The Mortimers and their royal connections

PUBLISHED: 12:04 20 March 2013 | UPDATED: 21:17 05 April 2013

The Mortimers and their royal connections

The Mortimers and their royal connections

John Grove, chairman of the Mortimer History Society, which holds its Spring Conference at Leominster in May, tells the story of Edmund Mortimer whose marriage brought royal connections to the towns of Usk and Ludlow

John Grove, chairman of the Mortimer History Society, which holds its Spring Conference at Leominster in May, tells the story of Edmund Mortimer whose marriage brought royal connections to the towns of Usk and Ludlow

The Mortimers of Wigmore and Ludlow castles were the most important dynasty of Marcher Lords in medieval times. However they had no direct link to the English royal family until Edmund Mortimer (born 1352) married a grand-daughter of Edward III.

Edmunds childhood was lived as part of the noble circle that surrounded Edwards court. His father Roger was a favourite of the king, having fought as a dashing young commander at the battle of Crecy, and whose death leading a French campaign distressed the monarch. Roger was one of the founder knights of the Order of the Garter, and a star in Edwards company. He had the kings blessing on the betrothal of his son Edmund, aged six, to Philippa, aged three, daughter of Edward IIIs third son Lionel, thus also bringing the Mortimer family into close connection with the royal family.

Edmund was born in a small family castle or manor house at Llyswen, near Brecon, and as a child lived in the luxury of Ludlow Castle. His father died when he was eight, and his education in manners, riding, military and social skills would have been a princely one. As a ward of court the king had influence in the nomination of his bride. Lionel, the kings son was Duke of Clarence and Earl of Ulster. His daughter Philippa was Edwards only grandchild at that time so when Edmund married her, besides his Mortimer lands, he inherited estates in Ireland, and other sites including Usk Castle.

They were married at Reading Abbey which for many years had been supported by the royal family. This meant that the wedding was a splendid one, probably attended by the king himself and the leading nobles and their wives. Edmund was 16 and Philippa 13. Children followed very soon Elizabeth, Roger, Philippa and Edmund. They were brought up mainly in the surroundings of Usk and Ludlow castles with the aid of nurses and tutors.

Edmund was both a distinguished military commander and courtier. He led several campaigns in France, and was made Lieutenant of Ireland in 1379, operating out of the Mortimer castle of Trim, and taking control of his lands there. At the Good Parliament in 1376 he moved to curb the power and corruption of the court, who were taking advantage of Edwards old age, seeking the impeachment of two royal officials. The first courageous speaker of the House of Commons was the Mortimer steward, Sir Peter de la Mare. After the death of King Edward, Edmund carried the sword and spurs at Richard IIs coronation, and became a leading member of the first two royal councils appointed to govern the country during Richards minority.

Usk Castle and Priory
Edmund and Philippa beautified Usk Castle as befitted their royal status, adding the Dovecot Tower, facing Usk town. He may have also built part of a new outer wall. Certainly Usk Priory and its church were beneficiaries of Mortimer funds and furnishings. One of Edmunds lasting legacies was his patronage to Adam, son of the gatekeeper at Usk Castle. He supported Adams law studies at Oxford, and Adam went on to be a leading cleric, writing the most important history of the times in Latin, now translated as the Chronicles of Adam of Usk.

Roger, their eldest son, was born and baptised at Usk. There is some evidence that he was named as heir by Richard II. Certainly the thousands of men, dressed in Mortimer colours thought so when they met him outside the gathering of parliament at Shrewsbury in 1398. Roger was called the white bud of Usk by Glyndwrs bard Iolo Goch, the only English lord to be celebrated by Welsh bards. He praised Roger as a (half) Welsh heir to Englands throne an earlier Mortimer having married a daughter of Llewellyn the Great. Elizabeth also born at Usk was to marry Harry Hotspur. The other children, Edmund and Philippa, were born at Ludlow.

Wigmore Abbey
Edmunds religious leanings were seen in his great generosity to the Mortimer foundation of Wigmore Abbey. He rebuilt the church, bestowing vestments, altar cloths, silver plate, and prized relics such as one of the True Cross. The abbey was the mausoleum of the leading Mortimers. Philippa was buried there with great pomp in 1380 aged 25, followed by Edmund two years later. He died from the plague, at Cork in Ireland, aged 29.

Roger his son and possible heir to the throne also had a short life. He married young and had four children, but died aged 24, fighting in Ireland, before Richards deposition. His mutilated body was brought home for burial at Wigmore. His daughter Anne married into the Yorkist branch of the English royal family. The House of York based its claim to the throne on this line of descent, thus the Mortimers were directly linked to the throne through Annes grandsons, Edward IV and Richard III. The Mortimers thus brought the aura of royal connections to the towns of Usk, Ludlow and Trim.


More about the Mortimers
The Mortimer History Society holds its Spring Conference on the theme of Changing Society In The Time Of Richard II on May 11, at Earl Mortimer College, Leominster, from 10am to 4pm


  • Dr Benjamin Thompson, Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford, lecturer in Medieval History and a Mortimer descendant: Insights into English Society from Chaucer and others Years of Crisis

  • Paul Remfry, translator, and historian of the Marches: The Wigmore Chronicle launch of the first edition of a new translation of the 14th century Mortimer history

  • Juliet Barker, author of Agincourt, and The Brontes: The Peasants Revolt

  • Dr Ian Mortimer, author of The Time Travellers Guide to Medieval England, and The Greatest Traitor: The Mortimers in the time of Richard II

Plus: Medieval Mortimer Textiles, a display of the new reconstruction of the effigy dress of Blanche Mortimer, presented by the dress and textiles group. Bookstall.

Tickets from Stella Mason,Hammermill Farm, Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire WR15 8LJ. SAE + 25

(20 for members). Also via PayPal.

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