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

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Hugh de Courtenay, 1st/9th Earl of Devon
Courtenay of Devon.svg
Arms of Hugh de Courtenay, 1st/9th Earl of Devon: Or, three torteaux a label of three points azure
Born14 September 1276
Okehampton, Devon, England.
Died23 December 1340(1340-12-23) (aged 64)
Tiverton Castle, Devon, England.
TitleEarl of Devon
Tenure22 February 1335 - 23 December 1340
ResidenceTiverton Castle
Okehampton Castle
Colcombe Castle
SuccessorHugh de Courtenay, 2nd Earl of Devon
Spouse(s)Agnes de St John
IssueJohn de Courtenay, Abbot of Tavistock
Hugh de Courtenay, 2nd Earl of Devon
Eleanor de Courtenay, Baroness Grey of Codnor
Robert de Courtenay
Sir Thomas de Courtenay
Baldwin de Courtenay
Elizabeth de Courtenay, Lady Lisle
ParentsSir Hugh de Courtenay
Eleanor le Despenser

Hugh de Courtenay, 1st/9th Earl of Devon (14 September 1276 – 23 December 1340)[1] 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 Isabel de Redvers, suo jure 8th Countess of Devon (died 1293) (eldest daughter of Baldwin de Redvers, 6th Earl of Devon), letters patent were granted by King Edward III of England, 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 so'.[2] 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 of Devon, his second-cousin once removed. Authorities differ in their opinions,[3] and thus alternative ordinal numbers exist for this Courtenay earldom.

Early life[edit]

Hugh de Courtenay was born 14 September 1276, the son of Sir Hugh de Courtenay, feudal baron of Okehampton in Devon, by his wife, Eleanor le Despenser (died 30 September 1328), daughter of Hugh le Despencer, 1st Baron le Despencer and sister of Hugh the Elder Despenser, an important adviser to King Edward II of England. His father was the son of John de Courtenay (died c. 3 May 1274)[4] of Okehampton by Lady Isabel de Vere, daughter of Hugh de Vere, 4th Earl of Oxford. John's father, Robert de Courtenay (died 1242), son of Renaud de Courtenay (died 1190) and Hawise de Curcy (the heiress of the feudal barony of Okehampton),[5] had married Lady 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 the 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 of the Earldom until 1335. He built the original Colcombe Castle situated near the village of Colyton, Devon.[6] With his father, he also redeveloped Okehampton Castle, expanding its facilities and accommodation to enable it be used as a hunting lodge and retreat.[7] Extensive building work turned the property into a luxurious residence.[8] His main seat was at Tiverton Castle.

Campaign against Scotland, 1297–1300[edit]

He did homage to King Edward I of England on 20 June 1297, and was granted his own livery. At the time, the King was with his army crossing the River 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.

From 6 February 1298, he was summoned by writ to Parliament as Lord Courtenay, and would sit throughout the reign of King Edward II and into the Mortimer Regency for the King's son. He would remained an important noble at Parliaments, into the reign of King Edward III.

Courtenay joined King Edward I 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 Battle of Stirling Bridge outside Stirling Castle in 1298, during which half the English contingent were killed, including commander Hugh Cressingham. But the King was determined to march into Ayrshire, to devastate the properties of King Robert I of Scotland. 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 then drew up a six months truce.

Parliament of 1301[edit]

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[edit]

In 1306, the Prince of Wales was despatched into Scotland; the vanguard was 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 Scottish king, Robert Bruce, fled into the hills. King 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. The English king committed many atrocities, rounding up the Scots aristocracy and their women.

Then as King Robert returned from exile in Ireland, the English army started losing battles. King Edward I, now ailing, had one last campaign in which Courtenay played a major part. Struggling into the saddle towards the Solway Firth, King Edward died at Burgh by Sands, awaiting a crossing. In 1308, a new campaign was sent to quell King Robert, and Courtenay was made a knight banneret, one of the King's elite household.[9]

During the reign of King 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.

As a veteran campaigner, he later aimed to ingratiate himself with young King Edward III, and so refused the Third Penny from the Exchequer. He was investigated, and on 22 February 1335, created as Earl of Devon, being restored to his ancestral line.


Hugh married Agnes de St John, daughter of John St John, Lord of Basing (d.1302) and Alice FitzPiers, daughter of Sir Reynold FitzPiers.[10] They had five sons and two daughters:

Courtenay died at Tiverton, Devon, on 23 December 1340, and was buried at Cowick Priory, near Exeter, on 5 February 1341.[10]


  1. ^ Richardson I 2011, pp. 538–40.
  2. ^ Cokayne 1916, pp. 322–3
  3. ^ Watson, GEC Peerage, IV, p.324 & footnote (c): "This would appear more like a restitution of the old dignity than the creation of a new earldom"; Debrett's Peerage however gives the ordinal numbers as if a new earldom had been created. (Montague-Smith, P.W. (ed.), Debrett's Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage and Companionage, Kelly's Directories Ltd, Kingston-upon-Thames, 1968, p.353)
  4. ^ Cokayne 1916, p. 323.
  5. ^ Sanders, I.J., English Baronies, Oxford, 1960, pp.69–70, Okehampton
  6. ^ Hoskins, p. 374; Listed Buildings text
  7. ^ Creighton 2005, p. 67; Endacott 1999, p. 28
  8. ^ Endacott 1999, p. 30
  9. ^ M.Powicke, The General Obligation to Cavalry Service, Speculum, vol.28, no.4, (1953) pp.816-7
  10. ^ a b Cokayne 1916, p. 323; Richardson I 2011, p. 538.
  11. ^ Thorn, Caroline & Frank, (eds.) Domesday Book, (Morris, John, gen.ed.) Vol. 9, Devon, Parts 1 & 2, Phillimore Press, Chichester, 1985, part 1, 30,1-4; Sanders, note 1
  12. ^ Vivian, p.244
  13. ^ Risdon, pp.218-9
  14. ^ A P Baggs and M C Siraut, 'Blackford', in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 7, Bruton, Horethorne and Norton Ferris Hundreds, ed. C R J Currie and R W Dunning (London, 1999), pp. 242-247. British History Online [1]


  • Cokayne, George Edward (1916). The Complete Peerage of Great Britain and Ireland extant, dormant, abeyant and extinct. IV. London: St. Catherine Press.
  • Duke, Henning (2004) [1961]. "History of Parliament, 1386–1402". Parliamentary Trust. Oxford. II, A-C.
  • Morris, Marc (2008). A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the forging of Britain. London: Hutchinson.
  • Richardson, Douglas (2011). Magna Carta Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families. vol.I (2nd ed.). Salt Lake City. ISBN 1449966373.
  • Powicke, Michael P. (1953). "The General Obligation to Cavalry Service under Edward I". Speculum. 28 (4).

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