COURTENAY, Sir William I (by 1485-1535), of East Coker, Som. and Ilton and Powderham, Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. by 1485, 1st s. of Sir William Courtenay of Powderham by Cecily, da. of Sir John Cheney of Pinhoe, Devon. m. (1) by 4 Nov. 1506, Margaret, da. of Sir Richard Edgecombe of Cotehele, Cornw., wid. of William St. Maure, 5s.; (2) by 27 Oct. 1512, Mary, da. of Sir John Gainsford of Crowhurst, Surr., 4s. 3da. suc. fa. 1512. Kntd. July 1517/Mar. 1521.2

Offices Held

Esquire of the body by Sept. 1512; commr. subsidy, Devon 1512, 1514, 1515, 1524; other commissions, Cornw. and Devon 1527-d.; j.p. Devon 1513-d.; keeper, North Petherton park, Som. 1513-d.; sheriff, Devon Feb.-Nov. 1522, 1525-6, 1533-4.3


William Courtenay obtained livery of his lands on 11 Sept. 1512. In January of that year he had been bound (as had Richard Cornwall) in a recognizance of 500 marks not to go two miles from London: the cause of the restriction is not known, but the bond was cancelled three months later. On entering upon his inheritance Courtenay moved from East Coker, where he had lived after his first marriage, to the family seat of Powderham, whence he intervened in the affairs of Devon but also travelled regularly to give attendance at court. His place near the King had probably been found for him by his father or by his kinsman the 9th Earl of Devon. He took part in the military campaigns of 1514 and 1523, and was present at the Field of Cloth of Gold and the King’s meeting with Charles V at Gravelines. It was during these years that he was knighted, although the date and occasion are unknown.4

Courtenay had become intimate with Sir Thomas Denys and had worked closely with him in Devon before the two were returned as knights of the shire to the Parliament of 1529: either or both may have sat in earlier Parliaments for which the Members’ names are lost. Among Courtenay’s relatives who sat in 1529 was Sir Peter Edgecombe, his brother-in-law, returned as knight for Cornwall at the time when he was serving as sheriff of Devon. Cromwell appears to have thought well of Courtenay and entrusted him with matters of importance, notably in connexion with the visitation of monasteries. Fragments of their correspondence survive: in three letters of the year 1533 Courtenay excused himself from attending the coronation of Queen Anne Boleyn because of an injured leg, discussed a proposed marriage between his daughter-in-law, a kinswoman of the Queen, and Richard Cromwell alias Williams, and successfully solicited the next shrievalty for himself. Shortly before his death Courtenay was granted an annuity of five marks by the city of Exeter.5

Courtenay died at Powderham either late on 23 Nov. or early on 24 Nov. 1535. According to John Hussee, when he reported the event to Lord Lisle at Calais, ‘some were sorry but for the most part made little moan’: the corporation of Plymouth, at least, mourned one who had been ‘a special good master to the town’. Courtenay’s heir was his grandson William, his eldest son George having predeceased him. He had made a will on 8 Nov. 1527 in which he provided amply for his wife, to whom he left a life interest at Cadleigh, and for his children, and appointed among others as its supervisors Denys and James Courtenay. It may have been because some of his sons and executors had predeceased him that probate was not granted until 27 May 1541; by then his widow had married Anthony Kingston. Courtenay’s place in Parliament was filled, during the last session, by his nephew George Carew.6

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Authors: L. M. Kirk / A. D.K. Hawkyard


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from first marriage. Vis. Devon, ed. Vivian, 246-7; Vis. Devon, ed. Colby, 73; CPR, 1494-1509, p. 477; LP Hen. VIII, ii, iii; C142/58/1.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, i, iv, vii, viii; Statutes, iii. 80, 117, 174.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, i-iv.
  • 5. Ibid. iv, vi-viii; Exeter act bk. 2, f. 36v.
  • 6. C142/58/1, 47, 73, 110; LP Hen. VIII, ix; Plymouth receivers acct. bk. 22; PCC 19 Alenger.