Mortimer Handout

ENGL 305

Dr. Fike


Jo McMurtry, Understanding Shakespeare’s England:  A Companion for the American Reader, pages 38-39: 


“First, the Elizabeth who is married to Hotspur goes in Henry IV by the name of Kate—apparently a favorite name with Shakespeare.  Second, her brother, Edmund Mortimer, is entangled in a confusion which Shakespeare found in his source, Holinshed’s Chronicles.  This Edmund had an older brother, Roger, not shown in the diagram as he is not mentioned in the play.  Roger Mortimer inherited his father’s title as earl of March and also had a son, confusingly named Edmund, who was twelve years old in 1403.  It was this younger Edmund Mortimer whom Richard II, before his death in 1400, had named as his rightful heir.


“The Edmund Mortimer of Shakespeare’s play, then, was not in fact the earl of March and had not been named heir.  He was, however, the brother of Hotspur’s wife; he did marry the daughter of the earl of Glendower, as occurs in the play, after having been captured in battle by Glendower; and he certainly did plot against Henry IV, switching sides as he did so, for the king had sent him out to do battle against Glendower and his Welsh rebels.  This mutinous element then joined with the Percies, along with some of the rebellious Scots whom the Percies, while still on the King’s side, had conveniently captured.”



        The Edmund Mortimer in our play is NOT the one who is named heir by the historical R2.

        But the Edmund Mortimer in R2—the brother of Hotspur’s wife—does do historically accurate things.

        In history:  The heir to the throne is Roger Mortimer’s son Edmund.

        In our play:  The brother of Hotspur’s wife is also Edmund Mortimer, and Shakespeare evidently wanted us to see the heir and Kate’s brother as the same person.

        POINT:  Shakespeare is conflating two historical Mortimers.


See also Bedford Companion 185-86.


See also