King at last, or how Edward III overthrew Roger Mortimer

isabella-at-the-siege-of-bristol1326

 

King, but not ruling

Edward III’s reign officially began on 25th January 1327 following the abdication of his father, Edward II. Edward II had been forced to abdicate by his wife, Queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, following their invasion of England in September of the previous year.

Edward III was only thirteen when he became king and Isabella and Mortimer were the de facto rulers of England. Mortimer surrounded the king with spies so that Edward’s actions were constrained. Edward even had to agree a secret code with the pope so that the latter would know which letters purporting to come from the king really were from him.

Worrying Times

By October 1330 a few things had happened which would have made the young king worry about his personal safety. Edward II had been notoriously healthy, yet he died in September 1427 after only eight months of imprisonment and his body, contrary to custom, was not displayed before it was buried. This led many to believe that he had been murdered on Mortimer’s orders.

In March 1330 Edward III had been forced to acquiesce to the execution of his uncle, the Earl of Kent, an event so terrible and unexpected that it proved difficult to find someone willing to carry out the execution.

On 15th June 1330 Edward of Woodstock, Edward III’s first son, was born. This did not necessarily increase Edward’s immediate danger. It was not unusual for children, even the children of kings, to die very young. Of Edward’s thirteen children, four lived no more than a few of days and only six reached their twenties. If  Mortimer wanted a boy he could manipulate until he was of an age to rule in his own right, they would have to make sure they chose the right one before they disposed of Edward.

What did present an immediate danger to Edward was the rumour that his mother was pregnant. During the previous four years Mortimer had been behaving as if he were the king, even taking precedence over the king at public events. If he were to have a son by Isabella, his ambition was such that he might depose (and kill) Edward in his son’s favour. He had many supporters, so such a possibly would not have been unthinkable to a man who had already deposed a king.

The big question mark in all of this is how far Isabella would have gone along with her lover. She was close to her son and it’s difficult to imagine her agreeing either to his deposition or his murder, even if she was carrying Mortimer’s child. This in turn raises the question of how much influence she had over Mortimer by this stage.

The king takes action

Regardless of whether he thought his mother could prevent his being killed or not, Edward was sufficiently concerned to lead a few trusted men against Mortimer on the evening of 19th October 1330. Mortimer had been alerted by his spies that something was being planned, but they didn’t know the details. Mortimer did everything he could to ensure his own safety. Many of the king’s closest companions had been questioned. Edward’s supporters were not permitted to lodge in Nottingham Castle, where the king, Mortimer and Queen Isabella were staying. The castle guards were told to obey Mortimer’s orders, not those of the king, and Queen Isabella held the keys to the castle. All of these things were, of course, an insult to the king.

The king’s friends, led by William Montague, rode out of Nottingham Castle very conspicuously and re-entered the castle secretly through a small gate which had been left open for them. They joined the king, and Mortimer was arrested. Edward wanted to kill him there and then, but cooler heads prevailed and Mortimer was taken away to London where he was tried. He was hanged just over a month after his arrest.

 

20 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century

20 responses to “King at last, or how Edward III overthrew Roger Mortimer

  1. Ah – when you play the Game of Thrones you live or die – there is no middle ground

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I never did like that strong-man Mortimer. Good riddance!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a remarkable young man Edward III was. I suspect he took after his mother.

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  4. Pingback: Medieval Outlaws | A Writer's Perspective

  5. jayne Smith

    There is no proof Isabella and Mortimer were lovers . She was a proud French Princess and IMHO would not have done that. They were a partnership working together however

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    • Whilst there’s no proof that they were lovers, there are some indications that they might have been. Whatever the nature of their relationship was, it was close enough to cause a scandal in the French court, which they had to leave.

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  6. I think yes they were lovers. Jean Le Bel says they were and mentions the pregnancy rumor, he would have known them. Froissart also mention the pregnancy, he knew Queen Philippa. Isabella made a will settling her property on Roger. They also went away for weeks in 1328 alone and spent several Christmases together. This does not sound like work colleagues to me. Why couldn’t Roger spend Christmas with his wife?

    As for the pregnancy rumour, I believe it and that this was very likely the main reason for their downfall. No, I don’t believe Mortimer was going to put his own kid on the throne support or no support( I thought he had none at that stage apart from a few allies who had a meeting the night of their arrest) but regardless his own claim to the throne was weak.
    He was a second cousin of Edward 11 other people were higher in the queue. Isabella had no claim whatsoever. An illegitimate child or any such child of such a baron would never be accepted as king, and it was likely that such a child would have been taken off them and given to someone else outside the court to rear to avoid shame.
    I very much doubt if Isabella would have wanted to depose her son in favour of another or kill him. And I think Mortimer would have lost any goodwill she had towards him if he tried that.
    If he really wanted to kill Edward 111 he’d have done it long before. Edward was expendable all along as he had a younger brother.
    It doesn’t make sense that he let Edward 111 marry and have a son if he wanted to make himself king.

    Finally, Mortimer has been taken to task by historians for his remarks to obey his orders and not the king’s and for demanding that the keys be given to Isabella. We should not forget he was fighting for his life and was frightened especially as he knew there was some plot against him. Any of us would have done the same.

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    • Kathryn Warner is fairly persuasive that they weren’t lovers. It’s impossible to know now, but Isabella let him get away with some dreadful behaviour, which might indicate that they were very close. I doubt that Mortimer had any thought of putting a son of his own on the throne, but the regent of a baby would have had power for a lot longer than the man behind the throne of a young man able to make and keep loyal friends who had no reason to like Mortimer. Edward III was a real threat to him, but Edward of Woodstock could have been controlled and manipulated.

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  7. Reading Kathryn’s blog posts and her books, she seems to take a middle of the road position. Some times she says there’s no evidence that they were but leaves open the possibility that they might have been. Yes I believe they were close, they went off for weeks by themselves. I think you mean by the dreadful behaviour – the Earl of Kent’s execution? As for the pregnancy it might have been a threat to Edward – maybe he was afraid that his own parentage would be questioned and rumours would fly around that Mortimer was his father?
    Also there was the real threat of excommunication.
    I have heard that Mortimer may have wanted to bump off Edward so he could rule through the Black Prince.
    In my book , that would have been a bit too obvious as fingers would have been pointed at him as he had already helped depose a king. Rumours were spreading that he killed Edward 11, so I don’t think Philippa would have let him near her son and regardless of this scenario there seems to have been a lot of tension between both couples.
    It seems very risky for something that wasn’t guaranteed/ not inherited etc I don’t think anyone has an automatic right to be regent and in any case Philippa would have demanded a say in ruling the Black Prince and probably John of Eltham too.
    Just my two cents – how I wish I could go back in time to see if I am right

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