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Devonshire February March 17

Devon's Countryside, Wildlife, History and Events

the Courtenay family

the Courtenay family Devon Champions for over 800 years Powderham Castle is home to the Earl and Countess of Devon and their children. They bear the illustrious Courtenay name, a family line that stretches back over 1000 years, most of which has been spent in Devon. Following the death of Hugh Courtenay, Earl of Devon, and the return of his son Charles, and his wife AJ, to the family home at Powderham Castle, we offer this brief history of one of Devon's more prominent families: the Courtenays. Since the 1180s the family has been at the forefront of our great county's story, playing all manner of roles from Barons of Okehampton, Sheriffs of Devon, Marquises of Exeter, and Viscounts, to Archbishops, Bishops, Members of Parliament and, currently, Earls of Devon. The family has built and/or stewarded many of Devon's most iconic castles, houses and landscapes, including at Okehampton, Tiverton, Exeter, Forde House, Ugbrooke, Molland, Colyton and, currently, Powderham Castle on the River Exe. In this article, we follow the family's remarkable story, as its status, role and wealth rose, fell, rose, fell and rose again repeatedly over the past 8 centuries. Fascinating in its own right, this one family’s journey provides a unique reflection on the story of Devon, the county to which the family is so closely tied: 22 Countryside, History, Walks, the Arts, Events & all things Devon at: DEVONSHIRE magazine.co.uk

As the name suggests, the Courtenay family origins are French, and their first traces are found in the early medieval town of Courtenay, 100 miles south of Paris in the region of Burgundy. Athon, the patriarch, was a knight resident at Chateau Renard, who fortified the town around 1000 AD, and took the town's name in return, becoming Athon de Courtenay. He established a family that flourished under the early Capetian monarchy, distinguished in battle, and canny in marriage and politics, adopting early a strategy since followed for centuries through good times and bad. 12th Century Immigrants and Warriors: An engraving of Okehampton Castle Despite early glories, the family’s fortunes foundered when Athon's great grandson, Reginald, fell foul of his king, Louis le Gros, and was banished, his lands forfeited, and his daughter married to Peter, Prince of France. Reginald moved to England in 1154, with Eleanor of Acquitaine, king Henry II's new Queen, where he established his family in Devon. He was appointed Baron of Okehampton, and the family acquired Okehampton Castle, from where they could defend the new Plantagenet monarchy's interests in the West. 13th Century Crusaders and Barons: The French Courtenay family found glory as crusaders, becoming variously Counts of Edessa (modern-day Syria), kings of Jerusalem and Emperors of Constantinople. Their English cousins had more modest ambitions, firming up local ties with marriage to the De Redvers family, the Norman Earls of Devon, and becoming locally important as Sheriffs of Devon, with residence at Exeter Castle. The English Courtenays were not shy to bask in the glory of their crusading cousins, and it was during this time that the distinctive Courtenay coat of arms was adopted - three red spots on a golden background, symbolic of the three spots of Christ's blood brought back from the Holy Land on a golden salver and bestowed as a relic in Bruges Cathedral. The family took a minor role in the major event of the century: king John was married to a Courtenay lady, his second wife, when he signed the Magna Carta in 1215. The family also joined in the battles of Edward 1 in Wales and in Scotland, assisting their king in the early and bloody efforts to forge a United Kingdom. The Courtenay coat of arms, the three red spots are symbolic of Christ's blood brought back from the Holy Land 14th Century Earls and Garter Knights: Having settled in Devon, allied themselves with local magnates, and fought with prominence in the national cause, the 14th century saw the Courtenay The port of Topsham family rise to prominence. The family acquired and built castles at Tiverton, Bickleigh and Colcombe. They oversaw an international trading business to the continent, principally with the Plantagenet lands in the south of France, around Bordeaux. The centre of this business was the Exe Estuary, which became one of England's busiest ports during this era, exchanging wool for wine, and transporting pilgrims. When the Countess' Wear was built across the river Exe by the Countess of Devon to restrict shipping to the port of Exeter, the beneficiary was the Courtenay-owned port town of Topsham, which was granted a royal charter by Edward I in 1300. When the Norman De Redvers family failed to produce an heir, it was to the Courtenays that the king Edward III turned to represent his interests in the county, making Hugh the 1st Courtenay Earl of Devon in 1335. The 1st Earl's son, another Hugh, consolidated this new-found status. He was a distinguished knight, who fought at the battles of Crecy and Poitiers and married Margaret de Bohun, granddaughter of Edward I, whose dowry included the Manor of Powderham. Hugh and Margaret were buried together in Exeter Cathedral, where their tomb can be admired to this day in the South Transept. Hugh’s son and heir, another Hugh, predeceased him, but not before he had become a founding member of Edward III’s new Order of the Garter. The family's rise to national prominence was further confirmed when Hugh's brother, William, became Archbishop of Canterbury, responsible for many developments in England's greatest Cathedral, where he is buried in state next to the Black Prince - his close friend and the great hero of the Hundred Years' War. Hugh Courtenay - Exeter Cathedral As the century drew to a close, building work began at Powderham, the royal manor gifted by Margaret to her sixth son, Philip, on the banks of the Exe, establishing a home for the cadet branch of the family on the shores of the Exe, which remains to this day. hubcast .co.u k 23

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