Thursday 29 February 2024

Will she pay for her husband's mistakes, or will she manage to escape from a terrible fate?

Treason in the Mortimer Household 
A Betrayed Wife
By Anne O'Brien

Why would I write about Joan de Geneville, the little known wife of the notorious Roger Mortimer, Earl of March?  Why did I consider her to be the perfect protagonist for a medieval historical novel, centring on the role of women?  Because Joan's  life was an emotional one, dominated by treason, imprisonment and betrayal,  Her reaction to her fate was impressively resilient. 

Joan de Geneville was an heiress, inheriting extensive lands in Ireland, in France, as well as in the Welsh Marches, including  the magnificent fortress of Ludlow Castle.  Without doubt she was a valuable bride for any family with foresight and ambition; the perfect wife for Roger Mortimer, son and heir of the Mortimer marcher lords.  The dispatch of her two younger sisters to a convent ensured that her claim to the de Geneville inheritance would never be challenged.

Heraldic image of the Mortimer-de Geneville marriage: Mortimer on the left, de Geneville on the right.

The Mortimer-de Geneville marriage at first offered much satisfaction and even happiness.  Joan travelled extensively with her husband, to Wales, to Ireland, and within the Welsh Marches, while Roger escaped death in skirmish and battle.  They had twelve children all of whom grew to healthy adulthood, while Roger rebuilt Wigmore Castle as a palace as well as a fortress.

Remains of Wigmore Castle, once the pre-eminent Mortimer stronghold in the Welsh Marches.  

What could go wrong, after such a fortunate beginning?

Threats against the lands of the marcher lords along the Welsh Marches by the royal favourite Hugh Despenser, supported by the King, drove the area into insurrection.  When raising the Mortimer banners against Despenser was interpreted as treason by King Edward II, Roger was arrested and dispatched to the Tower of London with execution hanging over his head, while Joan and the Mortimer offspring were subjected to rigid and penurious confinement, Joan in Skipton Castle.  Would this be a lifelong penance for Joan?

All was not lost.  Roger escaped from the Tower of London, Joan and the young Mortimers were released, and Roger returned from exile with an invading force, intent on reclaiming his lands and his titles.  A matter, it seemed, for rejoicing.  Except that Roger returned to England intent on revenge against the King, with Queen Isabella at is side, in a close relationship with her that roused much comment and rumour.

How humiliating for the Mortimer wife, when she must welcome the Queen as her guest in Ludlow Castle.

Ludlow Castle: Roger and Joan would have known and lived in this main block of chambers.

For appearances' sake Joan had little choice but to work in tandem with her errant husband, to accomplish the prestigious marriages of their daughters.  Did she enjoy the experience, sharing her castles and her authority with the Queen at her husband's side? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned! Even with the accession of a youthful King Edward III there was no suggestion of a change in this situation.  The reins of power were firmly held by Roger and Isabella.

But as King Edward grew into maturity, fired with a desire to recover what was his by right of inheritance, his first priority would be to take back those reins of  power into his own hands. All eyes turned to the Court and the inevitable Mortimer downfall.

What a denouement for this tale of treason.  What would be the outcome for Roger Mortimer and for Joan?  Would Joan be forced to pay the penalty for her husband becoming an over-mighty magnate, would she be punished for the treason that took him to the scaffold?

History hides Joan under the usual medieval shadow of female anonymity, but she was far more than an invisible and obedient wife, far more than a rejected lover.  Joan proved to be a woman of courage, both resourceful and resilient; a woman intent on keeping her family safe, fighting for the restoration of Mortimer land and power for future Mortimer descendents. 

As for Roger, in spite of everything, perhaps in the end Joan felt that she had a debt to pay to him.  

Joan de Geneville emerged as an irresistible protagonist in A Court of Betrayal.  How could I resist writing her story?

A Court of Betrayal 
By Anne O'Brien

Publication Date: 29th February 2024
Publisher: Orion
Page Length: 464 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

The Welsh Marches, 1301

Strong-willed heiress Johane de Geneville is married to Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, at just fifteen years old.

Soon Johane finds herself swept up in a world of treacherous court politics and dangerous secrets as her husband deposes Edward II and rules England alongside Queen Isabella.

Yet when Roger is accused of treason, she is robbed of her freedom and must survive catastrophic events in her fight for justice - with her life, and her children's, hanging in the balance...

Will she pay for her husband's mistakes, or will she manage to escape from a terrible fate?

Pick up your copy of 
A Court of Betrayal 

Anne O’Brien

Anne O’Brien was born in West  Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history.

She now lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire, on the borders between England and Wales, where she writes historical novels. The perfect place in which to bring medieval women back to life.

Anne loves to hear from readers, you can find her: Website, Facebook, Twitter

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx