Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March (born in 1391), was descended from the second surviving son of King Edward III – Lionel of Antwerp. Lionel had only one legitimate child (well at least that’s straight forward). Her name was Philippa. Her mother was Elizabeth de Burgh, Daughter of the Earl of Ulster. Edmund is not a York claimant to the throne. He is a Mortimer claimant – but he is the link that takes us from the Mortimers to the House of York.
Philippa, Lionel’s daughter, married Edmund Mortimer, third Earl of March – his grandfather had run off with her great-grandmother (Isabella of France) and plotted to overthrow and possibly murder her great-grandfather (Edward II). Philippa had four children. The one we are interested in for the purposes of this post is her eldest son Roger although the others will get a mention before the end. He became the 4th Earl of March as well as Earl of Ulster. So far so good – the Mortimer claim to the succession is good – though female in origin.
There are no Salic Laws in England to prevent a female claim to the throne. Henry IV tried to argue that his claim was better than Philippa’s and her descendents because he was a male. However, this was the same man who fought in France basing the English claim to the French throne on the fact the Edward III was Isabella of France’s son. When Charles IV of France died, Isabella and her descendants were the next closest claimants to the French throne – a fact which the French refused to accept based on their Salic Law. Henry IV was essentially trying to have his cake and eat it.
But back to the Mortimers – Roger, Philippa’s son, married Eleanor Holland- who adds to the blue blood running through the veins of the Mortimers with the blood of the Earls of Arundel and Henry III.
Roger, managed to get himself killed by the Irish when young Edmund, who this blog is about, was just six. This was unfortunate because Roger Mortimer’s claim to the throne was better than that of Henry Bolingbroke who went on to become King Henry IV. Roger was descended from the second son of Edward III while Henry was descended from the third son- John of Gaunt.
Richard II had recognized Roger as heir to the throne in 1385 according to one source. Other accounts suggest that Roger was walking a difficult tightrope in his cousin Richard II’s affections from which he could have easily fallen. Certainly after Roger’s death Mortimer’s lands were swiftly set upon by an avaricious king (Richard II as averse to Henry IV who was just as bad so far as Mortimer land was concerned).
Things went from bad to worse after Henry Bolingbroke usurped the throne. Edmund (now the 5th Earl of March) and his younger brother Roger became royal wards – they were in line for the succession after all and family as well… In reality, they were largely brought up in Windsor as prisoners. Edmund was not permitted anywhere near his estates.
Henry IV did have reason to feel nervous of the Mortimers. The boys had an uncle- helpfully also called Edmund- who felt that young Edmund had a better claim to the throne than Henry. Uncle Edmund felt so strongly about it that he joined up with Owain Glyndwr to rebel against Henry IV. Elizabeth Mortimer- the 5th earl’s aunt, wasn’t to be trusted either. She had been married to Henry “Hotspur” Percy who had died at the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403). In short Henry IV must have looked at his Mortimer cousins and regarded them as treacherous nuisances.
Just to complicate things that little bit further another cousin, Constance Plantagenet who was the daughter of Edmund of Langley, the 4th surviving son on Edward III, attempted to free Edmund and Roger Mortimer from Windsor in 1405. She thought if she could get them to Wales and Glyndwr that Edmund could be declared king. She wasn’t terribly keen on Henry IV although she’d kept her feelings hidden long enough to be trusted to care for Edmund and Roger. She was the widow of Thomas le Despenser, Earl of Gloucester who was executed for treason in 1400. Cousin Constance managed to get the two boys as far as Cheltenham before Henry IV caught up with them. What a happy family reunion it must have been for all concerned!
Things changed somewhat when Henry V ascended the throne in 1413. Edmund was knighted and finally allowed to inherit his estates. He married Anne Stafford, the daughter of the Duke of Buckingham and appears to have done so without asking Henry V’s permission because he was fined a huge amount of money for doing so. Interestingly there is no evidence that it was paid. In any event the 5th Earl of March, perhaps because of his somewhat dysfunctional childhood and adolescence, was a loyal and quiet subject to the Lancastrian Henry V before he died of plague in Ireland – and I’m sure by this stage you’re just as pleased as the regency council of baby Henry VI must have been- without any heirs.
Edmund’s younger brother Roger also died without an heir. So that was that, so far as a direct Mortimer claim to the throne was concerned.
However, a claim remained within the family – (I’ve nearly arrived at the York claim to the throne – hurrah!) Roger, the 4th Earl of March, and Eleanor Holland had four or five children – Edmund, the 5th Earl who died without an heir in 1425; Roger who died sometime around 1410 without an heir; Eleanor who did get married but when widowed became a nun – died without an heir; Alice, who according to Alison Weir might not even have existed and finally the eldest child of the family – Anne Mortimer.
Perhaps Henry IV would have been better locking her up because she married another cousin – Richard, Duke of Cambridge the son of Edmund of Langley. Edmund of Langley (the fourth surviving son of Edward III) was also the Duke of York. Richard’s sister was the rather daring Constance who managed to extract two small boys from their imprisonment in Windsor and get to Cheltenham with them before she was caught.
If Plantagenet family gatherings look as though they might have been somewhat difficult by the time of Henry VI’s birth in 1421 it is also worth remembering that Richard, Duke of Cambridge was part of the Southampton Plot of 1415. The plan was that the plotters would get rid of Henry V and replace him with Richard’s brother-in-law – i.e. Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March.
Edmund may have been involved in the plot up to his neck or there again he might not. The information is lost somewhere down the back of the sofa of history. Clearly Edmund got to thinking about the chances of the plot succeeding. He didn’t have to worry about hurting his sister’s feelings. She’d died four years previously. Edmund went to see Henry V to tell him all about the plot. Richard of Cambridge was executed.
However – Anne Mortimer left a son called Richard. He became Duke of York and never forgot that his claim to the throne was much better than that of King Henry VI.