The White Queen

Connections of Bickleigh Castle with the BBC’s recent historic drama, ‘The White Queen’

The Earls of Devon of the 15th Century were very much caught up in the Wars of the Roses, and no fewer than three Courtenays of Bickleigh were executed or killed in battle.

Thomas Courtenay (5th Earl of Devon) married Margaret Beaufort (of the Lancastrian side) who was Henry VII’s great-aunt through the marriage of her brother the Duke of Somerset’s daughter (also Margaret Beaufort, the character portrayed in ‘The White Queen’) to the father of King Henry VII. The 5th Earl of Devon had Bickleigh Castle greatly expanded with the addition of a fine ‘turreted and castellated’ manor house (later destroyed during the English Civil War) and his many children lived here.

Thomas Courtenay, 6th Earl of Devon (his eldest son) was taken prisoner at the Battle of Towton in 1461 and was executed at York the same year.

Henry Courtenay (second son) de jure 7th Earl of Devon, was beheaded for treason in the market place at Salisbury, Wiltshire on 17 January 1469.

Sir John Courtenay (third son) was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4th May 1471.

William Courtenay (1st Earl of Devon in a new creation of 1511 and of a different branch of the Courtenay family) was married to Princess Katherine Plantagenet, daughter of Elizabeth Woodville (the White Queen) and King Edward IV. Princess Katherine frequently stayed at Bickleigh Castle during most of her widowhood (1511 to 1527). Princess Katherine was a sister of Elizabeth of York, wife of King Henry VII and the favourite aunt of Henry VIII (his senior by only 12 years). She was the last child of Edward IV to die. While things could have been difficult financially for Princess Katherine after her husband’s demise, Henry VIII ensured she was properly provided for.

There is a substantial plaque at Bickleigh Castle commemorating the upheavals of the Reformation period, believed to have been commissioned by Princess Katherine.