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Friday, January 30, 2009

RE: Sir William Courtenay, 8th Earl of Devon, 1762-1785

fname: Sarah
lname: More
country: USA
ancestor: RE: Sir William Courtenay, 8th Earl of Devon, 1762-1785
comments: Dear Herman Andrew Sullivan,

Your family tradition is interesting because fellow Courtenay Society Member Carolyn Grant tells us that her ancestor, Mary Anne Vane Courtenay (born 1785,) was the daughter of the 2nd Viscount and a Miss Vane. She was sailing to Quebec to marry a British Army officer when she was shipwrecked off the coast of Labrador. She later married there. Carolyn' s email is

I don t know if my ancestor comes from a similar background. As our family tradition goes, my ancestor, Elizabeth Smith, was born in Edenbush, Scotland in 1805, the daughter of an Earl and a lady-in-waiting to the Queen of England before her marriage to Robert More of Glasgow. She was also said to have had a brother, William, who immigrated to the States, ran into trouble with the law, and was exiled.

I believe the tradition may be referring to Elizabeth s mother, Jean Courtenay, who married Thomas Smith. Their first child, Elizabeth, was born in 1805 in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Traditional Scottish naming patterns say the first daughter is named after the mother s mother, presumably Elizabeth Courtenay, who may have been the daughter of an Earl. Several of the 2nd Viscount s sisters and nieces were ladies-in-waiting to the Queen or Princesses. The 3rd Viscount, also known as the 9th Earl, was named William, lived in New York City until he was imprisoned during the War of 1812, and was exiled to France. His sister, Elizabeth, who married Lord Somerset, eloped in Edinburgh, Scotland as did her parents, the 2nd Viscount and Viscountess. Perhaps Edenbush is a misspelling for Edinburgh?

I have no information about Jean Courtenay, when she was born, or who her parents were. I m guessing she was born around 1785. I also know nothing about Thomas Smith but did find a record stating that a T. Smith, esq. was the last surviving trustee of the 9th Earl. This may be referring to Thomas Assheton Smith, esquire, whose grandfather was Chancellor of the Exchequer under Queen Mary.

There was also a William Henry Courtenay born around 1788 of whom Prince William Henry later William IV acknowledged paternity. This was unusual and means the mother must have been a very powerful woman. William Henry Courtenay drowned while serving in the Royal Navy. I don t know if he and Jean were related.

William IV s older brother, George IV, was secretly married in 1785 to Maria Anne Smythe, widow of Mr. Fitzherbert. Their younger brother was also secretly married. Several Courtenay ladies were the mistresses of the Royal Princes in earlier generations because the Courtenays were closely related to the British and French Royal Families as well as the Emperors of Constantinople.

Although the 2nd Viscount did have a daughter, Lady Elizabeth Somerset, there was an Elizabeth Courtenay who was a sister of the 10th Earl. Her father, a cousin of the 2nd Viscount, was Chaplain to the Royal Family. His daughter, Elizabeth, never married. Her brother succeeded to the title upon the death of the 9th Earl in 1835.

My ancestor, Elizabeth Smith, her husband and children sailed for Canada in 1831, one month before William IV was crowned. They were sort of a mysterious couple who always seemed to be running from something. What that was, though, I have no idea and probably will never know.

P.S. Just as a matter of form, the 2nd Viscount Courtenay was never known as the 8th Earl as the title was granted retroactively after the death of his son, the 9th Earl.