Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Courtenay, Henry (1496?-1538)
COURTENAY, HENRY, Marquis of Exeter and Earl of Devonshire (1496?–1538), born about 1496, was son of Sir William Courtenay, by Princess Catharine, youngest daughter of Edward IV. His grandfather, Edward Courtenay, was on 26 Oct. 1485 created Earl of Devonshire by Henry VII; was granted at the same time very large estates in Devonshire; was made knight of the Garter in 1490; resisted Perkin Warbeck's attack on Exeter in 1497; and dying 1 March 1509, was buried at Tiverton. The earl was grandnephew of another Edward Courtenay, earl of Devonshire (1357–1419), earl marshal in 1385, but this earldom had been forfeited by Edward IV, in the person of Thomas Courtenay (great-grandson of the elder Edward Courtenay), who fought with the Lancastrians at Towton, and was slain at Tewkesbury (1461).
Henry Courtenay's father, Sir William Courtenay, was in high favour at the court of Henry VII in the lifetime of his wife's sister, Queen Elizabeth, and is praised for his bravery and manly bearing by Polydore Vergil. In 1487 he became knight of the Bath. There is a letter from him describing his father's and his own repulse of Warbeck at Exeter in Ellis's ‘Original Letters,’ 1st ser. i. 36. But on the queen's death in 1503, the king, fearing that Courtenay's near relationship to the throne might tempt him to conspiracy, committed him to the Tower on an obscure charge of corresponding with Edmund de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, the surviving chief of the Yorkist faction. Attainder followed. On Henry VIII's accession in 1509 he was released from prison, and carried the sword at his coronation. On 10 May 1511 he was allowed to succeed to his father's earldom; but the formalities for restoring him in blood were not completed before his death on 9 June 1511. He was buried in Blackfriars Church. His wife, the Princess Catharine, died 15 Nov. 1527, and was buried at Tiverton.
The boy Henry was treated kindly by his first cousin, Henry VIII; was allowed to succeed to his father's earldom in 1511, and the attainder was formally removed in the following year. He took part in the naval campaign with France in 1513, when about seventeen years old, as second captain of a man-of-war, and in 1520 was made both a privy councillor (May) and gentleman of the privy chamber (July). On 15 April 1521 he was created K.G. in the place of the Duke of Buckingham, who was tried and convicted of treason in May of the same year, and the lordship of Caliland, Cornwall, together with a mansion in St. Lawrence Pountney, formerly Buckingham's property, was conferred on him at the same time. Courtenay attended Henry VIII at Calais, at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, in 1521, and took part in the tournaments. The keepership of Birling manor, the stewardries of Winkeley, Gloucestershire, and of the duchies of Exeter, Somerset, and Cornwall were granted him in 1522 and 1523. In April 1525 he became constable of Windsor Castle, and on 18 June following Marquis of Exeter. In August of the same year Courtenay went to France as the king's envoy to negotiate an alliance, and to secure the release of Francis I, taken prisoner by Spain at the battle of Pavia. On his return in September the king appointed him the privy councillor to be in immediate attendance on him, and on 17 May 1528 he was nominated lieutenant of the order of the Garter. Throughout the proceedings for the divorce of Queen Catherine of Aragon Courtenay actively aided the king; he subscribed the articles against Wolsey (1529), signed the letter to Clement VII demanding the divorce in 1531, and acted as commissioner for the deposition of Catherine in 1533. When the suppression of the monasteries was imminent in 1535, Exeter was made steward of very many abbeys and priories in the western counties, where he was also acting as commissioner of array (6 Oct. 1534). At the king's request he also acted as commissioner at the trial of Anne Boleyn two years later, and was sent to Yorkshire with the Duke of Norfolk in October 1536, in order to aid in the suppression of the Pilgrimage of Grace. But he hurriedly retired from the north to Devonshire. A rebellion under Lord Darcy broke out in Somersetshire in 1537, and Exeter was ordered to act as lord steward at Darcy's trial.
Courtenay's power in the west of England had now become supreme, and he assumed a very independent attitude to Henry's minister, Cromwell, whom he cordially disliked. As the grandson of Edward IV, he had a certain claim to the throne, and his wealth and intimacy with the Yorkist Poles and the Nevilles readily enabled Cromwell to point him out to the king as a danger to the succession. Of the character of his first wife, Elizabeth, daughter of John Grey, viscount Lisle, by whom he had no issue, nothing is known. But his second wife, Gertrude, daughter of William Blount, fourth lord Mountjoy [q. v.], by whom he had a son Edward [q. v.], was a devout catholic; had supported the agitation of Elizabeth Barton [q. v.], and had visited her shrine at Canterbury. In 1533, when Barton was executed, the marchioness had begged the king to pardon the intimacy (Wood, Letters, ii. 96–101). She was godmother to the Princess Elizabeth in the same year, and carried Prince Edward at his christening in 1537; but her decided views in favour of the Roman catholic religion and her affection for Queen Catherine, with whom she corresponded after the divorce, gave additional ground for the suspicions with which her husband was regarded as soon as Cromwell had become his avowed enemy. Gradually information was collected in Devonshire and Cornwall to justify a prosecution for treason. At St. Keverne, Cornwall, a painted banner had been made which was to be carried round the villages, rousing the men to rebel against the crown in order to declare Courtenay heir-apparent to the throne, at any rate in the west of England. Reginald Pole, the cardinal, was found to be in repeated communication with Courtenay. Pole's brother, Sir Geoffrey, turned traitor, and came to London to announce that a conspiracy was hatching on the lines of the Pilgrimage of Grace. Early in November 1538 Courtenay, his wife, and son were committed to the Tower. On 3 Dec. Courtenay was tried by his peers in Westminster Hall. Evidence as to the marquis's treasonable conversation with Sir Geoffrey Pole was alone adduced; but he was condemned and beheaded on Tower Hill 9 Dec. 1538. A week later he was proclaimed a convicted traitor, and guilty of compassing the king's death. His wife and son were kept in prison, and were attainted in July 1539. The marchioness for a time had for her companion Margaret Pole, countess of Salisbury (mother of Cardinal Pole), who was beheaded 27 May 1541, and the distressed condition of these two ladies was made the subject of a petition from their gaoler to the king in 1540. Subsequently the king pardoned the marchioness, and she was released. The Princess Mary was always her friend: in 1543 Mary sent her a puncheon of wine, and other presents were interchanged between them for many years afterwards. On Mary's accession to the throne she became a lady-in-waiting; her attainder was removed, and she took part in the coronation and all court ceremonies. She died on 25 Sept. 1558, and was buried at Wimborne. Her extant letters to her son Edward [q. v.] show her in a very attractive light.
[Dugdale's Baronage; Burke's Extinct and Dormant Peerage; Wriothesley's Chronicle (Camd. Soc.); Herbert's Life of Henry VIII; Gairdner and Brewer's Letters and Papers of Henry VIII; Polydore Vergil's Hist. (Camd. Soc.); Doyle's Official Baronage; Froude's Hist.; Madden's Privy Purse Expenses of Princess Mary; Wood's Letters of Illustrious Ladies.]