Courtenay-Bonville Feud

(1450s)
   The feud between Thomas COURTENAY, fifth earl of Devon, and William BONVILLE, Lord Bonville, spread violence and disorder across the West Country in the 1450s and helped create the political alignments that made civil war possible.
   Although the quarrel may have originated in a land dispute arising out of the marriage of Bonville to Devon’s aunt, Elizabeth Courtenay, its underlying cause was the growth of Bonville’s influence at COURT, which enhanced his political position in the West Country and made him a threat to the traditional Courtenay dominance in the region. The two sides had already clashed by 1441, when HENRY VI aggravated the dispute by granting Devon the stewardship of the Duchy of Cornwall, a lucrative office that the king had already given to Bonville in 1437. To end the resulting tumults, the COUNCIL deprived both men of the appointment and placed both under large bonds to prevent further disorder. Because Bonville was in FRANCE between 1443 and 1447, and Devon reacquired the Cornwall stewardship in 1444, the West Country remained quiet until 1450, when Devon, seeking to nullify his rival’s influence at court, allied himself with Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, a powerful opponent of the court party. Devon’s actions caused Bonville to associate himself with another court favorite with ambitions in the West Country, James BUTLER, earl of Wiltshire. In August 1451, Devon, provoked by Wiltshire’s involvement in the quarrel, raised a sizable force and besieged Bonville in Taunton Castle. To save his ally from imprisonment, York intervened to end the siege. Devon then supported York at his armed confrontation with the king at DARTFORD in 1452. The failure of this effort led to Devon’s confinement and Bonville’s unchallenged dominance in the West Country. However, the king’s illness restored York’s political position, and the duke arranged Devon’s release in November 1453 (see Henry VI, Illness of). Devon immediately began harassing Bonville’s followers and attacking his property, although a further intervention by the council restored order for a time.
   By 1455,York’s alliance with the NEVILLE FAMILY again isolated Devon, and he accompanied the king’s army in May, when Henry VI was defeated and taken into custody by York at the Battle of ST.ALBANS. Encouraged to take direct action by the example of York’s success at St. Albans, Devon and his sons launched a series of assaults on Bonville’s West Country servants and property in October 1455. The most notorious episode in this campaign of violence was the murder on 23 October of Nicholas RADFORD, a former Courtenay associate who had earned Devon’s hatred with his recent support of Bonville.On 1 November, Devon seized Exeter and held it for six weeks, his men garrisoning the walls and questioning the allegiance of anyone who sought to leave or enter the town. After a victorious confrontation with Bonville’s forces at Clyst on 15 December,Devon withdrew from Exeter and soon after surrendered himself to York, who committed him to the TOWER OF LONDON.
   Indicted for the murder of Radford and the occupation of Exeter, Devon and his sons were saved from trial by the end of York’s SECOND PROTECTORATE in February 1456. Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU, who now dominated the royal government, saw Devon as a valuable ally against York, and arranged the earl’s release and pardon. The Courtenay-Bonville feud now merged fully into the national political struggle. In the civil war that began in 1459, Devon’s sons—the earl having died in 1458—became firm supporters of the house of LANCASTER, while Bonville fought and eventually died for the house of YORK.
   See also all entries under Courtenay
   Further Reading: Cherry, Martin,“The Struggle for Power in Mid-Fifteenth-Century Devonshire,” in Ralph A. Griffiths, ed., Patronage, the Crown and the Provinces in Later Medieval England (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1981), pp. 123–144; Griffiths, Ralph A., The Reign of King Henry VI (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); Storey,R. L., The End of the House of Lancaster, 2d ed. (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1999).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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