Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March and Ulster

MORTIMER, EDMUND (IV) de, Earl of March and Ulster (1391–1425), was the son of Roger de Mortimer (VI), fourth earl of March and Ulster [q. v.], and his wife Eleanor Holland, and was born in the New Forest on 6 Nov. 1391 (Monasticon, vi. 355). In his seventh year he succeeded, by the untimely death of his father in Ireland, to the titles and estates of the Mortimers. As Richard II had already recognised his father as heir-presumptive to the throne, the young earl himself was now looked upon by Richard’s partisans as their future king. Next year (1399), however, the Lancastrian revolution and the fall of Richard entirely changed Edmund’s position and prospects. He was now put under guard at Windsor on the pretext that he was the king’s ward. His younger brother Roger also shared his captivity. The first parliament of Henry IV, by recognising the new king’s son as heir-apparent, excluded March from all prospects of the throne. But though careful to prevent the enemies of Lancaster getting hold of his person, Henry showed proper regard both for the honour and interests of his ward. In 1401 March was recognised as a coheir of his great-aunt Philippa, countess of Pembroke, and in 1409 as one of the coheirs of his uncle Edmund Holland, earl of Kent (Dugdale, Baronage, i. 151). He remained in the king’s custody (Adam of Usk, p. 61). On 5 July 1402 he was put under the care of Sir Hugh Waterton at Berkhampstead Castle, along with the king’s children, John and Philippa, and his own brother, Roger (Fœdera, viii. 268). The fact that his aunt was the wife of Hotspur was in itself sufficient to secure for him honourable treatment during Henry IV’s early years.

But the constant revolts of the Ricardian partisans, the defection of the Percies, and, above all, the association of his uncle, Sir Edmund Mortimer [q. v.], with Owen Glendower, made the safe custody of the Ricardian pretender essential to the security of the Lancastrian dynasty, especially after it became an avowed object of Glendower and his English associates to make the Earl of March king of England. Early in 1405 March and his brother were at Windsor, when on the early morning of 13 Feb. a bold attempt was made to carry them off to join Glendower and their uncle in Wales. A blacksmith was bribed to make false keys (Walsingham, Ypodigma Neustriæ, p. 412), and the children were successfully removed from the castle. They were, however, very soon recaptured, and Lady le Despenser, the daughter of Edmund of Langley, and the mistress of Edmund, earl of Kent, uncle of the two boys, was on 17 Feb. brought before the council charged with the offence (Ann. Hen. IV, p. 398; cf. Ramsay, Lancaster and York, i. 83-4). The question of the safe custody of the young Mortimers was brought before the council and measures taken that they should be henceforth guarded with even greater strictness, especially during the absence of the king (Ord. Privy Council, ii. 106, ed. [Nicolas). In 1406 they were put under the charge of Richard de Grey (Rolls of Parl. iii. 590). In 1409 the custody of the earl (his brother Roger died about this time) was confided to Henry, prince of Wales, afterwards Henry V (Tyler, Henry V, i. 236-7 ; Monasticon, vi. 355). March still remained under restraint until Henry IV’s death in 1413. ; At the time of the coronation of Henry V, revolts in favour of the Mortimer claims to the throne were still expected (Religieux de Saint-Denys, iv. 770, in ‘Documents Inedits’). Nevertheless, Henry V felt his position so assured that he released March from confinement and restored him to his estates. (Lords’ Report on the Dignity of a Peer, v. 170). In the next parliament March performed homage and took his seat. The day before Henry’s coronation he had been made a knight of the Bath (Doyle).

March repaid Henry’s generosity by fidelity that withstood the severest temptations. His friends urged him to claim his rights, and his confessors imposed penances upon him for his negligence in asserting them (Ellis, Original Letters, 2nd ser. i. 44-9 ; Nicolas, Battle of Agincourt, App. pp. 19-20). At last, in 1415, Richard, earl of Cambridge [q. v.], who had married Mortimer’s sister Anne, formed a plot to take him to Wales and have him proclaimed king there (ib. p. 19). March’s own relations to the plot are not easy to determine. It is clear that he was sounded carefully, and the confessions of the conspirators represent that he had entered to a considerable extent into their plans (Ellis, Original Letters, 2nd. ser. i. 45, ‘by his owne assent;’ Deputy-Keeper’s Forty-Third Report, pp. 582-94). It seems at least certain that a dependent of his, named Lucy, who acted as a go-between, was implicated. But March’s own account was that he refused to join the conspirators. Anyhow, he divulged all that he knew to the king, whether under pressure or spontaneously is not quite clear (Gesta Hen. V, Engl. Hist. Soc. ; Monstrelet, ii. 81, ed. Douët d’Arcq). Henry fully accepted March’s protestations, and continued to regard him with high favour, putting him on the commission which on 5 Aug. condemned Cambridge to immediate execution (Rot. Parl. iv.64-6). Immediately afterwards March accompanied Henry V on his first invasion of France, appearing with a following of sixty men-at-arms and 160 horse archers (Nicolas, p. 373). During the siege of Harfleur March suffered severely from the prevailing epidemic of dysentery (Walsingham, Hist. Angl. ii. 309 ; Capgrave, Chron. p. 311), and was allowed to return home, though he is often said to have been one of those present at Agincourt. In 1416 March again saw service, being appointed on 15 Aug. as one of the king’s captains at sea over the expedition sent to relieve Harfleur, under the command of John, duke of Bedford, and Sir Walter Hungerford. He served again in 1417 and 1418 in the army which invaded and conquered Normandy. He was at the head of ninety-three lances and 302 archers (App. to Gesta Hen. V, p. 266). In the spring of 1418 he made an attack on the Cotentin, and besieged Saint-L6, and was later joined by Gloucester, who took the town (Chron. Norm, in Gesta. Hen. V, pp. 231-2). After the capture of Cherbourg had completed the conquest of the Cotentin, March rejoined Henry V at Rouen at the end of November (ib. p. 241). On 12 June 1418 he was appointed atLouviers lieutenant in the marches of Normandy (Doyle, ii. 470), and in October 1418 lieutenant of the baillages of Caen and Coutances. On 27 Aug. 1419 he was further nominated as captain of Mantes (ib. ; cf. App. to Gesta Hen. V, p. 277). In July 1420 March was at the siege of Melun (ib. p. 144). He remained with Henry in France, until in February 1421 he returned with the king and his new wife, Catharine of France, to London, travelling from Rouen by way of Amiens and Calais (Chron. Norm, apud Gesta Hen. V, p. 257). On 21 Feb. he bore the first sceptre at the coronation of the queen at Westminster. In June 1421 March accompanied Henry on his third and last expedition to France. He took part in the siege of Meaux in January 1422, lodging at the house of the Cordeliers (ib. pp. 260-79). After Henry’s death he returned to England and was nominated a member of the council of regency established on 9 Dec. 1422, and on 9 May 1423 was appointed, as his father and grandfather had been, lieutenant of Ireland, with power, however,to select a deputy (Fœdera. 282). That power he at once exercised in favour of Edward Dantsey, bishop of Meath, and remained in England. But troubles now beset him. His cousin (Grafton) or illegitimate uncle (Sandford), Sir John Mortimer, who had been arrested in 1421 as a suspected traitor, had escaped in 1422, but being recaptured in 1424 was attainted and executed. Even before this Humphrey, duke of Gloucester [q. v.], the protector, had become jealous of March for his keeping open house, and had violently quarrelled with him (Chron. ed. Giles, p. 6). The result was that March was now sent out of the way to Ireland. On 14 Feb. 1424 shipping was ordered for his journey. It was high time he went, for many of the Irish lords were questioning the authority of his deputy, and the chronic confusion there was getting worse than ever. So far back as 1407 great loss had been inflicted on his Irish estates by the invasion of Ulster by the Earl of Orkney (Adam of Usk, p. 61). After his arrival March busied himself in negotiating with the native septs, who held nearly all his nominal earldom of Ulster; but on 19 Jan. 1425 he was cut off suddenly by the plague.

By his wife Anne, daughter of Edmund de Stafford, earl of Stafford, Edmund left no family, and as his brother Roger had predeceased him, the male line of the earls of March became extinct, while the Mortimer estates went to Richard, duke of York, son of Richard of Cambridge and Anne Mortimer, who was now recognised as Earl of March and Ulster (Rot. Parl. iv. 397). Dugdale (Baronage, i. 151-2) gives a list of the places of which March was seized at the time of his death. His widow, who had some difficulty in getting her dower from Humphrey of Gloucester, the guardian of the Mortimer estates, married, before 1427, John Holland, earl of Huntingdon (afterwards duke of Exeter), and died a few years later. At her request John Lydgate [q. v.] wrote his ‘Life of St. Margaret.’

The friendly Wigmore chronicler describes Edmund as ‘severe in his morals, composed in his acts, circumspect in his talk, and wise and cautious during the days of his adversity. He was surnamed “the Good,” by reason of his exceeding kindness’ (Monasticon, vi. 355). A poem attributed to Lydgate describes him as ‘gracious in all degree’ (Nicolas, Agincourt, p. 306).

March was the founder of a college of secular canons at Stoke-by-Clare in Suffolk. In that village there had long been a small Benedictine priory, which was a cell of Bee in Normandy. Richard II had freed the house from the rule of Bee by making it ‘indigenous.’ But though thus technically saved, it seemed likely to be involved in the common destruction now impending on all the ‘alien priories.’ March got permission from Pope John XXII, in a bull dated 16 Nov. 1414, to ‘secularize’ the foundation. The royal assent was also given. In 1421 March augmented its revenues, and in 1423 drew up statutes for it. In its final form the college was for a dean and six prebendaries (Monasticon, vi. 1415-1423). A charter of March to his Welsh follower Maredudd ap Adda Moel is printed in the ‘Montgomeryshire Collections,’ x. 59-60, of the Powysland Club.

[Dugdale’s Monasticon, vi. 355; Dugdale’s Baronage, i. 150–2; Doyle’s Official Baronage, i. 470; Nicolas’s Battle of Agincourt; Rymer’s Fœdera; Adam of Usk, ed. Thompson; Annales Henrici IV, apud Trokelowe, Rolls Ser.; Monk of Evesham, ed. Hearne; Gesta Henrici V, ed. Williams, Engl. Hist. Soc.; Ellis’s Original Letters, 2nd ser. vol. i.; Ramsay’s Lancaster and York, vol. i.; Wylie’s Henry IV.; Stubbs’s Const. Hist. vol. iii.; Gilbert’s Viceroys of Ireland, pp. 319–20; Tyler’s Henry V.]

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 39
Mortimer, Edmund de (1391-1425) by Thomas Frederick Tout

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