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.