Earl of Devon

Earl of Devon

The title of Earl of Devon was created several times in the Peerage of England, and was possessed first by the de Redvers (de Reviers) family, and later for the Courtenay. It is not to be confused with the title of "Earl of Devonshire", held along with the title of Duke of Devonshire by the Cavendish family, although the patent for the creation of those peerages used the same Latin words, "Comes Devon".

The Earls of Devon were treated with suspicion under the Tudors, partly because one of them had married Catherine of York, a younger daughter of Edward IV of England. All of them but the last were attainted, and there were several recreations and restorations. The last recreation was to the heirs male of the grantee, not (as would be usual) the heirs male of his body. When he died unmarried, it was assumed the title was extinct, but a much later Courtenay, whose common ancestor was seven generations before this Earl, successfully claimed the title in 1831. During this period the "de jure" Earls of Devon were made baronets and Viscounts.

During this time an Earldom, now called for distinction the Earldom of Devonshire was created twice: once for Charles Blount, 8th Baron Mountjoy, who had no legitimate children; the second time for the Cavendishes, now Dukes of Devonshire. Unlike the Dukes of Devonshire, the Earls of Devon were strongly connected with the county of Devon. Their seat is Powderham Castle, near Starcross on the River Exe.

The Earl of Devon has not inherited the original Barony of Courtenay or the Viscounty of Courtenay of Powderham (1762-1835); nevertheless, his heir is styled Lord Courtenay by courtesy.

The ancient Earldom

The first Earl of Devon was Baldwin de Reviers (Redvers, Revieres), son of Richard de Reviers, founder of Twynham Abbey. The Abbey chronicles call his father also Earl, but there is no contemporary evidence for this, including the Abbey charter, which has survived. Baldwin de Reviers was a great lord in Devon and the Isle of Wight, one of the first to rebel against King Stephen. He seized Exeter, and was a pirate out of Carisbrooke, but he was driven out of England to Anjou, where he joined the Empress Matilda. She made him Earl of Devon after she established herself in England, probably in early 1141.

William de Reviers, fifth Earl, (and son of the first Earl) had only two children who left issue. His son Baldwin died at the age of sixteen, 1 September, 1216, leaving his wife Margaret pregnant with the sixth Earl. King John forced her to marry Falkes de Breauté. She was rescued at the fall of Bedford Castle in 1224. She was divorced from him, as having been in no true marriage; she is understandably, if mistakenly, called Countess of Devon in several records. The fifth Earl's youngest daughter, Mary, married Pierre de Preaux and then Robert de Courtney.

The 7th Earl died in 1262, leaving no children. His sister, Isabella de Fortibus was widow of William de Forz, 4th Earl of Albemarle, and became also Countess of Devon in her own right. Her children predeceased her; she had no grandchildren.

Her lands passed to her second cousin once removed, Hugh de Courtney, great-grandson of Mary and Robert de Courtney above. He was summoned to Parliament in 1299, by which he became Lord Courtney. He had difficulty collecting the third penny of the County of Devon, but was confirmed as 9th Earl in 1335; some would call this a new grant, rather than a confirmation.

Three of the eight sons of the tenth Earl had descendants (another, William Courtenay, was Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor). Sir Hugh de Courtenay (1327-1349) was one of the founding members of the Order of the Garter, but he and his only son died before his father. Sir Edward de Courtenay, the third son, also died before his father, but left two sons, Edward, the 11th Earl, and Hugh. We will return to the descendants of Sir Philip de Courtenay to whom his father left Powderham, Devon.

The 14th Earl fought on the losing, Lancastrian, side at the Battle of Towton. He was captured, attainted, and beheaded.

After that, the Yorkists made Humphrey Stafford, a distant cousin of the Earl of Stafford (and nephew of another Archbishop, their agent in the West Country. On 17 May, 1469, he was created Earl of Devon, since the post was vacant. He was a "three month's Earl": He was sent to fight "Robin of Redesdale", one of the commanders of Warwick, divided his own forces, and was captured and executed at Bridgwater, 17 August, 1469. He had no children, so the second creation of the Earldom was then extinct.

When Warwick won, and arranged the readeption of Henry VI, he also had the Earldom of Devon restored to John Courtenay, brother of the 14th Earl. When Edward IV prevailed again, the next year, all the legislation of Henry VI's second reign was cancelled, including this restoration. The fifteenth Earl died fighting on the losing side of the Battle of Tewkesbury, a few weeks later. If the Earldom (and the Barony of Courtenay) had not been forfeited at the change of reign, they would (by modern law) have gone into abeyance among his sisters.

Tudor Earls

Sir Edward Courtenay, grandnephew of the 11th Earl, fought on the winning side at the Battle of Bosworth. Later that year, he was created Earl of Devon, the third creation. He had been under attainder by Richard III's Parliament, and, still later in 1485, he was restored to "the honours lost by his attainder". It is not clear what honours he had had, but this may have been intended to restore the ancient Earldom of Devon. He died in 1509.

William Courtenay, his only son, married Catherine of York, a younger daughter of Edward IV, around 1495. This made him suspicious to Henry VII and he was imprisoned in 1503 and attainted in 1504, for (never proved) complicity in the conspiracy of Edmund de la Pole, 3rd Duke of Suffolk. He did not, therefore, inherit his father's title, but was gradually forgiven under the new reign of Henry VIII. This had got as far as a restoration of lands and a new grant of the Earldom of Devon, when he died suddenly of pleurisy in June 1511.

Henry Courtenay, his only surviving son, inherited his father's Earldom. In 1512, his father's attainder was reversed, making him heir to his grandfather's earldom; thus becoming second Earl of both the third and fourth creations; and in 1525 Marquess of Exeter. Unfortunately, in 1538, he was tried, convicted, attainted and beheaded, for conspiring with the Poles and Nevilles against the government of Thomas Cromwell in the aftermath of the Pilgrimage of Grace. At this point, all his titles were forfeited: the Marquessate, the Earldoms of the third and fourth creation, and (if revived) the ancient Earldom also.

Edward Courtenay, his only surviving son, was a prisoner in the Tower of London for fifteen years, from his father's arrest to the beginning of Mary's reign, when he was released and created, as the fifth creation, Earl of Devon. (This patent differed from the other patents in granting the Earldom to his heirs male forever, rather than the "heirs male of his body".) He was proposed as a prospective bridegroom for the Queen, his cousin, and after Mary married Philip of Spain, he was considered a match for Mary's sister, Elizabeth. This made him a threat to Mary's reign; Edward was also implicated in Wyatt's rebellion and again locked up in the Tower. In 1555 he was permitted to go to Italy, where he died in Padua in 1556, quite possibly poisoned. With his death, unmarried, the male line of Sir Edward de Courtenay was extinct; and the Earldom with it, or so everybody thought.


Since there was no Earl over Devon, James I granted it in 1603 to Charles Blount, 8th Baron Mountjoy, whose aunt had been the last Earl's mother. He died without legitimate children three years later, and the King gave (or rather sold) the Earldom to William Cavendish, 1st Baron Cavendish.

Meanwhile, the heirs of Sir Philip de Courtenay of Powderham lived quietly under the Tudors, as country gentlemen; they did not marry royalty. They became baronets in 1645, during the English Civil War; and Viscount Courtenay of Powderham in 1762, ten days before the death of the first Viscount.

In 1831, the senior living Courtenay was William Courtenay, the third Viscount, an aged rake, living in Paris, having fled a bill of indictment. Should he die unmarried, the viscounty would become extinct; the baronetcy would be inherited by his third cousin, another William Courtenay, who happened to be Clerk Assistant to Parliament.

This William Courtenay persuaded the House of Lords that "heir male" in the last creation of the title meant "heir male collateral", and that his cousin was therefore 9th Earl of Devon, and his ancestors had been "de jure" Earls of Devon back to 1556. William Courtenay duly succeeded his cousin as 10th Earl in 1835, and from him the later Earls are descended. (A madman, John Nichols Thom, claimed to be "Sir William Courtenay" in 1832, and stood for Parliament twice, proclaiming his right to the Earldom and the political platform of the extreme Philosophical Radicals. He organized an agricultural rising outside Canterbury in 1838, and was shot during its suppression.)

The inconvenience, since 1831, of having two Earls for the same county, has been dealt with thus: The Cavendish Earls, who were promoted to Dukes in 1694, had been spelling their title Duke of Devonshire; the ancient Earls had usually been Earls of Devon. (This is due in part to the differences between English and "law Latin", the language in which royal decrees were traditionally written.) This has now become the difference between the two peerages, and it is convenient to call the Blount Earl (1603-6) Earl of Devonshire also.

Earls of Devon, First Creation (1141)

*Baldwin de Redvers, 1st Earl of Devon (c. 1095-1155)
*Richard de Redvers, 2nd Earl of Devon (d. 1162)
*Baldwin de Redvers, 3rd Earl of Devon (d. 1188)
*Richard de Redvers, 4th Earl of Devon (d. c. 1193), brother
*William de Redvers, 5th Earl of Devon (d. 1217), uncle
*Baldwin de Redvers, 6th Earl of Devon (1217-1245), grandson
*Baldwin de Redvers, 7th Earl of Devon (1236-1262)
*Isabel de Redvers, 8th Countess of Devon (1237-1293), sister
*Hugh de Courtenay, 9th Earl of Devon (1276-1340) (cousin; declared Earl 1335)
*Hugh de Courtenay, 10th Earl of Devon (1303-1377)
*Edward de Courtenay, 11th Earl of Devon (1357-1419), grandson
*Hugh de Courtenay, 12th Earl of Devon (1389-1422)
*Thomas de Courtenay, 13th Earl of Devon (1414-1458)
*Thomas Courtenay, 14th Earl of Devon (1432-1461) (attainted 1461)
*John Courtenay, 15th Earl of Devon (1435-1471) (restored 1470; forfeited 1471), brother

Earl of Devon, Second Creation (1469)

*Humphrey Stafford, 1st Earl of Devon (1439-1469) (granted May 1469; forfeited August 1469)

Earl of Devon, Third Creation (1485)

*Edward Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon (d. 1509) (forfeited at his death by son’s attainder; restored 1512 to his grandson)
**Heir male to John Courtenay above; attainted 1484; restored to lands and honours then lost in 1485; if this was intended to restore the first Earldom, it was also forfeit 1538/9).

Earls of Devon, Fourth Creation (1511)

*William Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon (1475-1511) (attainted 1504; restored to the rights of a subject 1511; new creation two days later; died the next month without investiture, but buried as an Earl.) son of Edward above.
*Henry Courtenay, 1st Marquess of Exeter, 2nd Earl of Devon (1498-1539) (heir to both 3rd and 4th creations after 1512; attainted 1538/9) son of William above.

Earls of Devon, Fifth Creation (1553)

*Edward Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon (1527-1556) (also restored in blood, but not honours, 1553; fifth creation dormant 1556†) son of Henry above.

Earls "de jure"

*William Courtenay, "2nd Earl of Devon" (1529-1557), distant cousin of Edward above,
*William Courtenay, "3rd Earl of Devon" (1553-1630)
*Francis Courtenay, "4th Earl of Devon" (1576-1638)
*Sir William Courtenay, "5th Earl of Devon," 1st Baronet (1628-1702) (created 1644)
*Sir William Courtenay, "6th Earl of Devon," 2nd Baronet (1675-1735) grandson of prec.
*William Courtenay, "7th Earl of Devon," 1st Viscount Courtenay (Feb 11, 1709/1710 - May 16 1762) (created Viscount Courtenay 1762)
*William Courtenay, "8th Earl of Devon," 2nd Viscount Courtenay (30 October 1742- 14 October, 1788)
*William Courtenay, "9th Earl of Devon," 3rd Viscount Courtenay (1768-1835) (retrospectively revived 1831†)

Revived (1831)

*William Courtenay, 9th Earl of Devon (1768-1835)
*William Courtenay, 10th Earl of Devon (1777-1859), third cousin
*William Reginald Courtenay, 11th Earl of Devon (1807-1888)
*Edward Baldwin Courtenay, 12th Earl of Devon (1836-1891)
*Henry Hugh Courtenay, 13th Earl of Devon (1811-1904), uncle
*Charles Pepys Courtenay, 14th Earl of Devon (1870-1927), grandson
*Henry Hugh Courtenay, 15th Earl of Devon (1872-1935), brother
*Frederick Leslie Courtenay, 16th Earl of Devon (1875-1935), brother
*Charles Christopher Courtenay, 17th Earl of Devon (1916-1998)
*Hugh Rupert Courtenay, 18th Earl of Devon (b. 1942)
**Charles Peregrine Courtenay, Lord Courtenay (b. 1975)

†: 1553 creation was with remainder to his heirs male whatsoever, so theoretically succeeded by his sixth cousin once removed; thus the 1831 revival was to the 9th member of the family with respect to said creation.

Earl of Devonshire

While the title was supposed extinct, there were two recreations, to the families of Blount and Cavendish, of a Devon Earldom; for which see Charles Blount, 1st Earl of Devonshire (1603-1606) and Duke of Devonshire.

External links

* [http://www.stirnet.com/HTML/genie/british/qr/redvers1.htm de Redvers family]

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Look at other dictionaries:

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