1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/March, Earls of
MARCH, EARLS OF, title derived from the “marches” or boundaries (1) between England and Wales, and (2) England and Scotland, and held severally by great feudal families possessed of lands in those border districts. The earls of March on the Welsh borders were descended from Roger de Mortemer (so called from his castle of Mortemer in Normandy), who was connected by marriage with the dukes of Normandy. His son Ralph (d. c. 1104) figures in Domesday as the holder of vast estates in Shropshire, Herefordshire and other parts of England, especially in the west; and his grandson Hugh de Mortimer, founder of the priory of Wigmore in Herefordshire, was one of the most powerful of the barons reduced to submission by Henry II., who compelled him to surrender his castles of Cleobury and Wigmore. The Mortimers, however, continued to exercise almost undisputed sway, as lords of Wigmore, over the western counties and the Welsh marches.
I. Welsh Marches.—Roger de Mortimer (c. 1286–1330), 8th baron of Wigmore and 1st earl of March, being an infant at the death of his father, Edmund, was placed by Edward I. under the guardianship of Piers Gaveston, and was knighted by Edward in 1306; Mortimer’s mother being a relative of Edward’s consort, Eleanor of Castile. Through his marriage with Joan de Joinville, or Genevill, Roger not only acquired increased possessions on the Welsh marches, including the important castle of Ludlow, which became the chief stronghold of the Mortimers, but also extensive estates and influence in Ireland, whither he went in 1308 to enforce his authority. This brought him into conflict with the De Lacys, who turned for support to Edward Bruce, brother of Robert Bruce, king of Scotland. Mortimer was appointed lord-lieutenant of Ireland by Edward II. in 1316, and at the head of a large army drove Bruce to Carrickfergus, and the De Lacys into Connaught, wreaking vengeance on their adherents whenever they were to be found. He was then occupied for some years with baronial disputes on the Welsh border until about 1318, when he began to interest himself in the growing opposition to Edward II. and his favourites, the Despensers; and he supported Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford, in refusing to obey the king’s summons to appear before him in 1321. Forced to surrender to the king at Shrewsbury in January 1322, Mortimer was consigned to the Tower of London, whence he escaped to France in August 1324. In the following year Isabella, wife of Edward II., anxious to escape from her husband, obtained his consent to her going to France to use her influence with her brother, Charles IV., in favour of peace. At the French court the queen found Roger Mortimer; she became his mistress soon afterwards, and at his instigation refused to return to England so long as the Despensers retained power as the king’s favourites. The scandal of Isabella’s relations with Mortimer compelled them both to withdraw from the French court to Flanders, where they obtained assistance for an invasion of England. Landing in England in September 1326, they were joined by Henry, earl of Lancaster; London rose in support of the queen; and Edward took flight to the west, whither he was pursued by Mortimer and Isabella. After wandering helplessly for some weeks in Wales, the king was taken on the 16th of November, and was compelled to abdicate in favour of his son. But though the latter was crowned as Edward III. in January 1327, the country was ruled by Mortimer and Isabella, who procured the murder of Edward II. in the following September. Rich estates and offices of profit and power were now heaped on Mortimer, and in September 1328 he was created earl of March. Greedy and grasping, he was no more competent than the Despensers to conduct the government of the country. The jealousy and anger of Lancaster having been excited by March’s arrogance, Lancaster prevailed upon the young king, Edward III., to throw off the yoke of his mother’s paramour. At a parliament held at Nottingham in October 1330 a plot was successfully carried out by which March was arrested in the castle, and, in spite of Isabella’s entreaty to her son to “have pity on the gentle Mortimer,” was conveyed to the Tower. Accused of assuming royal power and of various other high misdemeanours, he was condemned without trial and hanged at Tyburn on the 29th of November 1330, his vast estates being forfeited to the crown. March’s wife, by whom he had four sons and eleven daughters, survived till 1356. The daughters all married into powerful families, chiefly of Marcher houses. His eldest son, Edmund, was father of Roger Mortimer (c. 1328–1360), who was knighted by Edward III. in 1346, and restored to his grandfather’s title as 2nd earl of March.
Edmund de Mortimer (1351–1381), 3rd earl of March, was son of Roger, 2nd earl of March, by his wife Philippa, daughter of William Montacute, 1st earl of Salisbury. Being an infant at the death of his father, Edmund, as a ward of the crown, was placed by Edward III. under the care of William of Wykeham and Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel. The position of the young earl, powerful on account of his possessions and hereditary influence in the Welsh marches, was rendered still more important by his marriage in 1368 to Philippa, only daughter of Lionel, duke of Clarence, third son of Edward III. Lionel’s wife was Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of William de Burgh, 6th Lord of Connaught and 3rd earl of Ulster, and Lionel had himself been created earl of Ulster before his marriage. The earl of March, therefore, not only became the representative of one of the chief Anglo-Norman lordships in Ireland in right of his wife Philippa, but the latter, on the death of her father shortly after her marriage, stood next in succession to the crown after the Black Prince and his sickly son Richard, afterwards king Richard II. This marriage had, therefore, far-reaching consequences in the history of England, giving rise to the claim of the house of York to the crown of England, contested in the War of the Roses; Edward IV. being descended from the third son of Edward III. as great-great-grandson of Philippa, countess of March, and in the male line from Edmund, duke of York, fifth son of Edward III.
Mortimer, now styled earl of March and Ulster, became marshal of England in 1369, and was employed in various diplomatic missions during the next following years. He was a member of the committee appointed by the Peers to confer with the Commons in 1373—the first instance of such a joint conference since the institution of representative parliaments—on the question of granting supplies for John of Gaunt’s war in France; and in the opposition to Edward III. and the court party, which grew in strength towards the end of the reign, March took the popular side, being prominent in the Good Parliament of 1376 among the lords who, encouraged by the Prince of Wales, concerted an attack upon the court party led by John of Gaunt. The Speaker of the Commons in this parliament was March’s steward, Peter de la Mare; he firmly withstood John of Gaunt in stating the grievances of the Commons, in supporting the impeachment of several high court officials, and in procuring the banishment of the king’s mistress, Alice Perrers. March was a member of the administrative council appointed by the same parliament after the death of the Black Prince to attend the king and advise him in all public affairs. On the accession of Richard II., a minor, in 1377, the earl became a member of the standing council of government; though as father of the heir-presumptive to the crown he wisely abstained from claiming any actually administrative office. The most powerful person in the realm was, however, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, whose jealousy of March led to the acceptance by the latter of the lieutenancy of Ireland in 1379. March succeeded in asserting his authority in eastern Ulster, but failed to subdue the O’Neills farther west. Proceeding to Munster to put down the turbulency of the chieftains of the south, March died at Cork on the 27th of December 1381. He was buried in Wigmore Abbey, of which he had been a benefactor, and where his wife Philippa who died about the same time was also interred. The earl had two sons and two daughters, the elder of whom, Elizabeth, married Henry Percy (Hotspur), son of the earl of Northumberland. His eldest son Roger succeeded him as 4th earl of March and Ulster. His second son Edmund (1376–1409) played an important part in conjunction with his brother-in-law Hotspur against Owen Glendower; but afterwards joined the latter, whose daughter he married about 1402.
Roger de Mortimer, 4th earl of March and Ulster (1374–1398), son of the 3rd earl, succeeded to the titles and estates of his family when a child of seven, and a month afterwards he was appointed lord-lieutenant of Ireland, his uncle Sir Thomas Mortimer acting as his deputy. Being a ward of the Crown, his guardian was the earl of Kent, half-brother to Richard II.; and in 1388 he married Kent’s daughter, Eleanor. The importance which he owed to his hereditary influence and possessions, and especially to his descent from Edward III., was immensely increased when Richard II. publicly acknowledged him as heir-presumptive to the crown in 1385. In 1394 he accompanied Richard to Ireland, but notwithstanding a commission from the king as lieutenant of the districts over which he exercised nominal authority by hereditary right, he made little headway against the native Irish chieftains. March enjoyed great popularity in England though he took no active part in opposing the despotic measures of the king; in Ireland he illegally assumed the native Irish costume. In August 1398 he was killed in fight with an Irish clan, and was buried in Wigmore Abbey. March’s daughter Anne married Richard earl of Cambridge, son of Edmund duke of York, fifth son of Edward III.; their son Richard, duke of York, was father of King Edward IV., who thus derived his title to the crown and acquired the estates of the house of Mortimer.
Edmund de Mortimer (1391–1425), 5th earl of March and Ulster, son of the 4th earl, succeeded to his father’s claim to the crown as well as to his title and estates on the death of the latter in Ireland in 1398. In the following year Richard II. was deposed and the crown seized by Henry of Lancaster. The young earl of March and his brother Roger were then kept in custody by Henry IV., who, however, treated them honourably, until March 1405, when they were carried off from Windsor Castle by the opponents of the Lancastrian dynasty, of whom their uncle Sir Edmund Mortimer (see above) and his brother-in-law Henry Percy (Hotspur) were leaders in league with Owen Glendower. The boys were recaptured, and in 1409 were committed to the care of the prince of Wales. On the accession of the latter as Henry V., in 1413, the earl of March was set at liberty and restored to his estates, his brother Roger having died some years previously; and he continued to enjoy the favour of the king in spite of a conspiracy in 1415 to place him on the throne, in which his brother-in-law, the earl of Cambridge, played the leading part. March accompanied Henry V. throughout his wars in France, and on the king’s death in 1422 became a member of the council of regency. He died in Ireland in 1425, and as he left no issue the earldom of March in the house of Mortimer became extinct, the estates passing to the last earl’s nephew Richard, who in 1435 was officially styled duke of York, earl of March and Ulster, and baron of Wigmore. Richard’s son Edward having ascended the throne in 1461 as Edward IV., the earldom of March became merged in the crown.
See Thomas Rymer, Foedera, &c. (London, 1704–1732); T. F. Tout, The Political History of England, vol. iii., ed. by William Hunt and R. L. Poole (London, 1905); Sir William Dugdale, Monasticon anglicanum (3 vols., London, 1655–1673); William Stubbs, Constitutional History of England, vol. ii.
II. Scottish Marches.—The Scottish earls of March were descended from Crinan, whose son Maldred married Algitha, daughter of Ughtred, earl of Northumberland, by Elgiva, daughter of the Saxon king Æthelred. Maldred’s son Cospatrick, or Gospatrick, was made earl of Northumberland by William the Conqueror; but being soon afterwards deprived of this position he fled to Scotland, where Malcolm Canmore, king of Scotland, welcomed him and granted him Dunbar and the adjoining lands. Two generations of Cospatricks followed in lineal succession, bearing the title of earl, but without territorial designation. Cospatrick II. witnessed the charter of Alexander I. founding the abbey of Scone in 1115. The 3rd earl, also named Cospatrick, a liberal benefactor of Melrose Abbey, died in 1166, leaving two sons, the younger of whom was the ancestor of the earls of Home. The elder son, Waltheof, was the first of the family to be styled “Comes de Dunbar,” about the year 1174. His importance is proved by the fact that he was one of the hostages for the performance of the Treaty of Falaise for the liberation of William the Lion in 1175. Waltheof’s son Patrick Dunbar (the name Dunbar, derived from the family estates, now becoming an hereditary surname), styled 5th earl of Dunbar, although his father had been the first to adopt the territorial designation, was keeper of Berwick Castle, and married Ada, natural daughter of William the Lion. His grandson Patrick, 7th earl, headed the party that liberated King Alexander III. in 1255 from the Comyns, and in the same year was nominated guardian of the king and queen by the Treaty of Roxburgh. He signed the Treaty of Perth (July 6, 1266) by which Magnus VI. of Norway ceded the Isle of Man and the Hebrides to Scotland. His wife was Christian, daughter of Robert Bruce, the competitor for the crown of Scotland.
Patrick Dunbar, 8th earl of Dunbar and 1st earl of March, claimed the crown of Scotland in 1291 as descendant of Ada, daughter of William the Lion. He was one of the “seven earls of Scotland,” a distinct body separate from the other estates of the realm, who claimed the right to elect a king in cases of disputed succession, and whose authority was, perhaps, to be traced to the seven provinces of the Pictish kingdom. He was the first of the earls of Dunbar to appear in the records as “comes de Marchia,” or earl of March. Like most of his family in later times, he was favourable to the English interest in Scottish affairs, and he did homage to Edward I. of England. His wife Marjory, daughter of Alexander Comyn, earl of Buchan, took the other side and held the castle of Dunbar for Baliol, but was forced to surrender it to Edward in 1296. In 1298 he was appointed the English king’s lieutenant in Scotland.
Patrick Dunbar (1285-1369), 9th earl of Dunbar and 2nd earl of March, son of the preceding, gave refuge to Edward II. of England after Bannockburn, and contrived his escape by sea to England. Later, he made peace with Robert Bruce, and by him was appointed governor of Berwick Castle, which he held against Edward III. until the defeat of the Scots at Halidon Hill (July 19, 1333) made it no longer tenable. His countess, known in Scottish history and romance as “Black Agnes,” daughter of Thomas Randolph, earl of Moray (Murray), and grandniece of Robert Bruce, is famous for her defence of Dunbar Castle against the English under the earl of Salisbury in 1338, Salisbury being forced to abandon the attempt after a fierce siege lasting nineteen weeks. This lady succeeded to the estates and titles of her brother, John Randolph, 3rd earl of Moray. The earldom of Moray passed after her death to her second son, John Dunbar, who married Marjory, daughter of King Robert II. Black Agnes also bore to the earl of March two daughters, the elder of whom, Agnes, after being the mistress of King David II., married Sir James Douglas, lord of Dalkeith, from whom were descended the first three earls of Morton; the younger, Elizabeth, married John Maitland of Lethington, ancestor of the duke of Lauderdale, whose second title was marquess of March.
George Dunbar (d. 1420), 10th earl of Dunbar and 3rd earl of March, great-nephew of the 8th earl and warden of the marches, accompanied Douglas in his foray into England in 1388, and commanded the Scots after Otterburn. He afterwards quarrelled with the Douglases, because his daughter was passed over in favour of a daughter of Archibald, “the Grim Earl of Douglas,” as wife for David, duke of Rothesay, son of Robert III. When Douglas seized March’s lands the latter fled to England, where he was welcomed by Henry IV., to whom he was related. He fought on the English side at Homildon Hill; and, having revealed to Henry the defection of the Percies, who were in league with Douglas and Owen Glendower, he fought against those allies at the battle of Shrewsbury (July 23, 1403). Becoming reconciled with Douglas, he returned to Scotland in 1409, and was restored to his earldom by the regent Albany. He died in 1420.
George Dunbar, 11th earl of Dunbar and 4th earl of March, was one of the negotiators for the release of James I. of Scotland in 1423 from his captivity in England, and was knighted at that king’s coronation. In 1434, however, on the ground that the regent had had no power to reverse his father’s forfeiture for treason, March was imprisoned and his castle of Dunbar seized by the king; and the parliament at Perth declared his lands and titles forfeited to the crown. The earl, being released, retired to England with his son Patrick, whose daughter and heiress Margaret was ancestress of Patrick, 5th earl of Dumfries, now represented by the marquess of Bute.
The earldom of March in the house of Dunbar having thus been forfeited to the crown, James II. in 1455 conferred the title, together with that of warden of the marches, on his second son Alexander, duke of Albany; but this prince entered into treasonable correspondence with Edward IV. of England, and in 1487 the earldom of March and the barony and castle of Dunbar were again declared forfeited and annexed to the crown of Scotland.
The title of earl of March was next held by the house of Lennox. In 1576 the earldom of Lennox became extinct on the death without male issue of Charles (father of Lady Arabella Stuart), 5th earl of Lennox; and it was then revived in favour of Robert Stuart, a grand-uncle of King James VI., second son of John, 3rd earl of Lennox. But in 1579 Esmé Stuart, a member of a collateral branch which in 1508 had inherited the lordship of Aubigny in France, came to Scotland and obtained much favour with James VI. The earldom of Lennox (soon afterwards raised to a dukedom) was taken from Robert and conferred upon Esmé; and Robert was compensated by being created earl of March and baron of Dunbar (1582). Robert died without legitimate issue in 1586, when the earldom of March again reverted to the crown. In 1619 Esmé, 3rd duke of Lennox, was created earl of March; and his son James was created duke of Richmond in 1641. On the death without issue of Charles, 6th duke of Lennox and 3rd duke of Richmond, in 1672, his titles devolved upon King Charles II. as nearest collateral heir-male. In 1675 Charles conferred the titles of duke of Richmond and Lennox and earl of March on Charles Lennox, his natural son by Louise de Keroualle, duchess of Portsmouth, from whom the earldom of March has descended to its present holder the duke of Richmond and Gordon. (See Richmond, Earls and Dukes of; and Lennox.)
The title of earl of March in the peerage of Scotland, by another creation, was conferred in 1697 on William Douglas, second son of William, 1st duke of Queensberry. His grandson William, 3rd earl of March, became 4th duke of Queensberry on the death without surviving male issue of his cousin Charles, 3rd duke of Queensberry, in 1778. Dying unmarried in 1810, the several titles of the duke passed to different branches of the house of Douglas. The earldom of March is stated by Sir Bernard Burke and other authorities to have devolved upon Francis, 8th earl of Wemyss, great-great-grandson of David, 3rd earl of Wemyss, whose wife was Anne, daughter of the 1st duke of Queensberry and sister of the 1st earl of March; and the title is now assumed by the earl of Wemyss. On the other hand, Francis, 8th earl of Wemyss, not having been an heir of the body of the 1st earl of March, Sir Robert Douglas says in The Peerage of Scotland that on the death of the 4th duke of Queensberry in 1810 “the earldom of March, it is supposed, became extinct.”