Yes, it's the 25th of April again, which means it's a heartfelt 'Happy Birthday, Sire!' to King Edward II, born in Caernarfon Castle on this day in 1284, a mere 723 years ago.
Also, a Happy Birthday (somewhat less heartfelt, admittedly) to Roger Mortimer, born 720 years ago today, probably in Wigmore Castle. This post is about Roger's family, and his wife Joan de Geneville.
Roger's father Sir Edmund Mortimer, Lord of Wigmore, was born in about 1251, and was originally intended to become a clerk; he studied theology at Oxford. However, the death of his elder brother Ralph in 1276 made him heir to his father, and he had to give up his studies and return to the Welsh Marches, where he and his younger brothers played a big role in the capture and death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales, in 1282. Edmund married Margaret de Fiennes in September 1285.
Edmund Mortimer's mother Maud de Braose is one of those brilliant medieval women someone really should write a novel about. She was born, probably in the late 1220s, as one of the four daughters of William de Braose, who was hanged by Llywelyn the Great in 1230 for his adulterous affair with Llywelyn's wife Joanna, illegitimate daughter of King John (fans of Sharon Penman will be familiar with the story, recounted in Here Be Dragons). Maud's mother Eva was one of the daughters of the great William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and Regent of England (died 1219). Maud de Braose, Lady Mortimer, died in 1301, in her seventies.
Edmund's father Roger Mortimer Senior, born in about 1230 or 1232, was himself the grandson of Llywelyn the Great: Roger's mother was Gwladys Ddu ('the Dark-Eyed') one of Llywelyn's daughters - either by Joanna or, more likely, by Llywelyn's mistress Tangwystl. Roger the grandfather was an intensely loyal supporter of Henry III and the Lord Edward (later Edward I) in the Barons' Wars of the 1260s. After the Battle of Evesham in 1265, Roger sent Simon de Montfort's severed head to his wife Maud. I can't help wondering what the heck she did with it ("We've enlarged the windows to make the place a bit brighter, over there on the wall you'll see some lovely Castilian tapestries sent to us by the Lady Eleanor, and on the table, there's the rotting skull of the Earl of Leicester. It adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the solar, don't you think?")
During the battle of Evesham, Roger killed Hugh Despenser, one of de Montfort's greatest supporters and father and grandfather of the notorious Hugh Despensers of Edward II's reign. Decades later, Despenser the grandson swore revenge on Roger Mortimer the grandson for this act. Roger Mortimer the grandfather, who crops up fairly often as a character in Sharon Penman's The Reckoning, died in 1282.
The younger Roger Mortimer's mother was Margaret de Fiennes, probably born sometime in the 1260s. Her father was William de Fiennes, who was killed at the Battle of the Golden Spurs (Battle of Courtrai/Kortrijk) on 11 July 1302. Margaret's brother John married Isabelle, who was, you guessed it, yet another child of Guy de Dampierre, the many-daughtered Count of Flanders of my previous post. Margaret's sister Joan married Baron Wake of Liddell and was the grandmother of Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent, and her aunt Maud de Fiennes was the mother of Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, Edward II's brother-in-law.
Margaret de Fiennes' mother Blanche de Brienne (c. 1245-1302), Roger Mortimer's grandmother, was the excellently-named "Dame de Louplande". Blanche's father Jean de Brienne (c. 1221-1296) was the half-brother of Yolande, Queen of Jerusalem, who was the second wife of Emperor Friedrich II. Jean's mother Berenguela was the daughter of King Alfonso IX of Leon and Queen Berenguela of Castile, which makes Jean the nephew of Fernando III of Castile, Edward II's grandfather. In 1256/57, Jean married his second wife Marie de Coucy, widow of Alexander II of Scotland - so Roger Mortimer's great-grandfather was the stepfather of King Alexander III.
Both of Roger's grandmothers, who died in 1301 and 1302, his grandfather William de Fiennes, who died in 1302, and his great-grandfather Jean de Brienne, who died in 1296, lived well into Roger's lifetime. I can imagine that he must have heard some wonderful stories from them.
Roger Mortimer's siblings were: John, king's yeoman, who died in 1318; Maud, who married Theobald de Verdon; and Joan and Elizabeth, who became nuns. Hugh Audley, who married Piers Gaveston's widow Margaret de Clare, was the son of Isolde Mortimer, who's often said to have been Edmund's daughter. However, Audley was born around 1290, so obviously can't have been the grandson of Edmund Mortimer and Margaret de Fiennes, who married in 1285. Isolde may have been a daughter of Edmund by an unknown first wife, but as he was a clerk, it's more likely that she was his sister, making Hugh Audley Roger's cousin, not his nephew.
Edmund Mortimer died in July 1304, of wounds sustained at the battle of Builth, when Roger was seventeen. At the request of the Lord Edward, Prince of Wales, King Edward I granted Roger's wardship to Piers Gaveston, who wasn't too much older (in his early twenties).
Margaret de Fiennes lived long enough to see her son become the lover of a queen, overthrow a king, and suffer death by hanging. She died in 1334, probably in her seventies.
In September 1301, fourteen-year-old Roger Mortimer married Joan de Geneville, aged fifteen, maybe sixteen - she was born on 2 February 1286, or possibly 1285. Joan was the eldest of three daughters. Her father Piers died in 1292, and her grandfather Geoffrey de Geneville, anxious to avoid the break-up of his estates, placed her sisters Beatrice and Maud at Aconbury Priory. [The law of primogeniture, 'the eldest son inherits', did not apply to women, so in the absence of a male heir, sisters inherited equal portions of land. Placing women in convents was the only way they could be disinherited at this time.] The Geneville inheritance comprised vast estates in England, Wales and Ireland.
Joan also inherited lands in France from her mother Jeanne de Lusignan, or Jeanne de la Marche (died 1323), who was the daughter of Hugh XII de Lusignan, Count of La Marche and grandson of Isabelle d'Angoulême, widow of King John and Edward II's great-grandmother.
Geoffrey de Geneville, Joan's grandfather, was a French baron of Champagne who inherited estates in England, Wales and Ireland around 1250. Geoffrey was another loyal supporter of the Lord Edward in the Barons' Wars, and acted as Justiciar of Ireland and as a mediator between Edward I and Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. He died in 1314, in his eighties. Joan de Geneville's paternal grandmother was Maud de Lacy (died 1304), granddaughter of the earl of Norfolk and also granddaughter and co-heiress of Walter de Lacy.
For twenty years, Roger and Joan enjoyed a close and successful relationship. Twelve children survived into adulthood, four sons and eight daughters, and Joan accompanied Roger to Ireland during his successful career there as King's Lieutenant and Justiciar. All that changed in early 1322, when Roger submitted to Edward II during the king's successful campaign against the Marchers, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Joan herself was imprisoned in Hampshire; three of her elder daughters and three of her sons were also imprisoned, in convents (the girls) and castles (the boys).
In February 1323, Queen Isabella and Eleanor de Clare both petitioned Edward II in an apparently unsuccessful attempt to improve Joan's living conditions. Isabella referred to Joan as 'our dear and well-beloved cousin'. One the men-at-arms acompanying Joan during her imprisonment was William Ockley, later one of Edward II's jailers at Berkeley Castle - proof that what goes around comes around, I suppose.
[Edward II's harsh and unnecessarily vindictive treatment of the wives and children of his enemies is, for me, by far the most unpleasant aspect of his reign, and impossible to justify. As Edward had never before shown cruelty to women, you could argue that the women's treatment was an initiative of the Despensers, but Edward certainly condoned it, and as the king, has to be held responsible. The fact that some of the women he allowed to be so badly mistreated were close members of his family - e.g., his nieces Margaret and Elizabeth de Clare - makes his behaviour even more reprehensible.]
Roger Mortimer and Joan de Geneville didn't see each other again for nearly five years. When exactly they did see each other again is unclear, but may have been in November 1326, when Roger visited his manor of Pembridge, where he and Joan had married twenty-five years earlier. By this time, Roger had been the lover of Queen Isabella for a year or so. What they had to say to each other can of course never be known. How Joan, now forty years old, felt about having to watch her husband conduct an affair with the Queen of England is equally unknowable.
Poor Joan's existence is often ignored by historians and novelists, who focus more or less exclusively on Edward II and Isabella's dysfunctional relationship and ignore the woman who bore Roger Mortimer twelve children, and who was, from the limited evidence available, his supportive and loyal partner for many years. The modern trend of lauding Isabella's 'courage' and 'empowerment' in 'getting out of a bad marriage' doesn't sound quite so impressive when you remember that she deprived Joan of her husband. Somehow, though, Joan de Geneville has always struck me as a dignified woman who would have made the best of the difficult situation.
Whether Joan ever visited Edward III's court, where her husband held power, is unknown. Roger occasionally travelled to the Marches unaccompanied by Isabella or the court, which may have been visits to Joan. In early June 1328, after the wedding of two of their daughters, Roger and Isabella stayed with Joan at Ludlow Castle, which was part of Joan's inheritance from her grandfather. As Isabella was the (dowager) Queen, Joan would have been forced to give precedence to her husband's mistress in her own castle. I'd love to write a fictional scene about that - and I'd give a great deal to know where Roger slept that night!
1328 was an eventful year for the Mortimers - two daughters married, two sons died (John and Roger), and they became grandparents, when Elizabeth Badlesmere, wife of their eldest son Edmund, gave birth to yet another Roger (1328-1360). Edmund had been born in 1302 or 1303, when Roger was only fifteen or sixteen.
It's also possible that their eldest daughter Margaret made them grandparents in the late 1320s - her eldest surviving son Maurice Berkeley was probably born in 1330, but she also had a daughter Joan, who may have been older.
In December 1328, Roger paid for nine chaplains to sing daily masses for the souls of Roger himself, Edward III, Queens Isabella and Philippa, Joan, and their children. In August 1329, two more of Roger and Joan's daughters were married at Wigmore, where Roger held a great Round Table tournament. Presumably Joan was present, with Isabella and Edward III. It's just possible that Queen Isabella was pregnant by Roger at this time, which is pretty intriguing.
After Roger's execution in 1330, Joan's lands were taken into royal hands, and some were not restored until 1336, when she was finally granted a full pardon. This seems to suggest that Edward III was not entirely convinced of her innocence, which he surely would have been if she'd had no contact with Roger during the 'Isabella Years'. It also suggests that Roger and Joan had maintained some kind of relationship - which is, to me, far more interesting than the usual portrayal of Joan as colourless, sexless, unnecessary, abandoned in favour of a younger and far more beautiful woman.
In 1332, Joan petitioned Edward III to have Roger's body removed from the Greyfriars church at Coventry, presumably to be re-buried at Wigmore. This also suggests that she still retained much affection for her husband. She never re-married, or entered a convent.
Joan de Geneville survived Roger by more than a quarter of a century and died at the age of seventy or seventy-one, on 19 October 1356. Her husband's mistress Queen Isabella outlived her by a mere twenty-two months. In 1354, Edward III had reversed all the charges against Roger, so Joan died as the Dowager Countess of March, with her twenty-eight-year-old grandson Roger Mortimer high in the King's favour, and the second Earl of March.
Shortly before she died, Joan may have heard the news that another of her grandsons, twenty-six-year-old Maurice Berkeley - son of Lord Berkeley and Joan's eldest daughter Margaret Mortimer - had distinguished himself at the Battle of Poitiers on 19 September, but had been badly wounded and taken prisoner.
At the time of her death, Joan was the grandmother of the Earls of Pembroke and March, and the mother-in-law of the Earl of Warwick and Lords Berkeley, Charlton and Braose. She had lived long enough to be a great-grandmother several times over:
- Her eldest great-grandchild, Sir John Tuchet, may have been born as early as 1347, but certainly by 1350 - he was the grandson of Joan's daughter Joan and her husband James Audley.
- Edmund Mortimer, later the third Earl of March, son of Roger Mortimer and Philippa Montacute, was born in 1352. Edmund was to marry Edward II's great-granddaughter, Philippa of Clarence.
- Thomas Berkeley, son of Maurice Berkeley and his wife Elizabeth Despenser - daughter of Hugh the Younger - was born in 1353. One or more of Maurice and Elizabeth's three daughters Katherine, Agnes and Elizabeth may have been older than their brother Thomas, but their dates of birth are not recorded. Near the end of the fourteenth century, Thomas Berkeley's daughter Elizabeth, great-great-granddaughter of Roger Mortimer and Joan de Geneville and great-granddaughter of Hugh Despenser the Younger, married the Earl of Warwick, another great-grandson of Roger and Joan.
Only four of Joan's twelve children outlived her: Beatrice Lady Braose, Agnes Countess of Pembroke, Katherine Countess of Warwick, and Geoffrey, who inherited Joan's French lands. (The date of death of Joan's daughter Maud, Lady Charlton, is not known, but she was still alive in 1345.)
Joan de Geneville, Lady Mortimer and Countess of March, great heiress, 1286-1356: a woman with a fascinating life and a fascinating family, who deserves to be remembered as far more than a colourless, abandoned nonentity.