I recently made contact with the Courtenay family of Powderham Castle in Devon. The current generation of the Courtenay family at Powderham Castle are Lord and Lady Devon. Lord Devon is the 18th Earl of Devon. Two hundred years ago, Lady Caroline Eustatia Courtenay, daughter of the 8th Earl of Devon, married Col. Charles Morland. They were my great great great grandparents, and ever since that union, every generation of the Morland family has given the middle name Courtenay to its sons. My brother, father, grandfather, great grandfather, and great great grandfather all have (or had) the middle name Courtenay.
We have some portraits of the Courtenay family at Court Lodge, and Dad told me that they are copies, and the originals are at Powderham Castle. Having become more familiar with my family history and forebears over the last couple of years, I was intrigued to see the originals of our portraits. I wrote to Lord and Lady Devon, sending them photos of our portraits, and they were equally intrigued by this connection.
As it happened, we had arranged to visit my sister in Brittany over Christmas, and were catching the ferry from Plymouth a few days before Christmas, so I asked Lord and Lady Devon if we could visit Powderham Castle en route to Plymouth. Happily this worked out well. We stayed the night in a B&B near the castle, and visited the next day. It was quite an experience seeing paintings I know so well in a completely different setting. They are not exact copies, and the differences are really interesting.
This is our version of the family of William Courtenay, 8th Earl of Devon. It hangs above the staircase at Court Lodge. William and his wife, Frances Clack, had 13 daughters and one son. Caroline Eustatia is the little girl snuggling into her mother’s side.
And this is the original that hangs in Powderham Castle:
The two versions of the portraits are incredibly similar. At first sight Ian and I thought ours was bigger, but I think it is just that theirs is in a bigger room, so the proportions are different. Ours does, however, seem a bit brighter.
We were told the story of how the 8th Earl and Frances Clack met. Apparently William was studying in Oxford, and travelled frequently between London and Oxford, stopping at a coaching inn at Wallingford. The innkeeper had three beautiful daughters, and William Courtenay eloped with Frances, the most beautiful. They ran away to Edinburgh and got married there.
Another of our Courtenay paintings is the one we call “The Three Graces”. It is of Harriet, Lucy and Caroline Courtenay:
Seeing the original of this one was quite illuminating. Notice the dog at the girls’ feet, and in the distance you can see Powderham Castle. Now look at the original:
There is no dog in this one; instead there is Cupid! And it is not Powderham Castle in the distance, but a folly instead. I told Mum about the cupid/dog and she recalled being told by Great Uncle William that someone in the Morland family had been appalled that there was a naked infant in the portrait and insisted it was changed to a dog!
Apparently the cupid was there to signify the fact that all three ladies were engaged to be married when the portrait was painted.
We also have a preliminary sketch of William Courtenay, 9th Earl of Devon. He was the one son with 13 sisters:
This preliminary sketch was done in preparation for a portrait that hangs in Powderham:
We also have a painting of Powderham Castle from the mouth of the River Exe:
We didn’t see one of these at Powderham, so we’re not sure if it is a copy as well.
One other thing we saw there was an organ. We too have an organ in our library, and it was William Courtenay Morland, son of Caroline Eustatia Courtenay and Charles Morland, who had it installed. Perhaps it was the fact that his mother’s family home had an organ in it that inspired him to install one at Court Lodge.
All in all it was a fascinating experience. The Courtenays were extremely welcoming, and Felicity Harper, who works at the castle and runs the Courtenay Society, was extremely kind, taking the children to see their animals, and then giving them their own private tour of the castle while we were shown around by Lord Devon. We may only be very distantly related, but it felt like being welcomed into the family.
Merry Christmas to you all, and stay tuned for more news from Court Lodge in the New Year.