The Early Mortimers of Wigmore, 1066 to 1181

There has in recent years been much interest shown in the family of Mortimer which has recently led to a new society being formed for descendants of these people and those just generally interested in the history they were involved in.  It therefore seems an appropriate time to place on the record the history of two early members of the Mortimer clan, the first two lords of Wigmore in the Welsh Marches.

Over the last five hundred years it has become fashionable to name various lords and barons by ‘their number'.  Thus we get Ralph Mortimer I, II and III as well as a host of Roger Mortimers.  Indeed this method of naming barons was used as early as the thirteenth century by the Lestranges of Knockin, but they were more extreme than most, having seven John Lestranges in a row from 1133 to 1322.  The Mortimers of Wigmore were quite different from this, never having a father succeeded by a son of the same name.  Therefore they never used any numeric designations as they would have been simply meaningless.  Would you call yourself Roger II if the last person of your name had died over thirty years ago?  This relatively modern trend has of course led to confusion as mistakes are easy to make.  Thus two William Braoses are often compressed into one and somebody's William III is often the William IV of someone else.  Since looking at this modern manmade problem I early concluded that the only answer was to call the man in question Roger Mortimer (d.1214), rather than an ambiguous and often positively misleading Roger Mortimer II.  At least using this method everyone knows for certain who you are talking about.

The purpose of this short essay is to look at the first two Mortimer lords of Wigmore and show that they were not really four as is often stated without a single shred of contemporary evidence.  The first thing we know about the Mortimers of Wigmore in England is that a Hugh Mortimer was said by Wace, a near contemporary source, to have fought at the battle of Hastings in 1066.  This man has been dismissed by many historians on the simple grounds that there was no Hugh Mortimer of Wigmore....  A quick glance at French chartulary sources shows that such a man is documented in Normandy before 1066 as the second son of Roger Mortimer of St Victors, the ancestor of the Mortimers of Wigmore.  He is not mentioned after 1066.  The man who does become the first of the Mortimers of Wigmore is not mentioned until the Domesday book of 1086 when he held Wigmore.  There can be little doubt that he, as the son of Roger Mortimer of St Victors, was a younger, probably half-brother of the well attested Hugh Mortimer who appears to have fallen at Hastings or soon afterwards.  This Ralph Mortimer was given massive estates by King William the Conqueror which left him a major baron not only in the Welsh borders, but also in Lincolnshire, and, when his father died around 1078, Normandy.

I will not here go into Ralph's career, but will continue with disposing of his supposed death and supposed son, the alleged Ralph Mortimer II.  The real Ralph Mortimer left England for Normandy in 1104, and according to one fourteenth century source died there.  This has led to the ill-conceived statement that he died that year.  Orderic mentions him fighting in France that year.  Later, in 1115, he was still holding his lands in Lindsay and was probably involved in the Aumale rebellion of 1118, when his daughter Hawise was said to be a prime mover in the revolt.  Stephen and his family rebelled again in 1126/27.  One of these rebellions seems to have lost Ralph his English lands.  Similarly Philip Braose (bef.1060-1138) of Radnor and Buellt was dispossessed for treason between 1110 and 1112 due to his actions on the Norman frontier.  Mahel, the son and heir of Bernard Neufmarché (bef.1065-1121), was dispossessed of Brecon on a technicality around 1121, the land instead was granted with Bernard's daughter to Miles Gloucester (bef.1100-43), one of Henry's staunchest supporters.  There can be little doubt that Ralph Mortimer was dispossessed around this time by King Henry I and the lordship of Wigmore, like many other Marcher lordships, found their way into the hands of the king's lieutenant, Pain Fitz John (bef.1095-37).

The Mortimer Genealogy

It is possible that Pain Fitz John held some family claim to Wigmore lordship.  Pain's brother Eustace Fitz John (bef.1094-1157), together with Stephen of Aumale, held many of the Mortimer lands in the Lindsay district of Lincolnshire.  Eustace's lands went on to become part of the barony of Vescy, held from the Mortimers of Wigmore.  In 1187 it was said that the barony was held from:

    the fee of Roger Mortimer, the service of which was given to a predecessor of William [Vescy] in marriage.

William Vescy (bef.1140-83) was the son of Eustace Fitz John.  It is therefore almost certain that this claim to the Lindsay lands came through the marriage of John Fitz Richard, the father of Pain and Eustace, to a daughter of Ralph Mortimer.  If this assumption is correct it would suggest that Ralph Mortimer had two children by his first wife Miliscenda.  She was remembered in 1102 or 1103 in a joint charter by Stephen of Aumale, his wife Hawise, and her father, Ralph Mortimer.  Miliscenda had died before March 1088 by which time Ralph was married to Mabile.  Stephen of Aumale's wife, Hawise Mortimer, was born before 1085 as she was married to Stephen before 1100.  If this suggestion is correct she probably had an elder sister who was born before 1080 and was mother via John 'Monoculus' Fitz Richard (bef.1076-1101+) of Eustace, Pain and William Fitz John (bef.1101-63).  Thus when King Henry granted Wigmore lordship to Pain Fitz John he was granting it to a grandson of the previous lord, Ralph Mortimer.  Pain is recorded as losing Cymaron castle in 1134 and no doubt also much of the Middle March by the time of his death in 1137.  Certainly by 1140 much of central Wales appears to have been held by the native dynasty of Rhwng Gwy a Hafren under the shadowy Madog ab Idnerth.

Madog ab Idnerth died in 1140 and probably around the same time Hugh Mortimer (bef.1117-81), the son of Ralph Mortimer, was restored to Wigmore by King Stephen.  As has been noted, the idea has grown up in recent times that there were as many as two Ralph Mortimers and two Hugh Mortimers between 1075 and 1181 on the simple, but illogical grounds that Normans could not live into a reasonable old age.  However all contemporary documentation as well as the fifteenth century Mortimer genealogy show categorically that there were only two men.  Certainly the Hugh Mortimer who died in 1181 ‘in his old age' made a charter in 1162 which named his father as Ralph.  Therefore there could not have been two successive Hugh Mortimers as no Hugh Mortimer is recorded as dying between 1162 and 1181.  If a lord of Wigmore had died in that period evidence for this would certainly have appeared in the pipe rolls which are complete for this period and show that the debts of Hugh did not change.  There is a further fact that the Hugh Mortimer who died in 1181 was recorded as having two sons who were of age from 1173 at the latest.  These were Roger Mortimer (d.1214) and Hugh Mortimer of Chelmarsh who died in 1202.  These men were obviously the children of a marriage that had taken place before 1153, of which more shall be said below.  There simply is no contemporary evidence to divide the forty odd year career of this Hugh Mortimer into two.

As we have seen Ralph Mortimer had two wives, which goes a long way to explaining the longevity of his son Hugh as lord of Wigmore.  Ralph was apparently still alive in Normandy in 1137 when he was at least 77 years old.  His son Hugh Mortimer (d.1181) was obviously from his second marriage and lived to be at least 64.  These are hardly exceptional ages.  Hugh's son Roger Mortimer (d.1214) made at least 61 and no one has deemed it correct to divide him into a father and son of the same name.  It should also be noticed that Hugh Mortimer (d.1181) did not marry until he was at least thirty, and then he married a widow, Matilda Le Meschin (bef.1121-bef.1180), whose own husband, Philip Belmeis, had only died around 1148.  The Roger Mortimer who succeeded Hugh was born before 1153, so the likelihood is that he was the son of this union.

There is then the Roger Mortimer (bef.1119-50/62) who is intruded into the main Mortimer of Wigmore line during the Anarchy solely on the grounds that he led King Stephen's troops in the south-west of England in 1139.  This Roger did exist and was the younger brother of Hugh (bef.1117-81).  Indeed Hugh even made a charter for the soul of his dead brother in the summer of 1162 when he confirmed the lands of his Norman abbey of St Victor en Caux.  In this interesting document Hugh names his ancestors.  It was stated that the grantor was Hugh Mortimer, the son of Ralph Mortimer the son of Roger Mortimer and all three men had granted estates to St Victors.  We know from other surviving records that the first Roger Mortimer (bef.1020-78+) had raised St Victors into an abbey so here in a nutshell we have the first two lords of Wigmore and their progenitor.  The imaginary Ralph Mortimer II and Hugh Mortimer I fade back into the non-historic past that they had been called forth from.  Obviously there is not one shred of contemporary evidence to justify the modern misconception of rewriting the original Mortimer genealogy which appears to have been written between 1398 and 1402.

Full details of this genealogy with all the sources are given in Remfry, P.M., Wigmore Castle, 1066 to 1181 and a much fuller account of the Mortimer family is to be found in Remfry, P.M. The History and Castles of Radnorshire [2008].


Copyright©2009 Paul Martin Remfry

  • Index

  • Home