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Devonshire February March 17

Devon's Countryside, Wildlife, History and Events

the the Courtenay family

the the Courtenay family Devon Champions for over 800 years The next century saw the family restore something of the fortunes that had been lost during the traumatic Tudor years. The family’s estate grew both in Devon and overseas, principally in Ireland, where they founded one of Ireland’s earliest public schools in Newcastle West, County Limerick. 18th Century Builders and Viscounts: In Devon, another Sir William Courtenay served as MP for The Staircase Hall Honiton and for Devon, and was enobled as Viscount Courtenay in 1762. He and his son undertook remarkable architectural developments at Powderham during the century, converting a ruinous medieval castle into the sumptuous Georgian home we see today. Notable achievements were the insertion of the staircase hall and libraries, and the remarkable woodland garden and Belvedere tower familiar to many that know the Exe estuary. The portraits around Powderham today are a testament to the taste, style and aesthetic of the Viscounts Courtenay, who commissioned work from England’s leading The Music Room Sir William Courtenay (1st Viscount) by Hudson Cosway - 'Kitty' Courtenay (3rd Viscount) artists, the Devon-born Hudson and Reynolds. Later in the century, Powderham was filled with life as the 2nd Viscount’s 13 daughters filled the house to the rafters. Their brother, William ‘Kitty’ Courtenay, completed the re-design of Powderham with a sumptuous Music Room by James Wyatt, and portraits by another Devonian, Richard Cosway, before tragically being exiled himself for his homosexual proclivities, once more thrusting the family into public disgrace. 19th Century Benefactors and Gamblers: The rollercoaster of family fortunes did not let up during the Victorian century. The exiled Kitty’s cousin, another William, was a lawyer who petitioned the House of Lords to have Kitty re-created Earl of Devon. Devon’s case was successful, and restored to the Powderham branch of the family, the honours previously restored by Queen Mary to Edward Courtenay in 1556, and recognised that Kitty Courtenay was the rightful heir to the ancient 1335 Earldom of Devon. The Gatehouse On Kitty’s death, William conveniently succeeded and set about a further major overhaul at Powderham. Engaging Charles Fowler, the Devon-born architect of Covent Garden, William, the 10th Earl, created the courtyard and western approach that we see today and embraced modernity by permitting Brunel’s Atmospheric Railway to run alongside the Powderham Deer Park beside the River Exe. 'The Good Earl William’s son, yet another William known as ‘the good Earl,’ set about many worthy works in and around Devon. He established psychiatric hospitals in Exminster, Starcross and Dawlish, and became involved in Devon and national politics, serving as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for a time. A statue of him, paid for by public prescription now stands in Northernhay Gardens outside Exeter’s Rougemont Castle. The Good Earl’s son, Baldwin, suffers somewhat from comparisons to his father. Reputed to have taste for fast living and slow horses, he had a career as an MP, but died childless aged 54 after suffering a fit while walking home across Trafalgar Square. He had been Earl only a few years. The title passed to his uncle, Henry Hugh, an elderly cleric, and the family estates fell into considerable financial distress, with major sales in Devon, Ireland and elsewhere. Indeed, the Castle was let out for a period of time, as the family could not afford to live there. 26 Countryside, History, Walks, the Arts, Events & all things Devon at: DEVONSHIRE

At the turn of the 20th Century estate finances were weak and prospects were not strong. The elderly Earl’s son had just died before inheriting, leaving three sons, the eldest of which, Charles, inherited aged 34 in 1904. Under ‘Uncle Charlie’s’ stewardship, Powderham became a lively Edwardian home, with the introduction of more recognisably modern leisure amenities such as an indoor tennis court (now the Riding School) and a squash court. Uncle Charlie did not find success in love, and despite turning Powderham into an Edwardian sports centre for his girlfriend, she married another leaving him broken hearted. He died childless in 1927, initiating yet another traumatic chapter in Powderham’s history, one which was only exacerbated by the global upheavals of the 1930s and 40s. 20th Century Survivors and Innovators: helmet at the battle of longstop Hill and lost much of his company to land mines in North Africa on Christmas Eve, 1942. His young family (Kate and Hugh were born in 1940 and 1942) meanwhile found their feet at Powderham, dodging bombs, ghosts and making do; Hugh was born in the State Bed at Powderham in the early hours of May 5, 1942, during the Exeter Blitz, when the city was ablaze and Nazi Germany was looking supreme in Europe. burdens of repair and taxation at Powderham, set about decades of retrenchment. Multiple sales of ancient family lands and artistic treasures permitted them to pay debts and refine the family business down to its core that exists today – the Powderham Estate. The Castle was one of the earliest to be opened regularly to the public in 1957 alongside Longleat and Beaulieau. The family began farming, as modern agriculture made the traditional tenant farming model unsustainable, and more actively managing businesses in the Estate, such as the ancient deer herd. Helmet worn by the 17th Earl Uncle Charlie’s two brothers, Henry (a parson) and Frederick (a rector), both unexpectedly died in succession in 1935, leaving Frederick’s only son Christopher to inherit aged 18. At Sandhurst at the time, before commission into the Coldstream Guards, Christopher was retitled Hon. Courtenay, Lord Courtenay and the Earl of Devon over six tragic months, and his home moved from Honiton Rectory, where he had happily lived his childhood with 6 wonderful sisters, to Powderham, facing death duties on a penal scale. The upheaval was compounded shortly after Christopher married his adored Venetia in July 1939 by the outbreak of World War II. Christopher was re-commissioned into the Coldstream Guards and fought a hard war. One of the last on the beaches at Dunkirk, Christopher later took a bullet through the Exeter Cathedral - in the Blitz during the Baedeker Raids Christopher and Venetia, bruised and battered by their war experiences and buffeted by the Christopher famously rarely attended the House of Lords. Earl since 1935, he was the longest serving peer never to have made a maiden speech when he died in 1998. Hugh, his successor, quickly put this omission right, and by so doing in January 1999 he became the last hereditary peer ever to make a maiden speech by right, when he addressed the Upper House in the debate on the abolition of hereditary peers. Hugh, the current Earl’s father, was active locally, and together with Diana his wife, was a champion of his county serving in many public and charitable roles. Hugh and Diana also continued the process of modernisation at Powderham, introducing a country store and welcoming weddings and open air music to the Castle, including Shirley Bassey, Elton John, and many others. The Courtenays in the 21st Century… It is this business that many know today under its new stewards, Charlie and AJ, the current Earl and Countess of Devon, who took on the management of Powderham after Hugh’s death in 2015. Charlie and AJ currently live at the Castle, and within their first year caused something of a stir by welcoming Radio 1’s Big Weekend to Powderham. See next issue in Devonshire magazine for an introduction to the modern day Powderham Estate. hubcast hubcast .co.u k 27

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