(1st M. Exeter)

Born: ABT 1497/1505

Acceded: 18 Jun 1525

Died: 9 Jan 1539, beheaded

Notes: Knight of the Garter. 11 E. of Devon

Father: William COURTENAY (10 E. Devon)

Mother: Catherine PLANTAGENET (C. Devon)

Married 1: Elizabeth GREY (5 B. Lisle) AFT 11 Jun 1515

Married 2: Gertrude BLOUNT (M. Exeter)


1. Edward COURTENAY (12 E. Devon)

He was son of Sir William Courtenay, by Princess Catherine, youngest daughter of Edward IV. His grandfather, Edward Courtenay, was on 26 Oct 1485 created Earl of Devon by Henry VII; was granted at the same time very large estates in Devonshire; was made knight of the Garter in 1490; resisted Perkin Warbeck's attack on Exeter in 1497; and dying 1 Mar 1509, was buried at Tiverton. The Earl Edward was grandnephew of another Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon, Earl Marshal in 1385, but this Earldom had been forfeited by Edward IV, in the person of Thomas Courtenay (great-grandson of the elder Edward Courtenay), who fought with the Lancastrians at Towton, and was slain at Tewkesbury (1461).

Henry Courtenay's father, Sir William Courtenay, was in high favor at the court of Henry VII in the lifetime of his wife's sister, Queen Elizabeth, and is praised for his bravery and manly bearing by Polydore Vergil. In 1487 he became knight of the Bath. There is a letter from him describing his father's and his own repulse of Warbeck at Exeter in Ellis's 'Original Letters', 1st ser. i. 36. But on the Queen's death in 1503, the King, fearing that Courtenay's near relationship to the throne might tempt him to conspiracy, committing him to the Tower on an obscure charge of corresponding with Edmund De la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, the surviving chief of the Yorkist faction. Attainder followed. On Henry VIII's accession in 1509 he was released from prison, and carried the sword at his coronation. On 10 May 1511 he was allowed to succeed to his father's Earldom; but the formalities for restoring him in blood were not completed before his death on 9 Jun 1511. He was buried in Blackfriars Church. His wife, the Princess Catherine, died 15 Nov 1527, and was buried at Tiverton.

The boy Henry was treated kindly by his 1st cousin, Henry VIII, who had great affection for her aunt Catherine; and he was allowed to succeed to his father's Earldom in 1511, and the attainder was formally removed in the following year. He took part in the naval campaign with France in 1513, when about seventeen years old, as 2nd captain of a man-of-war, and in 1520 was made both a privy councillor (May) and gentleman of the privy chamber (Jul). On 15 Apr 1521 he was created K.G. in the place of the Duke of Buckingham, who was tried and convicted of treason in May of the same year, and the Lordship of Calliland, Cornwall, together with a mansion in St. Lawrence Pountney, formerly Buckingham's property, was conferred on him at the same time. Courtenay attended Henry VIII at Calais, at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, in 1521, and took part in the tournaments. The keepership of Birling manor, the stewardries of Winkeley, Gloucestershire, and the duchies of Exeter, Somerset, and Cornwall were granted him in 1522 and 1523. In Apr 1525 he became constable of Windsor Castle, and on 18 Jun following Marquis of Exeter. In Aug of the same year Courtenay went to France as the King's envoy to negotiate an alliance, and to secure the release of Francois I, taken prisoner by Spain at the battle of Pavia. On his return in Sep the King appointed him the privy councillor to be in immediate attendance upon him, and on 17 May 1528 he was nominated lieutenant of the order of the Garter.

Throughout the proceedings for the divorce of Queen Catalina De Aragon, Courtenay actively aided the King; he subscribed the articles against Wolsey (1529), signed the letter to Clement VII demanding the divorce in 1531, and acted as commissioner for the deposition of Catalina in 1533. When the suppression of the monasteries was imminent in 1535, Exeter was made steward of very many abbeys and priories in the western counties, where he was also acting as commissioner of array (6 Oct 1534). At the king's request he also acted as commissioner at the trial of Anne Boleyn two years later, and was sent to Yorkshire with the Duke of Norfolk in Oct 1536, in order to aid in the suppression of the Pilgrimage of Grace. But he hurriedly retired from the north to Devonshire. A rebellion under Lord Darcy broke out in Somersetshire in 1537, and Exeter was ordered to act as lord steward at Darcy's trial.

Courtenays power in the west of England had now become supreme, and he assumed a very independent attitude to Henry's minister Cromwell, whom he cordially disliked. As the grandson of Edward IV, he had a certain claim to the throne, and his wealth and intimacy with the Yorkist Poles and the Nevilles readily enabled Cromwell to point him out to the King as a danger to the succession. Of the character of his 1st wife, Elizabeth, daughter of John Grey, Viscount Lisle, by whom he had no issue, nothing is known. But his 2nd wife, Gertrude, daughter of William Blount, 4 Lord Mountjoy, by whom he had a son Edward, was a devout Catholic; had supported the agitation of Elizabeth Barton, and had visited her shrine at Canterbury. In 1533, when Barton was executed, the Marchioness had begged the King to pardon the intimacy (Wood, Letters, ii. 96-101). She was godmother to the Princess Elizabeth in the same year, and carried Prince Edward at his christening in 1537; but her decided views in favour of the Roman Catholic religion and her affection for Queen Catalina, with whom she corresponded after the divorce, gave additional ground for the suspicion with which her husband was regarded as soon as Cromwell had become his avowed enemy. 

In 1535, Gertrude was visiting Chapuys in disguise and had promised him the support of her Blount connections in any attempt to make Mary queen.

Gradually information was collected in Devonshire and Cornwall to justify a prosecution for treason. Incriminating letters were found in a coffer belonging to Gertrude. At St. Keverne, Cornwall, a painted banner had been made wich was to be carried round the villages, rousing the men to rebel against the crown in order to declare Courtenay heir-apparent to the throne, at any rate in the west of England. Reginald Pole, the cardinal, was found to be in repeated communication with Courtenay. Pole's brother, Sir Geoffrey, turned traitor, and came to London to announce that a conspiracy was hatching on the lines of the Pilgrimage of Grace. Early in Nov 1538 Courtenay, his wife, and son Edward were committed to the Tower. On 3 Dec Courtenay was tried by his peers in Westminster Hall. Evidence as to the Marquis's treasonable conversation with Sir Geoffrey Pole was alone adduced; but he was condemned and beheaded on Tower Hill 9 Dec 1538. A week later he was proclaimed a convicted traitor, and guilty of compassing the king's death. 

His wife and son were kept in prison, and were attained in Jul 1539. The Marchioness for a time had for her companion Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (mother of Cardinal Pole), who was beheaded 27 May 1541, and the distressed condition of these two ladies was made the subject of a petition from their gaoler to the King in 1540. Subsequently the King pardoned the Marchioness, and she was released. She died on 25 Sep 1558, just two months before her former mistress, and was buried at Wimborne.

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