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Transcript of Ian Mortimer The Medieval Mortimer Ian Mortimer The Medieval Mortimer Family An outline lineage This...

  • Ian Mortimer

    The Medieval Mortimer Family

    An outline lineage

    This document lays out the basic genealogies of the various medieval families that bore the Anglo-

    Norman name ‘de Mortemer’ or its Latin equivalent, ‘de Mortuo Mari’ and the later anglicised

    variations, such as ‘Mortimer’ and ‘Mortymer’. The prime purpose is to distinguish between the

    major landowners who appear in the pre-1500 records. It is not an attempt to identify all the

    significant individuals called ‘Mortimer’; still less is it an attempt to show speculatively how they

    all might be related. Although it is tempting to say that the medieval Mortimer families all descend

    from Roger fitz Ralph, lord of Mortemer-sur-Eaulne, who was known after 1054 as Roger de

    Mortemer, the evidence is not strong enough to prove the matter one way or another. Thus they

    are each dealt with separately.

    The arrangement is as follows. The oldest family is dealt with first, in part one, this being the

    Mortimers of Wigmore. Their genealogy is followed by that of each cadet family, arranged in order

    of the date at which it branched off from the main line. Next, in part two, the Mortimers of

    Attleborough appear, with their cadet families, again in order. The Mortimers of Wilsthorpe and

    their probable branches are dealt with in part three. Some notes on the Mortimers of Coedmore

    form part four, and on the obscure Mortimer families of Cliffe, Kent, and Cuckfield, Sussex, parts

    five and six. Finally, there is an appendix dealing with the origin of the family in Scotland.

    1a. The Mortimers of Wigmore, Herefordshire

    1b. The Mortimers of Chelmarsh, Shropshire, and Luton, Bedfordshire

    1c. The Mortimers of Chirk, Denbighshire, and Tedstone Wafer, Herefordshire

    1d. The Mortimers of Great Bromley, Essex

    1e. The Mortimers of Couhé, Poitou

    2a. The Mortimers of Attleborough, Norfolk, and Kingston, Cambridgeshire

    2b. The Mortimers of Richard’s Castle, Herefordshire

    2c. The Mortimers of Bec, Normandy

    2d. The Mortimers of Preston, Suffolk

    3a. The Mortimers of Wilsthorpe, Lincolnshire, and Helpston, Northamptonshire

    3b. The Mortimers of Ingoldsby and Dunsby, Lincolnshire

    3c. The Mortimers of Tholthorpe, Yorkshire, and Eakley, Buckinghamshire

    3d. The Mortimers of Grendon, Northamptonshire

    4. The Mortimers of Coedmore, Cardiganshire

    5. The Mortimers of Cliffe, Kent

    6. The Mortimers of Cuckfield, Sussex

    Appendix: The Origins of the Scottish Mortimers



    The distinction between the various families has largely been predicated by heraldry. Basically, if a

    cadet branch used different arms from the main line, it has been regarded as a separate family,

    even if its ancestry is well evidenced. A single generation using arms that are merely differenced

    has not been treated as a cadet branch. In considering the heraldic evidence, however, readers

    should remember that the Mortimer family is much older than the practice of heraldry, and that

    heraldic rules and symbols of difference did not emerge overnight. The earliest known instances

    of distinctive arms in England date from the middle of the twelfth century but they were not

    initially universal. Nor were they necessarily hereditary. Before about 1190, two brothers might

    have borne completely different shields. In the later thirteenth century, certain families chose to

    change their arms completely (the Mortimers of Richard’s Castle and those of Grendon are

    examples). The fact that the Mortimers of Richard’s Castle and Bec previously used near-identical

    arms shows the design of barry of six, or and vert, with a semy of fleurs-de-lys counterchanged was in use

    before the fall of Normandy in 1204 and probably during the lifetime of their father, Robert

    Mortimer of Essex (fl. 1168-80). But the lord of Richard’s Castle still opted for a completely new

    design about 1275 – for reasons that remain unknown.

    It is useful also to be aware that most of the Mortimer families followed a common naming pattern:

    they named the eldest legitimate son after his paternal grandfather. The Mortimers of Wigmore

    followed this from the eleventh century all the way down to the extinction of the male line of the

    family in 1425 with only one possible aberration (which may be due to an incorrect assessment of

    the genealogy). The Mortimers of Attleborough also followed the pattern down to the time of

    Constantine Mortimer of Attleborough, who was born around 1279; the Mortimers of Richard’s

    Castle named their eldest son in this manner all the way down to the extinction of the male line in

    1304. Other families also show signs of applying the same pattern – especially Bec, Chelmarsh and

    Wilsthorpe – albeit with one or two exceptions.

    Much of the basic information in the genealogical tables that follow has been drawn from The

    Complete Peerage (CP) and The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB). In these cases

    footnotes have rarely been given. Supplementary matter has been added from the Fundatorum

    Historia, the Mortimer family chronicle, which was originally composed at Wigmore Abbey in 1262,

    and extended in the 1390s. It survives in a unique fifteenth-century copy in Chicago University

    Library. The basic text was printed by William Dugdale in his Monasticon. Other sources necessary

    to understand the chronology proposed are mentioned in the notes but citations have been

    restricted to problematic details or hitherto unrecorded original manuscript locations.

    Finally, I am grateful to Prof. David Bates, Prof. Daniel Power, Dr Paul Dryburgh, Dr David

    Crook, Hugh Wood and Chris Philips for their help and advice in identifying and correcting some

    of the slips in this and earlier drafts of this document and the research on which I have based it.

    Ian Mortimer, BA MA PhD DLitt FSA FRHistS

    Version 6.1, 17 May 2019



    Part 1a

    The Mortimers of Wigmore, Herefordshire

    Arms of the Mortimer family of Wigmore from the tomb of Blanche Mortimer (d. 1347)

    Most people who have looked at the origins of the Mortimer family know three things about the

    founder, Roger de Mortemer. The first is that he was a kinsman of William the Conqueror, duke

    of Normandy. That is true: his maternal grandmother was a niece of Gunnor, wife of Duke Richard

    I of Normandy.1 The second is that he won the Battle of Mortemer-en-Bray on behalf of Duke

    William in 1054 – and ended up being punished for it. That also is true. Despite leading the

    Normans to victory and capturing Duke William’s enemy, Ralph de Montdidier, Roger released

    the man after the battle and thus incurred his overlord’s wrath. Duke William seized all of Roger’s

    estates. They were eventually restored, with the exception of Mortemer itself, which was bestowed

    on Roger’s nephew, William de Warenne. The third famous ‘fact’ concerning him is that he fought

    at the Battle of Hastings. That is more problematic, as we shall see. But the one thing people don’t

    know – and undoubtedly the most interesting thing about him – is the reason for his name. Why

    did he come to be called ‘de Mortemer’?

    Generally it is assumed that Roger took the name on account of his principal seat being Mortemer-

    sur-Eaulne. This would be the usual thing to do: in the eleventh century, hereditary names normally

    referred to the caput or chief manor of a noble family. However, historians have overlooked a small

    but important point. When Roger was lord of Mortemer-sur-Eaulne, he did not call himself ‘de

    Mortemer’: prior to the battle he was known as Roger fitz Ralph de Warenne.2 He only started to

    use the name ‘de Mortemer’ after the battle, when he was no longer lord of that place and his caput

    was at St-Victor-en-Caux, twenty-five miles to the west. Had ‘de Mortemer’ been a mere

    toponymic, one would have expected him to have been known as ‘Roger de Saint-Victor’. Had he

    instead preferred a hereditary name, he had one already lined up – in his father and elder brother

    1 See K. S. B. Keats-Rohan, ‘Aspects of Robert of Torigny’s Genealogies Revisited’, Nottingham Medieval

    Studies, xxxvii (1993), pp. 21-7 for the origins of the family. 2 Keats-Rohan, ‘Aspects’, p. 10 (note 10).



    using the surname ‘de Warenne’. But he didn’t. He stuck to ‘de Mortemer’, which perpetuates the

    memory of a significant territorial loss. This is extraordinary in a feudal society. There is only one

    other parallel, that of Geoffrey de Neufmarché. This is interesting as Geoffrey’s son Bernard de

    Neufmarché and Roger de Mortemer’s son Ralph both fought together in the Norman push into

    Wales. Both families retained the title of a Norman castle that they had lost. It has been argued that

    the reason why they retained these names was because to have been lord of a frontier castle was a

    badge of honour.3 However, Morteme