Courtenay, Edward, Earl of Devonshire 1526?-1556, born about 1526, was only son of Henry Courtenay [qv.], marquis of Exeter and earl of Devonshire, by his second wife, Gertrude. With his father and mother he was imprisoned in the Tower in November 1538, at the age of twelve; was attainted in 1539; was specially excepted from Edward VI's amnesty in 1547, and was not released till 3 Aug. 1553, after an incarceration of nearly fifteen years. The greater part of his imprisonment was spent in solitary confinement, his father having been executed soon after his arrest, and his mother released. Queen Mary showed him much favour on her accession. He was created Earl of Devonshire on 3 Sept. 1553, and knight of the Bath on 29 Sept. At the coronation he carried the sword of state, 1 Oct. 1553, and he was formally restored in blood on 10 Oct. He received the Spanish ambassadors on their arrival in London on 2 Jan. 1553-4, and acted as special commissioner for the trial of Sir Robert Dudley on 19 Jan. 1553-4. But Courtenay was encouraged to seek higher dignities. Although Queen Mary affected to treat him as a child, ordering him to accept no invitations to dinner without her permission, she regarded him with real affection, and Bishop Gardiner led him to hope for her hand in marriage. Elated with this prospect he maintained a princely household, and induced many courtiers to kneel in his presence. The projected match was popular with the people, but the offer of Philip II proved superior in Mary's eyes. Princess Elizabeth was, on the other hand, not blind to Courtenay's attractions, and he was urged to propose marriage to Elizabeth as soon as Mary showed herself indifferent to him. The national hatred of the Spaniard, it was openly suggested, would soon serve to place Elizabeth and Courtenay on the throne in Mary and Philip's place. At the end of 1553 a plot with this object was fully matured, and Devonshire and Cornwall were fully prepared to give Courtenay active support. Wyatt joined in the conspiracy, and undertook to raise Kent. In March 1553-4 Wyatt's rebellion was suppressed and its ramifications known. Courtenay was sent back to the Tower and in May removed to Fotheringay. At Easter 1555 he was released on parole and exiled. He travelled to Brussels, whence he begged permission to return home in November 1555 to pay his respects to his mother and the queen, but this request was refused. He then proceeded to Padua, where he died suddenly and was buried in September 1556. Peter Vannes, the English resident at Venice, sent Queen Mary an interesting account of his death. At the time some discontented Englishmen in France were urging him to return and renew the struggle with Mary and Philip in England. His handsome face and figure were highly commended. Noailles, the French ambassador, styled him le plus beau et plus agréable gentilhomme d'Angleterre, and Michel de Castelnau stated that il estoit l'un des plus beaux entre les jeunes seigneurs de son age (Mémoires, p. 74). But his prison education had not endowed him with any marks of good breeding, and there can be no doubt that his release from his long confinement was followed by very dissolute conduct.
Courtenay employed some of his leisure in the Tower by translating into English from Italian a work entitled Trattato utilissimo del Beneficio di Giesu Christo, crocifisso, verso i Christiani, written about 1543 by Antonio della Paglia, commonly called Aonio Paleario. It was deemed to be an apology for the reformed doctrines, and was proscribed in Italy. Courtenay translated it under the title of The Benefit of Christ's Death in 1548, apparently with a view to conciliating Edward VI, and dedicated it to Anne Seymour, duchess of Somerset. The manuscript is now in the Cambridge University Library, to which it was presented in 1840, and contains two autographs of Edward VI. It was printed for the first time in 1856 by Mr. Churchill Babington in a volume which also contained reprints of the original Italian edition (1543) and of a French translation issued in 1551.
With Edward Courtenay the earldom of Devon or Devonshire in the family of Courtenay became dormant, but a collateral branch claimed the title in 1831, and the claim was allowed by the House of Lords. The title of Earl of Devon is now borne by William Reginald Courtenay of Powderham Castle, Exeter.
Burke's Extinct and Dormant Peerage
Doyle's Official Baronage
Wriothesley's Chronicle (Camden Soc.)
Chronicle of Queen Mary and Queen Jane (Camden Soc.)
Machyn's Diary (Camden Soc.)
Cal. State Papers (Dom.), 1547-80
Wood's Letters of Illustrious Ladies, vol. iii.
Contributor: S. L. [Sidney Lee]