1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Exeter, Earl, Marquess and Duke of

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 10
Exeter, Earl, Marquess and Duke of
21673521911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 10 — Exeter, Earl, Marquess and Duke of

EXETER, EARL, MARQUESS AND DUKE OF. These English titles have been borne at different times by members of the families of Holand or Holland, Beaufort, Courtenay and Cecil. The earls of Devon of the family of de Redvers were sometimes called earls of Exeter; but the 1st duke of Exeter was John (c. 1355–1400), a younger son of Thomas Holand, earl of Kent (d. 1360). John’s mother, Joan (d. 1385), a descendant of Edward I., married for her third husband Edward the Black Prince, by whom she was the mother of Richard II., and her son John was thus the king’s half-brother, a relationship to which he owed his high station at the English court. He married Elizabeth (d. 1426), a daughter of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, and was constantly in Richard’s train until 1385, when his murder of Ralph Stafford disturbed these friendly relations. John then went to Spain as constable of the English army under John of Gaunt; but after his return to England in 1387 he was created earl of Huntingdon, was made admiral of the fleet and chamberlain of England, and was again high in the king’s favour. He was Richard’s chief helper in the proceedings against the lords appellant in 1397, was created duke of Exeter in September of this year, and went with the king to Ireland in 1399. After the accession of his brother-in-law, Henry IV., Holand was tried for his share in the events of 1397, and was reduced to his earlier rank of earl of Huntingdon. He was soon plotting against Henry’s life, and after the projected rising in 1400 had failed he was captured and was probably beheaded at Pleshey in Essex on the 16th of January 1400.[1] He was afterwards attainted and his titles and lands were forfeited.

In 1416 Thomas Beaufort, earl of Dorset, was created duke of Exeter; but this dignity was only granted for his life, and consequently it expired on his death in 1426.

In 1416 John (1395–1447), son of John Holand, the former duke of Exeter, was allowed to take his father’s earldom of Huntingdon. This nobleman rendered great assistance to Henry V. in his conquest of France, fighting both on sea and on land. He was marshal of England, admiral of England and governor of Aquitaine under Henry VI.; was one of the king’s representatives at the conference of Arras in 1435; and in 1443 was created duke of Exeter. When he died on the 5th of August 1447 his titles passed to his son Henry (1430–1473), who, although married to Anne (d. 1476), daughter of Richard, duke of York, fought for Henry VI. during the Wars of the Roses. After having been imprisoned by York at Pontefract, he was present at the battle of Towton, sailed with Henry’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, to Flanders in 1463, and was wounded at Barnet in 1471. In 1461 he had been attainted and his dukedom declared forfeited, and he died without sons, probably in 1473.

Coming to the family of Courtenay the title of marquess of Exeter was borne by Henry Courtenay (c. 1496–1538), earl of Devon, who was made a marquess in 1525. A grandson of Edward IV., Courtenay was a prominent figure at the court of Henry VIII. until Thomas Cromwell rose to power, when his high birth, his great wealth and his independent position made him an object of suspicion. Some slight discontent in the west of England gave the occasion for his arrest, and he was tried and beheaded on the 9th of December 1538. A few days later he was declared a traitor and his titles were forfeited; although his only son, Edward (c. 1526–1556), who was restored to the earldom of Devon in 1553 and was a suitor for the hand of Queen Mary, is sometimes called marquess of Exeter.

The title of earl of Exeter was first bestowed upon the Cecils (see Cecil: Family) in 1605 when Thomas, 2nd Lord Burghley (1542–1623), the eldest son of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, was made earl of Exeter by James I. Thomas had been a member of parliament during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, who knighted him in 1575, and had fought under the earl of Leicester in the Netherlands. After his father’s death in 1598 he became president of the Council of the North and was made a knight of the Garter. He died on the 7th or 8th of February 1623. His direct descendants continued to bear the title of earl of Exeter, and in 1801 Henry (1754–1804), the 10th earl, was advanced to the dignity of marquess of Exeter, the present marquess being his lineal descendant. It may be noted that the 1st marquess is Tennyson’s “lord of Burghley.”

See G. E. C(okayne), Complete Peerage (1887–1898).

  1. There is some difference of opinion about the place and manner of the earl’s death, and this question has an important bearing upon the privilege of trial by peers of the realm. See L. W. Vernon-Harcourt, His Grace the Steward and Trial of Peers (1907).