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There are of course, two marches or borderlands in Britain, being firstly the border between England and Wales and secondly the border between England and Scotland. The title of Earl of March has therefore existed both in the Peerage of England and in the Peerage of Scotland, often simultaneously. This is certainly the case today, as the holders of the title Earl of Wemyss lay claim to also being the Scottish Earls of March whilst the English title is clearly held by the Dukes of Richmond and Gordon, who use it as a courtesy title for the heir apparent to the dukedom.

The English Mortimer and Plantagenet Earls

Roger Mortimer, the 8th Baron of Wigmore came from a powerful Marcher family who had for generations been fighting the native Welsh and generally building themselves a minor empire based at Wigmore and stretching into mid-Wales.

This Roger married Joan de Genville and therefore came into possession of Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches as well as considerable estates in Ireland. He was on friendly terms with both Piers Gaveston and Edward II, and was thus a loyal supporter of the crown, entrusted with the task of fighting Edward Bruce in Ireland between the years 1316 and 1319. Roger was however alienated by Edward's later favouritism of Hugh Despenser the Younger, whilst Despenser's ambitions in Wales threatened Mortimer's own interests in the March and so Roger was impelled to join the revolt of the Contrariants in 1321.

The failure of this revolt left Roger in the Tower of London, from which he escaped in August 1324 and made his way to France. There he became the lover of Edward's queen Isabella of France and led an invasion of England in 1327 that deposed Edward and nominally replaced him with his son Edward III. Roger was thereafter the effective ruler of England until he was deposed by a coup in November 1330 and taken to London where he was executed on the 29th November and subsequently attainted. (see The deposition of Edward II for more details.)

His eldest son, Edmund was prevented from inheriting by the attainder and in any case died sometime before the 21st January 1332. However Edmund's eldest son, Roger managed to regain the favour of Edward III; Radnor was returned to him in 1342 with Wigmore in the following year. Knighted before the battle of Crecy in 1346 he was later restored to his grandfather's title as 2nd Earl of March in 1355 once the attainder had been reversed.

The 2nd Earl died on the 26th February 1359 and succeeded by his eldest surviving son Edmund. The 3rd Earl married Philippa, the only daughter and heiress of Lionel of Antwerp and thus inherited the estates and the title of Earl of Ulster on the death of his father-in-law in 1368. He held the office of Marshal of England from 1369 to 1377 and served on the Regency Council for the young Richard II. In 1379 he was appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland and set off for Ireland where he spent the next few years attempting to assert his authority over the native Irish before he was drowned at Cork on the 27th December 1381.

His seven year old son and heir Roger Mortimer was brought up as a royal ward in the court of Richard II and was proclaimed heir presumptive to the throne in 1385. In 1393 he married Richard's niece Eleanor Holland and confirmed in the possession of most his estates, excepting those that the king had already appropriated to reward his friends. In the following year he accompanied Richard on his expedition to Ireland and remained behind when Richard returned to England but was killed in a battle with Irish rebels on the 20th July 1398.

Once again the successor to the earldom was a seven year old minor, in this case Edmund Mortimer, who like his father was recognised as heir presumptive by the still childless Richard II. But within a few months Richard departed for Ireland to and in his absence the exiled Henry Bolingbroke returned to seize the throne. (See The Lancastrian Usurpation.) Edmund spent the reign of Henry IV under close arrest since he represented a potential threat to the new Lancastrian regime. He was released by Henry V in 1413, and despite his arguably better claim to the throne, was a loyal supporter of the House of Lancaster who happily revealed the details of the Southampton Plot to the king in 1415. With the death of Henry in 1422 he was appointed to the Regency Council for the young Henry VI, but sent to Ireland in 1424 he died there of the plague on the 18th January 1425.

The 5th Earl died childless and was the last of the male descendants of the 1st Mortimer Earl and so his estates and titles thus passed to his sister Anne Mortimer. Anne had married Richard of Conisburgh, Earl of Cambridge who had been executed in 1415 as one of the conspirators behind the aforementioned Southampton Plot. Thus the Mortimer estates and the title of March passed to their son Richard Plantegenet, Duke of York. And after Richard's death at the battle of Wakefield on the 31st December 1460 it passed to his son Edward who had, prior to his father's death, been known under the courtesy title of the 'Earl of March'. The title then merged with the crown when Edward became king Edward IV of England in March 1461.

Edward IV subsequently granted the title to his son Edward, Prince of Wales on the 18th July 1479 on the same day as he was also created Earl of Pembroke. The title was subsequently merged with the crown when the young Edward became Edward V on the 9th April 1483. Edward V was of course, soon supplanted by his uncle Richard III, and is generally regarded as having died very soon thereafter.

The Scottish Dunbars

The Dunbars were a family who could trace their descent back to one Gospatric, Earl of Northumbria who had abandoned England shortly after the Norman Conquest and been granted a position of authority by Malcolm III Canmore, king of Scots within the district of Lothian. It was Patrick Dunbar, 8th Earl of Dunbar who became the first of his line to claim the title of comes de Marchia, or the Earl of March. It appears as if Patrick simply assumed the title and little evidence that it was specifically created and if so by whom. (This was in the middle of the First Scottish War of Independence so matters are a little confused, and not everyone regards the assumption of the title of Earl of March by the Dunbar earls as legally valid.)

In any event his successors continued to be known both as Earls of Dunbar and March with preference often given to the latter title until George Dunbar, 11th Earl of Dunbar and 4th Earl of March was imprisoned by James IV in 1434. George's lands and titles were subsequently declared forfeit to the crown, but George himself was released, and allowed to retire into exile in England.

The Scottish and English Stuarts

In 1455 James II conferred the title, together with that of Warden of the Marches, on his second son Alexander Stewart, who was also created Duke of Albany in the following year. However in 1487 the earldom of March was declared forfeit as a result of Alexander's treasonable intrigues with the English.

The Scottish version of the title remained unallocated for the next century until the reign of James VI. Robert Stuart a grand-uncle of the king had been created Earl of Lennox on the 16th June 1578, but was later persuaded to resign that title and on the 5th March 1580 he was created Lord of Dunbar and Earl of March. However Robert died without legitimate issue in 1586, when the Earldom of March again reverted to the crown.

In 1619 Esme Stuart the younger son of Esme Stuart, 1st Duke of Lennox was created Baron Stuart of Leighton Bromswold and Earl of March on the 7th June 1619, only this time in the Peerage of England. He later became the 3rd Duke of Lennox following his brother's death on the 16th February 1624 but died soon afterwards on the 30th July 1624. The title of Earl of March continued to held by the Dukes of Lennox until the death of the 6th and last Stuart duke on the 12th December 1672.

A few years later on the 9th August 1675 king Charles II granted the titles of Duke of Richmond, Earl of March and Baron Setrington to his illegitimate son known as Charles Lennox, whose mother was Louise de Kéroualle. Charles Lennox was subsequently created the Duke of Lennox on the 9th September 1675 and his successors later obtained a third dukedom in the form of the title Duke of Gordon. The Gordon-Lennoxes prosper to this day in the form of Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, 10th Duke of Richmond and have traditionally used the Earl of March as the courtesy title for the heir apparent to their now triple dukedom.

The Scottish Douglases

In the meantime the Scottish dignity of March was awarded in the form of a marquessate to John Maitland, Duke Lauderdale on the 1st May 1672, but he died without heirs in 1682 freeing up the title once more.

In 1697 the title of Earl of March in the Peerage of Scotland, was granted to William Douglas, second son of William Douglas, 1st Duke of Queensberry. William died on the 2nd September 1705 and the title passed to his only son very naturally also named William Douglas. He married Anne Hamilton, 2nd Countess of Ruglen, daughter of John Hamilton, 1st Earl of Ruglen but died shortly thereafter on the 7th March 1731. Fortunately he had already managed to produce an heir in the form of yet another William Douglas who duly became the 3rd Earl. This William subsequently inherited the title of Duke of Queensberry after the death of his cousin Charles Douglas, 3rd Duke of Queensberry in 1778, and is thus better known as the Duke of Queensberry or 'Old Q' to his contemporaries. Regarded as the greatest lecher of the age, 'Old Q' never married and turned out to be the last of this particular line of Douglases. On his death in 1810 his various titles passed to other branches of the Douglas family.

As to the fate of the title of Earl of March, "Bernard Burke and other authorities" claimed that the title passed to Francis Charteris-Wemyss, 8th Earl of Wemyss who married Anne Douglas, daughter of the 1st Duke of Queensberry and thus sister of the 1st Douglas Earl of March. On the other hand Robert Douglas in the The Peerage of Scotland states that the title became extinct. It has to be said that Robert Douglas is generally regarded as a far more weighty authority in these matters than the notoriously unreliable Bernard Burke. Nevertheless the Scottish version of the title of Earl of March has been assumed by the Earls of Wemyss


THE EARLS OF MARCH

A: IN THE PEERAGE OF ENGLAND

MORTIMER

Title forfeit 1330, restored 1355

PLANTAGENET

As successors to the Mortimers Creation of 1479

STUART

LENNOX

see Duke of Richmond thereafter

B: IN THE PEERAGE OF SCOTLAND

DUNBAR

STEWART/STUART

Creation of 1455 Creation of 1580

MAITLAND

As Marquess of March

DOUGLAS

WEMYSS

See Earl Of Wemyss thereafter


SOURCES

  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for MARCH, EARLS OF
  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
  • A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com
  • Stirnet Genealogy at http://www.stirnet.com/HTML/genie/genfam.htm
  • The Peerages of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom at http://www.angeltowns.com/town/peerage/Peers.htm

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