The Marauding Mortimers #4: Roger Mortimer, Heir to the Throne

The man I’m featuring fourth in the series of posts about men named Roger Mortimer led a short but eventful life. Through his mother he was a great-grandson of Edward III. Because the teenaged Richard II had no issue, Roger was regarded as heir presumptive to the English throne. His mother died when he was still only three, his father when he was six.

The father’s death took place in December 1381 in Cork after he had, it is said, caught a cold whilst crossing a river in winter. Roger inherited the family’s extensive holdings in England and Ireland although they were held in trust on his behalf. Aged fourteen he married the king’s half-niece, the eighteen-year-old Eleanor Holland. A little over two years later their first child, a daughter Ann, was born. They went on to have three more children before Roger was killed in Ireland aged just 24.

The young king designated him Lord Lieutenant of Ireland when he was still only seven, an echo of Henry II’s appointment of his son John as Lord of Ireland when the latter was nine. At this stage, of course, the title had little practical effect, except, perhaps, to show the Irish, native and colonists, the importance the king attached to their standing. Roger’s uncle, Sir Thomas Mortimer, acted as his deputy. Ten years later Roger was re-appointed Lieutenant and two years afterwards accompanied the king on an expedition to Ireland. Apart from a couple of brief trips back to England he remained there until his death.

Black Death and Peasants’ Revolt

The decade between Roger’s first and second appointments as Lieutenant of Ireland saw considerable upheaval in England as well as Ireland. This was the middle of the period known as The Hundred Years War. The “Black Death” plague had decimated the population and been followed by the so called “Peasants’ Revolt”. There was a constant threat of invasion from France. The king was defeated in parliament in 1388 and many of his allies executed. His plans for Ireland had to be put on hold whilst he attempted to restore his fortunes at home. Meanwhile, in Ireland, a power vacuum – or, at least, uncertainty about who was in charge – made it impossible to maintain anything remotely like peace.

When Richard eventually sailed for Ireland at the end of September 1394 he had with him an army in excess of 5,000 in number. With contingents assembled within Ireland the total force was close to 10,000, the largest force ever assembled to “make war against the Irishmen”, according to Froissart’s “Chroniques”, a contemporary account of the period. Ahead of his departure Richard wrote to the Duke of Burgundy stating that his purpose was “the punishment and correction of our rebels there, and to establish good government and just rule over our faithful lieges”.

Burning and Plundering

Richard remained in Ireland until 15th May 1395 by which time the majority of Irish chiefs had agreed that they were his lieges and that they held their lands of him. This, of course, is what had happened over 200 years earlier when Henry II mounted the first expedition by an English king to Ireland. The young Mortimer was left in charge, assisted by William Scrope. Like Strongbow and De Lacy after Henry II, they were kept busy putting down rebellions, burning and plundering, especially in Ulster.

Back in England things were not going too well for the Mortimers. In September 1397 Roger was ordered to arrest his uncle whom the king accused of treason for an alleged action ten years previously. Roger did no such thing and his brother-in-law Thomas Holland, Duke of Surrey was appointed Lieutenant of Ireland and ordered to capture Roger. By the time Holland was able to make his move however, Roger was dead, killed in a skirmish variously said to have taken place at Kells in County Meath or Kellistown, near Carlow.

Another Hereford connection to the Throne

The Lordship of Ireland and the role of heir to the English throne passed to Roger’s infant son. Five years later Richard was overthrown by his cousin the Lancastrian, Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Hereford, who was crowned Henry IV. Richard died, probably from starvation, whilst imprisoned in Pontefract castle.

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