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The Earls and later Dukes of March are the premier nobles outside of the Royal & Princely titles. As such the Duke of March mirrors many of the official duties of his English counterpart the Duke of Norfolk.
In addition to the title of Dug Y Mers, the Dukes of March also hold the hereditary position of Earl Marshal, which has the duty of organizing state occasions such as the state opening of Parliament. Since 1577, both the Dukedom and the Earl-Marshalship have been in the hands of the Grey and later the Herbert family.
Additionally, the Duke of March participates in the ceremony of the State Opening of Parliament. He is among the four individuals who precede the monarch, and one of the two of these who walk always facing the sovereign (thus backwards).
As the Earl Marshal, the Duke of March is head of the College of Arms, through which he regulates all matters connected with armorial bearings and standards, in addition to controlling the arrangements for state functions.
by his wife Philippa Plantagenet and was grandson of Lionel of Antwerp and thus descended from King Edward III of England.
As such he had a stronger claim to the throne than did Henry IV, however, he served Henry faithfully until his capture in the Battle of Bryn Glas by Owain.
Edmund expected to be ransomed by the English king, Henry however saw an opportunity to remove himself of a potential rival. Such a snub drove Edmund into Owain's arms. 1402 saw Edmund marry Owains daughter, Catrin, a union which saw 3 daughters and a son and heir, Edmund V Mortimer.
Edmund the Elder continued to serve Owain, commanding the Welsh Forces at the Battle of Pwll Melyn in Usk, which under Mortimer the Welsh won, leading to the victory later in 1405 at Worcester, the victory which made the Treaty of London three years later possible. As part of the terms of the treaty Edmund and his heirs were officially barred from the English succession in return for confirmation of their title as Earls of March within the Welsh Peerage.
The House of Mortimer
Edmund IV Mortimer was confirmed as the Earl of March in the Welsh Peerage by Owain Glyndwr in the summer of 1409, and as such he became the second most powerful man in Wales. As a Marcher Lord he fully expected to continue in the same vein as his family had in England and as such he ruled the Welsh March (Shropshire apart from Shrewsbury Town) as his own personal fief, owning allegiance to Owain both as his Father in Law as well as his feudal overlord, but protecting the traditional independence of the Marcher Lordship from too much Crown interference.
Owain Glyndwr, faced with a Wales to rule, was inclined to allow Edmund this latitude. Owain spent most of the next 10 years subduing Welsh lords who objected to his rule, as well as attempting to ensure that with his death the crown would pass whole and entire to his remaining male heir, Maredudd, something promised in the Treaty of London, but still not secure.
With Owain's death in 1419 Maredudd came to the throne with his uncle by marriage still the most formidable noble within the realm. Even though now both his wife Catrin (died 1415) and his father in law Owain dead Edmund proved loyal to both Maredudd and the conditions of the Treaty of London.
Ruling the March from his powerbase in Ludlow, Edmund IV ruled a realm within which the Kings Writ was barely tolerated, and where English still prevailed. This altered little with the accession of his son, Edmund V, even though Edmund V was a bilingual Earl, fluent in both Welsh and English.
Edmund V Mortimer acceded to the title of Earl in 1436 and served both Maredudd and Owain well in his time. He served in the Wars of Roses leading troops to battle on the behalf of the Welsh Monarch, and with the death of Maredudd, Edmund served Owain, though his personal star was in wane in the court of Owain. His son, Edmund VI however, was more to Owain's liking, and when he acceded to the title in 1472 was ideally placed to lead the king’s legislation through the Long Parliament, even though he, as Marcher Lord, had little reason to implement them within his English speaking March.
Edmund VI, like his father and grandfather, ruled the March as a Marcher Lordship, barely tolerating the influence of the King within his borders. The king maintained the fortress of Shrewsbury on the March's northern border, and held fortresses in the territory of Ergyng in the south but had little reason to worry overmuch. Edmund was an overmighty subject, but he was a loyal subject.
Edmund VI though was ambitious; he himself had the blood to claim both the English and the Welsh thrones. The English through his grandfather, Edmund IV who was the great grandson of Edward III of England. The Welsh through his grandmother, Catrin, sister to Maredudd (should Maredudd's line fail). Edmund VI though decided to augment his English claim, by arranging the marriage of his son and heir, Gruffydd, to Anne De La Pole, daughter of Elizabeth Plantagenet, sister to Richard III of England. Such a union would produce an heir, Edmund (born 1493), who would be related to the Neville family, the Plantagenet Royal Family, the Glyndwr Royal Family and make him a scion to be wary of.
The marriage took place in 1489 and was the crowning achievement of the most powerful Earl of March. After Edmund VI, no other Earl would rival his control of either the March or his influence within Court.
The 1490 Rebellion of March
The year 1490 was when the initial high fortunes of the Mortimer Family came crashing down. In the April of 1490 with the old King visably aging and with his brash heir leading raids on Bristol, the landholders of the March rose up in rebellion. Whether or not Edmund VI was party to the initial rising or not is uncertain, but he was caught in the crossfire. As the fires of rebellion rose above the March and Welsh held Herefordshire the old Earl was caught outside Ludlow castle, the seat of his family's power. Killed in a clash outside its walls the castle fell to the rebels. The Crown Prince, Hywel, rode with a detachment of troops to the Royal Fortress of Shrewsbury along with the new Earl, Gruffydd. Slowly through the summer months the Prince and Earl swept the rebels southwards, whilst the southern Lords moved troops northwards through the Earldom of Herefordshire.
On the 21 August 1490, outside the gates of Ludlow was fought the Battle of Ludlow (1490). The rebels, who should have remained safely within the castle walls chose to give battle and were defeated by Hywel. During the battles aftermath the Prince made sure to garrison Royal Troops within the Castle, ostensibly to help Gruffydd, realistically to guard against future rebellions.
One important result of the Rebellion though was an increase in both Welsh immigration to the March and also that Gruffydd had to submit to Hywel in a way that his fathers had never done to a Welsh monarch before. With the Treaty of Bath in 1491, Hywel gained the fortress of Bristol and the territory of Bath from Henry VII of England, with this territory under Crown control and with Shrewsbury secure under Crown control Hywel abolished Marcher privileges within the March and Hereford.
For the rest of Hywel's reign, Gruffydd served faithfully, but was seldom trusted by the King, something highlighted by the raising of the Queen's brother to the Duchy of Dyfed, a rank not seen before in Wales, raising Gwillym to the Dukedom (the territory of Newport, Pembs) made him the premier noble of the realm, something that rankled with most of the senior nobility.
The End of the House of Mortimer
In 1512 Hywel I died whilst inspecting ships in Milford Haven, with the heir, Hywel II being a minor (12) Gruffydd had reason to be hopeful of gaining a position as Protector. In this he was out maneuvered firstly by the Queen Dowager and her brother, the Duke of Dyfed. Their rule was ended by the Treaty of Woodstock which saw their political fortunes fall. With the rise of Prince Rhys of Powys, the Earls of March were again marginalised by their neighbour, although Gruffydd gained an ally in the Earl of Brecheiniog (Cadell Fychan).
When Prince Rhys manipulated the king into elevating his brother to the Duchy of Gwent in 1517, it was only on the Fychan's insistence of a elevation of the honour of Y Mers to a dukedom as well. The king, whilst in the control of Powys eagerly agreed to the suggestion. Gruffydd was now Dug Y Mers (Duke of March). His happiness did not last long though as he witnessed personal tragedy in 1519 when his only son and heir, Edmund, died in the winter leaving just a 2 year old daughter, the Lady Catherine as his heir.
Gruffydd now acted to preserve his line through his granddaughter and to this end in 1535 succeeded in arranging the marriage between Catherine and John Grey, second son to the 1st Marquess of Dorset, Thomas Grey, himself son to Queen Elizabeth Woodville and her first husband Sir John Grey and himself grandfather to the future Lady Jane Grey, Nine Day Queen of England.
In this way Gruffydd maintained his families links to the English monarchy and also provided his daughter with a husband, who whilst not Duke in his own right, would provide her with the strong right hand to stand up to the House of Powys under Rhys ap Maredudd who it seemed at this time destined to rule Wales through the weak and ineffectual Hywel II.
This same prince now sought and arranged the first war with England since the battles of the War of Independence. As Duke and senior noble, Gruffydd was bound by oaths and Royal Council order to aid Powys in the North Somerset war. Whether by chance or design, Gruffydd fell in the first days of the war, leaving only his granddaughter, now Catherine Grey, to lead the House of Mortimer.
The 2nd Rebellion of the March
The 2nd rebellion or Uprising of March occurred during the year 1820. The origins of the uprising lay in the English Occupation. Being the part of Wales closet to England the March was heavily re-angliscised during the occupation. As a result in 1796 there was a sizable minority of English speaking, protestant subjects living in the province. The returning Duke, Madog Grey had to contend with such a changed local demographic. His decision was to work with the new members of the local population.
The result of this however was a return to the days of old, with a semi-separate state evolving centered on Ludlow and the Ducal court. Madog himself was loyal to both Rhisiart I and Rhisiart II and during his rule the province (which was still largely in English hands until the 1790's) remained tied to the Welsh Crown. This changed, however, with his death in 1805. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Edmund VIII of March, a man already 39 years old, but an man of poor health and even worse judge of character. Under his brief rule (three years) more Anglo-March advisors gained positions within the Ducal Court and the region began to slip slowly out of the orbit of the Royal Court in Caerfilli. Arthur recognised these problems and tried hard to head them off before they could grow. In this he was foiled by the early death of Edmund. Edmund was succeeded by his son, the bombastic Anglophile, Meurig I of March. Meurig was young enough and headstrong enough to try to challenge the King in Caerfilli.
Succeeding in 1808 he tred carefully at first. Serving with the Army both in Europe and in Africa, his estates were managed by Dowager Duchess Caroline, who understood the vagaries of Welsh politics better than her only son. Meurig however returned to Wales in 1816 taking over control of the Duchy from his mother, who retired to her own estates outside Amwythig. Meurig, unlike his English born mother, was quickly seduced by the pourings into his ears of Ducal separation from the Welsh State.
Although Meurig was staunchly Welsh, he was subject to desires to be the supreme authority within his own lands. Such tensions could not be left unchallenged for long by the strong, centralising tendencies of Arthur. Matters came to a head in March of 1820 with Meurig trying to claim control of all troops raised within the borders of Y Mers (the March). Arthur refused. Having already ridden out an Army Rebellion just five years previously Arthur was not about to hand over to Meurig the control of what amounted to private militias.
The Duke of March though, misreading Arthur, (who had only recently returned from Y Wladfa) raised the ancient Ducal Banner of the House of Mortimer. Here though Arthur showed his military expertise. Raising troops from Morgannwg, Gwent, Dean and most importantly of all, Henffordd, he raced northwards towards Ludlow. His eldest son, Rhisiart the Crown Prince (Edling) went ahead of his father, commanding the Royal Household Guard units. Engaging Meurig ten miles north of Ludlow, Meurig took the victory, scattering Rhisiart and the Royal Troops. Re-grouping and not waiting for his father to arrive with reinforcements, Rhisiart attacked again on the 12th July 1820, this time Meurig ordered that no prisoners were to be taken. Unable to retreat, Rhisiart died in the encounter. Enraged by the death of his son, Arthur raced forwards, engaging Meurig again outside Ludlow on the 31st July. The vastly superior Royal Forces crushed the rebel army, taking Ludlow Castle and with it the Duke. In a fit of temper and pique, Arthur ordered Meurig executed as a traitor to the Crown, and using Rhisiart's own sword, the executor promptly dispatched the Duke in the evening of the 1st of August.
Briefly, the Dukes cousin, Henry Grey maintained the rebellion, mainly in the name of his three-year old son, Edmund, who he proclaimed as Edmund IX of March. Arthur, in no mood for reconcilliation, defeated Henry and had him executed also.
Following this, the Dowager Duchess pleaded on behalf of her Grand-Nephew for him to be allowed to retain his rank and title. By now Arthur had calmed, and following the sage advice of his new heir, Cystennin, allowed the three-year old to retain rank and dignity. Although he removed the infant to the Royal Court and charged the Dowager Duchess to rule Y Mers in his absence and that she would be held responsible for the loyalty of the English and Protestant population of the area.
Duke Edmund IX would be the last Duke from the House of Grey. Never marrying with his death the title would fall to the descendants of his Great Aunt, Isabella Herbert nee Grey. Isabella's son, Tomos Herbert had fought for the Crown during the rebellion and his son, Ieuan had been born in 1821. The 42 year old Ieaun succeeded to the title in 1863 ushering in the House of Herbert to the Ducal title.
House of Mortimer - Earls of March
- Earl Edmund IV - Earl of March 1409 - 1436
- Earl Edmund V - Earl of March 1436 - 1472
- Earl Edmund VI - Earl of March 1472 - 1490
- Earl Gruffydd - Earl of March 1490 - 1517 Title raised to that of a Dukedom
House of Mortimer - Dukes of March
- Duke Gruffydd Mortimer - Duke of March 1517-1537 (Formally Earl of March)
- Duchess Catherine Mortimer - Duchess of March 1537 - 1577
House of Grey - Dukes of March
- Henri Grey - Duke Harri I of March 1577 - 1600
- Duke Tomos - Duke of March 1600 - 1625
- Duke Tomos II - Duke of March 1625 -1651
- Henri Grey - Duke Harri II of March 1651 - 1653
- Duke Sion - Duke of March 1653 - 1671
- Duke Tomos III - Duke of March 1671 - 1712
- Duke Edmund VII - Duke of March 1712 - 1723 (Duke in Exile)
- Duke Madog I - Duke of March 1723 - 1765 (Duke in Exile)
- Duke Madog II - Duke of March 1765 - 1805
- Duke Edmund VIII - Duke of March 1805 - 1808
- Duke Meurig I - Duke of March 1808 - 1820. Died during the 2nd Rebellion of March with no direct heir.
- Duke Edmund IX - Duke of March 1820 - 1863. Succeeded as the nephew of Meurig I and the great-grandson of Madog II. Died with no direct heir
House of Herbert - Dukes of March
- Duke Ieuan Herbert - Duke of March 1863 - 1881. Great-grandson of Madog II. Claimed the title as the nearest surviving male heir of Madog II through Madog II's youngest child Isabella Grey
- Duke Gruffydd II - Duke of March 1881 - 1902
- Henry Herbert - Duke Harri III of March 1902 - 1936
- Duke Edmund X - Duke of March 1936 - 1976 (Grandson of Duke Harri III)
- Henry Herbert - Duke Harri IV of March 1976 to present
Coats of Arms of the Dugs Y MersThe Ducal family have had three main arms since the Wars of Independence.
The original Arms of the Earldom itself are as the image to the left shows.
This was the simple Arms of Mortimer surrounded by the Garter motto and surmounted by an Earl's crown.
Sir Edmund, 1st Earl of March (Welsh creation) held as his own arms the arms shown to the right, but without the Blue/White stripes of the Grey family. With the marriage of John Grey to Countess Catherine, the arms were adapted to show the arms of Grey below the English royal arms.
These arms remained the arms of the House of Grey until Edmund IX of March. With his death and the succession of Ieuan Herbert to the ducal title the arms were changed again to reflect the House of Herbert.
This saw the addition of a European eagle to the arms. The arms of the House of Herbert had been granted to an earlier member of the house by the Holy Roman Emperor.
The seat of the Earls and later the Dukes of Y Mers has been since its inception, Ludlow Castle. The castle itself today is not the primary home of the dukes, although it is still held by the family and used for ceremonial occasions, such as Chodi y Mers (the Raising of the March) festival in which the traditional units of the ducal armies of the House of Mortimer (1409-1517) march through Ludlow to the castle where a feast is held. It is one of the most popular dates in the Marcher calendar.