House of Courtenay

House of Courtenay is the name of two distinct noble families, both of which descended from Athon, the first lord of Courtenay. Athon took advantage of the succession crisis in the Duchy of Burgundy between Otto-William, Duke of Burgundy and Robert II of France to capture a piece of land for himself, where he established his own seigneury (lordship), taking his surname from the town he founded and fortified.

Location of Courtenay in the Gâtinais (Loiret), France. It is situated about 65 miles SE of Paris and was thus well within the control of the French kings and had no connection to any west-coast French possessions of the English kings (i.e. Normandy, Anjou, Aquitaine etc.), from which originated most early continental incomers to England. In this respect the English Courtenay family is unusual.

The Split

In the 12th century, Reginald de Courtenay (d.1190), son of Milo de Courtenay (d.1127), moved to England after quarreling with King Louis VII of France:

The Capetian House of Courtenay

Reginald de Courtenay's daughter, Elizabeth, was given in marriage, together with his forfeited French lands, by the French Capetian King Louis VII with whom he had quarreled, to his youngest brother Peter of France (d.1183), henceforth known as Peter I of Courtenay. Peter and Elizabeth's descendants were members of the Capetian House of Courtenay, a cadet branch of the House of Capet, the French Royal House. Their descendants acquired through marriage the County of Namur and the Latin Empire of Constantinople. This branch became extinct in the male line in 1733, with the name Courtenay passing on to the Bauffremont family. A cadet branch of the Courtenay that participated in the crusades came to rule the County of Edessa, a Crusader state. It became extinct in the male line around 1200. See also the Houses of Montlhéry and Le Puiset.

Claim to French royal status

The House of Bourbon, which acquired the French throne with Henry IV of France, was another cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty. Under the Salic law, males descended in male line from Hugh Capet are princes of the blood – i.e., they have the right to succeed to the French throne in the event that the male line of the royal family and of more senior princes die out. Hence, the then impoverished Capetian House of Courtenay, being agnatic descendants of Louis VI of France, sought to be acknowledged as "princes du sang" (Princes of the Blood Royal) and "cousins to the king," two titles normally reserved for the members of the royal family and prized for the seats at the Royal Council and the Parliament of Paris that they conferred upon its holders. Three Bourbon kings in a row – Henri IV, Louis XIII, and Louis XIV – turned down their petitions. That the Bourbon monarchs confined the French royalty to the descendants of Louis IX is evidenced by the Treaty of Montmartre (1662) which named the non-Capetian House of Lorraine as the next in line to the French throne after the Bourbons, thus bypassing the Courtenay branch, a Capetian family. Although the Courtenays protested against this clause, their claims to the princely title were never acknowledged by the Paris Court of Accounts. The last male member of the French Courtenays died in 1733, but his niece married the Marquis de Bauffremont, and her descendants assumed the title of "Prince de Courtenay" with dubious validity, which they bear to this day. However the marquis de Beauffremont was made on 8 June 1757 Prince of the Holy Roman Empire (inheritable by all male-line descendants); this title was recognised in France. Beauffremont-Courtenay are also princes of Carency and dukes of Beauffremont.

The English House of Courtenay

Reginald de Courtenay's grandson, Robert de Courtenay (d.1242), feudal baron of Okehampton, Devon, in right of his mother Hawise de Curcy (d.1219),[1] married Mary de Redvers, daughter and heiress of William de Redvers, 5th Earl of Devon (d.1217). Robert's great-grandson, Hugh de Courtenay, 9th Earl of Devon, (d.1340) inherited the Earldom of Devon in 1335 on the extinction of the male line of the de Redvers family. The title was subsequently recreated for Hugh de Courtenay, nephew of Hugh the elder Despenser. The family is one of the most ancient in England, currently headed by Charles Courtenay, 19th Earl of Devon.




  1. Sanders, I.J., English Baronies, Oxford, 1960, pp.69-70, Okehampton
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