18 February, 2010

Isabella Mortimer

(No, not Isabella and Mortimer.) I thought it was time to revive an occasional feature on the blog, where I take a look at some of the less well-known noblewomen of Edward II's era. Today, it's Isabella Mortimer, Lady Fitzalan and aunt of the Roger Mortimer of Edward II's reign, who I feel deserves some attention. I like Isabella a lot, somehow; she's feisty and appealing, a woman who married twice to please herself and petitioned Edward I successfully to grant her custody of some of her underage son's inheritance. But then, given her family background, she was never going to be a shrinking violet.

Isabella was probably the eldest child of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore and Maud de Braose, and was born in or about 1248. Her father was the son of Llywelyn the Great's daughter Gwladys Ddu and was only about sixteen or seventeen when Isabella was born - his date of birth is estimated as 1231/32 - and her mother was one of the four daughters of William de Braose, hanged by Llywelyn in 1230 for his adultery with Llywelyn's wife Joan. Isabella's siblings included: Edmund, who died in 1304, father of the Roger Mortimer who was Edward II's nemesis; Roger of Chirk, justiciar of Wales, who died imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1326 at a pretty advanced age; and Margaret, who married Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford. Roger Mortimer, Isabella's father, is perhaps most famous for sending Simon de Montfort's head and genitals to his wife Maud after the battle of Evesham in 1265; her brothers were instrumental in the capture and death of their father's first cousin Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Welsh prince of Wales, on 11 December 1282, weeks after Roger Mortimer's death.

Unfortunately, some accounts of Isabella Mortimer - her Wikipedia page for one, but also more reputable printed sources - confuse events of her life by conflating her with another lady. This was Isabel d'Aubigny, countess of Arundel, who was born around 1228 as the daughter of William de Warenne, earl of Surrey and Maud, daughter of William le Marshal, earl of Pembroke. Isabel was the elder sister of John de Warenne, earl of Surrey (1231-1304) and married Hugh d'Aubigny, earl of Arundel (Isabella Mortimer's husband John Fitzalan was the grandson of Hugh d'Aubigny's sister, yet another Isabel). Hugh died in 1243, leaving Isabel a childless widow of about fifteen. She appears frequently in the chancery rolls of Henry III and Edward I's reigns, and it was she, not Isabella Mortimer as sometimes stated, who was the guardian of the earl of Surrey's children - her nephew and nieces - and keeper of the castles of Portchester and Farnham. [1] Countess Isabel died in November 1282.

As a married woman and a widow Isabella Mortimer continued to use her maiden name, which is extremely unusual and, I can only assume, reflects her pride in her natal family. [2] Isabella's first husband John Fitzalan was lord of Clun and Oswestry and an important Marcher lord as her father was, and was born in September 1246 as the son of Maud de Verdon and John Fitzalan (1223-1267), who fought for King Henry III against Simon de Montfort at the battle of Lewes in 1264 - the Fitzalans were royalists during the baronial struggles of the 1260s, as the Mortimers also were. Isabella and John Fitzalan had at least three children: Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel (February 1267-January 1302); Maud, Lady Burnell; and an obscure son called John who is named as the earl of Arundel's brother in a 1295 letter of the earl of Warwick. [3] Although they held the castle and honour of Arundel, Isabella and her husband were not earl and countess of Arundel, as secondary sources frequently state; the title was revived for their son Richard in about 1291, a few years after the death of the dowager countess, Isabel d'Aubigny.

John Fitzalan died on 18 March 1272 at the age of only twenty-five, leaving as his heir his and Isabella's five-year-old son Richard. Isabella had married her second husband Sir Ralph Arderne by 1 April 1283. [4] The Complete Peerage says that the couple married 'before 1273', but this is incorrect: Ralph Arderne was still married to his previous wife in August 1275*, an inquisition of June 1276 calls Isabella Mortimer 'late the wife of John Fitzalan' with no mention of Ralph Arderne, and as Fitzalan died in 1272, it seems unlikely that she would have married again 'before 1273'. [5] Ralph Arderne was lord of Horndon in Essex and either he or his namesake father was sheriff of that county in the 1250s; a son, Thomas, was named as Ralph's heir in August 1272, and a Ralph Arderne, probably another son, was summoned to go against the Scots in 1298. An inquisition of the 1260s mentions a 'Dame Erneburg Crue, late the wife of Ralph de Arderne', presumably Ralph's mother or stepmother. [6]

* Confusion arises because a) Ralph Arderne's first wife was yet another Isabel and b) she was the widow of a man called 'John son of Alan de Wolverton', and the name of Isabella Mortimer's first husband John Fitzalan is usually given in the English translation of the chancery rolls as 'John son of Alan' (which is annoying and confusing, because Fitzalan had become the family surname and was no longer a patronymic).

Isabella was married to her third husband Sir Robert Hastang or Hastings, named as lord of Boxted in Essex in 1261 and as lord of La Desirée in 1301, by 6 June 1287 [7]; the Complete Peerage says the couple married privately in Poling, Sussex on 2 September 1285, which may be true, but unfortunately it doesn't cite a source. The Complete Peerage also says that Isabella had to pay a fine of £1000 to the king for marrying without royal licence, which is not true: her father Roger Mortimer bought the rights to her re-marriage from Henry III, and although Edward I temporarily seized Isabella's lands and goods after she married Robert, he returned them on learning that Isabella's marriage did not belong to him and that Isabella had "made fine with the executors" of her father's will for marrying. A Robert Hastings, either Isabella's third husband or his son, appears at the end of Edward I's reign and beginning of Edward II's as constable of Roxburgh Castle, and a 'Richard, son of Robert Hastang' appears in 1292. [8] Whether Isabella had children with her second and third husbands, I don't know.

Isabella's son Richard Fitzalan was only five when his father died, which meant a long minority of sixteen years until he came of age. Henry III granted an income of £100 yearly from Richard's lands and castles to his maternal grandfather Roger Mortimer. [9] Isabella Mortimer herself requested that she be appointed keeper of the castle and manor of Oswestry during her son's minority, which Edward I granted on 28 April 1279, and on 27 May 128o she was also appointed keeper of the castle and honour of Arundel, the centrepiece of her son's inheritance - though she was replaced at both Oswestry and Arundel by her brother Edmund Mortimer in August 1282. Isabella requested in about 1280 that "the king give her grace of her scutage as she has defended the March as much as her neighbours, and if it is granted she will repair the castle of Oswestry"; Edward I refused, but evidently she thought it was worth a shot. [10]

Richard Fitzalan, aged seventeen, petitioned Edward I in 1284, asking the king to investigate encroachments on the lands of his inheritance and to ensure that they were returned to the state in which his father John left them. An intriguing part of the subsequent inquisition says "Sir John de Sancto Johanne joined a duel of robbers in his court of Halfnaked within the hundred of Boxe, after Richard Fitz Aleyn came into the king's wardship, and never did so before that time." [11] Unfortunately, it seems as though Isabella Mortimer herself may have been partly to blame for allowing her son's inheritance to go to rack and ruin: she was accused of allowing his park of 'Whichamund' to fall into decay, and she and Albinus de Bivery, keeper of the manor of South Stoke two miles from Arundel, were accused of permitting each other "mutual trespass." [12] It may be significant that Richard Fitzalan had three daughters but named none of them after his mother. (For that matter, none of his daughters was called Maud, the name of both his grandmothers.)

Edward I's kinsman Count Amadeus V of Savoy was appointed keeper of the castle and honour of Arundel in June 1278, until he was replaced by Isabella Mortimer two years later. [13] I wonder if it was during this period that Richard Fitzalan's marriage to Alesia di Saluzzo - the great-granddaughter of Count Amadeus IV of Savoy and thus a close relative of the fifth Amadeus - was arranged. Two of Alesia's aunts, Alesia and Agnese, had also married into England a few years before, to the earl of Lincoln and Lord Vescy respectively. Richard and Alesia seem to have married in November 1282, when he was fifteen and she probably the same age or a little younger.

Isabella Mortimer was dead by 1 April 1292, when an entry on the Fine Roll mentions the executors of her will and says that her widower Robert Hastings had been granted permission, at the request of Edward II's sister Margaret, to pay off the arrears of Isabella's debts to the king at twenty pounds a year. [14] (The Complete Peerage, determined to get the facts of Isabella's life wrong, claims that she was living in 1300 and that it was Robert Hastings who was dead on 1 April 1292 - a misreading of the entry on the Fine Roll.) Her daughter-in-law Alesia, countess of Arundel, died later the same year, and her formidable mother Maud de Braose outlived her by nine years, dying in March 1301 when she must have been well into her seventies. There would be much conflict over the years between Isabella's brother Roger Mortimer of Chirk and her nephew Roger Mortimer of Wigmore on one side, and her grandson Edmund, earl of Arundel on the other. I don't have the space to go into it here, but a letter of Edmund written on 4 June 1321 gives some flavour of the distrust between them: he suspected his kinsman Mortimer of Wigmore of wanting to steal some money he had deposited with the burgesses of Shrewsbury, and told them "we do not under any circumstances intend that our cousin of Mortimer, who is so close to us in blood, should do us such a great injury, which we have in no way merited." [15] Arundel replaced his grandmother's brother Mortimer of Chirk as justiciar of Wales on 5 January 1322, and if he tried to help his kinsmen in any way when they were sent to the Tower the following month, there is no sign of it. [16] Given that Isabella Mortimer spent most of her life among the ruthless, squabbling Marcher lords, this conflict between her kin might not have surprised or dismayed her, but at least she was spared the knowledge that in November 1326 her nephew Mortimer of Wigmore would have her grandson Edmund executed without a trial.


1) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1266-1272, pp. 46, 204, 496, 626.
2) See for instance The National Archives SC 8/62/3077, SC 8/219/10925; Shropshire Archives 103/1/3/65; Calendar of Close Rolls 1279-1288, p. 93; Cal Pat Rolls 1272-1281, pp. 169, 309; Cal Pat Rolls 1281-1292, pp. 32, 78, 105, 169.
3) J. Goronwy Edwards, ed., Calendar of Ancient Correspondence Concerning Wales, p. 144.
4) Cal Close Rolls 1279-1288, p. 204.
5) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1272-1307, p. 51 ("Isabel, wife of Ralph de Ardern, late the wife of John son of Alan de Wolverton," dated 7 Aug 1275); Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1219-1307, p. 319.
6) TNA E 40/455, HD 1538/172/3; Cal Inq Misc 1272-1307, pp. 266-267; C. Moor, Knights of Edward I, vol. 1, p. 17.
7) Cal Close Rolls 1279-1288, p. 451.
8) TNA C 241/22/43, C 47/22/12/19, C 47/22/4/16, C 47/22/8/3, etc.
9) Cal Pat Rolls 1266-1272, pp. 652, 671.
10) TNA SC 8/62/3077, SC 8/219/10925; Cal Pat Rolls 1272-1281, pp. 169, 309, 374, 416; Cal Close Rolls 1279-1288, p. 93; Cal Pat Rolls 1281-1292, p. 32.
11) TNA SC 8/258/12851; Cal Inq Misc 1272-1307, p. 384.
12) Cal Pat Rolls 1281-1292, pp. 105, 382.
13) Cal Pat Rolls 1272-1281, p. 274.
14) Cal Fine Rolls 1272-1307, p. 309.
15) Arundell Deeds 215/1 (nous nentendoms point qe nostre cousin de mortemer qe nous est si pres de saunk nous vousist si grant mal surquerre saunz nostre desserte). The earl called himself Esmoun Counte Daroundell, 'Edmund, earl of Arundel', with no 'Fitzalan'.
16) Cal Fine Rolls 1319-1327, pp. 86-87.


Susan Higginbotham said...

Fascinating! I knew next to nothing about the lady.

Bryan Dunleavy said...

A very interesting read. Can I get a little clarification about your side reference to John de Wolverton? If we are talking about the same man, his father is usually known as Alan FitzHamon. Hamon was the grandson of Maigno le Breton who was given the manor of Wolverton after Duke William's conquest. John, who died in 1274, was the first (as far as we know) to use the surname de Wolverton.

Gabriele Campbell said...

That's a lot of Isabellas. :)

Looks like greed for land and money was no restricted to Roger Mortimer if one family member fears another would steal his shiny coins. ;)

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Susan! I think it's a shame Isabella's not better-known.

Gabriele: agh, tell me about it. :) And yeah, that family was probably all as bad as each other. :)

Hi Brian, and thanks for dropping by! I'm afraid I know absolutely nothing about the family - there's a garbled ref to John's widow Isabel on 9 Oct 1274 (Fine Rolls 1272-1307, p. 29) which calls her 'Isabel late the wife of Alan de Wolvreton' but then talks about 'the lands late of the said John', so it seems the clerk omitted to write 'John son of Alan de Wolvreton'. Actually the same entry says she has taken an oath not to re-marry without the king's licence, further evidence that her second husband Ralph Arderne can't have married Isabella Mortimer 'before 1273'!

There's a ref to 'John son of Alan de Wolrinton' on 10 June 1275 (Patent Rolls 1272-1281, p. 93) - he was still a minor, and his lands and marriage were granted to Maurice de Craon.

Wolverton is called 'Wlurinton' in an inquisition of 1283 (Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1219-1307, p. 375)

Bryan Dunleavy said...

On further reflection Kathryn I think your John de Wolverton and mine are one and the same. I have just pulled out this little snippet from the Wolverton manorial records which is not especially interesting by itself, but in the context of the times you write about, offers an important insight into the limited number of families who were still ruling England two centuries after the conquest.
Charter No. 243: William son of Hamon grants and confirms to Hamon Hasteng viginti solidos (20/-) of rents in Stratford which Alan, son of Hamon his brother, gave to the said Hasteng.
Wintnesses: Richard de Bello Campo, William de Bello Campo, Williamde Fraxino, Robert FitzAlan, Willim Rote, William son of Audoenus, Galfrid de Luthun, William Visdelu, John Hasteng, Richard FitzJohn, and others.
These were all, as far as I can gather, men who owned bits of land in North Buckinghamshire and South Northamptonshire and were available to witness the document, but it struck me that several of them were likely relatives of those who were part of Isabella Mortimer's social circle.
Two thoughts might be come from this:
1. The social circle shared by isabella Mortimer and her peers, although spread over the country was restricted to a few families.
2. The confusion of Isabellas might in part be explained by this.
As you may have guessed my historical interests are centred on place rather than period but thank you for your work on Edward II.

Kate Plantagenet said...

Such an interesting woman. I like your point that Richard did not name a daughter after his mother. Perhaps he didn't know her very well? Would he have been raised in another house after the early death of his father?

After Bryan's learned comments - I am asking simple questions! (I would still like to know the answers though...!!!)

Kathryn Warner said...

Bryan, I hope the refs to John were helpful for your research. It's fascinating to examine who witnessed charters, as it give you a good idea of affinities and alliances. Congrats on all your great work about Wolverton, which unfortunately I don't know at all, although my dad comes from Buckinghamshire.

Kate: I hoped you'd enjoy the post, as Isabella is an ancestor of yours! I'm not sure where and with whom Richard was brought up, unfortunately, but it's quite likely he didn't know his mother very well. It was pretty conventional, though of course not universal, to name an eldest daughter after the paternal grandmother. Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, earl of Gloucester, had 5 daughters but didn't name one after his mother Maud - but then, he sued her over the dower Henry III assigned to her, so it seems they didn't have the best relationship. :)

Clement Glen said...

Another very interesting and detailed post Kathryn. As I read through your research on Isabella Mortimer it was noticeable how many times you corrected the many primary sources about her life. With your knowledge and research you really must consider getting your work printed.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Clement! Ah, I really hope so, some day...;)

Brad Verity said...

Very informative, Kathryn. I haven't researched the Mortimers prior to Edmund, so it's interesting to learn of his sister. She definitely was a tough Marcher noblewoman! It's certainly a mark of her ability that she was granted custody of Oswestry Castle in 1279 as a young widow. It was of such strategic importance in the Welsh March. Perhaps Edward I didn't wish to arouse the anger of the Mortimers by denying it to her, but its as likely that he recognized she had the personality to oversee it. I have no doubt she wasn't exaggerating when she petitioned him that "she has defended the March as much as her neighbours"! Her brother Edmund was granted the castle in 1282 because the Welsh War started and it doesn't seem society was quite ready at that point for a female Marcher commander.

I hadn't realized how closely related the Mortimers and Fitzalans were. Just goes to show, alliances between families often didn't last much longer than the initial marriage, especially in the volatile Marches!

Kathryn Warner said...

Brad, yes, the Mortimer-Fitzalan alliance really didn't last long! Isabella's son Earl Richard seemed to get on well with his Mortimer kinsmen - I wonder if he named his eldest son after his Mortimer uncle, as Edmund wasn't a Fitzalan name - but Roger the younger (d. 1330) and Earl Edmund loathed each other. Even Roger of Chirk seems to have had no family feelings at all for his sister's grandson.

Unknown said...

Hi, I have been working on my family tree as I recently got addicted to the project. Isabella is
my 21st Great Grandmother on my mother's side, (of course, if I followed the trail correctly.) I thought I had found a portrait of her and even Google says it is her, but I found one source said it was of a Spanish noble. Do you have a picture of Isabella?

Kathryn Warner said...

No, there are no pictures of any of the English nobility at this time.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathryn, re: Isabella Mortimer's 2nd marriage to Ralph - why was she not fined for this marriage and if there was a 'rift' between Richard FitzAlan and his mother Isabella, why would they all be buried at Haughmond Abbey? Or are the records of the Abbey wrong?

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi! It's years since I looked at all this so it's really not fresh in my mind, but maybe she was fined and the record of it no longer exists (or it does and I missed it). I doubt any rift was severe enough to affect the place where they wished to be buried.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathryn,
Have you read the work done by Dr Emma Cavell of Swansea University on Isabella Mortimer [FitzAlan]? She has written a paper on her research which discounts Isabella's marriage to Ralph D'Arderne and that her second marriage was to Robert Hastang. If Isabella had been married to Ralph why was he not assisting her [or even mentioned] in any of the Welsh wars?