Mortimer, Hugh de (DNB00)
|←Mortimer, George Ferris Whidborne||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 39
Mortimer, Hugh de
MORTIMER, HUGH (I) de (d. 1181), lord of Wigmore and founder of Wigmore Priory, was, according to the common accounts, the son of Ralph I de Mortimer [q. v.], and in any case his father's name was Ralph (Brut y Tywysoyion, ed. Evans, p. 312). The only direct authority that makes him the son of the Domesday baron seems, however, to be the late and half-mythical history of Wigmore Priory, printed in the 'Monasticon,' vi. 348 sq., which, besides many statements directly at variance with known facts, gives an altogether fabulous account of Hugh's marriage, maintaining that his father, in his lifetime, fetched for him as his wife, from Normandy, 'Matilda Longespey, filiamWillelmi Longespey ducis Normanniæ,' who died in 942 ! It is hard to dogmatise when there is so little direct evidence, and Mr. Eyton and other good modern authorities accept the statement of the Wigmore annalist ; but it seems more likely that a generation has been omitted, and that Hugh was really grandson of Ralph I de Mortimer, than that the latter begot in extreme old age a son, who succeeded without question to the paternal estates (Shropshire, iv. 200-1).
The troubled reign of Stephen gave ample opportunities to a great baron who was powerful, ambitious, and capable to extend his power. Hugh took little part in general politics, and it is uncertain whether he was a partisan of Stephen or Matilda. His main object was to strengthen his local position as the chief potentate of the middle marches of Wales. Stephen from the first recognised his power. The patent by which the king strove to create Robert de Beaumont earl of Hereford in 1140 especially reserved the rights of Hugh, who seems to have had excep- tional franchises and wide jurisdiction within his barony (Duncumb, Herefordshire, i. 232 ; Eyton, Shropshire, iv. 201 ; cf., however, art. Beaumont, Robert de, 1104-1168). A few years later there were severe feuds between Hugh and Miles, earl of Hereford, a foremost enemy of Stephen, and Hugh continued the quarrel with Miles's son Roger. Nor was this Mortimer's only local feud. He carried on a fierce warfare with Joce de Dinant, lord of Ludlow, a partisan of the Lacys, who had formerly held that town and castle. He blockaded Ludlow so straightly that Joce was unable to move in or out of his abode. Despairing of prevailing by strength, Joce had recourse to treachery. He laid an ambush, which waylaid and captured Mortimer as he was travelling alone. For some time Mortimer was kept in prison, and only obtained his release by the payment of an extortionate ransom (Monasticon, vi. 346). A tower in Ludlow Castle, now called Mortimer's Tower, is sometimes said to be the place of Hugh's imprisonment ; but being in the Gothic style, it must be two generations later in date (Clark, Medieval Military Architecture, ii. 275). In 1144 Hugh repaired the castle of Cemaron, and conquered Melenydd a second time (Brut y Tyioysogion, p. 312, s.a. 1143). In 1144 or 1145 he captured and imprisoned the Welsh prince Rhys ab Howel, whom in 1148 he blinded in his prison (Annales Cambrics, pp. 43-4 ; cf. Brut y Tywysogion, p. 312). Next year (1146) he slew another chieftain, Maredudd ab Howel (Annales Cambrice, p. 43). He ruled Melenydd for the rest of his life (Monasticon, vi. 349), and built several strong castles therein. Moreover, he took advantage of the king's weakness to get possession of the royal castle of Bridgnorth, which thereupon became, with Cleobury and Wigmore, the chief centre of his power.
The accession of Henry II put an end to the overweening power of Mortimer, but he would not resign his castles and authority without a last desperate effort to hold his own. He made common cause with his rival and neighbour, Earl Roger of Hereford, and fortified his own castles of Cleobury and Wigmore, along with the royal stronghold of Bridgnorth, thus proposing to shut the king out of a royal castle. Earl Roger soon deserted him, and submitted to Henry on 13 March (Gervase of Canterbury, Opera Historica, i. 162). But Hugh resolved singlehanded to carry on his resistance. Henry's delay, through the important business which detained him most of April at his Easter court of Wallingford, gave Hugh plenty of time. On Henry marching westwards the three castles were all ready for defence. The king thereupon divided his army into three divisions, and directed each section to undertake, simultaneously, the siege of one of Mortimer's strongholds. In May 1 155 Henry himself besieged Bridgnorth, and a great gathering of magnates, the whole military force of England, was mustered under its walla. Cleobury was easily captured and destroyed (Robert of Torigny in Howlett, Chronicles of Stephen, Henry II, and Richard I, iv. 184, Rolls Ser.) But Bridgnorth and Wigmore held out longer, and it was not until 7 July that Mortimer, driven to despair, was forced to make his submission to the king and surrender the two castles (ib. iv. 185 ; cf., however, William of Newburgh, ed. Howlett, i. 105, which says that Bridgnorth was taken after a few days). Hugh was too strong to be dealt with severely. While surrendering Bridgnorth, he was allowed to retain possession of his own two castles. Mr. Eyton (Shropshire, iv. 203-4) quotes evidence to show that the special immunities which Mortimer had inherited with his Shropshire barony were still continued under him and his successors. He owed no military service. He never, save on one occasion in each case, contributed towards aids and scutages, while his land was omitted in the general list of knights' fees contained in the Black Book of the Exchequer. But, however great his power continued as a landlord, Hugh ceased for the future to play any great part in English politics. His further proceedings can only be traced by a few entries in the Pipe Rolls, from which he appears to have been very slow in paying his debts to the exchequer.
The great work of piety enjoined upon Hugh by Ralph Mortimer gave increasing occupation for his declining years. A French history of the foundation of Wigmore Priory, printed in the 'Monasticon,' vi. 344-8, supplies a minute and circumstantial account of the steps taken by Hugh to carry out his predecessor's wishes, and seems to be more trustworthy than the Latin annals of the foundation printed in the same collection, which have so often led astray the biographers of the Mortimers. Oliver de Merlimond, Hugh's steward, had built a church on his own estate at Shobden, and invited three canons of Saint-Victor at Paris to occupy it ; but soon afterwards he attached himself to his master's foe, Earl Miles of Hereford. Mortimer was induced by Robert of Bethune, bishop of Hereford, not only to spare Oliver's church at Shobden, but to promise to confer on its canons the three prebends in Wigmore Church which Ralph Mortimer had established. Mortimer proved long unmindful of his promise, but at length transferred the foundation to a superior site called Eye, near the river Lug, whence he again removed it to Wigmore town. Thenceforth it was known as Wigmore Priory. But the brethren complained that their new abode was inconvenient, and Mortimer offered them a free choice of any of his lands. They ultimately found a fitting site about a mile from Wigmore, and Hugh, returning from the continent, visited their humble abode and laid the foundation-stone of their church. As he grew older he made fresh grants of lands and advowsons to the canons. The church was at last consecrated by Robert Foliot, bishop of Hereford after 1174, and dedicated to St. James. This event is dated by the inaccurate family annalist in 1179. A few years later Hugh died at Cleobury, 'full of good works.' On his deathbed he was admitted as a canon professed, and received the canonical habit from the Abbot Randolph. He was buried in Wigmore Abbey before the high altar. The date of his death is given by the Wigmore annalist as 26 Feb. 1185 (Monasticon, i. 349; cf. 'Ann. Wigorn.' in Ann. Monasttci, iv. 385). But the fact that Hugh's son I Roger was answerable at the exchequer for his father's debts in 1181 suggests that year as the real date (Errox, Shropshire, iv. 204-205). The misdeeds of his son Roger against the Welsh, and especially his murder of the South Welsh prince, Cadwallon, which were visited on Roger by two years' imprisonment, seem to have involved the old baron in the king's displeasure, and at the time of his death his estates were in the king's hands.
Hugh Mortimer is described by Robert of Torigny as a man of extreme arrogance and presumption (Howlett, iv. 184); and William of Newburgh says that his pride and wrath were greater than his endurance (ib. i. 105). Giraldus Cambrensis, who speaks of him as an excellent knight, holds him up as a terrible example for his signal failure in 1155 ('De Princ. Instruct.' in Opera, viii. 215, Rolls Ser.) The French historian of the foundation of Wigmore Abbey is more detailed and complimentary. Hugh was of 'lofty stature, valiant in arms, and very noble in speech. If the deeds that he had wrought in England, Wales, and elsewhere were put in writing, they would amount to a great volume' (Monasticon, vi. 344).The name of Hugh's wife was apparently Matilda la Meschine (Journal of British Archæological Assoc. xxiv. 29). His sons were Roger I, his successor, Hugh, lord of Chelmarsh, Robert, founder of the Richard's Castle branch of the Mortimers, and Philip. Roger Mortimer I married Isabella de Ferrers, lost his Norman estates in 1204, and died on 24 June 1214. He was the father of Hugh Mortimer II of Wigmore, who died in 1227 without issue, and of Ralph Mortimer II, who married Gwladys Ddu (the dark), the daughter of Lly welyn ab lorwerth, prince of Wales [q. v.], and was father of Roger Mortimer II (d. 1282) [q. v.]
[Dugdale's Monasticon, vi. 344-9; Dugdale's Baronage, i. 138-9; Eyton's Shropshire, especially iv. 200-6; Eyton's Itinerary of Henry II, pp. 10, 11, 228; Stapleton's Rotuli Normanniæ; Duncumb's Herefordshire; Wright's Hist. of Ludlow; Brut y Tywysngion, ed. Rhys and Evans, and in Rolls Ser.; Annales Cambriæ (Rolls Ser.); Hewlett's Chron. of Stephen, Henry II, and Richard I (Rolls Ser.); Annales Monastici (Rolls Ser.); Pipe Rolls of Henry II (Pipe Roll Soc.)]