19 October, 2012

19 October 1330: Edward III's Arrest Of Roger Mortimer

Today marks the 682nd anniversary of Edward III's arrest of Roger Mortimer, earl of March and the real ruler of England for the previous four years, at Nottingham Castle.  Roger was subsequently executed at Tyburn on 29 November, and Edward - not quite eighteen at the time of the arrest - took over the governance of his own kingdom.  His mother Queen Isabella was placed under house arrest for a while, though spent Christmas with her son and daughter-in-law Queen Philippa (and presumably her six-month-old grandson Edward of Woodstock, future prince of Wales).  Henry, earl of Lancaster, Isabella's uncle and Edward II's cousin, supposedly threw his cap in the air with joy on hearing the news of Roger's arrest, and surely the rest of the kingdom was equally thrilled to hear the news.  Edward III and around two dozen young knights took advantage of a secret tunnel into Nottingham Castle to enter Isabella's apartments and capture Roger.

The story of Roger Mortimer's arrest, and Isabella's screaming to her son to have pity on her favourite, has been well recorded elsewhere,so I won't repeat it here; see Ian Mortimer's The Greatest Traitor and The Perfect King for dramatic accounts of the event.  (And my friend Sarah's blog post of today.)  Incidentally, I've sometimes seen people online presuming that Roger was arrested while in bed with Isabella, or otherwise alone and intimate with her, which is certainly not the case.  They were in fact in conference with the vanishingly small number of allies remaining to them, including Henry Burghersh, bishop of Lincoln, who humiliatingly and unsuccessfully tried to escape down a privy shaft, and Sir Hugh Turplington, who was killed trying to protect Roger.

Some of the young knights who supported and aided Edward III during his coup were later rewarded with earldoms: William Montacute, Salisbury; Robert Ufford, Suffolk; William Clinton, Huntingdon; Ralph Stafford, who was to abduct Hugh Audley and Margaret de Clare's daughter Margaret and marry her in 1336, who received the earldom of Stafford.  Among the other young men present were Edward III's first cousin Edward de Bohun, the earl of Hereford's brother; Thomas, Lord Berkeley's younger brother Sir Maurice Berkeley and his (Thomas's) household retainer Thomas de Bradeston, which begs the question if Lord Berkeley knew of the impending downfall of Roger Mortimer, his father-in-law; John Molyns, formerly a retainer of Hugh Despenser the Younger; Robert Walkfare, imprisoned as a Contrariant by Edward II in 1322, who escaped from Corfe Castle by killing a porter.

Edward III took advantage of certain favourable conditions, i.e. the secret tunnel, at Nottingham Castle in order to effect the arrest of Roger Mortimer, so the attack was planned pretty spontaneously, but he had clearly been planning some kind of move against Roger and his mother for some time - it was extremely difficult for him, however, to do so, as Roger and Isabella had spies in his household and he could hardly go and raise an army against them without them noticing.  In 1329, he had sent his friend William Montacute to Pope John XXII with a letter bearing the code words Pater Sancte (Holy Father) in his own hand, so that the pope would recognise in future which letters came from him personally rather than ones sent in his name by his mother and Roger, and it is hardly a coincidence that the king had a couple of dozen or so young knights close to him and loyal to him who he knew he could count on to support him in a coup.

Roger Mortimer's son Geoffrey, who earlier that year had mocked his father as the 'king of folly', was also arrested on 19 October 1330, but was mainperned on 22 January 1331, and granted a safe-conduct to leave England on 16 March*.  Also arrested with Roger were Sir Oliver Ingham, formerly Edward II's steward of Gascony, who was also soon released and pardoned, on 8 December 1330**, and Sir Simon Bereford, an oddly obscure figure who was nevertheless convicted of aiding Roger Mortimer in "all his treasons, felonies and wicked deeds" and executed shortly before Christmas 1330.  (See here for more information on him.)  Roger Mortimer was dragged to his execution on 29 November wearing the black tunic he'd had made new for Edward II's funeral in Gloucester in December 1327; someone, presumably Edward III himself, remembered the tunic three years later and forced Roger to wear it.

* Calendar of Close Rolls 1330-1333, pp. 178, 297; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1330-1334, p. 87.  Nine men stood as mainpernors for Geoffrey.  Presumably he left for France, where he owned lands.
** Calendar of Patent Rolls 1330-1334, p. 22: "Pardon to Oliver de Ingham, in consideration of service to the late king and the king in the duchy of Aquitaine, for his adherence to Roger de Mortuo Mari, earl of March, the king's enemy; and restitution of his lands and goods..."

The day after the arrest, 20 October, Edward III issued the following proclamation:

"Whereas the king's affairs and the affairs of his realm have been directed until now to the damage and dishonour of him and his realm and to the impoverishment of his people, as he has well perceived and as the facts prove*, wherefore he has, of his own knowledge and will, caused certain persons to be arrested, to wit the earl of La Marche [i.e. Roger Mortimer], Sir Oliver de Ingham, and Sir Simon de Bereford, who have been principal movers of the said affairs, and he wills that all men shall know that he will henceforth govern his people according to right and reason, as befits his royal dignity**, and that the affairs that concern him and the estate of his realm shall be directed by the common counsel of the magnates of the realm and in no other wise...".  [Calendar of Close Rolls 1330-1333, pp. 158-9]

* Edward II had left around £60,000 in his treasury in November 1326, swelled by the forfeitures of the Despensers and the earl of Arundel to almost £80,000.  After four years of Roger Mortimer and Isabella of France's rule, a mere twelve pounds was left.
** The fourteen charges against Roger Mortimer at the November 1330 parliament clearly demonstrate the young king's fury that someone of non-royal birth had used, and abused, his own royal power to enrich himself.

After more than twenty years of Edward II's disastrous, divisive rule and the equally disastrous regime of his wife and her favourite, I can only imagine that Edward III's subjects were delighted to hear this proclamation, and hoped for better times in the future.  Today, incidentally, also marks the anniversary of the death of Roger's seventy-year-old widow Joan Geneville, Lady Mortimer and dowager countess of March, in 1356.  I like and admire Joan a great deal, and it's such a shame that she's been so hard done by in many modern works of fiction and non-fiction, painted - if she's even mentioned at all - as a sexless, boring, fat, nagging nonentity understandably thrown over by her husband in favour of the gorgeous, glamorous, sexy queen.


Anonymous said...

Great post .... can't help wondering what might have happened if Mortimer and Isabella had ruled more justly. I'm curious though ... you note that "Robert Walkfare, imprisoned as a Contrariant by Edward II in 1322, who escaped from Corfe Castle by killing a porter." Edward II is supposed to have escaped from Berkeley Castle by killing a porter ... is this a coincidence? Or, was serving as a castle porter a more dangerous job than it seems?


Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Esther! That's a very interesting coincidence, isn't it? Or not - I sometimes wonder if it was the inspiration for the story in the Fieschi Letter that Edward escaped from Berkeley in such a way. I don't know, but it seems unlikely to me that both men escaped in the same way within a couple of years of each other.

Anerje said...

LOL! I thought the same about the porter connection!

So Mortimer did not enjoy his 'triumph' for long. I find the forced wearing of the tunic very interesting - I can well imagine some saw it as evidence that Edward III saw it as a symbol of Mortimer's guilt over his father's murder - or was it maybe a symbol of a plot that spelled the downfall of Mortimer?

I also feel sympathy for Joan - she couldn't have been that sexless etc, as she bore Roger so many children. One recent novelist has Roger even forgetting how many children he actually had, as if it was just 'too many to care'.

Anonymous said...

Kathryn, thank you for the link to the Cartmel article and photos:-)The Lakes are on my Bucket List. I've been to the south of England, but still want more:-)

I've looked inside Ian Mortimer's Edward III on Amazon and found the opening simply captivating, the story beginning with Roger's capture. I must read the whole book.

Thank you for yet another fascinating post,

Kasia Ogrodnik

Kathryn Warner said...

Anerje, I find that really interesting too, and I wonder if it was Edward III himself who remembered the tunic and had it sent for. Paul Doherty calls it 'a jibe at Mortimer's hypocrisy'. I wonder.

Ah yes, that utterly delightful novel that has Edward II not caring at all about his children. :/ Why do people feel the need to write such hurtful nonsense?

You're welcome, Kasia! I really hope you get to see Cartmel, and other places in England, sometime. ;) It's a wonderful story, isn't it?

Thank you! Have a lovely weekend!

Gabriele Campbell said...

I love the secret caves, lol. It's so Walter Scott-y.

But secret caves and wells have indeed played a role in history sometimes; Heinrich IV escaped from the Harzburg that way.

Anonymous said...


WRT Mortimer getting caught in bed with Isabella ... Seymour Phillips says(at pp. 491 and 611) that their relationship may not have been romantic or sexual. Is it possible that their relationship was a political alliance but medieval men couldn't believe that a woman would be involved in such a thing, so they assumed an affair?

Esther (sorry for the repeat, but I forgot to include this with my first post)

Kathryn Warner said...

Oh, that's interesting, Gabriele - I'll have to do some reading about that! :)

Esther, I found it so refreshing to read Professor Phillips' take on that, after reading so much sentimentalised guff on the subject. It's so often assumed nowadays that R and I's relationship must have been passionately sexual, but there's remarkably little evidence for that, and apart from a couple of chronicle comments that the pair were rumoured to have had a 'liaison' or an 'excessive familiarity' (exactly what was said about Ed and Piers), contemporaries generally just called R I's 'chief counsellor' or similar - one even just calls R 'of the queen's faction'. It's only a much later chronicler, Froissart, who wasn't even born till about 1337 and visited England in the 1360s and 1390s, who claims that I was pregnant at the time of their downfall; no-one else even hints at this. Myself, I wouldn't argue for certain that they weren't physical lovers at any point from late 1325 to Oct 1330, but I think it's far more likely that it at least began as a purely political alliance, two people who both wanted rid of the Despensers and ultimately Ed II and decided to work together.

Carla said...

What was the 'secret tunnel' originally for, does anyone know? It seems an odd sort of feature for castle architecture, unless it was something to do with the water supply?

'I don't know, but it seems unlikely to me that both men escaped in the same way within a couple of years of each other' Quite so. Once might be bad luck but twice looks like carelessness...

Kathryn Warner said...

Hmmm, I'm not sure, Carla - the 'secret tunnel arrest' has always sounded me like the kind of implausible story that couldn't possibly be true, except that it is, hehe! ;) Kind of like, for example, the Empress Maud escaping from a besieged castle wearing white clothes in the snow - something that would probably be ridiculed if a novelist invented it!

Anonymous said...

Hello Kathryn and everyone! Sharon has unleashed a storm on her blog by initiating a wonderful game. Do drop in and join us there, especially those of you who shy away from FB :-)Believe me, you won't regret! :-)

Kasia Ogrodnik

Kathryn Warner said...

I saw some of that on FB - was excellent! :) Will have to go and look at Sharon's blog now :).

Anonymous said...

Kathryn, I love your (or rather Edward's) "Ruling is boring; I'm going swimming!" :-)

Kasia Ogrodnik

Kathryn Warner said...

Hehe, thanks, Kasia! :-) :-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you Kathryn for joining in and bringing a new figure into mostly Angevin/Welsh domains :-)

I have just directed Sharon's readers to the October Anniversaries on your blog so that they could see for themselves that Edward II was as good as his word:-)

I love this game!

Kasia Ogrodnik

Kathryn Warner said...

Awww, thanks for the link, Kasia - I really appreciate that! Heh, yes, the stories stopped at Edward I and started again in the Wars of the Roses, so I thought I should bridge the gap a bit...;) :-)

Anonymous said...

Kathryn, it's not the link. Just a clue. The comments with links usually get stuck in Sharon's box amd await moderation till the next day. So just a "direction" :-)

Again, thank you for Edward at his best:-)


Kathryn Warner said...

Ah yes, I've experienced that too when trying to post links on sites - so the hint was really great. ;)

Thanks so much for the kind words and for enjoying the blog! It means a lot.

Cherith said...

I wonder if Ed III was convinced by his Mum to conspire to take his dad's crown, with Isa saying something like, "Your people need you. Your dad's a good man, but he's just not meant to be king. We'll take over power for you, and you can be the king England needs." So Ed III, who probably loved his father deeply, went along with the plot originally. He thought he'd be the new king, and that his dad would retire and get to dig ditches at Berkeley or something. But it wasn't until his dad's funeral that he fully realized what his mom and Mortimer had done--and all that was represented by Mortimer's new tunic.

I have absolutely no evidence to back up this analysis, it just rings emotionally true to me.

Kathryn Warner said...

Love that idea, Cherith!