Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Mortimer, Edmund de (1351-1381)

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MORTIMER, EDMUND (II) de, third Earl of March (1351–1381), was the son of Roger de Mortimer (V), second earl of March fq. v.], and his wife Philippa, daughter of William Montacute, first earl of Salisbury [q. v.], and was born at 'Langonith' (? Llangynwyd or Llangynog) on 1 Feb. 1351 (Monasticon, vi. 353). When still a child there was an abortive proposal in 1354 to marry him to Alice Fitzalan, daughter of Richard Fitzalan II, earl of Arundel [q. v.] On 26 Feb. 1360 the death of his father procured for the young Edmund the succession to the title and estates of his house when only in his tenth year. He became the ward of Edward III, but was ultimately assigned to the custody of William of Wykeham [q. v.], bishop of Winchester, and of the above-mentioned Richard, earl of Arundel (Dugdale, Baronage, i. 148). Henceforth he was closely associated with the king's sons, and especially with Edward the Black Prince. Mortimer's political importance dates from his marriage with Philippa, only daughter of Lionel of Antwerp, duke of Clarence [q. v.], the second surviving son of Edward HI, by his wife Elizabeth de Burgh, the heiress of Ulster. Philippa was born in 1355, and her wedding with Mortimer took place in the spring of 1368, just before the departure of Lionel for Italy (Cont. Eulogium Hist. iii. 333). Before the end of the year Lionel's death gave to his son-in-law the enjoyment of his great estates. When, on coming of age, Mortimer entered into public life, he represented not simply the Mortimer inheritance, but also the great possessions of his wife. Besides his Shropshire, Herefordshire, Welsh, and Meath estates, which came from the Mortimers and Genvilles, he was, in name at least, lord of Ulster and Connaught, and by far the most conspicuous representative of the Anglo-Norman lords of Ireland. He was now styled Earl of Ulster as well as Earl of March. But important as were the immediate results of Edmund's marriage, the ulterior results were even more far-reaching. The descendants of Philippa before long became the nearest representatives of the line of Edward III, and handed on to the house of York that claim to the throne which resulted in the Wars of the Roses. And not only the legitimist claim but the territorial strength of the house of York was almost entirely derived from the Mortimer inheritance.

In 1369 Mortimer became marshal of England, an office which he held until 1377. In the same year he served against the French. On 8 Jan. 1371 he received his first summons to parliament (Lords' Report on Dignity of a Peer, iv. 648). In 1373 he received final livery of his own estates. On 8 Jan. 1373 he was sent as joint ambassador to France, and in March of the same year he was chief guardian of the truce with Scotland (Doyle, Official Baronage, ii. 468). The Wigmore family chronicler (Monasticon, vi. 353) boasts of the extraordinary success with which he discharged these commissions, and erroneously says that he was only eighteen at the time. In 1375 he served in the expedition sent to Brittany to help John of Montfort, and captured the castle of Saint-Mathieu (Walsingham, Hist. Angl. i. 318-319 ; Froissart, viii. 212, ed. Luce).

Mortimer's close association with the Prince of Wales and his old guardian, William of Wykeham, necessarily involved an attitude of hostility to John of Gaunt. Ancient feuds between the houses of March and Lancaster still had their effects, and Edmund's dislike of Gaunt was strengthened by a feeling that Lancaster was a possible rival to the claims of his wife and son to the succession. Accordingly he took up a strong line in favour of the constitutional as against the court party, and was conspicuous among the aristocratic patrons of the popular opposition in the Good parliament of 1376. He was, with Bishop Courtenay of London, the leader of the committee of twelve magnates appointed at the beginning of the session, on 28 April, to confer with the commons (Rot. Parl, ii. 322; Chron. Angliæ, 1328-88, p. 70; Stubbs, Const. Hist. ii. 428-9). The commons showed their confidence in him by electing as their speaker Sir Peter De la Mare, his steward, who, as knight of the shire for Herefordshire, Svas probably returned to parliament through his lord's influence [see De la Mare, Sir Peter]. A vigorous attack on the courtiers was now conducted by the commons under their speaker; but the death of the Black Prince on 8 June weakened the effect of their action. John of Gaunt now sought to obtain from parliament a settlement of the succession in the case of the death of the Black Prince's only son, Richard. He even urged that, as in France, the succession should descend through males only, thus openly setting up his own claims against those of the Countess of March (Chron. Angl. 1328-88, pp. 92-3). The commons prudently declined to discuss the subject. Yet even with the support of the knights, the Earl of March and the constitutional bishops were not strong enough of themselves to resist Gaunt and the courtiers. But they continued their work until the end of the session, on 6 July, their last care being to enforce the appointment of a permanent council, some members of which were always to be in attendance on the king. The Earl of March was among the nine additional persons appointed to this council (ib. pp. lxviii, 100). But as soon as the parliament was dissolved, Lancaster, in the king's name, repudiated all its acts. The new councillors were dismissed, and March was ordered to discharge his office as marshal by surveying the defences of Calais and other of the more remote royal castles (ib. p. 107), while his steward, De la Mare, was thrown into prison. But March, 'preferring to lose his staff rather than his life,' and believing that he would be waylaid and murdered on the narrow seas, resigned the office of marshal (ib. p. 108).

After the accession of Richard II (21 June 1377), power remained with Lancaster, though he now chose to be more conciliatory. March's position was moreover immensely improved. The king was a young child. The next heir by blood was March's own son. On 16 July 1377 March bore the second sword and the spurs at the coronation of the little king. He was not, however, in a position to claim any great share in the administration, and contented himself with a place on the new council of government, into whose hands power now fell (Fœdera, iv. 10; Stubbs, Const. Hist. 11. 442). But he was as strong as ever in parliament. He was among the lords whose

advice, as in 1376, was requested by the parliament of October 1377, and had the satisfaction of seeing his steward again elected as the speaker of this assembly. It was a further triumph when the young king was forced by the commons to remodel his council, and when March was one of the nine members of the new and extremely limited body thus selected (ib. ii. 444; cf. Chron. Angl. p. 164). On 1 Jan. 1378 he was appointed chief member of a commission to redress infractions of the truce with Scotland (Fœdera, iv. 26; cf. Chron. Angl. p. 203), and on 20 Jan. was put first on a commission appointed to inspect and strengthen the fortifications of the border strongholds of Berwick, Carlisle, Roxburgh, and Bamburgh (Doyle, Official Baronage, ii. 468). On 14 Feb. 1379 he was sent with other magnates on a special embassy to Scotland.

On 22 Oct. 1379 March was appointed lieutenant of Ireland (Fœdera, iv. 72). It was convenient for the party of Lancaster to get him out of the way, and his great interests in Ireland gave him a special claim to the thankless office. Those parts of the island, Ulster, Conuaught, and Meath, over which he bore nominal sway, had long been the most disorderly districts; and so far back as 1373 the English in Ireland had sent a special commission to Edward III representing that the only way of abating the evils that were rampant in those regions was for the king to force the Earl of March to dwell upon his Irish estates and adequately defend them. Partly then to enter upon the effectual possession of his own estates ('ad recuperandum comitatum suum de Holuestre,' Monk or Evesham, p. 19), and partly to set the king's rule on a better footing, March now accepted the government of Ireland for three years. He stipulated for good terms. He was to have twenty thousand marks paid over to him, from which he was to provide troops, but he was not to be held accountable to the crown for his expenditure of the money. He was also to have the disposal of the king's ordinary revenue in Ireland. Before he left his Welsh estates he made his will, dated 1 May 1380, at Denbigh, the contents of which are summarised in Dugdale's 'Baronage,' i. 149, and printed in Nichols's 'Royal Wills,' pp. 104-16. On 15 May 1380 March arrived in Ireland (Cart., &c., of St. Mary's, Dublin, ii. 284), having among his other attendants a herald of his own, called March herald. His first work was to establish himself in his wife's Ulster estates. In Eastern Ulster his arms were successful, the more so as some of the native chieftains threw themselves on his side, though these before long deserted him, on account of his treacherous seizure of an important Irish leader, Magennis, lord of Iveagh, in what is now co. Down. But the O'Neils ruled without a rival over Western Ulster, and March could not even draw a supply of timber from the forests of the land that was nominally his own. He had to bring the oak timber used to build a bridge over the Bann, near Coleraine, from his South Welsh lands on the Usk. This bridge was protected by fortifications at each end and by a tower in the middle; thus only was it prevented from being captured by the Irish. March also made some efforts to obtain possession' of Connaught, and succeeded in capturing Athlone from the O'Connors, and thus secured the passage over the Shannon. But Kilkenny Castle was now assailed by the Hibernised Norman sept of the Tobyns, to revenge the imprisonment of their chief within its walls. This and other business drew the viceroy into Munster. There he caught cold in crossing a river in winter time, and on 27 Dec. 1381 he died at the Dominican friary at Cork (Gilbert, Viceroys of Ireland, pp. 234, 242-7, gives the best modern account of March's Irish government). The Anglo-Irish writers, who thoroughly knew the difficulties of his position, say that after great efforts he appeased most of the wars in Ireland (Cart., &c., of St. Mary's, Dublin, ii. 285). In England his government of Ireland was regarded as pre-eminently wise and successful ('multum de hoc quod amisit recuperavit,' Monk of Evesham, p. 19; Chron. Angl. p. 334; Adam of Usk, p. 21).

According to the directions in his will, March's body was interred on the left hand of the high altar of Wigmore Abbey (Nichols, p. 104). An Irish chronicle speaks of his being buried in the church of the Holy Trinity at Cork, but this probably only refers to the more perishable parts of his body (Cart., &c., of St. Mary's, Dublin, ii. 285). March had been an extremely liberal benefactor to Wigmore Abbey, the chief foundation of his ancestors. The old fabric of the abbey church had become decayed and ruinous, and March granted lands in Radnor and elsewhere to the value of two thousand marks a year for its reconstruction. He laid the foundationstone of the new structure with his own hands, and by the time of his death the walls had been carried up to their appointed height, and were only wanting a roof. He also presented to the canons costly vestments and many relics, especially the body of St. Seiriol, and a large piece of the wood of the true cross. He further promised, when he took his departure from the canons of Wigmore as he went to Ireland, that on his safe return he would confer on them the advowson of three churches and the appropriation of Stoke Priory. Further benefactions were made by him in his will, including a rare and choice collection of relics. For all this liberality he is warmly commended by the Wigmore annalist (Monasticon, vi. 353), who quotes the eulogistic epitaph of the grateful canons, which celebrated his constancy, wisdom, popularity, and bounty. March supported Adam of Usk, his tenant's son, when the future chronicler was studying civil and canon law at Oxford (Adam of Usk, p. 21), and in return Adam loudly celebrates his praises. March was also highly eulogised by the St. Albans chronicler, who was a warm partisan of the constitutional opposition.

The Countess Philippa died before her husband, who celebrated her interment at Wigmore by almost regal pomp. Her epitaph speaks of her liberality, kindness, royal descent, and severity of morals. The children of Edmund and Philippa were: (1) Elizabeth, the eldest, born at Usk on 12 Feb. 1371, and married to the famous 'Hotspur,' Henry Percy, son of the Earl of Northumberland [see Percy, Henry]. (2) Roger, also born at Usk on 11 April 1374 [see Mortimer, Roger VI, fourth Earl of March]. (3) Philippa, born at Ludlow on 21 Nov. 1375, who became first the second wife of Richard Fitzalan III, earl of Arundel [q. v.], and afterwards married John of St. John; she died in 1400 (Adam of Usk, p. 53). (4) Edmund, born at Ludlow on 9 Nov. 1376, the future ally of Owen Glendower [see Mortimer, Sir Edmund III, 1376–1409?]. The above dates are from the Wigmore annalist (Monasticon, vi. 354), who now becomes contemporary and fairly trustworthy. (5) Sir John Mortimer, executed in 1423 for treason, and sometimes described as a son of Mortimer's, must, if a son at all, have been illegitimate (Sandford, Genealogical Hist. pp. 222-3). He is not mentioned in March's will.

[Dugdale's Monasticon, vi. 352-4; Dugdale's Baronage, i. 148-50; Doyle's Official Baronage, ii. 468-9; Rolls of Parliament; Rymer's Fœdera; Chron. Angl. 1328-88 (Rolls Ser.); Adam of Usk, ed. Thompson; Chartularies, &c., of St. Mary's Abbey, Dublin (Rolls Ser.); Froissart, ed. Luce; Monk of Evesham, ed. Hearne; Sandford's Genealogical Hist. of the Kings of England, pp. 221 223; Gilbert's Viceroys of Ireland; Wright's Hist. of Ludlow; Stubbs's Const. Hist. vol. ii.]

T. F. T.