William Courtenay (died 1630)

Sir William Courtenay, Knight, (1553 – 24 June 1630) of Powderham in Devon was a prominent member of the Devonshire gentry. He was Sheriff of Devon in 1579–80 and received the rare honour[1] of having been three times elected MP for the prestigious county seat (Devon) in 1584, 1589 and 1601.


He was the son and heir of Sir William Courtenay (c. 1529 – 1557) of Powderham, MP for Plympton Erle in 1555, by his wife Elizabeth Paulet, daughter of John Paulet, 2nd Marquess of Winchester. He was 9th in descent[2] from Hugh de Courtenay, 2nd Earl of Devon (1303–1377), of Tiverton Castle, feudal baron of Okehampton and feudal baron of Plympton,[3] one of whose younger sons was Sir Philip Courtenay (1340–1406) of Powderham, founder of the junior line of Courtenay of Powderham.

In 1557 at the age of 4 he succeeded his father. He trained as a lawyer in the Middle Temple.

Sir William was knighted on 25 March 1576,[4] served as Sheriff of Devon for 1579–80 and was also involved in the Munster Plantation in Ireland in the 1580s, being granted Desmond Hall and Castle in Newcastle West. Sir William was elected Member of Parliament for Devon in 1584, 1589 and 1601.[5] In 1831 he was recognised by a retrospective decision of the House of Lords as having been de jure 3rd Earl of Devon.[6]

Marriages and children

Some time between 18 January 1572 and 1573, he married as his first wife, Elizabeth Manners, daughter of Henry Manners, 2nd Earl of Rutland, and by her had seven sons and three daughters.[7][8] His eldest son, William, died childless in 1605, predeceasing his father. His second son and heir was Francis Courtenay (1576 – 3 Jun 1638). His third daughter, Elizabeth, married Sir William Wrey, 1st Baronet[9] of Tawstock in Devon. Her father's arms survive, impaled by Wrey, on the monument of her father-in-law John Wrey (d. 1597) in Tawstock Church. The other children were Thomas, George, John, Alexander, Edward, Margaret and Bridget.[9]

On 25 Aug 1595 he married as his second wife, Elizabeth Sydenham, daughter of Sir George Sydenham of Combe Sydenham in Somerset and widow of Vice Admiral Sir Francis Drake (d. 1596).[7]

His third wife was Jane Hill, daughter of Robert Hill of Taunton, Somerset.[7]


He died in London on 24 June 1630 and was buried in Powderham Church, Devon.[5][7]


  1. Hoskins, W.G., A New Survey of England: Devon, London, 1959 (first published 1954), p.180
  2. Vivian, pp.244–247
  3. Sanders, I.J. English Baronies: A Study of their Origin and Descent 1086–1327, Oxford, 1960, p.138
  4. Shaw, W. A. (1906). The Knights of England. II. London: Sherrat and Hughes. p. 77.
  5. Hasler, P. W. (1981). Hasler, P. W. (ed.). "COURTENAY, Sir William I (1553–1630), of Powderham, Devon". Members. The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1558–1603. Historyofparliamentonline.org. Retrieved 23 September 2013.
  6. "Sir William Courtenay, de jure 3rd Earl of Devon". Cracroft's Peerage. Cracroftspeerage.co.uk. Retrieved 22 September 2013.
  7. "Sir William Courtenay, 1553–1630". Family Search: Community Trees. Europe: Royal and Noble Houses of Europe. Histfam.familysearch.org. Retrieved 23 September 2013.
  8. Colby, Frederic Thomas, ed. (1872). "The Visitation of the County of Devon in the Year 1620". The Publications of the Harleian Society. London: Harleian Society. VI: 76.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  9. Vivian, p. 247


  • Vivian, J. L. (1895). The Visitations of the County of Devon, Comprising the Heralds' Visitations of 1531, 1564, to 1620, with additions by J. L. Vivian. Exeter: H S Eland.

Further reading

Peerage of England
Preceded by
William Courtenay
Earl of Devon
de jure

1557 – 1630
Succeeded by
Francis Courtenay
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