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Dead #otd: Roger Mortimer

There are a couple of death dates I know by heart: Being Swedish, I know the death date of Karl XII who died in Norway November 30, 1718 purportedly having been shot by one of his own with a button. Hmm. Since then the button part has been dismissed, but whether or not he was shot by a Swede who had had it with this very bellicose king we will never know. I also know the death date of Gustav II Adolf who sadly died on November 6, 1632. Note the month peeps, and then it may not be a surprise that another of those death dates I know by heart is that of Roger Mortimer, first Earl of March, who died on November 29, 1330. In other words, he died today – well, 687 years ago, but still.
Bishop beheading-650x387Opinions about Roger Mortimer are divided. I belong to those who see in him a man of great capacity and ambition who was ultimately corrupted by power. Alternatively, some of his more questionable actions were driven by fear: Mortimer was no fool, and the older Edward III became, the closer he knew the day of reckoning was coming, because Edward III was as capable, as ruthless, as ambitious, as Mortimer himself and would not tolerate being on a leash forever.
I have in a previous post told the story of how Edward, some weeks shy of eighteen, had Mortimer arrested, using the famous tunnels under Nottingham Castle to get to him. Mortimer was hogtied and transported back to London where he was walled up in a room in the Tower as Edward didn’t want a repeat of Mortimer’s famous escape from the Tower eight years before.
I assume they left a little hole through which to pass victuals, water and a chamber pot, because a month later Mortimer was condemned to death by the assembled parliament. He had no opportunity to speak in his defence, the king ordering him to be gagged and bound. In one way, Edward’s personal rule therefore began under the stain of illegality – an accused man had the right to answer charges brought against him.
As Mortimer was found guilty of treason (usurping the young king’s power could be considered treasonous I suppose, but at the same time it was Mortimer who’d secured the throne for Edward III) he could have been condemned to suffer that rather awful death of being hanged, drawn and quartered. Edward chose to go for the drawn and hanged version, and I suspect Mortimer shivered in relief. To die with dignity was difficult if you were first hanged until you were almost dead, cut down, castrated, disembowelled while still alive, and then mercifully killed by the separation of your heart from your body. Rephrase: not so merciful…

HDQ 300px-Drawing_of_William_de_Marisco
Alternative A

On this day in 1330, Mortimer was drawn through the streets of London to Tyburn where he was divested of his clothes and hanged until dead. Mind you, by the time he reached Tyburn, his fine black tunic would probably have been in shreds – being drawn behind horses caused a lot of wear and tear.
HDQ harclay-man-drawn
Alternative B

Now, one thing I’ve always wondered is if Mortimer had his hands or his legs tied to the horses. There are medieval depictions of men being drawn either way, and I suppose that if it was by your legs, chances were your head would be badly knocked about. By your arms, you’d have the dubious pleasure of seeing the surrounding crowds as they catcalled and pelted you with whatever objects they felt you deserved, be it rotten eggs, stones, mud or the odd veggie.
My soon-to-come book In The Cold Light of Dawn will of course have to address this issue. I can reveal that I have made a choice of arms vs legs purely based on what works best for the specific scene I have in mind. “My” Mortimer (who now and then takes up a lot of space in my head – I’d say we have a close relationship after all these years reading up on him. He doesn’t agree, as he is still sulking at my refusal to go alternate history on him and change the events in Nottingham) has expressed a preference and I’ve decided to go with his choice. After all, the end result is still the same: a forty-three-year-old man standing naked and shivering as he offers a short speech before the noose around his neck is drawn tight and he is heaved up to die. Takes some time to die when you’re hanged that way as your neck isn’t broken by the fall…
Anyway: once I’ve recovered from the pang of grief I always feel on this date I will do what I usually do on this day (and on November 6. Not so much November 30 as I don’t rate Karl XII as much of a king. Weird man who indulged in such hobbies as beating bears with cudgels…) I will light a candle and hope Roger Mortimer’s soul is at rest.
(NOTE! This is a rewritten version of the post I was asked to write for the FB Group The History Geeks)

9 thoughts on “Dead #otd: Roger Mortimer”

  1. I’m not sure where I stand on Mortimer’s earlier actions, but he deserved his traitor’s death. Whether or not he helped Edward to his crown, he clung onto power long after he should have given it up. I often wonder if he thought he could keep Edward powerless indefinitely – at least until he himself died.

    1. I’m not exactly sure how he committed treason…Did he usurp the king’s power? yes – together with the king’s mother. Did he betray the king? Hmm. Should he have bowed out at an earlier date? I’m not sure he dared, fearful of the potential retribution that could have come his way.

      1. True enough, April, but at the time Roger was one of the regents so officially he was supposed to rule. I think what happened was that Edward began to fear neither of his regents had any inclination to give up the ruling and so he had to act.
        I also think that Roger and Edward had moments in which their relationship was quite harmonius. And as Edward was crowned king at the tender age of fourteen it seems reasonable Mortimer & Isabella “clung to power” for 4-5 years, as the rule of a minor was undesirable.

  2. Karl XII and a button? Reminds me of the story of Bonnie Dundee who was supposedly killed by a silver button at the battle of Killiecrankie.
    I also always remember the date of the death of Gustav II Adolf. Partly because he is one of my heroes and partly because the date is my birthday. The year is wrong though – I am no spring chicken but I am not that ancient either!
    As for Roger Mortimer, he got what he meted out to others, so no regrets there.

    1. Not so sure I agree re Roger meting out death to others… Well, with the exceptionof Hugh Despenser who certainly had it coming. In fact, Mortimer reinstated some sort of order in England ending the years when Edward II and his favourite ruled by fear rather than law. But yes, over time power corrupts, and the Roger of 1330 was probably in many ways very different from the man of 1326

  3. April, you accuse Roger of clinging to power long after he should have given it up. We do not know the age of majority. In two previous minorities, Henry 111 of England and Louis Ix the age was 20/21. Both men were 20 , or a few months short in Henry’s case.
    And what a horrible thing to say he deserved his traitor’s death. No one in my book deserves to be walled up , stripped naked and hanged.
    Most if not all regents were reluctant to give up power too quickly. Hubert De Burgh was still there after the majority and didn’t step down until Henry was 24. And no one has ever called Hubert a traitor or Marie de Medici who was also reluctant to hand over her power much less execute them for treason. It seems to me that Roger was doing the same as Hubert did, slowly give the monarch more power over the years.

  4. Suzanne, what a really horrible thing to say, he got what he meted out to others. If you are talking about the Despensers, a bit of research would reveal there were about 5 other judges who also had a say as well as him in Despenser’s fate. Also Queen Isabella was adamant that both go- even more so than Mortimer. One man on his own could not have decided that, it wasn’t up to him.

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