About Edward Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon
Edward Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon (c. 1527 – 18 September 1556) was an English nobleman during the rule of the Tudor dynasty. Born into a family with close royal connections, he was at various times considered a possible match for the two daughters of his first cousin once removed, Henry VIII, both of whom became queens regnant of England.
- 1. "The most handsome and most agreeable gentleman in England." AJ trans.
- 2. "He was among the most handsome of the young gentlemen of his age." AJ trans.
EDWARD COURTENAY, Earl of Devonshire (1526?-1566), born about 1526, was only son of Henry Courtenay, marquis of Exeter and earl of Devonshire, by his second wife, Gertrude. With his father and mother he was imprisoned in the Tower in November 1538, at the age of twelve; was attainted in 1539; was specially excepted from Edward VI's amnesty in 1547, and was not released till 3 Aug. 1553, after an incarceration of nearly fifteen years. The greater part of his imprisonment was spent in solitary confinement, his father having been executed soon after his arrest, and his mother released. Queen Mary showed him much favour on her accession. He was created Earl of Devonshire on 3 Sept. 1553, and knight of the Bath on 29 Sept. At the coronation he carried the sword of state, 1 Oct. 1553, and he was formally restored in blood on 10 Oct. He received the Spanish ambassadors on their arrival in London on 2 Jan. 1553-4, and acted as special commissioner for the trial of Sir Robert Dudley on 19 Jan. 1553-4.
But Courtenay was encouraged to seek higher dignities. Although Queen Mary affected to treat him as a child, ordering him to accept no invitations to dinner without her permission, she regarded him with real affection, and Bishop Gardiner led him to hope for her hand in marriage. Elated with this prospect he maintained a princely household, and induced many courtiers to kneel in his presence. The projected match was popular with the people, but the offer of Philip II proved superior in Mary's eyes. Princess Elizabeth was, on the other hand, not blind to Courtenay's attractions, and he was urged to propose marriage to Elizabeth as soon as Mary showed herself indifferent to him. The national hatred of the Spaniard, it was openly suggested, would soon serve to place Elizabeth and Courtenay on the throne in Mary and Philip's place.
At the end of 1553 a plot with this object was fully matured, and Devonshire and Cornwall were fully prepared to give Courtenay active support. Wyatt joined in the conspiracy, and undertook to raise Kent. In March 1553-4 Wyatt's rebellion was suppressed and its ramifications known. Courtenay was sent back to the Tower and in May removed to Fotheringay. At Easter 1555 he was released on parole and exiled. He travelled to Brussels, whence he begged permission to return home in November 1555 to pay his respects to his mother and the queen, but this request was refused. He then proceeded to Padua, where he died suddenly and was buried in September 1556. Peter Vannes, the English resident at Venice, sent Queen Mary an interesting account of his death.
At the time some discontented Englishmen in France were urging him to return and renew the struggle with Mary and Philip in England. His handsome face and figure were highly commended. Noailles, the French ambassador, styled him 'le plus beau et plus agreable gentilhomme d'Angleterre,'1 and Michel de Castelnau stated [in his Mémoires] that 'il estoit l'un des plus beaux entre les jeunes seigneurs de son age.'2 But his prison education had not endowed him with any marks of good breeding, and there can be no doubt that his release from his long confinement was followed by very dissolute conduct.
The exact circumstances of his death are not known. Peter Vannes, representative of Queen Mary I to the Republic of Venice, wrote her a report; but he was not a direct witness or a physician. According to his account, Courtenay was engaged in falconry for recreational reasons. He and his falcons were in the countryside and away from any building when caught in a violent storm. He failed to protect himself from the elements and refused to change his wet clothing even after returning home. Several days later, Courtenay was burning in a fever, which lasted to his final hours. He was reportedly unable to open his mouth even to receive the Eucharist. He was buried in St Anthony's Church in Padua (the Duomo), where a monument to him with verse was erected. There were suspicions that Devon had been poisoned. Later theorists suggested that he had died of syphilis, but both suggestions remain unconfirmed.
He was unmarried and childless at the time of his death. The manor and Castle of Tiverton devolved to his distant cousins, descended from the four sisters of his great-grandfather Edward Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon (d.1509), KG. These four sisters had married into the following West Country families:
- Elizabeth Courtenay to John Tretherf
- Maud Courtenay to John Arundell of Talvern
- Isabel Courtenay to William Mohun
- Florence Courtenay to John Trelawny
Thus the Courtenay estates had been divided into four parts.