I grew up in a palace.’

(William’s eldest sister, Frances, writing as lady Honywood in 1812.)


Powderham-castle was William’s main home until he left England in 1811. He never returned before his death in 1835 but, during this long period of exile in the United States of America and France, he retained a strong and detailed interest in the castle and its grounds.

By William’s time the castle was already an ancient building that had been altered and extended by one generation of Courtenays after another. Many of the contemporary descriptions quoted here included passages about the earlier history of both the family and their castle, but most of those have been omitted. Today the castle is still the Courtenays’ family home but is open to visitors for much of the year.

For more information, see:

  • Powderham-castle’s website & guidebooks
  • Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, The buildings of England | Devon, 1991
  • Mark Girouard, Powderham castle, Devon, 1963, published in three parts by the British weekly magazine Country Life, vol. 134 numbers 3461-63 (July 4 pp.18-21; July 11 pp.80-83; July 18 pp. 140-43)
  • Cornerstone praxis, The 100 objects at Powderham project
  • John Vernon Somers Cocks, Devon topographical prints, 1660-1870, 1977
  • Todd Gray, The garden history of Devon, 1995
  • Janet Cusack, The Rise of Yachting in England and South Devon Revisited, 1640-1827, in Recreation and the Sea edited by Stephen Fisher, 1997.

Four men held the castle within the period 1755-1855, all named William Courtenay:

  • William’s grandfather, sir William Courtenay inherited the estate in 1735. A baronet and (for a few days in May 1762) 1st viscount Courtenay of Powderham, he married in 1741 the right hon. lady Frances Finch who died in 1761. They were responsible for the grand staircase (by James Garrett) with its plaster work (created by John Jenkins and assistants). He was succeeded in 1762 by the eldest of their three sons:
  • William’s father, the 2nd viscount Courtenay who in May 1762, only a few days before his succession, married Frances Clack; she died in 1782. Among many other works, they had the Belvidere built in 1774. He was succeeded in 1788 by their only son:
  • William, 3rd viscount Courtenay who became earl of Devon in 1831. He had the music room constructed in 1794-6 to designs by James Wyatt. William did not make a marriage so had no legitimate issue and was succeeded in 1835 by one of his second cousins:
  • William, 10th earl of Devon. Although in 1835 it was his son, William Reginald Courtenay who inherited the family’s estates in England and Ireland, it was this William Courtenay (1777-1859) who inherited the earldom along with the use of Powderham-castle and its grounds during his lifetime. In 1804 he married lady Harriet Leslie Pepys who died in 1839; in 1849 he married as his second wife Elizabeth Ruth Scott who died in 1914 (at the age of 99). They and, after them, the earl’s eldest son from his first marriage made significant alterations to the building that William and his sisters had known; most notably they moved the main entrance to the west front, adding the courtyard and dining-hall (designed by Charles Fowler). This William was succeeded by William Reginald Courtenay (1807-88) who married in 1830 lady Elizabeth Fortescue; they had four children before her death in 1867.

The earliest text in the three pages William’s homes: Powderham 2, 3 and 4 dates from 1760, a few years before William was born and in the lifetime of both his Courtenay grandparents. The last is from 1852 by which time the South Devon Railway had been open for a few years, passing between the castle and the estuary of the Exe. Some 60 excerpts have been included, arranged as follows:


  • 1760 Andrew Brice: The Grand Gazetteer
  • 1769 A description of England and Wales: containing a particular account of each county
  • 1776 Samuel Curwen, Journal
  • 1779 Samuel Curwen, Journal
  • 1779 William Beckford, fragment.
  • 1789 Shirley Woolmer, A concise account of the city of Exeter, its neighbourhood, and adjacent watering-places
  • 1791 Fanny Burney, Diary
  • 1793 The gentleman’s magazine
  • 1793 Richard Polwhele, The history of Devonshire
  • 1794 William George Maton, Observations relative chiefly to the natural history, picturesque scenery, and antiquities, of the western counties of England
  • 1795 John Swete, Journal
  • 1798 William Gilpin, Observations on the western parts of England, relative chiefly to picturesque beauty
  • 1798/99 John Kennedy & Henry Charles Andrews, The botanist’s repository, for new, and rare plants
  • 1799 John Swete, Journal
  • 1799 Richard Warner, A walk through some of the western counties of England
  • 1799-1800 Gentleman’s magazine


  • c1800 Elizabeth Ham by herself
  • 1800 [William Hyett], Guide in a tour to the watering places, and their environs, on the south-east coast of Devon
  • 1802 Edward Atkyns Bray, Journal
  • 1803 John Britton & Edward Wedlake Brayley, The beauties of England and Wales
  • 1804 The sporting magazine
  • 1805 mrs Parry Price, Journal
  • 1805 Shirley Woolmer, A concise account of the city of Exeter, its neighbourhood, and adjacent watering-places
  • 1806 Alexander Jenkins, The history and description of the city of Exeter: and its environs
  • 1807 Crosby’s Complete pocket gazetteer of England and Wales
  • 1807 George Tod, Plans, elevations and sections
  • 1808 Charles Vancouver, General view of the agriculture of the county of Devon
  • 1808 Joshua Wilson, A biographical index to the present house of lords
  • 1810 Moy Thomas, Diary
  • 1816 The new monthly magazine
  • 1816 The scots magazine and Edinburgh literary miscellany; Christian observer
  • 1817 A guide to the watering places, on the coast between the Exe and the Dart
  • 1818 John Britton & Edward Wedlake Brayley, Devonshire
  • 1820 John Pike Jones, A botanical tour through various parts of the counties of Devon and Cornwall
  • 1821 The monthly repository
  • 1822 Daniel Lysons & Samuel Lysons, Magna Britannia, vol. 6, Devonshire
  • 1822 or 1823 George Alexander Cooke’s Topographical & statistical description
  • 1824 Edward Mogg, Paterson’s Roads
  • 1825 The monthly repository of theology and general literature
  • 1827 Letter to or from mrs Jane Grimston of Yorkshire
  • 1829 Nicholas Toms Carrington, The Teignmouth, Dawlish, and Torquay guide; with an account of the surrounding neighborhood
  • 1829 Jones’ Views of the seats, mansions, castles, etc. of noblemen and gentlemen in England
  • 1829 Thomas Moore, The history of Devonshire
  • 1830 Pigot & Co’s Directory
  • 1831 Samuel Lewis, A topographical dictionary of England
  • 1832 John Britton & Edward Wedlake Brayley, Devonshire and Cornwall illustrated in a series of views
  • 1835 Richard Brown, The principles of practical perspective
  • 1835 James Bell, A new and comprehensive gazetteer of England and Wales
  • 1835 Jonas Dennis, The landscape gardener
  • 1835 Thomas Dugdale, Curiosities of Great Britain: England and Wales delineated
  • 1835 Louisa Sidney Stanhope, Sydney Beresford: a tale of the day


  • 1835 John Mockett, Mockett’s Journal
  • 1836 Stanfield’s Coast scenes
  • 1837 John Britton and Edward Wedlake Brayley, Devonshire illustrated, in a series of views
  • 1842 Gardener’s magazine
  • 1844 Isaac Slater, Pigot & co.’s royal national and commercial directory and topography
  • 1844 The railway chronicle: joint-stock companies journal
  • 1846 Herapath’s railway journal
  • 1846 The route book of Devon: a guide for the stranger and tourist
  • 1848 Hunt and Co’s Directory & topography for the cities of Exeter and Bristol
  • 1850 William White’s History, gazetteer and directory of Devonshire
  • 1851 Murray’s Hand-book for travellers in Devon and Cornwall
  • 1852 Benjamin Clarke, The british gazetteer

+ 1856 The gardener’s chronicle

Images (from the top)

Page history

  • 2022 October 16: first published online.
  • 2022 October 30: page reviewed and amended.
  • 2022 November 17: image of inkstand added.
  • 2023 November 28: 1835, Richard Brown added.