Courtenay, Richard d. 1415, bishop of Norwich, was the son of Sir Philip Courtenay of Powderham Castle, Devonshire, where, it is said, he was born. His mother was Anne, daughter of Sir Thomas Wake of Bisworth. He was the grandson, therefore, of Hugh Courtenay, second earl of Devon, and of Margaret Bohun, the granddaughter of Edward I, and connected by marriage with Henry of Lancaster, afterwards King Henry IV. His uncle was William Courtenay, archbishop of Canterbury [qv.], who superintended his education, and speaks of him in his will as filius et alumnus meus. On his death in 1397 the archbishop left Richard a hundred marks, a number of books in case he should become a clerk, and his best mitre if he should become a bishop (Anglia Sacra, i. 416). Though apparently the eldest son, such patronage may well have inclined him for a clerical career. He became a member of the new western foundation of Exeter College, Oxford, a doctor of civil and canon law, and, though mostly resident at Oxford, obtained a large number of ecclesiastical preferments elsewhere. In 1394 he received the prebend of Sneating in St. Paul's, and also a prebend in Lincoln. In 1400 he became precentor of Chichester (ib. i. 265). In 1401 he was made prebendary of Tame in the cathedral of Lincoln (ib. ii. 221). Between 1402 and 1404 he was dean of St. Asaph (ib. i. 82). In 1403 has was chosen prebendary of North Newbald in York Minster (ib. iii. 203). In 1410 he became archdeacon of Northampton, and in the same year dean of Wells (ib. i. 152, ii. 57; Anglia Sacra, i. 589). In 1406 he succeeded, on his father's death, to the family possessions (Collins, Peerage, vi. 254, ed. 1779, from Inq. post mortem 7 Henry IV). Courtenay soon obtained a great position at Oxford. But even when chancellor of that university—an office he first attained in 1407—he was employed elsewhere, also on very different business. He early won, and preserved till his death, the close confidence and friendship of Henry of Monmouth. In 1407 he accompanied the Prince of Wales in his expedition against the Welsh insurgents. When the garrison of Aberystwith Castle, and the new town of Llanbadarn which it protected, made a conditional submission, he administered to them an oath on the Eucharist that they would absolutely surrender if not relieved before 1 Nov. (Rymer, Federa, viii. 497, original ed. The royal letter, ib. 419, is put in the wrong year). If we may believe a late authority, Courtenay was present at the martyrdom of the Lollard Badby (1410), when the Prince of Wales played so deplorable a part (Fabyan, p. 574, ed. Ellis). Before December 1410 he became chancellor of Oxford for the second time (Munimenta Academica, pp. 248-9). In 1411 he, with the proctors Brent and Byrch, headed a strong opposition to Archbishop Arundel, who, in his zeal against Wycliffites, proposed to hold a metropolitical visitation of the university. Arundel had already made a similar attempt in 1397, but had been obliged to content himself with a barren victory in the law courts. In 1411 Courtenay again pleaded the bull which on the former occasion the university had obtained from Boniface IX exempting it from all episcopal jurdisdiction. The archbishop and his magnificent train were rudely repelled from the city, and violent disputes ensued. It was ultimately agreed by both parties to submit the question to the king's judgment. On 17 Sept. Henry IV decided at Lambeth in favour of Arundel, and renewed an ordinance of Richard II, which had already decided against the scholars. The university, however, was not yet beaten. The royal order that Courtenay should be replaced by the cancellarius natus, the senior doctor of divinity, was sullenly complied with. But many masters ceased their lectures; and when the king, fearing that the university would empty, bade them choose a new chancellor and proctors, they, in direct violation of his orders, re-elected Courtenay, Brent, and Byrch. The parliament which met on 1 Nov. ratified and enrolled the royal ordinance at Arundel's petition (Rot. Parl. iii. 651-2). Arundel procured from John XXIII a bull reversing that of Boniface IX. At last the intervention of the Prince of Wales put an end to the struggle. But the university suffered a complete defeat. Courtenay, who never seems to have forfeited the royal favour, obtained from the king the gift of a great gilt cross to the university, in recompense for which an annual mass was directed to be said before the masters on the king's behalf, while a similar service was offered for the prince in return for his mediation. Arundel was convinced that the scholars were no longer favourers of heresy by the transmission to him of a decree of the university against 267 erroneous opinions of Wycliffe (MS. Cotton, Faustina C. vii. 138 b). Courtenay, the friend of the Prince of Wales, could never have been of doubtful orthodoxy.
A large number of entries in the books of the chancellor and proctors, printed by Anstey, attest Courtenay's activity at the head of the university. His crowning achievement was completing the library which Bishop Cobham had given to the university, drawing up rules for its organisation and regulation, increasing its size, and appointing a librarian or chaplain. The university recognised his services by allowing him free access to the library, whenever it was daylight, for the rest of his life, a privilege only allowed in other cases to the actual chancellor (Munim. Academ. 261-9; Wood, Annals, i. 547-50). Among those stirred up by Courtenay's energy to present books to the university library were the king, the archbishop, the Prince of Wales and his brothers, including Humphrey, who was afterwards to carry out the work of Cobham and Courtenay on so noble a scale. In 1412 Courtenay's name appears for the last time as chancellor. Affairs of state entirely occupied the remainder of his life. He became a member of the royal council, and was commissioned with others to treat with the Burgundian ambassadors for the projected marriage of the Prince of Wales and Anne, daughter of Duke John, which was to be the basis of a close alliance between the two states (Federa, viii. 721). He also conducted some researches among the archives with reference to Flanders and to the relations of the English and Scottish crowns (Kalendars and Inventories of Exchequer, ii. 82). On Henry V's accession he became treasurer of the royal household and custodian of the king's jewels. In September 1413 he was appointed, by papal provision, bishop of Norwich (Federa, ix. 50), and, immediately receiving the royal confirmation and the restitution of his temporalities, was consecrated by Archbishop Arundel at the royal chapel at Windsor, on 17 Sept. (Stubbs, Registrum Sacrum Anglicanum, p. 63). But affairs of state prevented him from ever seeing his diocese, where John Leicester, archbishop of Smyrna, who had already acted as suffragan for Bishops Spencer and Tottington, lived in his palace and performed all his ordinations and diocesan work (Jessopp, Diocesan Hist. of Norwich, pp. 140, 235). On 31 May 1414 he was sent, with the bishop of Durham, at the head of a great embassy for treating with our adversary of France (Federa, ix. 132). The embassy set out in great state, was lodged sumptuously at Paris, in the Temple, but could not avert the war, as the French were not yet willing to accept the English terms (see for the embassy Waurin, Chroniques, 1399-1422, p. 164). Courtenay was absent between 10 July and 3 Oct. (Federa, ix. 190). Later in the year the same ambassadors went on a second mission, and on 24 Jan. 1415 signed at Paris a prolongation of the truce (ib. ix. 199). On his way to France he got the hangman at Calais into great trouble by persuading him to cut the cord which suspended a dead felon sentenced to be hanged as long as the cord endured (ib. ix. 195). On his return his denunciation of some special French treachery excited Henry's anger and hastened the outbreak of the war (Walsingham, ii. 301. His accounts and expenses as ambassador are in Add. MS. 24513, f. 68). During the next arduous months Courtenay was much occupied in raising money for the French expedition on the security of the royal jewels (see many instances in Federa, ix. and Kal. and Inv. of Exchequer, ii.). On 24 July Henry made his will at Southampton, and made Courtenay one of his executors (Federa, ix. 293). On 11 Aug. he left England with Henry for Harfleur, and continued in attendance on the king during the siege of that town until on 10 Sept. he was attacked by the dysentery that was already ravaging the English army. On Sunday, 15 Sept., he died in the king's presence. Henry, who was much affected at his loss, ordered the body to be conveyed to Westminster, where it found an honourable tomb in the Confessor's chapel, behind the high altar of the abbey.
The chaplain of Henry V, who commemorates his exploits, speaks of Courtenay as one of the dearest friends and most trusted counsellors of the king. He commends his noble birth, his lofty stature, his ability, his culture, and his eloquence (Gesta Hen. V, p. 27). The monk of Norwich repeats the same praises (Anglia Sacra, i. 416). Walsingham and Capgrave agree that he was fully worthy of the honours he obtained. His heir was his nephew, Sir Philip (d. 1463), the father of Peter Courtenay, bishop of Winchester [qv.] (Collins, vi. 254).
Rymer's Federa (original edition), vols. viii. and ix.
Anglia Sacra, vol. i.
Rolls of Parliament, vol. iii.
Walsingham, vol. ii., Rolls Ser.
Capgrave's Chronicle, Rolls Ser.
Memorials of Henry V, Rolls Ser.
Chroniques par Waurin, 1399-1422, Rolls Ser.
Gesta Henrici Quinti (Eng. Hist. Soc.)
Anstey's Munimenta Academica, Rolls Ser.
MS. Cotton Faustina C. vii. f. 126 sq.
Wood's History and Antiquities of Oxford, ed. Gutch
Boase's Register of Exeter College, Oxford
Le Neve's Fasti Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ, ed. Hardy
Cleaveland's Genealogical History of the Family of Courtenay (1735)
Prince's Worthies of Devon, pp. 162-3, gives little additional.
Contributor: T. F. T. [Thomas Frederick Tout]