Courtenay, Peter (DNB00)

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COURTENAY, PETER (d. 1492), bishop successively of Exeter and Winchester, was the third son of Sir Philip Courtenay of Powderham, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Walter, lord Hungerford. Sir Philip (d. 1463) was the heir of his uncle, Richard Courtenay, bishop of Norwich [q. v.], and, though representing a younger branch of his illustrious family, a man of considerable wealth (see the list of his manors in Cal. Inquis. post mortem, 3 Edw. IV, iv. 322). Peter prosecuted his studies at Oxford and in Italy, where it is said he became a doctor of both laws at Padua. At Oxford he became a member of the local foundation of Exeter College (Wood, Colleges and Halls, p. 109). In 1457, being then a student of civil law, he obtained a dispensation from the university, relieving him from some of the statutable residence and exercises required before admission to read ‘in the institutes’ (Anstey, Munimenta Academica, Rolls Ser., pp. 744–5). He had already resided three years in the faculty of arts, and the same time in that of civil law. On his admission as bachelor of laws he ‘kept great entertainment for the academicians and burghers’ (Wood, Hist. and Antiq. of Oxford, i. 66, ed. Gutch; cf. Mun. Ac. p. 745). He afterwards became a doctor. His rank secured him rapid preferment. In 1453 he was made rector of Moreton Hampstead and archdeacon of Exeter (Le Neve, i. 395). In 1463 he became prebendary of Lincoln (ib. ii. 124, 221). In 1464 he was also appointed archdeacon of Wiltshire (ib. ii. 630). He was master of St. Anthony's Hospital, London (Godwin, De Præsulibus (1743), p. 414). In 1476–7 he was made dean of Windsor, and in 1477 dean of Exeter. On 5 Sept. 1478 he was appointed by papal provision bishop of Exeter; on 3 Nov. his temporalities were restored (Fœdera, xii. 945), and on 8 Nov. he was consecrated, by license from the archbishop, by Bishop Kemp of London, at St. Stephen's Chapel, Westminster (Le Neve, i. 376). As bishop he showed a good deal of activity in building. He completed the north tower of his cathedral at his own cost, and put in it a great bell, still called Peter's bell, and a curious clock showing the state of the moon and the day of the month. He also built the tower of Honiton church, besides largely assisting in the erection of the church itself. Courtenay also took considerable part in politics. Of a Yorkist family and in the service of Edward IV, he even acquiesced in the revolution which made Richard III king, and was present at the house of the Duchess of York when Richard gave the great seal to John, bishop of Lincoln (Fœdera, xii. 189). He joined, however, the party of Buckingham, and in conjunction with his kinsmen, Edward Courtenay of Boconnock and Walter Courtenay of Exeter, and many others of the western gentry, endeavoured in vain to excite a rising in Devonshire and Cornwall (Polydore Vergil, p. 551, ed. 1570, and Hall, p. 393, ed. 1809, erroneously call Edward the bishop's brother). On their failure they escaped to Brittany to share the exile of Henry of Richmond. Spared his life with Bishops Morton and Wydville out of consideration for their office, Courtenay was condemned in Richard III's parliament to lose his temporalities and estates (Rot. Parl. vi. 250). He returned to England with Henry VII, and received from that monarch great favours to compensate for his sufferings in his cause. Edward Courtenay was made Earl of Devon. Peter was put on the commission which was to perform the duties of seneschal at Henry's coronation (Fœdera, xii. 277); received the custody of the temporalities and the disposal of the preferment of the Yorkist bishop of Salisbury (Campbell, i. 81), and on 8 Sept. was appointed keeper of the privy seal with a salary of twenty shillings a day (ib. i. 151). He was present at the first parliament of Henry VII, where the sentences of Richard's time against him and his confederates were reversed (Rot. Parl. vi. 273), and where he served as a trier of petitions of Gascony and other places beyond sea (ib. 268 a). In 1486 he was appointed a commissioner of the royal mines and placed with the Earl of Devon and others on a commission to inquire into the seizure of certain Hanse ships by the men of Fowey, contrary to the existing amity (Campbell, i. 315, 316). On the death of William of Waynfleet he received the grant of the temporalities of Winchester (Fœdera, xii. 322), and on 29 Jan. 1487 was translated to that important see by papal bull (Le Neve, iii. 15–16). He now ceased to be privy seal, but was still a good deal engaged on state affairs. In 1488 he was one of the commissioners appointed to muster archers in Hampshire for the expedition to Brittany (Campbell, ii. 385), and in 1489 was put on a special commission of the peace for Surrey (ib. ii. 478). He received as a gift from the king ‘a robe made of sanguine cloth in grain, furred with pure menever, gross menever, and byse’ (ib. ii. 497). He was a witness to the creation of Arthur as prince of Wales in 1490 (ib. ii. 542), and was present at the ratification of the treaty with Spain in the same year (Fœdera, xii. 428). An unsuccessful attempt was made in 1487 to appoint him chancellor of Oxford, against John Russell, bishop of Lincoln (Wood, Fasti Oxonienses, ed. Gutch, p. 65). He died on 23 Sept. 1492, and was probably buried at Winchester, though the exact spot is uncertain, and local writers have conjectured his tomb to be at Powderham.

[Fœdera, vol. xii. original edition; Rolls of Parliament, vol. vi.; Campbell's Materials for the History of Henry VII, Rolls Series; Wood's History and Antiquities of Oxford, ed. Gutch; Boase's Register of Exeter College, Oxford; Collins's Peerage, vi. 255 (ed. 1779); Le Neve's Fasti Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ, ed. Hardy; Cleaveland's Genealogical History of the Family of Courtenay (1735). The biographies in Prince's Worthies of Devon, p. 166, and Cassan's Lives of the Bishops of Winchester, i. 314–16, contain practically no additional information.]

T. F. T.