Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Pardon of William Courtenay, Briefly Earl of Devonshire

William Courtenay, son and heir of Edward Courtenay, 1st Tudor Earl of Devon was imprisoned in 1502 for corresponding with the exiled 3rd Duke of Suffolk, Edmund de la Pole and condemned by Act of Attainder in 1504. Yet, his brother-in-law King Henry VII did not have him executed. Perhaps he survived due to the King's regard for his father. After all, Edward Courtenay was the very first person Henry Tudor knighted when he landed at Mill Bay, Pembrokeshire on his way to his improbable victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field.  Henry VII granted his loyal subject his family's traditional title of Earl of Devonshire at his coronation.

Edward Courtenay had been one of Henry Tudor's companions in his continental exile. His second cousin, John Courtenay, 7th Earl of Devonshire had died fighting for the Lancastrians at the the Battle of Tewkesbury and the title died with him.  Some would say that the 1485 creation makes Edward the 8th Earl, but it was a new creation and most refer to the 4 Tudor Earls of Devonshire as a new creation. In fact because of the attainder, William's creation makes him another 1st Earl even though he held the title for one month.

Edward Courtenay's son, William, had benefited from his father's loyal service and was married to the King's sister-in-law, Princess Katherine Plantagenet in 1495.  They would have 3 children, Henry, Edward and Margaret. Young Edward died in 1502 and his aunt Queen Elizabeth of York paid for his funeral expenses and, in the wake of William's imprisonment, she paid for her sister and her children's expenses.  Katherine would serve as chief mourner at her sister's funeral in 1503.

As mentioned previously, William was condemned by Act of Attainder in 1504. Yet, he was not executed. His nephew, King Henry VIII specifically excluded him from the general pardon granted at his accession to the throne in 1509.

"Names of those exempted from the general pardon - William de la Pole, Edmund de la Pole, Richard de la Pole, William Courtenay, son of the Earl of Devon..." (spelled Will Cortney in the document)

The King changed his mind two years later.  The loyal Edward, Earl of Devonshire died May 27, 1509 and was buried in Tiverton Chantry Chapel in a tomb now lost. The title went vacant again. His son, remained a prisoner until May 9, 1511.  "Sir William Courtenay, reversal of attainder passed against him 19 Hen. VII when he was son and heir apparent of Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon."

The next day he was granted his father's title. "Sir William Courtenay, husband of the King's aunt, Lady Katherine, daughter of Edward IV, and son of Edward Courtenay, late Earl of Devon, descended of the stock of Hugh Courtenay, Earl of Devon and his wife Margaret (daughter of Elizabeth, daughter of Edward I), and heir of the said Hugh. Creation as Earl of Devon. Witnesses: W. abp of Canterbury, Chancellor, R. bp of Winchester, Privy Seal, Thomas bp. of Durham, Secretary, Edward, Duke of Buckingham, John Earl of Oxford, Admiral, Thomas Earl of Surrey, Treasurer, Sir Thomas Lovell, Treasurer of the Household, and Sir Henry Marney, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.  --Westminster 10 May (3 Henry VIII)."

Translation of the witnesses - William Warham Archbishop of Canterbury, Richard Foxe, Bishop of Winchester, Thomas Ruthall, Bishop of Durham, Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, Sir Thomas Lovell and Sir Henry Marney.

William did not survive long enough to be formally invested with his earldom, dying just one month after the reversal of his attainder. Perhaps the reason for the sudden decision after all those years to reverse the attainder and grant William the return of his family's title had more to do with the king's relationship with his Aunt Katherine and his cousin, Henry Courtenay.  Given that Henry VIII's mother had briefly supported her sister's family, it is very likely that the future king had been close to his aunt and cousin. In fact, Henry Courtenay would be a part of most of the famous events of Henry VIII's reign, loyally serving his cousin until his own fall in the conspiracy of 1538 that bears his name.  It seems likely that William was ill at the time of his pardon and creation, an act of mercy by the young king to favor his mother's family.

For further reading:
Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 1, 1509-1514. J.S. Brewer, editor.
available online at British History Online -

Do not rely on William Courtenay's wikipedia entry. It is based on very outdated information.

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