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Sir Peter Courtenay

Born: 1349, probably at Tiverton Castle, Devon
Died: 2nd February 1409

The lustre of his birth, his ardent and romantic devotion to chivalrous exercises, and his martial skill and undaunted valour in the field, may claim, for Sir Peter Courtenay, a conspicuous station among the heroes of his time.

Sir Peter Courtenay was the seventh son of Hugh, the second Earl of Devon, by Margaret De Bohun, and a younger brother of Sir Hugh Courtenay, a founder member of the Order of the Garter. During the English campaign to restore King Pedro to the throne of Castile & Leon, Peter received knighthood - at the same time with his brother, Sir Philip, and his nephew, Sir Hugh - from the Black Prince at Vittoria, before the Battle of Najara in 1367. His services on that memorable occasion were acknowledged by the grant of a pension of 50, out of the revenues of Devon and Cornwall, and, in 1369, by another, of like amount, charged on the stannaries. From that year until the accession of King Richard II, we find no mention of him. However, having then - in company with his brother, Sir Philip - the command of certain vessels in a naval expedition under the Earls of Salisbury and Arundel, he encountered the Spanish fleet near the coast of Britanny and, after a desperate conflict, was compelled to yield to superior force. Sir Philip, although severely wounded, was enabled to save himself, but Sir Peter, who had fought strenuously, fell, covered with wounds, into the power of the enemy. Yet not until all the brave esquires of Devon and Somerset, his companions in arms, had been drowned or slain.

Upon his liberation, shortly afterwards, Sir Peter proceeded to Bordeaux and, from thence, to England, where he was honoured with a military appointment at Calais. It was probably during the period in which he filled that station, that he visited the flamboyant court of King Charles VI of France in Paris and merited the applause of that sovereign for his feats of arms with the celebrated Guy De La Tremouille. For, in 1383, he obtained a licence from Richard II to send, by Northampton Herald and Aulet Pursuivant, eight cloths of scarlet, black and russet, as presents to certain lords of France; as also two horses, six saddles, six small bows, one sheaf of large arrows and a sheaf of cross-bow arrows, for the attendants of the King, and a greyhound and other dogs for his keeper; the whole in acknowledgment of the great honour which had been done to him on occasion of his combat with a French knight.

In 1388, Sir Peter Courtenay was appointed principal chamberlain. In the same year also, by the description of "the King's cousin," he was authorised to proceed to Calais with John Hobbledod, his esquire, for the purpose of inquiring of and deliberating with the enemy - the French - touching certain intended feats of arms. This reference, doubtless, concerned the jousts which were, not long afterwards, held at the Abbey of St. Inghelbert. Froissart, before entering into a minute description of those jousts, takes occasion to narrate the adventures of Courtenay on his returning to Calais after his former encounter with De La Tremouille.

It seems that King Charles, having extolled and rewarded our knight for his gallant bearing in that tournament, ordered the Sire De Clary to escort him back to Calais. They alighted on their way at Luceu in Artois, the residence of King Richard's sister, the Countess of St. Pol, who had been first married to Sir Peter's nephew, Hugh, Lord Courtenay. The lady entertained them courteously and, amongst other questions to Sir Peter, demanded whether he had been well received by the French nobles? "Doubtless," replied the knight, "I am content with my reception. Nevertheless, the object for which I crossed the sea has been but poorly accomplished. Sure I am that if the Sire De Clary, here present, who is a knight of France, had been pleased to visit England for a like purpose, he would have found more readiness than I have met with, to gratify his chivalrous desires. True it is, that Sir Guy De La Tremouille was allowed to joust with me, but, after we had broken a lance or two, we were ordered to desist; and, madam, I must everywhere maintain that it was not my fault that there was no second encounter." Clary's anger at this speech was suppressed by his recollection that the English knight was under his escort and the Countess comforted her kinsman by assuring him that he would quit the French territory without reproach, and with the more honour for having complied with the request of its sovereign. On the day following, the knights took leave of their noble hostess and proceeded on their journey. Upon entering within the English lines near Calais, Sir Peter, having thanked his companion for his kind escort, was reminded by De Clary of the disdainful language which he had used at Luceu, when speaking of the chivalry of France, and informed him that if he would deign to accept the challenge of the least of that gallant band, he would find him ready on that evening or early on the morrow, to fulfil his desire. Courtenay cheerfully proposed that the combat should take place on the following morning and the knights separated in order to arrange their equipment, the one at Calais, the other at Marquise. At the appointed hour, Sir Peter, accompanied by Sir John Devereux, then captain of Calais, met his antagonist, both being well armed and mounted. Their first essay was without effect, but, at the second onset, De Clary, striking with full force beyond Courtenay's shield, his sword penetrated deeply into the shoulder of our knight, who by the violence of the blow was thrown from his horse. The sire De Clary left the ground, not without reproach from the English that he had transgressed the rules of the joust by aiming a blow at the shoulder of his adversary and, on his return to the presence of his Royal master, he was reproved by him, and the whole court, for having challenged a knight who had been committed to his escort.

The grand jousts at St. Inghelbert were fixed to be held on 20th May 1390, but the Earls of Nottingham and Huntingdon, Sir Thomas Clifford, Sir John Beaumont and Sir Peter Courtenay received, whilst at Calais, a message from King Richard, dated 13th March preceding, that they should abstain from the exercise of any feats of arms with the French without the special leave of the Earl of Northumberland. The immediate cause of the prohibition is not mentioned, but the detailed narrative of the tournament by Froissart records that, besides many others, all the knights named in the message (excepting Nottingham, who had in that year been appointed Captain of Calais) were amongst the combatants. Courtenay jousted, with various success, with the three challengers, Boucicaut, Roye and Saint-Py.

In the same year, Sir Peter was appointed Constable of Windsor Castle (Berks) for life. In 1393, several knights appeared at the English Court, from Scotland, with challenges to feats of arms and Courtenay was opposed, in one of these combats, to a knight named Darell. It was probably in his position of Chamberlain that the confession, made by, or extorted from, the unfortunate Duke of Gloucester, at Calais in 1397, was committed to his safekeeping. In 1398, he was appointed Captain of Calais. Immediately after the accession of King Henry IV, the last-mentioned post seems to have been confirmed to him and the favour of the new sovereign was manifested by divers grants of lands and, by his nomination, in 1404, to the Privy Council.

Sir Peter Courtenay died, unmarried, on 2nd February 1409, leaving his nephew, Edward, third Earl of Devon, as his heir. His remains were deposited in St. Peter's Cathedral in Exeter, under a tomb and brass memorial bearing a laudatory inscription to his memory.

Edited from George Frederick Beltz's
"Memorials of the Most Noble Order of the Garter" (1861).      Copyright ©1999, LLC