Richard de Redvers was one of the principal supporters of Henry I in his initial struggle against his brother Robert Curthose for control of the English throne, and was rewarded for his support by being created Earl of Devon in 1100 and granted estates throughout Devon, Somerset and Cornwall shortly after Henry took power.
The precise origins of this 'Richard de Ripariis' or Richard de Redvers are unclear; one school of though places him as the son of Baldwin Fitz Gilbert, who was Sheriff of Devonshire and brother of the Richard Fitz Gilbert who established the de Clare family, another denies the connection and claims the two families were entirely separate. However it seems reasonably certain that this Richard de Redvers married Alice Fitz Osbern daughter of William Fitz Osbern, the Earl of Hereford, through which connection he later obtained the title Lord of the Isle of Wight.
In any event this Richard de Redvers was established as a man of signifcant power in the south-west, built his headquarters at Tiverton Castle and on his death in 1107 bequeathed to his eldest son Baldwin de Redvers, considerable wealth together with the titles of Earl of Devon and Lord of the Isle of Wight.
Baldwin de Redvers, the 2nd Earl, died on the 4th June 1155, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Richard de Redvers. This Richard married Hawise, the daughter of Reginald de Dunstanville the Earl of Cornwall, and their son Baldwin de Redvers followed as 4th Earl in 1162.
The 5th Earl was another Richard de Redvers, who was either his predecessor's brother or a younger son of the 3rd Earl, and the the 6th Earl William was either the son of this 5th Earl or his uncle. (There is difference of opinion on the precise genealogy of the Redvers family at this point.)
The 6th Earl, William, who was known as de Vernon after his birthplace of Vernon Castle, in Normandy had three children; Baldwin, who predeceased him on the 1st September 1216; Joan, who married a William Brewer, and died without issue; and finally Mary, who married a gentleman by the name of Robert Courtenay.
On his death in 1217 William, was succeeded by his grandson, another Baldwin de Redvers who married Amicia, a daughter of Gilbert de Clare, the Earl of Gloucester, and died in 1245. His son, also called Baldwin, inherited the title becoming the 8th Earl. This Baldwin married an Avis of Savoy, but their only child, John de Redvers, died young and so with the death of the 8th Earl Baldwin in 1262 the Redvers line came to an effective end.
Baldwin did however have a sister Isabella, who had earlier married William de Fortibus, the 3rd Earl of Albermarle who had himself died in 1260. With the death of her brother Isabella became the heiress of the Redvers fortune, styled herself as the Countess of Devon, Albermarle and Lady of the Isle of Wight until her death in 1293.
The Courtenays derived their name from the town of that name in the Ile de France, with their founder being one Reginald de Courtenay who, in the year 1154, came from France together with his two sons as part of the escort for Eleanor of Aquitaine and was later granted the title Lord of Okehampton together with a significant grant of land in Devon itself.
On the death of Isabella de Redvers in 1293, Hugh de Courtenay the 5th Lord of Okehampton, took possession of the Redvers property in Devon including Tiverton Castle, arguing that he was the heir to the Redvers fortune on the basis of his grandfather Robert's marriage to Mary de Redvers, daughter of the 6th Earl, William de Vernon in 1213. Subsequent to which Hugh de Courtenay was created Earl of Devon, but exactly when is disputed. Some date the creation to 1296, whilst others date the creation to the 22nd February 1335 by "a peremptory order from the King, Edward III".
The reason for the discrepancy and delay is explained by the fact that that there was considerable local opposition to the elevation of the Courtenays to the earldom and it took some years for said opposition to be entirely silenced. But whatever the exact date of his accession as Earl, Hugh de Courtenay most certainly died in 1340 as Earl of Devon. On his death, his eldest son John Courtenay was passed over in the succession as he had been admitted into Holy Orders and it was therefore a younger son, Hugh Courtenay who became the 2nd Earl, and this second Hugh was followed by his grandson, Edward Courtenay in 1377.
Edward Courtenay became perhaps the most notable of the Courtenay Earls, serving as both the Admiral of the King's Fleet and Marshal of England who, due to the later loss of his eyesight, became known to posterity as the 'blind earl'. On his death on the 5th December 1419 he was succeeded by his second son another, Hugh Courtenay, the 4th Earl.
This Hugh Courtenay also served as a naval officer, became Lord High Steward of England and was followed in 1422 by his son Thomas Courtenay the 5th Earl. The 1st Earl Hugh had ealirer married Margaret de Bohun, a grand-daughter of Edward I, which first established a link between the Courtenays and the House of Lancaster and in 1431 that attachment was further strenghthened when this Thomas Courtenay the 5th Earl, married Margaret Beaufort, grand-daughter of John of Gaunt. The Courtenays therefore placed themselves firmly in the Lancastrian camp during the War of the Roses.
Thus we find that Thomas Courtenay the 6th Earl who succeeded in 1458, fighting on the Lancastrian and losing side at the battle of Towton in 1461. Thomas was afterwards taken prisoner, executed at York and subsequently attainted. His nominal heir was his brother Henry Courtenay, but he was similarly executed at Salisbury on the 4th March 1466.
Stafford and more Courtenays
With the Yorkist king Edward IV now in power following the battle of Towton, the Courtenays therefore found themselves excluded from power and with two senior members of main line now decapitated the earldom was left vacant. Eventually a Humphrey Stafford was created Earl of Devon on the 7th May 1470, but he was executed on the 17th August of that same year once his loyalty to the new regime of Henry VI became suspect. With a Lancastrian king back in power in Henry VI, the younger brother of the Thomas and Henry Courtenay last mentioned, named John Courtenay took possession of the Courtenay estates and was certainly regarded by the Lancastrians as Earl, but he was killed at the battle of Tewkesbury on the 14th May 1471.
The Courtenays had to wait until the accession of Henry VII as king in 1485 to be once again restored to their estates and titles in the form of Edward Courtenay, a grandson of a Hugh Courtenay, younger brother of Edward Courtenay the 'blind earl', created Earl of Devon on the 26th of October 1485.
However his son William Courtenay married Catherine Plantagenet, daughter of Edward IV, and a younger sister of Elizabeth Plantagenet, wife and queen of Henry VII. Now as far as the prospective Tudor dynasty of the time were concerned, the only legitimate connection they had with the crown was that very marriage and hence regarded William's marriage to a royal princess as a threat to their position. Hence William Courtenay was locked up in the Tower of London and formally attainted in 1504 and could not therefore inherit the title on his father's death in 1509. William himself died two years later in 1511, shortly before Henry VIII had a chance of reversing the previous attainder.
Eventually his son Henry Courtenay was restored by Henry VIII as Earl of Devon in 1517, and on the 18th June 1525 was also created Marquess of Exeter, but later fell foul of Henry VIII and was executed on the 9th June 1539 for allegedly conspiring against the crown and was subsequently attainted.
In 1553 the title was once again re-created, this time for another Edward Courtenay, son of the Henry Courtenay who had been executed and attainted in 1539. Edward continued the Courtenay tradition of getting into trouble with the crown; he was believed to be plotting to marry the Princess Elizabeth (the future Elizabeth I) and was therefore driven into exile and he died unmarried at Padua in 1556 and the title fell dormant and was considered extinct for the next three centuries.
The de jure Earls
Now although, as a general rule, hereditary peerages were granted on the basis that they could pass to any 'heir male of the body' of the grantee; (of which in the aforementioned Edward Courtenay's case there clearly were none) in the specific case of the 1553 creation the limitation was simply stated as being to any 'heir male', which meant that any male Courtenay could inherit the title.
As it happens there were still some Courtenays about, in the form of the Courtenays of Powderham Castle, descendants of the first earl of the very first Courtenay creation, but whether through ignorance or indifference they made no attempt to claim the title in the aftermath of Edward Courtenay's death. (And most likely the former as the respective branches of the family had earlier been on opposite sides of their own little private war in the south-west.)
However, in the early nineteenth century one of these Powderham Castle Courtenays went to the House of Lords and claimed that one of his distant ancestors, Sir William Courtenay of Powderham Castle should have inherited the title and been recognised as the 2nd Earl of the 1553 creation.
The House of Lords agreed and in 1831 recognised William Courtenay as the 9th Earl of the 1553 creation, thereby conferring the title post hoc to all his linear male descendants back to his sixteenth century ancestor Sir William Courtenay of Powderham Castle. Hence there is a list of 'de jure' Earls of Devon; individuals that are considered in law to have been Earls of Devon even though neither they nor their contemporaries were exactly aware of it at the time.
The descendants of the 9th Earl William Courtenay continue to hold the title Earl of Devon whose current bearer is Hugh Rupert Courtenay, the 18th Earl Of Devon who also holds the title of Viscount Courtney originally granted to the the 7th 'de jure' Earl in 1762.
Devon and Devonshire
In the meantime, that is before the court case of 1831, a gentleman named Charles Blount had been created the Earl of Devonshire in 1603. The title became extinct on his death in 1606, but in 1618 was granted to a William Cavendish by James I, whose descendants still hold that title, although currently in the form of a dukedom.
'Devon' and 'Devonshire' are of course used interchangeably to refer to the same county and the Redvers and Courtney earls were referred to as 'Earls of Devon' or 'Earls of Devonshire' as the fancy took, but for the avoidance of any confusion the title 'Earl of Devon' is now used exclusively to refer to the Redvers and Courtenay creations, whilst the title 'Earl of Devonshire' is used to refer to the Blount and Cavendish creations.
THE EARLS OF DEVON
Creation of 1296/1335
Title forfeit 1461
Possible creation of 1471
Creation of 1485
Title forfeit in 1509, restored in 1517
Creation of 1553
De Jure Earls of the 1553 creation
Following the 1831 recognition
- Genealogies of Redvers family at
- Genealogies of Courtenay family at
- The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entries for
DEVON, EARLS OF
- Information on later Courtenay Earls from
- Royal Genealogy information held at University of Hull see
- RoyaList Online at http://www.royalist.info/royalist/index.html
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
- THE ENGLISH PEERAGE or, a view of the ANCIENT and PRESENT STATE of the ENGLISH NOBILITY London: (1790) see