The Marauding Mortimers #2 – Scourge of the Welsh

The grandson of the Roger Mortimer who features in the first article of three articles about the Mortimers, this man was also grandson, on his mother’s side, of King John. Like his ancestors, this Roger conducted a near life-long war against the Welsh whose leader at the time was his cousin Llewelyn ap Gruffydd. Born in 1231 he married, at 16, Maud de Braose, a granddaughter of William Marshall; Strongbow’s daughter Isabel was her grandmother. Maud brought with her the Irish lands inherited from Strongbow, including the Castle Dunamase.

(Note that this Maud de Braose should not be confused with her father’s aunt, also Maud, who incurred the wrath of King John and was starved to death in captivity. Trying to disentangle the complex family trees of medieval noble families is a brain taxing exercise, not aided by their propensity to use the same forenames in successive generations, as you will discover as you read more of the articles on this site.)


The period 1256-1265 was one of turmoil throughout the realm. In addition to the problems with the Welsh, there was, in 1258 a famine caused by the failure of the previous autumn’s harvest. Matthew Paris, writing at the time, says: “an innumerable multitude of poor people died and dead bodies were found everywhere … lying by fives and sixes in pigsties and dunghills in the muddy streets.”

Many of the barons believed that King Henry III was reneging on the principles agreed with his father in Magna Carta. The man who emerged as leader of this rebellion was Simon de Montfort. A charismatic and devoutly religious man he shares some of the characteristics of Oliver Cromwell and came close to establishing a republic in England almost four centuries before the latter. His marriage to Henry’s sister Eleanor did nothing to diminish the enmity between the two men.

The situation was further complicated by the behaviour of the king’s oldest son, Edward. He was unhappy at his father’s reluctance to grant him greater independence and, for a while, rallied to de Montfort’s cause. It did not take him long, however, to realise that the fate of the monarchy as an institution was at stake. He began to rally the lords of the marches and the Anglo-Irish and Scots barons, including Robert Bruce, in opposition to de Montfort’s threatened take-over.

Civil War

The first of the two great battles of this brief civil war took place at Lewes in May 1264. Edward made a fatal tactical error; pursuing part of what he took to be a defeated army, he left his flanks exposed and de Montfort’s army routed the remainder of the royalists. Henry took refuge in Lewes priory. De Montfort demanded, and got, the surrender of the king and his son as hostages to guarantee adherence to his terms. These, agreed at Worcester in December, included the requirement that Mortimer and his allies should quit the kingdom for Ireland. It is not clear how many, if any, complied. Subsequent events show that they were able to regroup and rearm.

I like to imagine that Roger and Maud spent the winter at Castle Dunamaise. The countryside here is very similar to that around Wigmore and they would have been able to enjoy a peaceful break whilst planning their next moves against the de Montfort faction.

Meanwhile De Montfort set about raising a popular army, not unlike Cromwell’s “New Model Army”. He also drummed up prejudice against “foreigners”, especially the Jews who, according to Simon Schama, “suffered horribly from violent attacks on their property and persons … in many of the commercial towns of the country.”

Escape from Hereford

It was not long, however, before many more of the barons began to resent the power that Simon had assumed. Roger and Maud devised a plan which enabled Edward to effect his escape near Hereford in May 1265. The Prince, though not imprisoned, was kept under close supervision by de Montfort’s troops. Not close enough, however, to prevent him receiving intelligence about the movements of Mortimer and the force he was mustering north of Hereford. Pretending to inspect a batch of horses he rode all but one into the ground. This last horse he then used to escape. Joining Mortimer, he now set about running a successful campaign culminating in a bloody battle that took place during a thunderstorm at Evesham on August 4th that year. According to legend de Montfort’s head was removed from his body and dispatched to Maud at Wigmore castle.

Roger’s epitaph, engraved on his tomb at Wigmore Abbey reads: Here lies buried, glittering with praise, Roger the pure, Roger Mortimer the second, called Lord of Wigmore by those who held him dear. While he lived all Wales feared his power, and given as a gift to him all Wales remained his. It knew his campaigns, he subjected it to torment.

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