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Hugh de Courtenay, 1st/9th Earl of Devon

Hugh de Courtenay, 1st/9th Earl of Devon

English noble
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro English noble
Countries United Kingdom
Occupations Military personnel
Gender male
Birth 14 September 1276
Death 23 December 1340 (Exeter)
Father: Hugh de Courtenay
Children: Hugh de Courtenay2nd Earl of DevonThomas Courtenay
The details

Hugh de Courtenay, 1st/9th Earl of Devon (14 September 1276 – 23 December 1340) was the son of Sir Hugh de Courtenay (died 1292), feudal baron of Okehampton in Devon, by his wife Eleanor le Despenser (died 1328), sister of Hugh le Despenser, 1st Earl of Winchester. Forty-one years after the death of his cousin, Isabel de Forz, suo jure 8th Countess of Devon (1237–1293) (née de Redvers, eldest daughter of Baldwin de Redvers, 6th Earl of Devon (1217-1245)), letters patent were granted by King Edward III, dated 22 February 1335, declaring him Earl of Devon, and stating that he 'should assume such title and style as his ancestors, Earls of Devon, had wont to do'. This thus made him 1st Earl of Devon, if the letters patent are deemed to have created a new peerage, otherwise 9th Earl of Devon if it is deemed a restitution of the old dignity of the de Redvers family and he is deemed to have succeeded the suo jure 8th Countess. Authorities differ in their opinions and thus alternative ordinal numbers exist for this Courtenay earldom.

Early life

Hugh de Courtenay was born 14 September 1276, the son of Sir Hugh de Courtenay (died 28 February 1292) feudal baron of Okehampton in Devon, by his wife Eleanor le Despenser (died 30 September 1328), sister of Hugh le Despenser, 1st Earl of Winchester, an important adviser to King Edward II. He was the grandson of John de Courtenay (died c. 3 May 1274) of Okehampton by Isabel de Vere, daughter of Hugh de Vere, 4th Earl of Oxford. John's father, Robert de Courtenay (died 1242), the son of Reginald de Courtenay (died 1190) by Hawise de Curci (died 1219), the heiress of the feudal barony of Okehampton), had married Mary de Redvers (sometimes called "de Vernon"), the daughter of William de Redvers, 5th Earl of Devon (died 1217).

On 28 February 1292, about the time of his marriage, Hugh succeeded to the Okehampton estate and to those de Redvers estates that had not yet been alienated to the Crown. He may then have been styled Earl of Devon, the first of the Courtenay family, although was not recognised in the de facto Earldom until 1333.

Campaign against Scotland, 1297–1300

He did homage to Edward I on 20 June 1297 and was granted his own livery. At the time the King was with his army crossing the Tweed into Scotland. It is probable that the honour was in acknowledgement of Hugh's military achievements. That July the English defeated and humiliated the Scots at Irvine. However the following year the tables were turned on the advent of the remarkable campaign of William Wallace.

The following February 6, 1298 he was summoned as a Lord in Parliament, and sat throughout the reign of Edward II and into the Mortimer Regency for Edward's son. He remained an important noble at Parliaments into the reign of Edward III. He was summoned as Hugoni de Curtenay with the confusing suffix of senior being known as Lord Courtenay.

Courtenay joined King Edward at the long siege of Caerlaverock Castle, just over the Solway Firth for a fortnight in July 1300. He proved himself a fine soldier and loyal adherent to the English crown. He had not been present at the disastrous encounter outside Stirling Castle in 1298, during which half the English contingent were killed, including commander Hugh Cressingham. But Edward was determined to march into Ayrshire to devastate Robert Bruce's estates. Unfortunately the English army melted away into the forests as the army moved further northwards. Courtenay may have been with the English King when he sat down in Sweetheart Abbey to receive Robert Winchelsey, Archbishop of Canterbury who had travelled north with a demanding missive from Pope Boniface to cease hostilities. The King could not ignore this order. In September he disbanded troops and withdrew over the Solway Firth to Carlisle. The campaign had failed due to a shortage of money, so Parliament was recalled for January 1301. Before returning to London the English drew up a six months truce.

Parliament of 1301

Parliament met at Lincoln. The agenda included redrafting the Royal Forest Charter, which had no precedent since it was first introduced in the reign of Henry II, 150 years earlier. Local juries were expected to "perambulate the forests" to gather evidence. But the King needed money and was required by Parliament to surrender his absolute authority and ownership of what became community forests.

Campaigns against Scotland, 1301–1308

In 1306 the Prince of Wales was despatched into Scotland; the vanguard led by Aymer de Valence, the King's half uncle. On 22 May, Courtenay was knighted by the Prince, presumably for his efforts against the Scots. In June the English occupied Perth. On 19 June, Valence, who had cut a swathe through the Lowlands fell on the Scots army at Methven in the early dawn. The Bruce fled into the hills. Edward I was merciless as many prisoners were punished. That autumn the army returned to Hexham. The war was all but over: there were however sieges at Mull of Kintyre and Kildrummy Castle, Aberdeenshire. Edward I committed many atrocities rounding up the Scots aristocracy and their women.

Then as Robert Bruce returned from exile in Ireland the English army started losing battles. The ailing King had one last campaign in which Courtenay played a major part. Struggling into the saddle to the Solway Firth, Edward I died at Burgh-on-Sands awaiting a crossing. In 1308 a new campaign was sent to quell Robert Bruce, and Courtenay was made a knight banneret, one of the King's elite household.

During the reign of Edward II he was made a Lord Ordainer, one of the ruling council in the Lords. He was appointed to the King's Council on 9 Augustus 1318. He was appointed the Warden of the coast of Devon and Cornwall in 1324 and then again in 1336, because his estates stretched across what is now Exmoor and Dartmoor. But he took the honours reluctantly and played a guarded game with King and Parliament. A veteran campaigner he aimed to ingratiate himself with the young Edward III, and so refused the Third Penny from the Exchequer. He was investigated; and on 22 February 1335 elevated to the Earldom of Devon, restored to his ancestral line.

Forty-one years after the death of his cousin, Isabel de Fortibus, Countess of Devon, letters patent were issued dated 22 February 1335 declaring him Earl of Devon, and stating that he 'should assume such title and style as his ancestors, Earls of Devon, had wont to do'. He was the 9th Earl of Devon, but the first in the Courtenay line.


He married Agnes de Saint John, daughter of John de Saint John, Baron St John, of Basing, Hampshire, by Alice, daughter of Sir Reynold Fitz Peter. They had four sons and two daughters:

  • John Courtenay (1300–1349), Prior of Lewes and Abbot of Tavistock.
  • Hugh de Courtenay, 2nd/10th Earl of Devon (1303-1377), second son, who married Margaret de Bohun, daughter of Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford by Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King Edward I and Eleanor of Castile.
  • Robert Courtenay (1309–1334), 3rd son, of Moreton Hampstead in Devon.
  • Sir Thomas Courtenay (1315-1356), 4th son, of Wootton Courtenay in Somerset, and of Woodhuish, Brixham in Devon, a military commander against the French, who died in 1356, the date of the Battle of Poitiers. He married a great Somerset heiress, Muriel de Moels, the eldest of the two daughters and co-heiresses of John Moels, 4th Baron Moels, feudal baron of North Cadbury in Somerset. His wife's share of her paternal inheritance included the manors of Kings Carswell and Dunterton in Devon, and Blackford, Holton and Lattiford in Somerset.
  • Eleanor Courtenay (c.1309 – c.1330), who married John de Grey, 3rd Baron Grey of Codnor.
  • Elizabeth Courtenay (born c.1313), who married Bartholomew de Lisle.

Courtenay died at Tiverton, Devon, 23 December 1340, and was buried at Cowick Priory near Exeter on 5 Feb 1341.

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