The Duke of Exeter is a title which was created twice in the Peerage of England; once to the Beaufort family and once to that of Holland.
John Holland was a younger son of Thomas Holland, 1st Earl of Kent, whilst his mother was Joan of Kent a descendant of Edward I. After Thomas Holland's death, Joan married Edward, the Black Prince, and was the mother of Richard II. John was therefore Richard's half-brother, a relationship that secured his advancement at court and his elevation to the title Earl of Huntingdon on the 2nd June 1387. Having served as Admiral of the Fleet and Chamberlain of England, he became Richard's chief assistant in the prosecution of the Lords Appellant and was rewarded for this service by being created Duke of Exeter on the 29th September 1397.
When Richard II was deposed by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke in 1399, John was punished for his involvement in the events of 1399 by being striped of his dukedom and reduced to the status of Earl of Huntingdon. Shortly afterwards he took part in the failed Epiphany Rising against the new king Henry IV and was thus executed at Pleshey castle on the 16th of January 1400. He was subsequently attainted and his titles and lands forfeited to the crown.
Some sixteen years later Henry V promoted one of his Beaufort relations, a Thomas Beaufort, who was Earl of Dorset to the status of Duke of Exeter on the 18th November 1416. Thomas was only granted the dukedom for life, and therefore that title expired on his death 27th December 1426. (Although as it happens, Thomas' only son predeceased him and therefore would have become extinct in any event.)
In the meantime there was another John Holland, the eldest surviving son of the aforementioned, who despite his father's treatment had become a loyal servant of the Lancastrian Henry V and fought at the battle of Agincourt. In 1416 this John was permitted to inherit his father's title of Earl of Huntingdon and continued to serve Henry V in France. He was present at the battle of Bauge in 1421 after which he was captured and was imprisoned by the French for four years before being randsomed. After his release he served Henry VI as Marshal of England, Admiral of England and Governor of Aquitaine and was rewarded by being restored to the title of Duke of Exeter 6th January 1443.
John died on the 5th August 1447 and the title passed to his eldest son Henry Holland. Although Henry married Anne, daughter of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York he continued his father's tradition of loyalty to the House of Lancaster. He was thus present at the battle of Towton of 1461 and was attainted by the victorious Edward IV in the aftermath of that battle. He later escaped abroad to Flanders in the company of Margaret of Anjou in 1463 and was later drowned at sea in September 1475. He died without male issue and there were no further Holland claimaints to the title.
The title of Duke of Exeter was never revived, but the dignity itself reappeared in the form of a marquessate granted to the Courtenay Earls of Devon in the sixteenth century and later as an earldom and subsequently a marquessate once more, when it was held by a branch of the Cecil family.
THE DUKES OF EXETER
- The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for
EXETER, EARL, MARQUESS AND DUKE OF
- A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com
- Stirnet Genealogy at
- The Peerages of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom at http://www.angeltowns.com/town/peerage/Peers.htm
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)