COURTENAY, William (1676-1735), of Powderham Castle, Devon

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Feb. 1701 - 1710
22 July 1712 - 6 Oct. 1735

Family and Education

b. 11 Mar. 1676, 1st s. of Francis Courtenay*.  educ. Exeter, Oxf. 1695.  m. 13 July 1704, Lady Anne, da. of James Bertie, 1st Earl of Abingdon, and sis. of Hon. Henry II*, Hon. James* and Hon. Robert Bertie*, and Montagu Venables-Bertie*, Ld. Norreys, 5s. 8da.  suc. fa. 1699, gdfa. as 2nd Bt. 1 Aug. 1702.1

Offices Held

Ld. lt. Devon 1714–16.


Courtenay’s grandfather, Sir William Courtenay, 1st Bt.*, who had lost the lordship of the manor of Honiton after the remodelling of the charter in 1684, was given it back by King William in 1697 in a somewhat belated acknowledgment of his services at the Revolution. In an effort to recover the family’s electoral interest in the borough, Courtenay stood for one of its parliamentary seats in February 1701, but was defeated. Later in the month, he was able to take the grander prize of a county seat without encountering opposition. He was not deterred, however, from petitioning afterwards against the maltreatment he felt he had suffered at Honiton, but his case was not successful. He was listed with those who in February 1701 were thought likely to support the Court in agreeing with the committee of supply’s resolution to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’, and later was blacklisted as having opposed preparations for war. In Robert Harley’s* list of December 1701 he figured as a Tory, and he voted on 26 Feb. 1702 in favour of the resolution vindicating the Commons’ proceedings on the impeachments of William III’s Whig ministers. He succeeded to his father’s baronetcy on 4 Aug. 1702, just three days after having secured his return at the general election of that year. He acted as a teller twice in the 1703–4 session: on 21 Feb. 1704, in favour of committing the bill to encourage manufacturing in England and settle the poor to work, and on 24 Mar., in support of a motion that the commissioners of accounts present their accounts forthwith. In mid-March 1704 he was noted as a probable supporter of Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) in connexion with the attack anticipated over his handling of the Scotch Plot. A moderate in his Toryism, Courtenay voted against the Tack (or was absent) on 28 Nov., for which he was classed as ‘Low Church’ in a list of the next Parliament. However, he voted against the Court candidate in the division on the Speaker, 25 Oct. 1705. On 8 Feb. 1707 he was given leave of absence. In a debate on 21 Jan. 1708, on restoring the various regiments to their full complement, Courtenay was reported to have ‘made a notable speech, in relation to the unfair methods by which several young officers, both by sea and land, were advanced, to the prejudice of others of longer standing, and more experience’. He was again granted leave of absence on 24 Mar. 1708. An analysis of the post-Union House compiled at this time duly noted him as a Tory, and early in 1710, despite his previously moderate tendencies, he voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell.2

At the general election of 1710, Courtenay agreed to stand down as knight of the shire in favour of (Sir) William Pole* (4th Bt.). However, in July 1712 when Pole sought re-election after appointment to office in 1712, Courtenay stood against him by popular demand of the county’s ‘regulating’ gentry and was chosen in his place. ‘Misrepresentations’ against him by Pole and his supporters forced Courtenay to defend his conduct to Lord Treasurer Oxford (Harley) and to deny strongly that he himself had initiated any prior canvassing. Now back in Parliament, he was a member of his brother-in-law Lord Abingdon’s (Montagu Venables-Bertie) personal ‘clan’ and as such attached himself to the Hanoverian wing of the Tory party, voting against the French commerce bill on 18 June 1713. Unsuccessful at Honiton in 1713, but returned for the county, he remained a ‘Hanoverian Tory’, being classed in the Worsley list as a Tory who often voted with the Whigs, and even as a ‘whimsical’ Whig in another list of this Parliament. After the Hanoverian succession he retained the county seat until his death on 6 Oct. 1735.3

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 247–9; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 445.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1697, pp. 115–16; Boyer, Anne Annals, vi. 312.
  • 3. G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 282.