Sunday, August 9, 2015

Paying Respects: My Pilgrimage to the Grave of Gertrude Courtenay, Marchioness of Exeter

Gertrude Courtenay, Marchioness of Exeter died on September 25, 1558.  She been pardoned for her role in the so-called Exeter Conspiracy that cost her husband, Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter and first cousin of King Henry VIII his life and the lives of most of the family of Reginald Pole, the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury. She had lived to see her only surviving son, Edward Courtenay pardoned by Queen Mary I. Edward, who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London from the age of 12 to the age of 27, would briefly regain royal favor and his family's hereditary title of Earl of Devon before being caught up in Wyatt's Rebellion with his name linked to Princess Elizabeth in an attempt to thwart Queen Mary's planned Spanish marriage. Her son would be exiled and she would also sadly survive him as he died in mysterious circumstances in Italy in 1556.

The Marchioness of Exeter would be buried in the presbytery of Wimborne Minster opposite the beautiful tomb of John Beaufort and Margaret Beauchamp, Duke and Duchess of Somerset, better known to history as the parents of Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, the mother of King Henry VII. Wimborne Minster is a charming and beautiful church in the equally charming market town of Wimborne in the county of Dorset, England.. The church is dedicated to Saint Cuthburga, Saxon Princess and foundress of a community of Benedictine nuns at Wimborne in 705.

Wimborne Minster has a rich royal history. King Alfred the Great's elder brother King Ethelred of Wessex was buried there following his death in 871 from wounds suffered battling the Danes in Martin. His grave is not marked but a lovely memorial brass is displayed, believed to be the only memorial brass effigy of an English King and is dated around 1440.

Wimborne Minster has ties to the Lancastrian side of the 15th century civil war known to history as the Wars of the Roses. As I mentioned it is the final resting place of the parents of Lady Margaret Beaufort.

John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset died in 1444 leaving the infant Margaret one of the most sought after English heiresses. Margaret would go on to found in 1497 a chantry chapel with the instructions that a priest would "teach grammar to all comers."

This led to the the current Wimborne Grammar School which received a charter in 1562 from Queen Elizabeth I and a new charter in the reign of Charles I.  The seal of Queen Elizabeth and the charter from Charles I, with his seal attached but no signature are part of the treasures to be found on display in the Minster's famed Chained Library.

Yet, the reason I traveled to Wimborne Minster was to pay my respects to the Marchioness of Exeter.
Gertrude Blount's tomb is in a prestigious location in the presbytery on the left side as you approach the high altar. The Duke and Duchess of Somerset's tomb is on the right side.  The tomb is a beautiful chest that appears to have had at one time heraldic decorations that were either removed or have worn away. A Latin inscription runs about halfway around the top edge of the tomb. It is a beautiful spot.

In the Minster's St. George's Chapel located to the left of the presbytery is an armourial window for the Courtenay family.  Created by Thomas Willement, the "father of Victorian stained glass" the window shows the coats of arms for the Tudor Earls of Devon. The inscriptions have faded, particularly the inscription beneath the coat of arms for Henry and Gertrude's son, Edward, but with effort they can be read.

The inscription reads "Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter"
Note the Garter surrounding the shield

The man who started it all
The inscription reads:
"William Courtenay
Married Katherine daughter of
King Edward IV"
This is the reason the Courtenays had royal blood

I need to research these two coats of arms
I am unsure of their significance

This coat of arms commemorates the marriage of Henry Courtenay and Gertrude Blount
The Blount coat of arms is on the right

Of the captions this one is the easiest to read

Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon
His inscription reads
Edward Courtenay Earl of Devon
Only child of Henry and Gertrude
Died Without Issue

Wimborne Minster is a beautiful and little known part of Tudor history. If you find yourself in Dorset make an effort to visit this wonderful town and church. Make sure that you check to see if the famed Chained Library is open during your visit. Founded in 1685 it is the second largest chained library in England. It has limited hours and the library can only hold a few people at a time.  You can find more information about the library and the Minster at the Minster's website

Resources used for this post
Wimborne Minster guide book text by Christine Oliver, published by Jerrold Publishing, Norwich 2002
Stained Glass Windows in Wimborne Minster complied from Minster Records, publishing information and date not in the guide book.
The Chained Library of Wimborne Minster, pamphlet available in the Minster


  1. Truly a pilgrimage. You bring a tremendous amount of light on the life of Gertrude Courtenay, valuing her as a subject worthy of study in her own right, not just as the "daughter of...", "wife of...", or "mother of..." to which so many women of the period are relegated. Your work on her illuminates her life and contributions to history. Glad you got to spend some time "with her."

  2. Hi, it appears we have slightly overlapping research interests. The coat of arms you want to research more above, with the bishop's mitre as a crest, is probably representative of Peter Courtenay, Bishop of Exeter 1478-1487. The arms on the left side of the picture are those of the See of Exeter. A similar depiction, probably created during Gertrude Courtenay's lifetime, can be seen on a bench end in Landulph church, Cornwall.