Bulletin 421

April 2018

On the Trail of the Mortimers from a talk by Philip Hume

The Mortimers were “big” in the Border area, and don’t really need a ‘trail – they were everywhere, even if now the only common surviving use of the name is Mortimers Cross, on the way to Wigmore, but it was only a late addition.

We know of the Mortimers as a family introduced to this area following the Conquest by William of Normandy, who was a friend of the very first Mortimers, (who took his name from a transitory Castle in Northern France) but who was not present at Hastings, and it was his son, Ralph, who came across 10 years later, and was offered property hereabouts, and who entered the annals by dealing with the rampaging Eric Streona – “the wild”, some time before Domesday.  He was offered Wigmore, after a frequent occurrence – a revolt by the original family, and at Domesday, was shown to have 12 manors across Hereford and Shropshire, and 100 manors altogether across England – from Somerset to Lincolnshire!  This actually fits in with King William’s scheme in rewarding his feudal nobility – in spreading their ownership so widely, to possibly prevent them from being such large local landowners, that they could become the focus of localized dissent against the Crown.

During the “Anarchy” of the mid 1100s, Hugh was loyal to Stephen, but when Henry II materialized, switched his allegiance.  He married a Welsh lady of noble descent, and this began their entry into “Wales”, via Radnor and further, which gave him some extra clout which he was soon able to use.

This was nicely demonstrated later, when during the reign of King John (who couldn’t be more unpopular), Hugh I gathered a group of local Barons nearby, to offer support to the beleaguered King, – this was probably at Baron’s Cross near Leominster, which did actually happen elsewhere as well!

During the reign of King Henry III, who was not a bright spark, there was much unrest, lead by Simon de Montfort, who actually captured the King and Prince Edward, who escaped with the help of the Mortimers, and then who brought them his new Welsh allies to support the Crown at the Battle of Evesham.  Prince Edward put captured local territory into the care of Roger Mortimer, which included Kington, and he introduced a Welsh friend as the new occupant of Hergest Court, lately vacated by the de Braose family after King John’s attentions.  However, Roger’s brother in law Humphrey de Bohun, who had also married a de Braose heiress, was able to split the inheritance which included Kington, for him, which was how the Mortimers really influenced the history of Kington.

This was one feature of the Mortimer family – advantageous marriages to heiresses (some very young) plus often long lived chiefs, and lots of sons in case of trouble.

This happened again when Roger IV, aged 14yrs, married Joan, aged 15, (heiress of Ludlow Castle,) in Pembridge Church, which the Mortimers then had rebuilt, and by the same team which had just completed the rebuilding of the nave of Kington Church.

However, the most enduring legacy of the Mortimer marriage occurred in the early 1400s when a daughter married a Royal Prince, whose descendent was Edward of York, of Ludlow, which kicked off the Wars of the Roses, later eventually wound up when the Lancastrian victor (Henry VII), a de Bohun descendant!, married a York Princess, a descendant of the Mortimers, and the rest is history.

(That young Roger IV, when he became truly important in the reign of Edward III, selected the title, “Earl of March”, rather than just plain County name, and this fell into disuse in Tudor times, but in fact still exists, but is from the descent of a Scottish title, coming into prominence in the reign of Charles II.)

Review JR.