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Peter Courtenay

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Peter Courtenay

Peter Courtenay
Bishop of Winchester
Arms of Bishop Peter Courtenay (d.1492), detail from the Courtenay Mantelpiece, Bishop's Palace, Exeter
Church Catholic
See Diocese of Winchester
Appointed 29 January 1487
Term ended 23 September 1492
Predecessor William Waynflete
Successor Thomas Langton
Personal details
Born c. 1432
Died 23 September 1492
Previous post Bishop of Exeter
Dean of Windsor
Dean of Exeter
Arms of Bishop Peter Courtenay (d.1492), Or, 3 torteaux a label of 3 points azure each point charged with 3 plates in pale with supporters the Bohun swans, each collared with a crown and chained or. Gothic text above: Honor Deo et Regi (Honour to God and the king); beneath: "Arma Petri Exon(iensis) Epi(scopi)" (Arms of Peter, Bishop of Exeter). The sickles in triangle are a badge of the Hungerford family and the garbs a badge of the Peverells. The Tau letters represent the symbol of St Anthony, a favoured saint of the bishop.[1] Detail from Bishop Peter Courtenay's Mantelpiece, Bishop's Palace, Exeter

Peter Courtenay (c. 1432 – 23 September 1492)[2] was Bishop of Exeter and Bishop of Winchester, and also had a successful political career during the tumultuous years of the Wars of the Roses.


  • Origins 1
  • Career 2
  • Shakespeare and Peter Courtenay, Bishop of Exeter 3
  • Citations 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Peter Courtenay (d. 1492) was the third son of Sir Philip Courtenay (18 January 1404 – 16 December 1463) of Powderham by Elizabeth Hungerford, daughter of Walter Hungerford, 1st Baron Hungerford (d. 1449). He was a grandson of Sir Philip Courtenay (1340–1406) of Powderham, a younger son of Hugh Courtenay, 10th Earl of Devon (1303–1377). Courtenay was also a grand-nephew of Richard Courtenay (d. 1415), Bishop of Norwich, and a great-grand-nephew of William Courtenay (d. 1396), Archbishop of Canterbury. He came from a family of six brothers and four sisters.[3]


The "exceedingly ostentatious"[4] Bishop Courtenay Mantelpiece, Bishop's Palace, Exeter, erected by Bishop Peter Courtenay

According to Horrox, Courtenay was admitted bachelor of civil law at Oxford in 1457, and continued his legal studies at Cologne, matriculating in the faculty of law there in November 1457. By April 1461 he was studying law at Padua, where he was elected rector.[5]

Courtenay enjoyed ecclesiastical preferment from 1448 on.[6] Among other appointments he was made Archdeacon of Exeter on 8 June 1453,[7] prebendary at Lincoln in 1483, Archdeacon of Wiltshire in 1464, Master of St Anthony's Hospital in London in 1470, Dean of Exeter from October 1476 to March 1477, and Dean of Windsor in April 1477.[8] On 14 June 1478 Courtenay was elected Bishop of Exeter,[9] with papal provision taking place on 9 September 1478. He received his temporalities on 3 November, and was consecrated on 8 November at St Stephen's Chapel, Westminster.[10]

Courtenay's ecclesiastical career ran side by side with involvement in the political affairs of the day. By June 1462 he had left Padua and was back in England, where he entered the service of Duke of Clarence, in opposition to the King. Courtenay accommodated himself to the Lancastrian regime during the readeption, serving as secretary to King Henry VI. However, in 1471 he rejoined Clarence, and by March 1472 was secretary to Edward IV, who had taken back the throne. Courtenay was still serving as King Edward's secretary in May 1474, and appears to have become a member of the King's council in 1477–8.[11]

After the death of Edward IV on 9 April 1483, Courtenay initially supported the new King, Richard III.[12] However, in the fall of 1483 both he and his younger brother, Walter Courtenay (d. 7 November 1506), attempted to incite a rising in Devon and Cornwall on behalf of Henry Tudor, the future King Henry VII. The rising failed, and Courtenay fled to the continent, joining Tudor in exile at Vannes, Brittany. In January 1484 he was attainted by Parliament, and his temporalities were forfeited. Courtenay accompanied Henry Tudor on his return to England, and after the victory at Bosworth and the death of Richard III, was made Keeper of the Privy Seal on 8 September 1485, and was one of the bishops who officiated at the new King's coronation. His attainder was reversed by Henry VII's first Parliament, and on 29 January 1487 he was translated to become Bishop of Winchester.[13]

Courtenay continued to play a political role until his death, being present at the ratification of a treaty with Spain on 23 September 1490 and the creation of the King's eldest son, Arthur, as Prince of Wales on 29 November 1491. Courtenay died on 23 September 1492, and was buried in Winchester Cathedral.[14]

Shakespeare and Peter Courtenay, Bishop of Exeter

Courtenay's rising against Richard III is mentioned in Act IV Scene iv of Shakespeare's Richard III, although Shakespeare erroneously refers to Sir Edward Courtenay, the Bishop's cousin, as his brother:

Mess. My gracious sovereign, now in Devonshire,
As I by friends am well advertised,
Sir Edward Courtney and the haughty prelate,
Bishop of Exeter, his elder brother,
With many moe confederates, are in arms.


  1. ^ A Delineation of the Courtenay Mantelpiece in the Episcopal Palace at Exeter by Roscoe Gibbs with a Biographical Notice of The Right Reverend Peter Courtenay, DD,... To which is added A Description of the Courtenay Mantelpiece compiled by Maria Halliday, privately published at the Office of the Torquay Directory, 1884, p.10
  2. ^ Horrox 2004
  3. ^ Richardson II 2011, pp. 30–1, 327, 427–8.
  4. ^ Pevsner, Nikolaus]] & Cherry, Bridget, The Buildings of England: Devon, London, 2004, p. 417
  5. ^ Horrox 2004.
  6. ^ Tout 1887, p. 339; Horrox 2004.
  7. ^ British History – Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1300–1541 – Archdeacons of Exeter
  8. ^ Tout 1887, p. 339; Horrox 2004.
  9. ^ Fryde 1996, p. 247.
  10. ^ Tout 1887, p. 339; Horrox 2004.
  11. ^ Horrox 2004.
  12. ^ Tout 1887, p. 340.
  13. ^ Tout 1887, p. 340; Horrox 2004.
  14. ^ Tout 1887, p. 340; Horrox 2004.


  • (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  • Works related to Peter Courtenay at Wikisource: Dictionary of National Biography, 1885–1900, Volume 12

External links

  • Courtenay pedigree in The Visitations of Cornwall, p. 108
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain
  • Images of Bishop Courtenay's Mantlepiece [1]
Political offices
Preceded by
John Gunthorpe
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
Richard Foxe
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Henry Webber
Dean of Exeter
Succeeded by
Lionel Woodvile
Preceded by
John Booth
Bishop of Exeter
Succeeded by
Richard Foxe
Preceded by
William Waynflete
Bishop of Winchester
Succeeded by
Thomas Langton

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