Thomas de Courtenay, 13th Earl of Devon

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Thomas Courtenay, 13th Earl of Devon

Birthdate: (44)
Birthplace: Devon, England
Death: February 3, 1458 (44)
Abbey of Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England
Place of Burial: Abbey,Abingdon,England
Immediate Family:

Son of Hugh de Courtenay and Anne Talbot
Husband of Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Devon
Father of Sir Thomas Courtenay, 6th Earl of Devon; John Courtenay, 15th Earl of Devon; Joan Clifford; Agnes Saunders (Courtney); anne courteney of devon and 5 others
Brother of John Courtenay and Mary Talbot

Occupation: Earl of Devon V
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Thomas de Courtenay, 13th Earl of Devon,_13th_Earl_of_Devon

Thomas de Courtenay, 13th Earl of Devon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Thomas Courtenay, 13th earl of Devon was born, presumably in Devonshire, in 1414. As the only surviving son of Hugh de Courtenay, 12th Earl of Devon, Courtenay inherited the earldom on his father’s death in 1422. Following a long minority which lasted until 1433, the earl found the political situation in Devonshire increasingly stacked against his own interests as a coalition of the greater gentry, focused on Sir William Bonville and the earl’s cousin, Sir Philip Courtenay of Powderham, threatened the Courtenays’ traditional dominance of the county. Despite links via his wife, Margaret Beaufort, to the ascendant ‘court party’ dominated by Cardinal Beaufort and John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, Courtenay failed to rectify this situation and instead resorted to violence, firstly in 1440-41. With the decline of Beaufort power, Courtenay became increasingly associated with Richard, duke of York, culminating with his participation in York’s abortive rebellion of 1452, ending with the disgrace of York and his allies at Dartford. On his return to the southwest, Courtenay resumed his campaign of violence against William (now Lord) Bonville and his allies, resulting in the Battle of Clyst Heath, Courtenay’s occupation of the city of Exeter and the siege of Powderham Castle, all in November and December 1455. On the national stage, Courtenay became increasingly alienated from his former ally, York, and instead cultivated links with Queen Margaret. This new alliance was sealed by the marriage of Courtenay’s son and heir, another Thomas, to the Queen’s kinswoman, Marie, the daughter of Charles, Count of Maine. As such, it seems unlikely that Courtenay’s death in 1458 was the result of poisoning ordered or carried out by the Queen as one contemporary commentator asserted.


As might be expected, little is known of Courtenay’s youth and upbringing. On his father’s death in 1422, his keeping and marriage were entrusted to his mother, Anne Talbot (d.1441), and her brother, John, lord Talbot.[1] A series of local gentlemen and lawyers were given the keepings and maintenance of his estates, parks and castles.[2] The dowager countess received her dower third, including the primary Courtenay residence at Tiverton Castle, while a group of the dead earl’s intimates were enfeoffed with another considerable group of estates to satisfy his debts and the terms of his will.[3] It seems that their combined stewardship was far from satisfactory, as the government noted that his estates were ruinous and his deer parks so dilapidated that he was allowed to hunt in royal parks.[4] Courtenay himself was knighted in 1429 and served in France shortly afterwards.[5]

[edit]The 1430s and 40s

Courtenay was given leave to enter his estates in 1433[6] and, based on his family’s history and his own position as leading landowner of the county, probably expected to take his place as the leader of regional society. However, his mother’s longevity meant that her dower portion and the other Courtenay estates which had been estranged under his father’s will were not in his hands – Courtenay himself was forced to live at Colcombe (near Colyton) as his mother had possession of Tiverton Castle.[7] This was partly compensated for by his advantageous marriage to Margaret Beaufort and the links to the ‘court party’ which this brought – Courtenay began to serve on Westcountry commissions and was granted an annuity of 100 pounds for his services.[8] One of these grants, however, brought to the surface tensions which may have been lingering for some time. In 1441, Courtenay was appointed as Steward of the Duchy of Cornwall, a nearly identical post as that which had been granted to Sir William Bonville in 1437.[9] This lead to disputes between the two which contemporary records portray as reaching the status of a private war, although these may be typical medieval overstatements. Courtenay and Bonville were summoned before the King in December 1441 and were publicly reconciled.[10] Tensions remained however and this may have been a factor in the crown’s requests to both Courtenay and Bonville to serve in France – Bonville as seneschal of Gascony from 1442-6 and Courtenay at Pont-l'Évêque in Normandy in 1446.[11] This is one of the few times that Courtenay served abroad, seemingly preferring to spend his time bolstering his position in Devon or at court. 1445 marked what was probably the peak of Courtenay’s fortunes, with his appointment as Steward of England at Queen Margaret’s coronation.[12] He also felt confident enough to challenge the titular supremacy and precedence of the earl of Arundel which would lead to acute embarrassment when his case was rejected in 1449.

[edit]Courtenay and York

The deaths of John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, in 1444, and Cardinal Beaufort in 1447 removed Beaufort leadership of the ‘court’ party, leaving William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk as the most influential figure in national politics (see J.L. Watts, Henry VI and the Politics of Kingship (Cambridge, 1996) and R.L. Griffiths, The reign of King Henry VI (Stroud, 1998) for differing views on the relationship between Suffolk and Henry VI). While there is no evidence of direct antagonism between Courtenay and Suffolk, Sir William Bonville enjoyed links with de la Pole, marrying his daughter to William Tailboys, one of Suffolk’s closest associates. Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of this was Bonville’s elevation to the peerage as Baron Bonville of Chewton in 1449.[13] As such, it is hardly surprising that Devon began to become associated with Richard, duke of York, who had assumed the leadership of the ‘opposition’. The parlous state of national politics (whether the king was a vindictive factionalist or an inane non-entity is largely irrelevant in this context) combined with what seems like a reckless and violent element in Courtenay’s own character, leading to a campaign of violence against Bonville and the Suffolk-aligned Earl of Wiltshire. Courtenay and his troops attempted to capture Wiltshire near Bath before returning to besiege Bonville in Taunton Castle. The arrival of the duke of York (whether to suppress or aid the disturbances is uncertain) caused the two sides to make peace which, unsurprisingly, had no real meaning.[14] York then embarked on his abortive attempt to take control of royal government by force, his only allies being Courtenay and his sometime-associate, Lord Cobham. This exploit ended with the disgrace of all three when they were forced to submit to royal mercy at Dartford in March 1452. Courtenay was briefly imprisoned in Wallingford Castle but his disgrace and political isolation allowed his Devonshire rivals to consolidate their position, further undermining his decreased standing in the county.[15]

[edit]The crisis of the 1450s

The King’s madness and York’s appointment as Protector in 1453/4 resulted in a partial rally in Courtenay’s fortunes, including re-appointment to the commissions of the peace in the south-western counties, the key barometer of the local balance of power.[16] This was, however, the end of Courtenay’s links with York, whose increasingly tight links with the Neville earls of Salisbury and Warwick led to an alignment with Bonville rather than the earl. This culminated in the marriage of Bonville’s grandson to Salisbury’s daughter, Katherine. Courtenay did not endear himself to the Protector either – taking advantage of his temporary ascendency, Courtenay and his sons repeatedly disrupted the sessions of the peace in Exeter across 1454/5, which did not assist York in portraying himself as the guardian of law and order. Courtenay was present at the First Battle of St Albans, ostensibly on the king’s side although there is no record of him actively participating. Indeed, York still considered him at least neutral as the duke’s letters sent to the king on the eve of battle were delivered to Courtenay and thence to the king.[17] Perhaps inspired by the way the Nevilles and York had ended their respective feuds with the Percies and the duke of Somerset in the battle, Courtenay returned to Devon and commenced a campaign of violence against Lord Bonville and his allies. This began in October with the horrific murder of Nicholas Radford, an eminent local lawyer, recorder of the city of Exeter and one of Bonville’s councilors. Several contemporary accounts record this and the ensuing mock-funeral and coronary inquest (accompanied by the singing of highly inappropriate songs) in tones which suggest shock and horror, even with the blunted sensitivities of the fifteenth century.[18] Among the murderers was Thomas Courtenay, the earl’s son and later successor. Parliament, meeting in November, reported 800 horsemen and 4,000 infantry running amok across Devonshire. On the 3rd November, Courtenay and a considerable force occupied the city of Exeter, which they continued to control for almost two months. Radford’s valuables were extracted from the cathedral and citizens with Bonville connections were assaulted. Powderham Castle, home to the earl’s estranged cousin, Sir Philip Courtenay (d.1463), an ally of Bonville, was besieged on the 15th November, the earl’s weaponry now including a serpentine. Bonville attempted to relieve the castle but was repulsed.[19] Finally, battle was joined directly between Bonville and Courtenay at Clyst Heath, just south east of Exeter. While it seems that Bonville was put to flight, the number of dead or wounded is entirely unknown. Courtenay and his men left Exeter on the 21st December and shortly afterwards submitted to York at Shaftesbury.

[edit]Courtenay and the Queen

Originally, the government planned to bring Courtenay to trial for treason but this was abandoned once the King returned to his senses in February 1456. Courtenay was also returned to the commission of the peace for Devonshire – this is seemingly the work of Queen Margaret of Anjou who had taken personal control of the court when her husband’s return to sanity removed the necessity for York’s protectorate. The origins of this alliance are uncertain, but the finale was spectacular – the earl’s eldest son was married to the Queen’s cousin, Marie, daughter of the Count of Maine in 1456/7. As such, the traditional story of Courtenay’s death being caused by poison administered by the Queen (as stated in ‘An English Chronicle of the Reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI’) would appear to be most unlikely. Thomas Courtenay died at the Abbey of Abingdon in February 1458. He was succeeded by his eldest son, also Thomas, who was beheaded as a Lancastrian after the Battle of Towton, the earldom being forfeit by act of Attainder.


1. Thomas Courtenay, 14th Earl of Devon (1432 - 3 April 1461, beheaded after the Battle of Towton.)

2. John Courtenay, 15th Earl of Devon (1435 - 4 May 1471, beheaded after the Battle of Tewkesbury.)

3. Henry (d.17 Jan 1469, beheaded for treason at Salisbury in the market place.)

4. Joan Courtenay, (b.1447), married Sir Roger Clifford, beheaded after Bosworth, 1485. She married secondly, Sir William Knyvet of Buckenham.

5. Elizabeth Courtenay, (b.1449), married Sir Hugh Conway.

view all 17

Thomas de Courtenay, 13th Earl of Devon's Timeline

Haccombe, Devonshire, England, United Kingdom
Devon, England
Age 18
Age 20
Okehampton, Devonshire, England
Age 21
Age 27
Devonshire, England, United Kingdom
Age 38
Charlwood, Surrey, , England
February 3, 1458
Age 44
Abbey of Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England
February 3, 1458
Age 44
March 15, 1994
Age 44