Friday, November 15, 2013

Katherine Plantagenet, Countess of Devonshire

"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I, Katherine Courtneye, Countess of Devonshire, widow, and not wedded, ne unto any man assured, promise and make a vow to God, and to our Lady, and to all the Company of Heaven, in the presence of you, worshipful Father in God, Richard Bishop of Lincoln, for to be chaste of my body, and truly and devoutly shall keep me chaste, for this time forward, as long as my life lasteth, after the rule of St. Paul. In nomine Patris et Fillii et Spiritus Sancti."

Thus did Katherine Plantagenet, daughter of King Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth Woodville vow to never remarry one month after the death of her husband, Lord William Courtenay, newly created Earl of Devonshire, who did not live long enough to be invested with his Earldom. The mother of Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter she was the longest surviving child of Edward IV. The mother of three is the reason that the Marquis had royal blood and was eventually caught up in the conspiracy that bears his name, losing his life.  Katherine Plantagenet, princess of England has a story that is not well known. I hope that over the years of my research into her daughter-in-law's life I will be able to illuminate Katherine's story.  Here's a brief overview on this date the 15th of  November, the anniversary of Katherine's death in 1527.

Katherine Plantagenet was born on the 14th of August, 1479 at the palace of Eltham. She was the sixth daughter and ninth child of King Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Prior to her father's death she was proposed as a bride to Prince Juan of Asturias, son and heir of King Fernando and Queen Isabel, the Catholic Kings of Spain. Following her father's death in 1483, she entered sanctuary with her mother and siblings. When Henry VII came to the throne in 1485 she was six years old, twelve years younger than her eldest sister the new queen, Elizabeth of York.  Another royal marriage was proposed for her by her brother-in-law, as part of a triple marriage alliance with Scotland.  Her mother would have married King James III, elder sister Cecily the future James IV and Katherine would marry Prince James Stewart Duke of Ross.

Instead Katherine married Lord William Courtenay, son and heir of Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devonshire. Horatia Durant, in her 1960 biography of the Tudor Earls of Devonshire states unequivocally that it was a true love match. I question that assumption. If you look at the marriages of Katherine's sisters, all arranged by King Henry VII, they were married into the families of his supporters. Sister Cecily married John, Viscount Welles, maternal half brother of Margaret Beaufort, the King's mother.  Sister Anne married Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, most likely as a way to cement the Howard family to Tudor loyalty as the Earl had fought on the side of Richard III. Katherine's youngest surviving sister, Bridget took the veil becoming a nun at Dartford Priory.

The Courtenay family had been strong allies to Henry VII and William's father Edward Courtenay was listed as the first man knighted at Henry's landing at Mill Bay later being created Earl of Devonshire at the King's coronation. One cannot dismiss the possibility that the marriage was a love match, but there is strong evidence as it being a reward for loyal service to the crown.

William and Katherine had three children. The eldest Henry would go on to be the husband of the subject of this blog, Gertrude Blount and have a long and illustrious career at the court of his cousin, Henry VIII. The second child, Edward died in the summer of 1502, his aunt Queen Elizabeth paying for the expenses of his funeral. The third child, a daughter named Margaret married Henry Somerset, Earl of Worcester in 1520, dying no later than 1526.  It was at one point believed that Margaret died as a child, choking on a fish bone, but this was an error based on a tombstone that was from a different era.

Katherine and William were prominent members of the court of Henry VII.  William made a fatal error in at least corresponding with Edmund de la Pole, exiled Duke of Suffolk. He was imprisoned in 1502 and attainted in 1504. Queen Elizabeth's privy purse expenses record that she took care of her sister and the children.  When Queen Elizabeth died in 1503, Katherine was chief mourner.

At the death of Henry VII Lord William Courtenay was exempted from the general pardon at the beginning of Henry VIII's reign.  Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devonshire died shortly after Henry VIII's accession to the throne. His son would eventually be pardoned and released. Granted the Earldom on the 11th of May 1511, he died on the 11th of June 1511.  One month later Katherine took her vow of chastity. She was only 32 years old.

Katherine outlived her husband and her daughter dying on the 15th of November 1527 at her home, Tiverton Castle, in Devonshire. She is buried in Tiverton church.  In life she was the daughter, sister, niece, sister-in-law and aunt of kings. As the last surviving child of King Edward IV she holds an interesting place in the lesser known annals of history.