House of Courtenay

Coat of Arms of the House of Courtenay: Or three torteaux.
Coat of Arms of the House of Courtenay: Or three torteaux.

The House of Courtenay was an important dynasty in medieval France. The dynasty descended from Hutto, the first lord of Courtenay, apparently himself a descendent of the Counts of Sens. Hutton took advantage of the succession crisis in the Duchy of Burgundy between Otto-William, Duke of Burgundy and Robert II of France to capture a piece of land for himself, where he established his own seigneury.

The Courtenay family was divided into two branches in the 12th century. The elder branch continued to rule Courtenay, but became extinct around 1150 with the death of Renaud of Courtenay. It was inherited by Peter, son of Louis VI of France, through his marriage to the heiress Elizabeth, and continued as the Capetian branch. This branch also acquired through marriage the County of Namur and the Latin Empire of Constantinople. The Capetian branch became extinct in 1730.

The cadet branch participated in the crusades and came to rule the County of Edessa, a Crusader state; it became extinct around 1200.

In the mid-12th century a branch of the pre-Capetian family settled in England, obtained the barony of Okehampton and inherited the title of Earls of Devon (in 1293). The title was subsequently recreated for Hugh de Courtenay, nephew of Hugh the elder Despenser. Currently the head of this family is Hugh Courtenay, 18th Earl of Devon.

Disputed title

Their male-line descent from Louis VI of France induced the impoverished 17th-century members of the Courtenay to seek to be acknowledged as "princes du sang" (Princes of the Blood Royal) and "cousins to the king", two titles normally reserved for the members of the royal family and prized for the seats at the Royal Council and the Parliament of Paris that it conferred upon its owners.

Three kings in a row - Henri IV, Louis XIII, and Louis XIV - turned down their petitions. That the Bourbon monarchs confined the French royalty to the descendants of Louis IX is evidenced by the Treaty of Montmartre (1662) which named the non-Capetian House of Lorraine as the next in line to the French throne after the Bourbons, thus bypassing the Courtenay, a Capetian family. Although the Courtenay protested this clause, their claims to the princely title were never acknowledged by the Paris Court of Accounts.

The last male member of the French Courtenay committed suicide in 1727, but his sister married the Marquis de Bauffremont, and her descendants assumed the dubious title of the Prince de Courtenay, which they bear to this day.


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