Mortimer, Ralph de (DNB00)

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MORTIMER, RALPH (I) de (d. 1104?), Norman baron, was the son of Roger de Mortimer and his wife Hawise. This Roger was also called Roger, 'filius episcopi.' His father was Hugh, afterwards bishop of Coutances ; his mother was the daughter of some unknown Danish chieftain, and the sister of Gunnor, the wife of Duke Richard I of Normandy, and of Herfast the Dane, the grandfather of William FitzOsbern, earl of Hereford (Stapleton, Rotuli Normanniæ, ii. cxix. ; Eyton, Shropshire, iv. 195 ; cf. Le Prévost's note to Ordericus Vitalis, iii. 236 ; Planché's art. on the genealogy of the family in Journal of British Archæological Association, xxiv. 1-35). Roger's brother Ralph, also called ' filius episcopi,' was founder of the house of Warren. The house of Mortimer was thus connected both with the ducal Norman house and with the great family which attained later the earldom of Hereford, while its kinship with the lords of the house of Warren, earls of Surrey after the Norman conquest, was even more direct. Roger, the bishop's son, is assumed to have been born before 990, the date at which his father became bishop of Coutances, but if so he must have lived to a green old age. All the Mortimers of the period, when their history is uncertain, became, according to the traditional account, extraordinarily old men. In latter times, when the facts are well known, they lived extremely short lives. This Roger seems to have been the first to assume the name of Mortimer, which was taken from the village and castle of Mortemer-en-Brai (mortuum mare), in the Pays de Caux, situated at the source of the little river Eaulne. In 1054 he won the victory of Mortemer, fought under the walls of his castle, against the troops of Henry I, king of the French (Ordericus Vitalis, Hist. Eccl. i. 184, iii. 160, 236-7, ed. Le Prévost). But Roger gave oflence to Duke William by releasing one of his captives, and was accordingly deprived of his castle of Mortemer, which was transferred to his nephew, William de Warren, son of his brother Ralph, and afterwards first Earl of Surrey (ib. iii. 237 ; Stapleton, ubi supra). In the result Mortemer remained with the earls of Warren until the loss of Normandy in 1204, and was never restored to the house that obtained its name from it. The Mortimers transferred their chief seat to Saint-Victor-en Caux, where the priory, a cell of Saint-Ouen at Rouen, was in 1074 erected into an abbey by Roger and his wife Hawise. This is Roger's last recorded act. He must have been too old to have been present at Hastings, but some of his sons, perhaps Hugh (Wace, Roman de Ron, ii. 373, 740, ed. Andresen), or possibly Ralph himself (Monasticon, vi. 348), appeared on his behalf.

Ralph became his father's eventual successor both in Normandy and in England. There are no particulars about the manner in which he acquired his English estates, but he seems to have served under his kinsman, William FitzOsbern, earl of Hereford, and, if the loose traditions preserved by the Wigmore annalist have any foundation, to have done good service against Edric the Wild (ib. vi. 349 : cf. Freeman, Norman Conquest, iii. 737). The fact that Ralph held at the time of the Domesday inquest several estates that had once belonged to Edric may invest this statement with some authority (Domesday, f. 183 b). However this may have been, the fall of the traitorous Earl Roger, son of William FitzOsbern, in 1074, marks the first establishment of the Mortimers in a leading position in the middle marches of Wales. Many of Roger's forfeited estates in Shropshire and Herefordshire were now granted by William the Conqueror to Ralph Mortimer, including the township and the castle of Wigmore, which had been built on waste ground by William FitzOsbern (Domesday, f. 183 b), and henceforth became the chief centre of the power of the Mortimers. It was very likely at this time that the estates of Edith, wife of Edward the Confessor, including Cleobury Mortimer, near Shrewsbury, in later times the chief Shropshire residence of the Mortimers, and Stoke Edith in Herefordshire, passed from Earl Roger to Ralph (Eyton, Shropshire, vi. 350). Moreover, a fourteenth-century record speaks of Mortimer as the seneschal of the Earl of Shrewsbury, and as holding Cleobury by that title. Though the record is inaccurate in other particulars, Mr. Eyton (ib. iv. 199-200) is disposed to accept its statement respecting Mortimer's tenure of the office of seneschal. Ralph Mortimer held no less than nineteen of his fifty Shropshire manors as sub-tenant of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Besides this great western estate, he held at the time of the Domesday inquest large territories in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Hampshire, Wiltshire, and more scattered possessions inWorcestershire, Berkshire, Somerset, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, and Leicestershire (Ellis, Introduction to Domesday, i. 455-6).

On the accession of William Rufus, Ralph, like the other border barons, joined in the great rising of April 1088, of which Roger of Montgomery, then Earl of Shrewsbury, was one of the main leaders. He was among those who attacked the city of Worcester and were repulsed through the action of Bishop Wulfstan (Flok. Wig. ii. 24). But the tide of war soon flowed from the Welsh march to Kent and Sussex, and when the Earl of Shrewsbury reconciled himself with the king, Mortimer probably followed the same course. Next year (1089), as a partisan of Rufus in Normandy, he joined with nearly all the other barons of Caux in fortifying their houses and levying troops to repel French invasion, and received for that purpose large sums of money from the king (Ord. Vit. iii. 319-20). He does not seem to have joined in the subsequent feudal rebellions, and was probably much occupied in extending his English possessions westwards, at the expense of the Welsh. The family historian makes him the conqueror of Melenydd, a Welsh lordship afterwards continually in the hands of the Mortimers (Monasticon, vi. 349). In 1102 the fall of Robert of Belleme [q. v.], the last Montgomery earl of Shrewsbury, by removing the mightiest of his rivals, indirectly increased Ralph's power, and fresh estates fell into his hands. In 1104 his name appears among a long list of barons who upheld the cause of Henry I in Normandy against his brother Robert (Ord. Vit. iv. 199). This is probably the last authentic reference to him, for little trust can be placed in the statement of the Wigmore annalist that in 1106 he took a conspicuous part in the battle of Tenchebrai. The same writer also puts his death on 4 Aug. 1100, six years before (Monasticon, vi. 349). More credence perhaps is due to the story of the same writer, that Ralph in his old age resolved on the foundation of a monastery, a scheme which, under his son Hugh, finally resulted in the foundation of Wigmore Priory. He is also said to have constituted three prebends for secular canons in the parish church of Wigmore, which finally swelled the priory endowments. A late writer, Adam of Usk (p. 21), who had special sources of knowledge, says that Ralph went back to Normandy, and died there, perhaps in 1104, leaving his son Hugh in possession of Wigmore.

Ralph's wife's name was Millicent, or Melisendis, who inherited the town of Mers, in Le Vimeu, in the diocese of Amiens. She died before her husband (Stapleton, Rot. Norm. ii. cxx). Ralph is generally regarded as the father of Hugh Mortimer I [q. v.] His other children were William Mortimer, lord of Chelmarsh and Sidbury, and Ha wise, who married Stephen, earl of Albemarle or Aumale, and received her mother's lands as her marriage portion.

Ordericus Vitalis, ed. Le Prévost (Soc. de l'Histoire de France); Florence of Worcester (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Domesday Book; Dugdale's Monasticon, vi. 348–9; Dugdale's Baronage, i. 138–9; Eyton's Shropshire, especially iv. 194–200; Stapleton's Rotuli Scaccarii Normanniæ, especially II. cxix. sq.; Stapleton in Archæological Journal, iii. 1–26; Journal of the British Archæological Association, vol. xxiv.; Wright's Hist. of Ludlow; Freeman's Norman Conquest, iv. 39, 737, v. 78, 84, 754; and William Rufus, i. 34, 231.]

T. F. T.