Sir William COURTENAY of Powderham, Knight

Born: ABT 1553

Died: 24 Jun 1630, London, Middlesex, England

Buried: Powderham, Devonshire, England

Notes: The Complete Peerage vol.IV,p.333. de jure Earl by 1831 decision.

Father: William COURTENAY of Powderham (Sir)

Mother: Elizabeth PAULET

Married 1: Elizabeth MANNERS 18 Jan 1572/3


1. Margaret COURTENAY

2. Bridget COURTENAY

3. Elizabeth COURTENAY

4. William COURTENAY (Sir Knight)

5. Francis COURTENAY of Powderham (Sir)




9. Alexander COURTENAY

10. Edward COURTENAY

Married 2: Elizabeth SYDENHAM (w. of Sir Francis Drake)

Married 3: Jane HILL (b. 1565 - d. BEF 1615) (dau. of Robert Hill of Yarde and Eleanor Marvyn) (w. of Sir Thomas Brereton)

The details in this biography come from the History of Parliament, a biographical dictionary of Members of the House of Commons.

Born by Jun 1553, first son of Sir William Courtenay of Powderham by Elizabeth, dau. of John Paulet, 2nd M. of Winchester. Educ. M. Temple 1578. Married first, lic. 18 Jan 1573, Lady Elizabeth Manners, dau. of Henry Manners, 2nd Earl of Rutland, and Margaret Neville; secondly Elizabeth (d. 1598) dau. of Sir George Sydenham of Combe Sydenham, wid. of Francis Drake; and thirdly to Jane, dau. of Robert Hill of Yarde. Suc. family 1557. Kntd. 1576. J.p. Devon from c.1561, j.p.q. Somerset by 1601; sheriff, Devon 1579-80, dep. lt. 1586.

After the death of his father in France, Courtenay became a ward of his great-grandfather, Sir William Paulet, Marquess of Winchester, who was granted some of Courtenay's lands in return for his services. The influence of the Catholic Paulet family no doubt partly accounts for Courtenay's own later conversion. Though his religious views would have been repugnant to Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford, Courtenay was named as a deputy lieutenant in Bedford's unissued commission of 1585. He thrice represented Devon. On 14 Dec 1584 he was named to a committee for the confirmation of letters patent to Sir Walter Raleigh, and he may have attended the subsidy committee on 24 Feb 1585 to which he was appointed as knight of the shire. In 1589 he was eligible to attend the subsidy committee on 11 Feb as first knight of the shire. In 1601 he was named to a committee on the penal laws (2 Nov); as knight of the shire he was on the committee considering the order of parliamentary business (3 Nov) and the monopolies committee (23 Nov); as one of the knights for Devon he was on a procedural committee (11 Nov); and as a knight for a maritime county he was appointed to a committee on 3 Dec to consider measures against pirates.

While in London in 1584, Courtenay quarrelled with Richard Champernowne, Lady Courtenay appealing for help to her brother, Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland, Lord Burghley and the lord chancellor Sir Thomas Bromley investigated the matter and, wrote Courtenay,

'In fine, we were made friends and my lords have promised me a letter of their good opinion of me, and justifying my innocence in this cause'

Soon afterwards, both he and Champernowne were undertakers in the Munster plantation, which may explain how Courtenay got into the hands of moneylenders, for in 1588 he was one of 12 knights 'of great possessions' suggested for baronies. At this time he commanded 3,000 men in Devon, and a defence force in Dorset. He was one of the deputy lieutenants appointed by the Privy Council to 'advise' the young lord lieutenant of Devon, the Earl of Bath, who was under the thumb of his ex-tutor Thomas Hinson. Bath's opinion of Courtenay is interesting:

'a man who, though he gives himself out to all víee, as drinking, whoring etc., yet he neither wants wit to devise, nor might to practise how to strengthen himself and weaken others'

By 1586 Courtenay's Catholic religious views were becoming embarrassing.

His second wife, Elizabeth Sydenham, was well connected. Her paternal grandfather had been Sir John Sydenham, Sheriff of Somerset, and his wife, who survived until 1608, was Ursula Brydges, the sister of John, first Lord Chandos. Their extensive brood were significant local figures. The oldest of Elizabeth's five paternal uncles, Sir John Sydenham, inherited the estate of Brympton d'Every. An aunt, also called Elizabeth, married the Sheriff of Devonshire.

The father of the bride was Sir George Sydenham, sometime sheriff of Somerset, who had inherited from his father the estate of Combe Sydenham in the same county and had added to it since. In 1561, for example, he had purchased the manor of Sutton Bingham from Sir William Kayleway of Rockborne. He played the local benefactor, providing 15 pounds per year from his properties at Combe Sydenham and nearby Stogumber for the upkeep of six cottages he had donated to poor widows, and was a pillar of the county administration, regularly mustering the local levies at Bridgwater. Sir George's wife, Elizabeth, was of no less distinguished lineage than the Sydenhams. She was the daughter of Sir Christopher Hales, once Attorney-General to Henry VIII and the prosecutor of Wolsey, More, Fisher and Anne Boleyn.

Elizabeth Sydenham

Yet, although his third wife was a Catholic, it was not until James's reign that he resigned his military offices and surrendered bis arms. It may have been some compensation that he became deputy warden of the stannaries. Sales of his lands continued throughout his life, but bis inquisition post mortem showed that he still retained a score of manors in Devon.

For a good many years of his life he resided in Ireland, as one of the "undertakers" for the settlement of that country. He obtained a grant of Newcastle, with a large quantity of the confiscated land of the Earl of Desmond, and thus laid the foundation of the great Limerick property which has since been enjoyed by his descendants.

He died in London on 24 Jun 1630, and was buried at Powderham.

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