19 October, 2016

19 October 1330: Arrest of Roger Mortimer

686 years ago today on 19 October 1330, Edward III arrested Roger Mortimer, earl of March, at Nottingham Castle, in a swift and successful coup d'etat against his mother Isabella and her favourite. Edward III, born on 13 November 1312, was not quite eighteen years old. Roger and Isabella were having a conference in her bedchamber when the king and his allies burst in, a situation not nearly as intimate as it might sound to modern ears, and with them were their few remaining allies, including the bishop of Lincoln (who tried to escape down a latrine shaft), Roger's son Geoffrey (who was also arrested but soon released), Sir Hugh Turplington and Sir Oliver Ingham. Twenty or so young knights aided the king, some of whom, such as William Montacute, William Clinton and Robert Ufford, were later rewarded with earldoms. The actual arrest was probably only planned with a few hours' notice, but clearly the young king had been planning some kind of action against Roger Mortimer for a long time, probably since the year before, and struck as soon as he was able. He had sent William Montacute to the pope on his behalf most likely in 1329 with the famous letter containing a sample of his own writing, and after all, it was hardly a coincidence that twenty loyal young knights were with him that night and ready to strike against the hated royal favourite.

Twenty-six years to the day after her husband's arrest, on 19 October 1356, Roger Mortimer's widow Joan née Geneville, dowager countess of March, died at the age of seventy. She outlived eight of their twelve children. At the time of her death, her grandson Roger Mortimer was the second earl of March, her grandson John Hastings (b. 1347) was heir to the earldom of Pembroke, and her grandson Maurice Berkeley was heir to Lord Berkeley. Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, was Joan's son-in-law, and she had numerous great-grandchildren.

8 comments:

Ann Sharp said...

Fix Edward III's birth year to 1312 -- otherwise he's arresting Roger Mortimer before he's baptized . . . .

Anonymous said...

As you say Kathryn, must have been very well planned - one attempt or disaster - I believe there was a 'secret tunnel' into the castle which was obviously made clear to the arresting party. Edward III must have been anxious that evening (to say the least), trying to act as normal as possible and pretending all was fine and hoping no mistakes were made and all stayed loyal to him. I wonder why that date was fixed for this action; was Nottingham the best bet before the royal retinue moved to a more formidable fortress, were things so awful that 'the sooner the better', otherwise I would have thought the overthrow of Mortimer and Isabella's regime to have been conducted after Edward's 18th birthday. However, I suppose a few weeks until he reached that age was neither here nor there. So, the downfall for Mortimer (and in a lesser sense for Isabella) began. Amanda

sami parkkonen said...

The actual coup was very hair rising incident indeed. Edward III most likely had gotten some indication that Roger was planning to tighten his grip on the realm and was planning his own arrest campaign soon, and some historians assume that Edward must have felt that Roger was planning to remove him too, as he was becoming more and more of a threat to him. Besides, Roger and Isabella had removed his father Edward II from the office so why not the son...

Edward, with his closest friends gathered just below the castle on the said night and yes, there was a secret tunnel from there up to the inner castle which lead straight to the rooms where Isabella, Roger and their crew were staying. Young king had one ally inside who made sure that the door to the chamber quarters was unlocked but as Edward and his company moved in, they could not be sure were they walking straight into a trap or was his co-conspirator inside the castle really on his side.

Once they came up to the door and opened it, they had to act fast. Only few guards were in the chamber quarters and only one managed to make some kind of a alarm before he was killed, giving enough time for Roger to put Isabella into her room and face the attackers. At this point he really did not know that it was young Edward who lead the attack personally and once the few guards and Mortimer came face to face with Edward and his guys, it was over in minutes.

Nobody knows how close it became that Roger was not killed right there, but according to some versions of the stories about the coup it was Isabella who came out from her chambers and pegged Edward not to kill the men and Roger right there. That may be true, for something stopped the young king and his crew that night.

As for the tunnels, there they are even today in Nottingham. Some of them are very old cave systems, some man made and most have collapsed or been closed up long time ago, but in medieval times that tunnel network reached the St. Mary's church and the sheriffs dungeons close by. Yes, it was those same tunnels which, according to the legend, made it possible for Robin Hood to escape from the dungeon of the sheriff of Nottingham.

It was thought to have been just a fantastic fairy tale until the tunnels and caves were examined and it was found out that they really reached to the sheriffs dungeons, to the church and to the castle.

Sometimes facts are more weird than fiction.

Anonymous said...

Kathryn, surely Edward III was inside the castle when the attack occurred and then joined the arresting party? That was my belief anyway. I'll have another look at the details. Sami - I don't agree that Isabella would have allowed Roger to remove her son from the throne; she was a French princess and English queen who I would think would find that idea abhorrent. I know she invaded to help depose her husband's disastrous rule but that was different. Edward III was the rightful and true king and I would imagine she accepted that it was his destiny. Amanda

Kathryn Warner said...

I also don't think that Isabella would ever have permitted Mortimer to take the throne. I just cannot see how that would ever have been possible. Mortimer was only distantly related to the royal family so how could he ever have become king?

Anerje said...

Of course Roger Mortimer could have had great leverage over Edward III in that he knew his father was still alive:)

sami parkkonen said...

I think Isabella was not happy with Mortimer at this point. He was getting more and more ambitious. And he was most likely trying to get more and more control of the realm into his hands. Also the birth of Edwards and Philippas first child changed the dynamics and political situation right about this time. And the parliament was summoned to Nottingham and was about to meet in only few days later. The final straw I think was when Mortimer ordered the garrison of Nottingham castle to obey his orders and not the kings. Very big thing, indeed.

It is my understanding that Edward III was not at the castle that night. I might be wrong. The movements of the people involved that night are not clear. I assume that Edward was right there once it was over for he was the only one with the proper authority to give orders to the castle guards once his men had taken Mortimer and calm the situation in general because he was the king.

Why I assume he lead the attack? Because had the attackers charged in on their own, the guards would have not hesitated for a second to raise a hue and cry, a general alarm, as was their most important job. BUT if they saw Edward coming in, they would have hesitated very much what to do. And their action or lack of it indicates that they were confused and very quickly toed into line.

That is how I think it went down.

Jerry Bennett said...

There is a good account of the events in Nottingham in Ian Mortimer's book "The Greatest Traitor", which specifies that Edward was in the castle but feigned illness in order to avoid joining his mother and Mortimer. It also claims that the only people moving around inside the castle keep were clerks and servants, and that the guards were on the battlements or in the bailey. That would make sense, as several young knights led by William Montague had appeared to flee from Nottingham that afternoon, while the earl of Lancaster was ordered to lodge at least a mile away from the castle. There had already been two conspiracies aimed at overthrowing Mortimer that year, so if any attack was to be launched at the castle, it would almost certainly come from outside, hence the placing of the guards on the battlements. How much Mortimer knew about the tunnels is open to question, but the entrance to the keep from the tunnels was barred and bolted, and perhaps he thought that was security enough.

According to Ian Mortimer it was Edward himself who unbolted the door. The conspirators had been led through the tunnels by William Eland, a local man who knew them well. Once they had entered the keep, they may even had been able to surprise Mortimer, but were met in the passageway by Hugh Turpington, one of Mortimer's most loyal knights. It was Turpington's shout of warning and his attempt to fight the conspirators that warned Mortimer and Isabella, but there were too many conspirators to defeat. Montague led a party of twenty or more, and the only arrested men were Roger Mortimer himself, Simon Bereford, Oliver Ingham and Geoffrey Mortimer, while Hugh Turpington had been killed. Isabella and bishop Berghersh were detained, but they were in no state to fight armed attackers. At the critical point, the conspirators outnumbered Mortimer's loyal armed men probably by four to one, and had the advantage of surprise.