29 November, 2006

The Execution of Roger Mortimer

Roger Mortimer, Lord of Wigmore and first earl of March, 25 April 1287 to 29 November 1330. He was the second cousin twice removed of Edward II and the fourth cousin once removed of Queen Isabella, his mistress.

Roger was born on the same day as Edward II, but three years later. Today marks the 676th anniversary of his execution at Tyburn, at the age of forty-three.

Roger was arrested in Nottingham Castle on 19 October 1330, in the hastily planned and executed seizure of power by the young Edward III, aged not quite eighteen. Apparently, Edward III wished to execute him immediately, but was persuaded by Henry, earl of Lancaster, to put Roger on trial before Parliament. Roger was first taken to Leicester, then imprisoned in the Tower of London until his trial on 26 November.

In keeping with several other so-called 'trials' of this time, of Thomas of Lancaster and the Despensers, Roger was not permitted to speak in his own defence when he was taken before Parliament at Westminster. In fact, he was gagged to make sure he couldn't speak. He was also bound, with ropes or chains. He was charged with fourteen crimes, including: the murder of Edward II; procuring the death of Edward's half-brother Kent; and taking royal power and using it to enrich himself, his children and his supporters.

The outcome of the 'trial' was never in doubt. Roger was found guilty of these crimes, and 'many others', by notoriety, that is, his crimes were 'notorious and known for their truth to you and all the realm'.

On 29 November 1330, Roger was taken from the Tower. He was forced to wear the black tunic he had worn to Edward II's funeral three years earlier, a pointed reference to his hypocrisy, and dragged behind two horses to Tyburn, where he would be hanged. His clothes were taken off him, so he died naked. Verses of the 52nd Psalm were read out loud to him - 'Why do you glory in mischief?' - and he was allowed to speak a few words to the crowd. He didn't mention Edward II, or Queen Isabella, but admitted his role in the judicial murder of the earl of Kent.

Roger was not, as is often stated, the first person to be executed at Tyburn (executions had taken place there for well over a century, since the 1190s), but he was the first nobleman to be hanged there. Tyburn was the execution site for common criminals, and hanging was the method used to dispatch them. Noblemen were usually beheaded. The Despensers were an exception, but in 1322 Edward II had commuted Thomas of Lancaster's sentence to be hanged, drawn and quartered to beheading, and in 1312 even Piers Gaveston was given the nobleman's death, because he was the earl of Gloucester's brother-in-law. The site and method chosen for Roger's execution were a deliberate attempt to treat him as a common criminal. At least Edward III spared him the full horrors of the traitor's death, and death came within a few minutes - a relief, as medieval hanging victims often took hours to die.

Roger's burial site is uncertain. He is stated to have been buried at the Grey Friars church in Shrewsbury, but a year after his death, his widow Joan de Geneville petitioned Edward III for his body to be removed to Wigmore, and it was the Franciscans of Coventry who were licensed to deliver it. Wherever his final resting place was, his tomb is now lost.

Unfortunately the story that, twenty-eight years later, Isabella chose to be buried at the Grey Friars in London because it was Roger's final resting place, is not true, though it's still often repeated today. It is possible, however, that Roger's body lay there for a while before his final burial, though this hardly seems sufficient reason for Isabella to have been buried there (her aunt Marguerite was also buried there, in 1318).

Roger Mortimer was a fascinating man who deserves to be much better known. He was intelligent, competent, and ruthless, and, in the end, proof of the adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Power went to his head at least as much as it did to Hugh Despenser's, and he repeated the avaricious and tyrannical mistakes of the previous favourite, and added a few of his own.

Thanks to Edward III's lack of vindictiveness, however, Roger's descendants thrived in the later fourteenth century. His grandson Roger was restored to the earldom of March in 1354, his great-grandson Edmund married Edward III's granddaughter Philippa of Clarence, and his great-great-grandson Roger was heir to the throne of England in the late 1390s.

In memoriam: Roger Mortimer, 1287-1330, usurper of a king and lover of a queen, de facto king of England, died on this day 676 years ago.

26 comments:

Susan Higginbotham said...

Forgot all about Roger's death anniversary! Great post.

I often wonder who had the job of attending to all of those little execution details--like sending off for Roger's black tunic to dress him in it for his execution.

ilya said...

let's not forget that anne mortimer, daughter of roger mortimer and therefor great-great-great-granddaughter of this particular roger mortimer, was the mother of richard, the duke of york. he, in turn was the father of edward 4th who, through his oldest daughter - elizabeth - is the ancestor of every english king since henry 8th. meaning roger mortimer is the ancestor of quite a great deal of kings (and not just english).

the funny part is that hugh despenser's descendants include anne beauchamp - wife of richard, earl of warwick, also known as the kingmaker, whose daughters married george, earl of clarence, and richard 3rd.

have i mentioned how much i love genealogy? :D

Alianore said...

That occurred to me too, Susan - I wonder whose idea it was? Unless Roger kept the black tunic in the Tower or somewhere else in London, I'm sure it would have taken more than three days to collect it (the three days between his trial and his execution). Although the outcome of the trial was surely never in doubt, that would be definite proof that his execution was planned before his trial!

Thanks for the info, Ilya - you sound as fascinated by genealogy as I am! :) I didn't even mention Roger's daughters, six of whom had children - Roger must have countless millions of descendants alive today! And as I mentioned in another post, the 1338 marriage of Hugh Despenser's youngest daughter Elizabeth to Roger's grandson Maurice Berkeley fascinates me, then there's Roger's great-grandson Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, born 1382. His first wife was Hugh's great-granddaughter Elizabeth Berkeley, and his second Hugh's great-great-granddaughter Isabel Despenser.

Susan Higginbotham said...

And then there's the fact that Hugh le Despenser the younger's son, Hugh, and Roger Mortimer's grandson, Roger, married sisters, the daughters of the William de Montacute who had brought about Roger Mortimer's downfall . . .

Alianore said...

Thanks, Susan, I'd forgotten that connection! And of course another Montacute sister, Sybil, married Edmund Fitzalan, both of whose grandfathers - Hugh Despenser the younger and Edmund Fitzalan, earl of Arundel - were executed by Roger Mortimer a week apart in November 1326. (The sisters' marriages are here)

Flossie said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog, especially on the anniversary of Roger's execution! You're quite right, of course, that The Greatest Traitor suggested alternative endings to Edward's life. Forgive me but, until you posted your comment, I only had an audience of one anonymous male, who seems to have known me many years ago but who, so far at least, has shown no interest in medeival history. As you're obviously an expert on this subject, could you remind me please, whether the Solar Wing at Ludlow Castle is the one Roger built for Isabella? I had a fascinating tour of the ruins, on a dark, damp day with no-one else around, so the atmosphere was perfect!

Gabriele C. said...

You know, if you made up all those intermarriages and relations twice removed and who killed whom despite him being the son of the great grandaunt and all, readers would think it a bad construction in order to further the plot. :)

Alianore said...

Gabriele: LOL, you're right! ;) And trying to keep track of who exactly is the second cousin twice removed of whom and which third cousin once removed he married, would give the author a serious headache!

Hi Flossie - sounds like you had a great time at Ludlow! I've never been there, unfortunately, though I'll definitely make the trip sometime. As I understand it from The Greatest Traitor, Roger and Isabella stayed at Ludlow with his wife Joan de Geneville in 1328, for their daughters' wedding. Joan would have to give precedence to Isabella, as she was the queen, but Ludlow was Joan's inheritance from her parents, and it would have been pretty humiliating for her to have to give up the best chambers to her husband's mistress in her own castle. Roger's solution was a splendid new solar wing, so both women could stay in equally luxurious quarters, and Joan didn't have to lose face.

Unfortunately, history does not record where Roger slept during the stay at Ludlow...;)

Eric Avebury said...

You mention that Roger said a few words before his execution, without quoting them. I'd be grateful for a reference to the text if you have it, for my anthology of the last words of my ancestors who were executed.

Presumably Hugh le Despenser the younger and Bartholomew Badlesmere didn't have anything to say before their executions?

Alianore said...

Hi Eric - I'm afraid I can't find Roger's exact words recorded anywhere. Even Ian Mortimer's bio of Roger only says that he made a speech admitting that Kent was the victim of a conspiracy. Alison Weir's bio of Isabella, in the endnotes, cites "Special Collections: Ancient Correspondence" (S.C. 1) in the Public Records Office.

If Badlesmere said anything before his execution, unfortunately nobody recorded it. The younger Despenser apparently "suffered with great patience, begging forgiveness from the bystanders". Again the exact words are not given, but as Hugh hadn't consumed any food or drink for over a week, he probably wasn't too articulate!

His father, the Elder Despenser - executed at Bristol in October 1326 - said to Queen Isabella "Ah, madam, grant us an upright judge and a just sentence" which would fit nicely in your anthology, I think! (Sounds like a very nice idea).

Anonymous said...

My great-grandfather Roger Mortimer, 2nd Earl of March was buried at Wigmore, but his grave is not lost; we do indeed know exactly where his grave is to this day. Lady Shirley

Anonymous said...

A theory put forward with regard to the exact burial place of Roger Mortimer [1st Earl of March] is Much Marcle in Herefordshire. It was a place owned by Joan de Geneville and I believe she is buried there!It seems logical that she should have him in death if not totally at the end of his life. This Lady would in my opinion still have remained his 'true' wife to the end of her life.

Kathryn said...

Good to know! As far as I remember, Roger and Joan's daughter Blanche Grandison is buried at Much Marcle (and has a gorgeous effigy).

Barnaby said...

I have always been amazed that any of Mortimers family were allowed to survive. He may have been a weak and foolish king but Edward 11 was just that, the king. To have had him murdered and, reportedly, in such a bestial manner, surely demanded the eradication of his whole family.
Is there any record of what became of Edward's executioner?

Kathryn Warner said...

Well, the red-hot poker story is almost certainly a myth, and it's quite possible that Edward survived past 1327. I've done posts here on the men accused in 1330 of Edward's murder, William Ockley and Thomas Gurney. Edward III was definitely not the kind of man who would take revenge on a whole family for the sins of one member. In 1330, he would have had to eradicate Mortimer's widow, two surviving sons, his eight daughters and several grandchildren - unthinkable.

Anonymous said...

I ‘fell in love’ with the 14th Century England, due to Michael Jecks’ Templar Mystery books. Since his first book, I bought, all that was published and available in the States. (Wonderful, logical police procedure.) Also bought Ian Mortimer’s books..

Anonymous said...

Does anyone here know if Roger the first earl's daughter Blanche had any descendants? I've found a lineage in my tree which claims descent from that line but in Ian Mortimer's book about Roger he states that Blanche had no children. It could just be an honest mistake but I wanted to be sure.

Kathryn Warner said...

Where did you find the information that Blanche had descendants? If it was an online genealogy site, I'd take it with a huge pinch of salt. Most of them are dreadful. I've never seen that she had any children.

Anonymous said...

She apparently had a daughter named either Isabel or Elizabeth Grandison who married Sir Baldwin Brugge. She may have just been from a previous marriage of Piers Grandison and some people have assumed she is Blanche's daughter. Either way many sites list Blanche as an ancestress of the Bruges and later Brydges families.

Kathryn Warner said...

Assumptions really mean nothing unless they have a primary source as evidence. I'm sick of assumptions and misleading assertions on genealogy sites that are endlessly repeated on numerous other genealogy sites and thus become 'fact' to some people. I had an email once from someone who'd seen 'on many genealogy sites' that he was descended from a son Isabella of France had by Roger Mortimer and was simply not prepared to believe me when I said there is NO evidence the pair had a living child together, let alone one who grew up to marry and have children.

Anonymous said...

Obviously Roger and Isabella had no known children together. That just seems silly to me that someone would think that. For Isabel Grandison one site claims "A General and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerages of England, Ireland" indicates that she was the daughter of Blanche by Piers. I can find no actual text online that supports this and I'm of course not sure of the site's accuracy.

Either way I still descend from Roger through his daughter Katherine who married the Earl of Warwick. :)

Anonymous said...

Just reading about the discovery of the remains of Blanche Mortimer in her tomb at Much Marcle (silly me, I didn't realize that the bodies apparently weren't normally in the tombs but buried below them). The article mentions that Blance and Peter Grandison had one son, Otto. It doesn't say anything further about what became of him, and since Peter's successor to the baronial title was a John Grandison, I am guessing that Otto died young. Of course this article is not well-sourced, so good luck to anybody wanting to track down the mysterious Otto.

Of course, now the whole thing has me interested in the Grandisons--as if I needed another family I'm *not* related to to research! The original Baron Grandison (of the first creation) was an "Otho." Peter was the second Baron (of the second creation) but so far haven't seen much biographical information on him. Was there a link (as would seem likely from the names) between the original Otho Grandison and the Barons of the second creation? Who was John Grandison--apparently not the son of his predecessor? Or did he have a wife previous to Blanche, and John was his son from that marriage? Ah, mysteries!

--CeeJay

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi CeeJay! I'm really not clear on the Grandissons, but have a feeling that Peter was the nephew of Otto or Othon (Edward I's friend). Blanche Mortimer had no children, but Peter was many years older than her, and I think he had a child or children from a previous marriage. The bishop of Exeter elected in 1327 was John Grandisson, and the wife of the earl of Salisbury who died in 1344 was Katherine Grandisson, but I don't know how they fit into the family tree.

Jason said...

I have been told by a genealogist Mortimer that Roger Mortimer was a descendent of Canute the Great and therefore has connections to many Danish Kings and heroes. This would explain his certainty of action and heroic war deeds a bit, I think. He really ought to have slain Edward III, but I guess his love for the queen was his undoing.

Kathryn Warner said...

he *ought* to have killed Edward III, really? And how do we know he loved the queen?

Jason said...

Hi Kathryn,

Well, no one really knows anything for certain, but it is reasonable to assume that he didn't kill off Edward III, a certain and growing threat, out of love and respect for his partner. He was ruthless in most other places when it was needed, so that's why I acknowledge that idea.