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The Marauding Mortimers #1 of 4

Wigmore Castle as depicted in a Victorian print

Historians have suggested that one of the reasons the men from the Welsh border were so willing to come to Ireland is that they had achieved all they could and that they needed a new frontier to develop. Whatever their motivation, there was one man who believed there was still work to do at home. Roger Mortimer of Wigmore had been at loggerheads with his Welsh neighbours for years, closely watching two Welsh brothers Cadwallon ap Madog and Einion Clud dispute the ownership of land next to his, waiting for an opportunity to oust both.

In 1175 the brothers met Henry II at Gloucester and accepted a resolution of the dispute with each being granted a portion of the land. A year later Einion died and Cadwallon took possession of it all.

The Mortimer family had been granted possession of Wigmore by Henry I following the death of William FitzOsbern. FitzOsbern was a cousin and close associate of the conqueror and was the first to have been granted Earldoms under the new regime, those of Hereford, Worcester and Gloucester. He was responsible for building several other castles as well as Wigmore, including Striguil (Chepstow). On his death he seems to have been without heirs. His brother Osbern was already in England before the conquest, as the incumbent of a church in Sussex. By the time of William’s death Osbern was Bishop of Exeter.

Wrath of the King

Roger Mortimer’s ancestor Ralph was granted Wigmore whilst Chepstow went to the deClares and thence to Strongbow. In 1174, when Strongbow and deLacy were recalled from Ireland to assist Henry II in putting down the rebellion by his sons, Roger Mortimer joined them. Five years later he was to incur the wrath of the king when he found his chance to rid himself of the second of the brothers. Cadwallon had appeared at court to answer charges of waging war against the king’s peace. He was acquitted and granted free passage back to his land. A group of Mortimer’s men intercepted his party and Cadwallon was killed in the resultant melee. Whether or not Roger had authorised the attack, he got the blame and was imprisoned in Winchester for two years.

Richard I of England; photo credit wikipedia commons

During the reign of the absentee king Richard I, Roger returned to royal favour and in 1196 he was in action again, riding to the support of an army operating on behalf of William and Maud de Braose and routing the Welsh Lord Rhys (Rhys ap Gruffydd) at the battle of Radnor.

This Roger was the first of four men with the same name whose influence on English and Irish history were to be considerable over the next two centuries as the appellation leapfrogged across the generations. In future posts I shall write about the Roger Mortimer who had an affair with the queen of England, helped her to murder her husband and took the throne as her consort; the Roger Mortimer who ended Simon deMontfort’s rebellion and the Roger Mortimer who was killed in battle near Kells. Meanwhile I would strongly recommend anyone interested in these men and their activities to peruse the writings of Paul Remfry who has devoted many years to researching the history of Wigmore and the Mortimers.

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