Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Review: The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer, by Ian Mortimer

Sir Roger Mortimer is not a name that necessarily leaps to the lips when thinking of English history. However, he was a very interesting character, and Ian Mortimer’s biography (the only one, it seems, of the subject) paints an intriguing picture.

During his life Roger Mortimer made war in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and played a critical role wresting Ireland from Edward Bruce (the younger brother of Robert Bruce), the only Scottish King of Ireland in history.

He was a capable warrior and leader of men, perhaps the most successful soldier in England during his prime, and a skilled user of spies and political manipulation.

Roger was one of King Edward II’s companions and was loyal for much of his life, until Hugh Despenser gained ascendency and favour. Despenser’s tyranny and Edward’s blind allegiance to him led to wars hot and cold until, finally, Despenser was killed and Edward imprisoned. A lot of what might sound inherently wicked (when Roger rebelled, for example) is actually not only explicable when placed in context, but can even be sympathised with.

Ian Mortimer claims Edward II survived his alleged murder, and that this was used by Roger to blackmail Edward III into compliance. The author makes a strong case for Edward II’s survival past his supposed murder, and, though I’m not a historian myself, I found it quite convincing.

The book is well-written and little to no prior knowledge is necessary to understand the political situation.

Whilst it is a biography of Sir Roger Mortimer, his story is necessarily intertwined with that of Edward II, the king who was not only his contemporary, but who imprisoned Roger and was subsequently overthrown by him.

Incidentally, I can strongly recommend buying this book as a set along with Marc Morris’ biography of Edward I and Ian Mortimer’s biography of Edward III.


No comments:

Post a Comment