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One version is that it derives from "Mortemer", site of the Cistercian Abbaye de Mortemer at Lisors near Lyons-la-Forêt and close to Rouen in Normandy. The land was granted to the Cistercians by Henry II in the 1180s. Finding the land to be a marshy-land of the Lyons Forest around the running Fouillebroc Stream, the monks dug out a large drainage lake and built the Abbaye de Mortemer. The ruins and lake can still be visited, and the later 16th century Abbey hosts tours.
There are two possible explanations: first, a small pond must have already existed before the land was given to the monks and have already called Mortemer like the two other Mortemer, because the word mer 'pond' was not used anymore beyond the Xth century. This word is only attested in North-Western France and of Frankish or Saxon origin mari / meri 'mere', 'lake' (in Cambremer, Blingemer, etc..); mort(e) 'dead' is also quite common to mean 'stagnant' (in Port-Mort 'the port with stagnant water', Morteau 'dead water', etc.). Second, the monks could have given the name Mortemer to their drainage lake to remember the other Mortemer for any kind of reason we don't know, making a pun at the same time with Mer Morte 'Dead Sea'.
Another version, which appears at least as far back the Elizabethan Era, attributes the name to a Norman Knight who fought in the crusades and was distinguished in battle by the shores of the Dead Sea, but this is unsubstantiated and almost certainly a romanticised myth.
In the Middle Ages, the Mortimers were a powerful magnate family or dynasty of Marcher Lords in the Welsh Marches, centered around Wigmore Castle in Herefordshire, and from the 14th century holding the title of Earl of March.
Through marriage, the Mortimers came during the reign of Richard II to be close to the English throne, but when Richard II was deposed in 1399, the claims of the Mortimers were ignored and the throne vested in the usurper Henry of Lancaster instead. The Mortimer claims were later (1425) transmitted to the House of York, which ultimately claimed them in the Wars of the Roses.
Members of the noble Mortimer family included:
- Ranulph de Mortimer, Lord of Wigmore Castle in Herefordshire and Seigneur of St. Victor-en-Caux, today Saint-Victor-l'Abbaye, Seine-Maritime, Haute-Normandie
- Hugh de Mortimer, Lord of Wigmore Castle
- Roger Mortimer of Wigmore
- Ralph de Mortimer
- Roger Mortimer, 1st Baron Mortimer
- Edmund Mortimer, 2nd Baron Mortimer
- Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March
- Roger Mortimer, 2nd Earl of March
- Edmund Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March
- Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March
- Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March
- Edmund Mortimer, son of the 3rd Earl, fought with Owain Glyndŵr and plotted with Henry Hotspur Percy to depose King Henry IV of England and divide the Kingdom of England and Wales in three.
- Bob Mortimer (born 1959), English comedian and actor
- Carole Mortimer (born 1960), English romance novelist
- Chris Mortimer (born 1958), retired Australian Rugby League player
- Conor Mortimer, Irish Gaelic football player
- Daniel Mortimer (born 1989), Australian Rugby League player
- Emily Mortimer (born 1971), English actress
- Favell Lee Mortimer (1802-1878), English Evangelical author of educational books for children
- Gary Mortimer (born 1967), English aeronaut
- George Ferris Whidborne Mortimer (1805–1871), English schoolmaster and divine
- Ian Mortimer (born 1983), Canadian sprint canoer
- Ian Mortimer (historian) (born 1967), British writer
- James Mortimer (1833–1911), American chess player, journalist and playwright
- James Mortimer (athlete) (born 1983), New Zealand hurdler
- John Mortimer (1923-2009), British barrister, dramatist, screenwriter and author
- John B. Mortimer, Hong Kong judge
- John Hamilton Mortimer (1740–1779), British painter
- John Robert Mortimer, yorkshire corn merchant and archaeologist
- Kenneth Mortimer, President Emeritus of Western Washington University, eleventh president of the University of Hawai`i system and Chancellor of the University of Hawai`i at Manoa from 1993-2001
- Peter Mortimer (disambiguation)
- Roger Mortimer (racing) (1909–1991), racing correspondent
- Steve Mortimer (born 1956), former Australian Rugby League player
- Tinsley Mortimer (born 1976), American socialite
- Tony Mortimer (born 1970), British songwriter, composer, singer and rapper; member of British 1990s pop group East 17
- Colonel Douglas Mortimer, played by Lee Van Cleef in the film For a Few Dollars More
- Cousin Mortimer, Basil Brush's ruffian cousin
- Dr Mortimer, a character in the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- Philip Mortimer, a protagonist in Blake and Mortimer, a Belgian comics series created by Edgar P. Jacobs
- Mortimer Brewster, a protagonist in Arsenic and Old Lace and its film adaptation
- Mortimer Goth, a character in the life stimulation games The Sims, The Sims 2, and The Sims 3
- Mortimer Harren, a male crewman in the T.V. show Star Trek: Voyager, appearing in the episode 'Good Shepherd'
- Mortimer Mouse, a Disney character
- Mortimer Scharff, the driver of the hearse Shadow in the popular destruction derby franchise of Twisted Metal.
- Mortimer Leaf, from Shepherd of the Leaves, "Wake up Mortimer! Mortimer, can you hear me?"
- Mortimer Snerd, a character created by Edgar Bergen
- Mortimer Delvile, a character in the novel Cecilia by Frances Burney
- Mortimer McMire, the primary antagonist of the Commander Keen series