Saturday, June 29, 2013

The 'White Queen's' 'Devon' daughter; Katherine of York, Countess of Devon.

The south-east tower of Tiverton castle.
        Katherine Courtenay, Countess of Devon (1479-1527), born Princess Katherine Plantagenet, youngest daughter of Edward IV and his wife Elizabeth Woodville, (the so-called 'White Queen'), sister in law to Henry VII, aunt of Henry VIII and relation of Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, spent much of her adult life at Tiverton or Colcombe Castle. Sometimes the Countess also paid visits to check on the management of her other estates,which included Topsham, Exeter, Poltimore, Cullompton, Seaton and Marshwood Vale.

        Katherine married Sir William Courtenay, in 1495, when she was about sixteen. His death occurred in 1511, when she was only thirty three.
Shute:Umborne Brook looking south south-east towards Colcombe
© Copyright Martin Bodman and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
           For the remainder of her life, as a principal landowner in the county Katherine, whose self-styled seal presented her as ‘daughter, sister and aunt of kings’, therefore had continued strong links with Devon.

            She seems to have been a proud and pious woman, who was rightfully aware of her prestigious social position. There are glimpses of the Countess’ participation in literary ventures, such as reading and letter-writing: she sent letters to the king and cardinal from her Colcombe castle; in her castle chapel at Tiverton an inventory after her death found ‘manuscripts and printed books’, which included ‘The Apposteler’, (an Epistolary), ‘Catholicon’ by Johannes Balbus, ‘Ortus Vocabulorum’, (Latin-English Dictionary first printed c. 1500 by de Worde), a law book and a copy of ‘Legenda Aurea’ (Golden Treasury) by Jacobus de Voragine. Also in the chapel were four printed mass books and the Countess’ Book of Matins; one of these was covered with tawny velvet, had silver and gilt clasps; another was black velvet with engraved silver and gilt clasps. Account books of 1523 show that a ream of paper was purchased, as well as ink, copperas, used in making ink. Legal documents provide a sense of the Countess’ own voice as her concerns were transcribed on to the page: she made an elaborately worded vow to remain celibate and not marry again after her husband’s death – and survived him for some sixteen years:
‘In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I, Catherine Courtenay, Countess of Devonshire, 1 widow, and no wedded, ne unto any man assured, promise and make a vow to God, to our Lady, and to all the company of heaven, in the presence of you, worshipful father in God, Richard, Bishop of London, for to be chaste of my body, and truly and devoutly shall keep me chaste for this time forward, as long as my life lasteth, after the rule of Saint Paul. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.’

         Katherine Courtenay seems to have been an avid record-keeper. Accounts of her magnificently kept Devon estates run into many pages; they detail her daily-life with such precision that occasionally it seems almost possible to gaze at her as she goes about her life. The best source to look for to demonstrate this is the book Tudor and Stuart Devon: The Common Estate and Government : Essays Presented by Todd Gray Margaret Rowe and Audrey Erskine.

          I have often wondered if Katherine, with her literary interests and ability may have translated texts in her chamber at Tiverton castle, like her older kinswoman Margaret Beaufort, who had stayed just along the road at Sampford Peverell,  Margaret, Countess of Richmond and Derby, mother of Henry VII, whose wife was Katherine's elder sister Elizabeth of York, appears to have spent a lot of time at her Sampford Peverell estate. Margaret Beaufort's death took place in 1509 when Katherine, Countess of Devon was about thirty, so, given that they may have been in their respective estates during the same years, it is quite possible that the two women did have social contact and share their literary pursuits.
Sampford Peverell; Church behind the canal. The site/house which Margaret Beaufort probably stayed in is to the right of the church.
       Katherine Countess of Devon died in 1527. She was buried in St Peter's Church Tiverton and the town is said to have witnessed an elaborate funeral, perhaps fitting a once Princess. It must have been quite a spectacle.

Some of my information On Katherine Countess of Devon comes from the following:
Tudor and Stuart Devon: The Common Estate and Government : Essays, Presented by Todd Gray Margaret Rowe and Audrey Erskine, University of Exeter Press, 1992.
See also Sampson, Mike. Katherine Courtenay, Tiverton's Royal Princess (1479-1527). Tiverton: Tiverton Musem (1993).

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