The Tudor Society

August 14 – Katherine of York, Countess of Devon

The daughters of King Edward IV, Stained glass window of the northwest transept of Canterbury Cathedral,

The daughters of Edward IV - Katherine is second from the right.

14th August 1479 is the traditional birthdate of Katherine of York, Countess of Devon.

Katherine was the second youngest daughter of King Edward IV and his wife, Elizabeth Woodville, and so was the sister of the Princes in the Tower and Elizabeth of York, wife of King Henry VII. Katherine was also the wife of Sir William Courtenay, Earl of Devon.

Here are some facts about Katherine of York...

  • It is thought that Katherine was born at Eltham Palace.
  • In 1479, when she was an infant, it was agreed that Katherine would marry John, Prince of Asturias, son of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. However, Katherine's father, Edward IV, died in April 1483 and the negotiations ended.
  • In 1483, shortly before the accession of her uncle, King Richard III, in place of her brother, King Edward V, Katherine was declared illegitimate. It was said that her father had already been pre-contracted to Eleanor Butler when he married Elizabeth Woodville.

  • Katherine spent the beginning of Richard III's reign in sanctuary with her mother and sisters in Westminster Abbey.
  • In 1485, Henry Tudor became king after his forces defeated those of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. Richard was killed at the battle. Henry married Katherine's eldest sister, Elizabeth of York, and Katherine and her siblings were ruled legitimate once more.
  • In 1487, there were negotiations for Katherine to marry James Stewart, Duke of Ross and Marquess of Ormonde, second son of James III of Scotland. However, the marriage did not take place and in 1495, Katherine married Sir William Courtenay, son and heir of Edward Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon. Katherine served her sister, Elizabeth of York, as her principal lady.
  • Katherine and Courtenay had two sons together: Edward, who died young, and Henry, Marquess of Exeter and 2nd Earl of Devon. They also had a daughter, Margaret, who went on to marry Henry Somerset, 2nd Earl of Worcester.
  • In 1502, Katherine's husband was implicated in the plot concerning claimant Edmund de la Pole. Courtenay was attainted and imprisoned in the Tower of London. He wasn't released until Henry VIII's accession in 1509.
  • In 1503, Katherine acted as chief mourner at her sister Elizabeth of York's funeral.
  • Following Henry VIII's accession, Courtenay was restored to his rights and privileges, and was allowed to inherit the earldom of Devon from his late father in May 1511. In return for this, Katherine had to agree to surrender her rights to the earldom of March to the Crown. However, Courtenay suddenly died of pleurisy on 9th June 1511.
  • Katherine did sign her rights to the earldom of March over to the Crown and in July 1511, she took a vow of chastity, meaning that Henry VIII couldn't negotiate another marriage for her.
  • In 1512, King Henry VIII granted his aunt all the estates of the earldom of Devon, in her own name, for her lifetime.
  • In November 1512, Katherine's surviving son, Henry, was made Earl of Devon.
  • In 1516, Katherine stood as godmother to Henry VIII's eldest daughter, Mary, but she chose to spend most of the rest of her life away from court at her homes in Devon, Tiverton Castle or Colcombe Castle.
  • Katherine's will was drawn up on 2nd May 1527 and she died at Tiverton Castle on 15th November 1527. She was forty-nine years of age at her death. She was buried at St Peter's Church, Tiverton. Money was given to 8,000 poor people to pray for her soul.
  • Trivia: Katherine styled herself 'the excellent Princess Katherine, Countess of Devon, daughter, sister and aunt of kings'.
  • Trivia: Katherine's son, Henry, Marquess of Exeter, ended up being executed in 1539 after being found guilty of treason for treacherous communication with Cardinal Reginald Pole - click here for more information.

Also on this day in Tudor history...

Image: The daughters of King Edward IV, stained glass window of the northwest transept of Canterbury Cathedral.

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August 14 – Katherine of York, Countess of Devon