Unwanted heirs? The Mortimers in the 1390s

It has been established now that Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, was declared heir to the throne by Parliament in 1386 – not 1385 as commonly believed. This Parliament was very much at odds with Richard II (it set up a one-year Commission to run most of his affairs, much to Richard’s displeasure.) So it is not a massive stretch to say that Richard may not have been happy with the arrangement.

There seems little doubt that the Mortimer heirship was accepted. The Westminster Chronicle sets it out in the plainest words and goes to some pains to say that the Lancaster lot were not Richard’s heirs. Given that he was writing at the time, this seems irrefutable evidence, especially as the Monk of Westminster was close to the seat of government, not living in the middle of a marsh 100 miles away.

Roger Mortimer should have been a very important person indeed. However, he was not advanced in the peerage (Richard could easily have made him Duke of Clarence for example) nor given any special precedence. When he was not in Ireland (which admittedly he often was) he would have had to walk behind and sit below the dukes of Lancaster, York and Gloucester, to say nothing of several earls with higher precedence.

In addition, it is very notable that he was not promoted to the Garter. Nor for that matter was his younger brother, Sir Edmund, though this is more explicable. Nor were his sisters, married to the heir of Northumberland in one case, and in the other first to the Earl of Pembroke and then the Earl of Arundel. Richard II was lavish in his distribution of Garter robes to ladies, including some women you have almost certainly never have heard of. Yet the Mortimer sisters were pointedly excluded. It is almost as if the Mortimers were persona non grata at court.

As is well-known, Roger was killed in Ireland in 1397, fighting hostile Irish forces. Even this is a slightly odd business, in that he was wearing Irish costume at the time. Why? Would you not expect the heir of England to go into battle wearing full armour and surrounded by a substantial retinue of armed thugs?

What is less well-known is that Richard had already recalled him, replacing him as Lieutenant of Ireland with his own half-nephew, Thomas Holland, Duke of Surrey. Surrey, unlike March, had not a foot of land in Ireland, so this was a less than optimum choice for the role. Richard had clearly lost confidence in March. He may even have suspected him of treason.

As mentioned above, one of March’s sisters, Philippa, was married to Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel. Richard had recently had Arundel executed for treason, allegedly believing that he, Gloucester and Warwick were involved in a new plot to overthrow him. Whether there was really a plot, or whether Richard was taking revenge for the Appellant rising of 1387/88 is unclear. It may even be that Richard was simply paranoid and saw plots where none existed. However, one of the stories going around was that March had known of the plot and had fled to Ireland in preference to taking part. Later, when he attended the Shrewsbury Parliament to (among other things) swear to maintain the sentences against Gloucester, Arundel and Warwick, he appeared with a very substantial retinue drawn from his nearby estates in the marches. Did this promote Richard’s suspicions?

It is probably safe to say that if Roger had not been killed by the Irish he might well have been put on trial and quite possibly executed. At best, he would have been left on the fringes, devoid of influence.

Ian Mortimer is of the opinion that Richard II wanted Edmund of Langley, and thus in effect Edmund’s son, Edward of York, Duke of Aumale to be his heir. Given that Richard clearly did not want either Roger or his other cousin, Bolingbroke, this seems to follow as night follows day. The York family had opened their confining fetterlock, and I have no doubt at all that but for that pesky kid Bolingbroke (and his unfortunate failure to fall under the wheels of a Paris cart) they would have come into their own a lot earlier than 1461.

1 comment

  1. I think you’ve left out some important context for Richard’s removal of the 4th earl:

    Firstly, Richard seems to have had it out for the Mortimers from the start. Richard took personal control of government after the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381. At just 14, he was much too young for this sort of responsibility, but the “continual council” system set up by parliament to exclude the royal uncles had failed so spectacularly that I’m sure many people at the time wondered how the teenage king could possible do _worse_. The interesting thing is that he launches an attack on the Mortimer family almost immediately after taking power into his own hands. The 3rd earl of March died in Ireland at the end of 1381 and Richard attempts to disinherit the seven-year-old 4th earl for no reason in early 1382. (It’s the same play he made against the Lancastrians in 1399.) Richard’s unjustifiable land grab is quickly shut down in the first parliament of 1382 thanks to Sir Thomas Mortimer (brother of the recently deceased 3rd earl, uncle of the young 4th earl), who was a member of the Commons.

    Secondly, this same Thomas Mortimer is the one who served under Bolingbroke at Radcot Bridge and who killed one of Richard’s favorites (Sir Thomas Molineux) there.

    You then get more than a decade of Richard ignoring — and, in the case his cult of St. Edward the Confessor, seeming to intentionally humiliate — the Mortimer clan. And then …

    Thirdly, one of the figures Richard takes aim at in the Revenge Parliament is — you guessed it — Sir Thomas Mortimer. Mortimer was in the service of the now-adult 4th earl of March in Ireland. The 4th earl refused to arrest his uncle, and Thomas fled into exile in Scotland. It is only after this that Richard announces he will lead an army to Ireland in 1399, which has led some historians to speculate whether said army was gathered to destroy the 4th earl and his supporters in Ireland for their refusal to arrest Thomas.

    Richard’s lifelong vendetta against the Mortimers may actually have the same root cause as his vendetta against the Lancastrians. The details of the plot that led to Bolingbroke and Mowbray’s exiles are often forgotten. Bolingbroke testified that Mowbray had told him that Richard planned to disinherit them both on the basis that their inheritance came from figures who’d opposed Edward II. (Richard was rather bizarrely obsessed with Edward II — even tried, and failed, to get him canonized.) Specifically, IIRC, Bolingbroke said that Mowbray said that Richard would 1) reinstate the attainder of the Lancastrians for Thomas of Lancaster’s rebellion against Edward II, and 2) lift the attainder of the Despensers pushed through by Roger Mortimer for the Despensers’ support of Edward II. Richard denies this … and yet he would immediately turn around and do of the things he had just denied planning to do — he lifted the attainder of the Despensers for their support of Edward II. This confirms the story Bolingbroke says Mowbray shared with him, and so we have to ask — if Richard was going to destroy the Lancastrians for Thomas of Lancaster’s opposition to Edward II generations earlier, then would he not also have wanted to destroy the Mortimers for Roger Mortimer’s deposition of Edward II generations earlier?

    Liked by 1 person

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