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.