The Greatest Traitor: The Life Of Sir Roger Mortimer, Ruler of England 1327-1330, by Ian Mortimer
I find it revealing and more than a little bit of interesting that the author is at pains to mention that he is not a descendant of his subject, even though the fact that they have the same last name is likely to give some impetus to the author’s efforts at somewhat clearing the name of a notorious English traitor. Of interest as well is that a one-time friend of mine once played a character in a historical simulation game that was part of the Mortimer family and whose claims to English leadership he wholeheartedly supported. I wonder how he would feel about this book’s subject. At any rate, this book rather straightforwardly seeks to look at the life and career of Roger Mortimer and how it was that he was able to achieve a great deal of power but also create a lot of problems for himself because of the envy and insecurity of the position he had made for himself when he pushed aside King Edward II and been the paramour of Queen Isabella and regent for Edward III until that young man took the throne into his own hands and put Roger to death.
This particular book is a bit more than 250 pages and is divided into 14 mostly small chapters, along with various supplementary material that serves as the first ever scholarly biography of this maligned man. The book begins with maps, an author’s note, acknowledgements, and an introduction. After that the author discusses the inheritance of Roger de Mortimer from his family background and reputation (1) as well as his youth (2) and his young adulthood as the friend of King Edward II (3). The author then discusses the disasters of Bannockburn and Kells that he was involved with against Scotland (4) and his time as the King’s Lieutenant (5) and kinsman (6) before rebelling when Hugh Dispenser became a favorite (7). The author then discusses Mortimer’s imprisonment (8) and escape (9) as well as his successful invasion of England with the Queen at his side (10) and their revolutionary attack on Edward II’s rule (11). The author explores the question of whether Mortimer killed Edward II as has long been held (12 and in an appendix) and looks at Mortimer’s regency (13) as well as the latter part of his rule over England that ended in a brutal death (14), after which the author discusses the repercussions of that death and provides an afterward. There are also notes, two appendices, a select bibliography, genealogical tables, and an index.
I must admit that the author is far more sympathetic to Roger Mortimer than I would be. That said, I must admit that my own populist tastes and my own interest in seeing justice done to someone slandered in history did give me at least some sympathy for the man, more so than for many in the period. Roger’s loyalty to his uncle and his efforts at maintaining justice and equity in England are certainly praiseworthy, and it is lamentable that his efforts foundered because he had such an insecure place as a nonroyal who lacked a high degree of legitimacy and made a lot of powerful enemies, including ultimately King Edward III, after possibly having a child with the queen mother. Indeed, Mortimer’s treachery, his abuses of power later in his reign, and his adultery limit my own approval of the man, but I can definitely give at least a little bit of praise to someone who managed to rise to power on his own competence, generally sought the well-being of the realm, and also sought to get rid of a king without putting him to death. All of that is worthy of some praise, and for him not to be entirely hated in history. That said, if he was something of a model for someone like Oliver Cromwell, it is easy to see why those who are partisans of royals would find much to dislike about his behavior and the way he was able to rise to power for a short time.