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on 6 February 2011
A traitor, perhaps. But to whom?

Where, indeed, were history books like this when I was at school? Well, as I am the same age as Ian Mortimer and he was, obviously, at school the same time as me, the likelihood is that they were still a long time away...

Since reading The Greatest Traitor several points have come to my mind, not least being the question of who was Roger Mortimer and why hadn't I heard of him and, if I hadn't heard of him, why has such an important character been "glossed over" by historty and historians, what was his function in the great scheme of things that was the Fourteenth Century.

Ian Mortimer's book is a work of true craftsmanship that explains, not just for the avidly studious, but also for the enthusiastic amateur, who he was and what impact he had on the period in which he lived and, he does so with an easy but dynamic style that radiates the author's passion for the task at hand; astonishingly, given the subject matter of the book, where taking sides would be far to easy an option, Mr Mortimer is very objective about the events of Roger Mortimer's life, his actions and their ultimate consequences. For his part, Roger Mortimer lived an astonishingly eventful forty-three years and achieved so very much, was party to so much and, by sheer quirk of historic editing, seemed to have become lost in a wilderness of historic obscurity until Ian Mortimer decided upon this work of literary excellence.

To my mind it is the duty of the historian to furnish the world with the facts as they were recorded, as they were understood and how they were perceived, both at the time of their happening and now. Ian Mortimer has succeeded wonderfully by creating this work; a word that offers the facts, places the facts in context and offers valid opinions based on those facts with clear and reasoned argument. Sir Roger Mortimer was, in his forty-three year life, many things; a warrior, a diplomat, a rebel, a usurper and, ultimately, a tyrant. What he shall not be is forgotten, thanks to the inestimable Ian Mortimer and his most delightful book.

I have purchased all of Ian Mortimer's published works and am sure I will enjoy them all with the same enthusiasm I did The "Greatest Traitor". This is a book I would and have recommended to anyone with the even the faintest interest in English history.

This book has given me perspective on a man who achieved so much and lost so much; to answer my own question, was a trator to himself more than anyone else.
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on 4 June 2017
Fascination book.
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on 5 July 2003
Where were history books like this when I was at school?
Mortimer's account of the actions of his namesake is gripping, exciting and at the same time wince-inducing.
There is no doubt that England in the early 1300s was not a green and pleasant land to live in. The behaviour of the noble classes was anything but noble; self-interest was their driving force.
This book traces the story behind the overthrow of King Edward II because he had become a self-absorbed tyrant who flouted his cornation oath and the laws of the land. It is obviously hard to delve deeply into the minds of people who left little in the way of written records. A historian has to rely on tidbits and implications. Nonetheless, I found this book to be absorbing and exciting.
The pace is excellent, and luckily for the reader, there is a reasonable narrative to follow. In addition, the author has avoided the problem of peoples' names changing as they inherit titles, and so on. This latter aspect can make the reading of medieval history very trying.
Another reviewer has accused the author of revisionism. This is the sort of allegation that is always thrown against a proponent of a radical or alternative perspective.
There is NO doubt that the limited scope for free expression and constant pressure applied by the Church would have made the discussion of Edward's sexuality a taboo for many centuries. What the author has done is to look at the king and judge his behaviour, rather than his sexuality. Edward's habit of rewarding his favourites at the expense of others was his undoing, as much as his refysal to listen to wise counsel.
I would heartily recommend this book to anyone with a keen interest in the history of England.
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on 10 August 2008
Ian Mortimer does a grand job in shining a light on a dark corner of English history. I first came across the notorious Roger Mortimer years ago as a kid when my father took me on a guided trip to 'Mortimer's Hole', Roger's hiding place at Nottingham Castle. There wasn't much said about Roger, just that he murdered King Edward II and ruled the realm before being undone in 1330 by the young Edward III. Ian Mortimer puts flesh on his bones here, with a meticulously researched account of his life with some compelling detail [such as Roger's grandfather keeping Simon de Montfort's head as a souvenir]and well drawn portraits of Roger and his supporting cast - Aymer de Valence, for example, emerges as a fascinating character.

Ian Mortimer convincingly puts Roger's alleged villainy into context and makes us sympathise with him and the actions he took against an incompetent and inadequate ruler. The self-interested and sort-sighted acts of Edward II and the other members of the ruling order remind us that a corrupt political elite is far from a recent phenomenon.

The book is excellent throughout, but perhaps Ian Mortimer overeggs the pudding with his insistent support for the conspiracy theory that Edward II survived his stint in Berkley Castle and lived on for years in exile in Italy. I suppose this does help to put a new angle on the story and there just may be something in it, but I don't think the evidence as displayed here is really convincing. Similar stories have been circulated about a number of historical figures [Richard II during his usurper Henry IV's reign and Richard Duke of York during Henry VII's time], but all make more sense as opportunist political plots. Edward II's alleged survival doesn't seem to me any more likely. But whether you buy the revisionism or not, this a well-written and fascinating book.
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on 3 January 2012
Mortimer has done what is almost impossible today: a truly well researched and engaging biography with the blood still pumping madly in the body. His manner of writing is elegant and never academic; he "sees" the whole tempestuous era and the man with a refined eye - this author has vision. My one minute complaint is that the author is overly harsh, in my opinion, about the "treason" of Roger Mortimer - honestly, considering the bizarre treatment that Queen Isabella, from the age of 12 onward, suffered from her husband and what the country itself had to endure with a man who clearly preferred to be doing anything but ruling, guiding, shepherding his country and people, as the anointed king, I wonder that historians haven't recognized that the greatest treason was Edward II against his own heritage, people and government. I was particularly horrifed to read of the brutal betrayal and execution of Llewelyn; perhaps the single act that drove Roger Mortimer to break with Edward II?

As for the likelihood that Edward II survived I would agree with the author's hypothesis, that in order to preserve his own life and that of the Queen, as Edward III came to age, it was better to keep Edward II alive, somewhere, as a hedge against retribution. Had Mortimer died in the Tower, or in exile, and never deposed Edward II one has to wonder if Edward III would have ever had the reign he had: a young man with his whole life in front of him. Had Edward II stayed on the throne and if he lived at least as long as his father, Edward I, then "our" Edward III would have been middle aged, at best, when he ascended the crown. Or would he have been an embittered heir, not married to Philippa of Hainault, embarassed by his father's misgovernment,a son driven to work against his own father, as did Richard I with his father, Henry II?

Perhaps Mortimer acted out of self-preservation but he also created an example of what it takes to be an efficient and resolute king - the tragedy of Roger Mortimer is that he wasn't - directly - of the blood royal; he certainly had everything else it would have taken to be an incredibly competent, conscientious and dutiful king.

By the way, the heirs of Roger Mortimer, who was the first Earl of March, would in 7 generations, barely a 130 years later, become king, and in name - by also deposing an anointed king, and by conquest, and finally having that same king (Henry VI) put to death to maintain the throne - that king was Edward IV. Mortimer's almost bloodless coup, in contrast to his future heir's conquest of the throne, is a study in stunning strategic vision.

The author has my highest respect - I can't imagine a finer example of what biography is meant to achieve; it is in another league altogether from the "royal" biographers like Weir. I can only hope that someday Ian Mortimer will undertake to write about another mishandled subject of history: Richard III, in many ways Richard parallels his Mortimer forebear, a masterful coup with minimum blood and revenge and a likely "murder" he also did not commit but will probably never be able to shake from his reputation either.
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on 25 May 2009
This book caught my interest as although I had heard of Roger Mortimer, it was in connection with Isabella rather than as a personality in his own right. The present day Ian Mortimer (no relation!!) has done a truly fantastic job of bringing the era and the man to vivid life - no mean feat. Superbly researched and steering away from the assumptions made by some writers when the source material is sketchier than required, this book conveys a real sense of the person - how he felt, why he did what he did and the time in which he lived. When you consider just how much influence Roger Mortimer had on the future course of British history, it's amazing that he has received so little attention.
If only all historical biographies were like this - a rattling good yarn, told with great skill and with strict adherence to the facts - wonderful!
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on 27 October 2009
Roger Mortimer is a character of genius. As Mortimer clearly protrays he was the evil genius of the early fourteenth century. He 'killed' a king, then slept with a queen. He fought in Ireland, escaped from the Tower of London, lead two rebellions, ruled as medieval England's first great dictator for three years. And then, rather harshly, he is murderd for high treason.

I had read Mortimer's The Perfect King before I read The Greatest Traitor. This book took two years to write and assumed it would be very good. I was not let down. It thrilling, medieval fun. I couldn't put the book down. Mortimer has a great way of making main ideas known. The first line in chapter one showed us one of the main ideas of the book: "The roots of treason lie in loyalty; the roots of betrayel lie in friendship." A awesome thought there.

Mortimer had a good flare for battles and descriptive conversations in his first book. The battles of Bannockburn, Kells, and Boroughbridge were really well pictured and made this book a thrill. Roger's intamite relations with the queen made goosebumps go up your arm. I agreed with reviewer Ann Wroe when she said 'Mortimer's book roars, races, and sings...with a sense of passion and drama and an unreleting pace.'

I recommend this book to any person seeking a good conversation topic, a good book for book clubs, or just a great read. Roger Mortimer the 'evil genius' is a person who transformed his world, and Mortimer dipicts every minute of it. Wonderful read.
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on 4 November 2012
I did enjoy this book. Before I read it I was aware of the 'wicked' Mortimer and his she wolf girl friend, and the story about the poker. Now I feel better informed. Edward II was a pretty useless king, Isabella was much put-upon,Mortimer was a reasonably 'good guy' for most of the time, until power got the better of him. The most interesting part of the book deals with the theory that Edward was not bumped off in grisly fashion, but lived. This is plausible.
The aristocrats of the day were not very different from politicians of today. Land, money, nepotism and a belief that war was wonderful seems to have been what made them tick. Lust was a big factor too. Well worth reading.
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Immersing yourself in history is one way of getting a perspective on the dreary politics of one's own time - the shock at what people will get up to is almost the same, different only in the amount of fact available, the surrounding brouhaha, the speed of dissemination and the vantage point. But if there are uncertainties, and there nearly always are, we can forgive a lot from a distance, especially when we are informed by a historian of the calibre of Ian Mortimer.

Sir Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, regent of England 1327-1330 was imprisoned for rebellion, but escaped. England had laboured under the rule of Edward II and his court favourite the hated Hugh Despenser, who confiscated titles and castles at will. Mortimer had grown up with Edward II, who was a poor judge of men. His favourite when young, Piers Gaveston, had to be banished when he proved more acquisitive than the King himself, but in their early years these young men were considered to be the prime of English nobility. Roger Mortimer was the man who deposed Edward II, ruling in his stead for three years, sleeping with Edward's wife, Isabella, regent during the minority of Edward's son, who lived within in his protection.

This book follows the exploits of Mortimer and his peers and poses a completely new solution to the question of what became of Edward II after his deposition. Was he murdered (with a red hot iron plunged into his nether region), or was he kept secretly in various castles by Mortimer's agents? There is evidence that he wasn't killed in 1327, but that evidence is directly contradicted by the main historical chronicles and remains a perennially fascinating mystery, just like the Princes in the tower or whether Elizabeth I was really a virgin queen. The story of Roger Mortimer is thrilling and full of adventure and adversity. Ian Mortimer is a writer who manages the dry dust of history with considerable narrative panache and this is a marvellously readable history book.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 23 September 2013
Roger Mortimer has always been one of the more shadowy figures of medieval history, obscured by centuries of historical assumption and oversight and by his own determination to remain the power behind the throne, the figure in the shadows pulling the strings. And that's a shame, because in this excellent biography from Ian Mortimer, he comes across as a truly fascinating figure and quite a sympathetic one too - ironic for a man who quite probably earns the title of 'greatest traitor', who deposed a king, had a passionate affair with the queen, usurped the power of the Crown and ruled through the young Edward III as the true power in the land.

Roger Mortimer's greatest tragedy seems to be that he was not royal - if he'd had even the faintest shadow of a claim to the throne, one suspects he would have proved to be a very good king. He was honest and honourable, utterly loyal to the Crown until pushed too far by Edward II, a skilled tactician and warrior, a good administrator. He made an excellent servant to the Crown until he and many of the other nobles could no longer tolerate Edward II's tyranny, favouritism and mismanagement, and then he made a very very bad enemy.

And from that point on Mortimer's fate was set. The deposition of Edward II was popular, supported by nobles, commons and clergy, and Mortimer's actions to that point could be seen as entirely justified. But once Edward III was in place, Mortimer's actions increasingly became self-defensive, more about preserving his and Queen Isabella's position ruling in the young king's name, than about what was best for the country. And Edward III was only going to grow into his role and chafe against the rule of his mother and her lover.

Ian Mortimer (no relation, I'm sure!) is in my opinion one of the best writers of popular history out there. I have enjoyed every one of his books, and this is as well-written, interesting and engaging as the rest. I was particularly fascinated by his theory on the survival of Edward II, which he presents quite convincingly. Won me over, at any rate. If only all popular history was as enjoyable as this!
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