultimately securing his surrender on March 18, 1315⁄6. In 1316, Roger was defeated by Edward Bruce in Ireland and after returning to England, assisted the Earl of Pembroke to suppress a revolt in Bristol.
He was appointed the King’s Lieutenant in Ireland and in February 1316/7, he amassed and commanded an army at Haverfordwest, crossing to Youghal on April 7, 1317. After defeating Walter de Lacy, his brothers and his men, Sir Roger returned to England.
At the treaty of Leek on August 9, 1318, Roger was nominated to the King’s council and to the commission for royal household reform.
He was appointed Justiciar of Ireland March 15, 1318/9 and remained in this capacity until January 1320/1. Soon after, on March 16, 1320/1, he became keeper of the castles of Roscommon, Athlone and Randown.
During a war between the Earl of Hereford and Despenser about Gower, Roger and his uncle Roger Mortimer of Chirk sided with Hereford. In the next year, Roger and the Earl of Hereford were summoned to the King, but both refused to attend because Despenser was in the King’s train.
Later in the spring of 1321, the King yielded and banished the Despensers. Sir Roger de Mortimer received a pardon from the King August 20, 1321 and returned to Wales.
Later, the King’s forces attacked the castle of Leeds in Kent after the Queen had been refused admission. Hereford and Mortimer ventured as far as Kingston, but took no further action. The King’s forces took the castle and pursued Mortimer and Hereford to the west. Mortimer burned Bridgnorth and the King’s army was forced to proceed north to Shrewsbury to cross the Severn river.
Considering they had received no help from the Earl of Lancaster, Mortimer’s group surrendered to the King at Shrewsbury and were dispatched to and held in the Tower of London. Upon the defeat of Lancaster at Boroughbridge on March 22, 1321/2, power was restored to the Despensers. A trial of the Mortimers was conducted and in July they were sentenced to death. However, on July 22, 1322, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
Roger escaped from the Tower of London August 1, 1324 after drugging the guards. He crossed the Thames River, proceeded to a ship waiting for him in Dover and sailed on a ship to France. In the spring of 1325, Queen Isabella (sister of Charles IV) sailed to France to try for peace about Guienne and succeeded May 31, 1325. On September 12, Prince Edward arrived in France and stayed there with his mother, who was closely associated with the exiles by this time.
Although there is doubt about when Roger de Mortimer and Isabella actually became lovers, there is no doubt that Mortimer was her lover and adviser while in Paris, France at the end of the year. Amidst the scandal of the relationship of Roger and Isabella, Prince Edward was engaged to Philippe of Hainaut, and they raised men and money to attack England. On September 14, 1326 they landed near Ipswich and their numbers increased with other opponents of the Despensers. They followed the King, who had fled to the Despensers in Wales and October 26, 1326, the older Despenser was captured, and then tried and hanged by Mortimer, Lancaster and others the following day.
Mortimer captured the King and the younger Despenser on November 16 at Llantrisant. Upon Edward II having been deposed January 7, 1326/7, he was forced to abdicate in favour of his son, who was crowned January 25, 1327. Three of Roger’s sons (Edmund, Roger and Geoffrey) were made Knights that day. In fact though, the country was actually ruled by Roger and Isabella.
Later, November 24, he, Lancaster and Kent judged against and hanged the younger Despenser from 50 foot high gallows.
He was made Justiciar at Llandaff February 20, 1326/7, Justice of Wales during pleasure and then the following year for life. He received a pardon for his escape from the Tower of London and his other actions. The decision being that he was not fairly tried by his peers, the sentenced was reversed and his lands restored.
In September of 1328, Roger became Constable of Wallingford Castle and was made Earl of March. While ruling England alongside Isabella, he became Lord of Denbigh, Oswestry and Clun.
Sir Roger de Mortimer’s power and ambition raised the jealousy and ire of those he had once associated with, including Henry, Earl of Lancaster. Having been a co-onspirator responsible for Edward II’s deposition, the Earl of Lancaster attempted to overthrow Roger. In March, 1330, Edmund, Earl of Kent, half-brother to Edward II, was executed upon the order of Roger de Mortimer. Under some pressure from Henry of Lancaster, Edward III decided to take action and in October 1330, he called a Parliament and had Roger de Mortimer and Isabella captured at Nottingham Castle and Roger was imprisoned in the Tower of London yet again.
He was condemned without trial for assuming power and was hung, drawn and quartered upon what was known as the “Tyburn Tree” at Tyburn on November 29, 1330 — and his body was left hanging in view of the public for two days. His estates and property were forteited to the crown and his widow, Joan, received a pardon in 1336, died in 1356, and was buried beside Sir Roger de Mortimer at Wigmore.
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