Honour and Barony of Okehampton

Devon & Cornwall Notes and Queries, vol. VI, (January 1910 to October 1911), pp. 169-171.


Oswald J. Reichel

Prepared by Michael Steer

The feudal barony (or Honour) of Okehampton was the largest mediaeval fiefdom in the county of Devon, whose caput was Okehampton Castle and manor. It was one of eight feudal baronies in our county that existed during the mediaeval era.  The first holder of the feudal barony of Okehampton was Baldwin FitzGilbert (died 1090) called in the Latin Domesday Book of 1086 Baldvinus Vicecomes, "Baldwin the Vice-Count" (of the County of Devon), which office equated to the earlier Saxon office of Sheriff of Devon. The article, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

Note 158. HONOUR AND BARONY OF OKEHAMPTON (VI., par. 126, p. 131). — Blackstone writes: "The right of peerage seems to have been originally territorial, and when the land was alienated, the dignity passed with it as appendant. Thus the Bishops still sit in the House of Lords in right of succession to certain ancient baronies annexed or supposed to be annexed to their episcopal lands." These baronies, which passed with the land, are usually called " honours " or "feudal baronies," and, except in the case of bishoprics, no longer exist. Strictly, we may perhaps distinguish a feudal barony from an honour, although originally both terms were used of the same thing, in that the term barony indicates the position in regard to the state conferred by the possession of a large tract of land held in chief of the King, whereas honour indicates the position in regard to his vavasours and tenants secured by the tenure of the same. Amongst the feudal baronies of Devon one of the largest was the honour of Okehampton.

The Hundred Roll of 3 Ed. L, No. 27, p. 76, says of this barony: "Hugh de Courtney holds the manor of Oke- hampton with appurtenances of the King in chief, and his ancestors held it from the time of the conquest in barony, and the manor of Okehampton is the head of the whole barony of the aforesaid Hugh. The said Hugh holds of the King in chief 92 fees by the service of 2 knights in the army for 40 days."

From the above it will be seen that the service which the baron of Okehampton had to render to the King was to serve by 2 knights in the army for 40 days, or to pay the agreed compensation in lieu of service whenever called upon by the King so to do ; and that the privilege which the honour secured to its occupant was the right to call upon the 92 knights who owed him suit and service to attend him in the field for 40 days or to pay to him the agreed compensation in lieu of service " whenever it should befall," i.e., whenever the King called upon the baron to take the field. In addition he could claim homage and other feudal privileges, such as wardship and escheat from his knights, also suit of court, from some every three weeks with a fine for non-attendance, from others only twice a year together with the chief rent reserved in the grant of the knight's estate.

But for the attainder of Thomas Courtney, 6th Earl of Devon in 1 Ed. IV., the honour of Okehampton would have descended at his death to his two sisters, co-heiresses, and their issue, viz., Jane married (1) to Sir Roger Clifford and (2) to Sir William Knyvett, and Elisabeth married to Sir Hugh Conway. But the attainder barred the way, and a fresh grant of the earldom, and apparently of the barony of Okehampton, was made to a collateral, Sir Edward Courtney, who died in 1509, and was succeeded by his grandson, Sir Henry Courtney, Marquis of Exeter, who was attainted and beheaded in 31 Hen. VIII. Although a fresh grant of the earldom was afterwards made on 3 Sept., 1553, to Henry's son, Sir Edward Courtney, sibi et heredibus masculis suis in perpetuum, yet the attainder of his father was never repealed ; and therefore the descendants of William Mohun, John Arundell, John Trethurffe and John Trelawney, who had married the four sisters and co-heiresses of Edward, the last Earl, who died in 1556, could only claim the succession to the estates and the honour (as defined above), newly granted to their deceased uncle, and neither the earldom of Devon nor the barony of Okehampton as a position of dignity under the Crown, these being limited to heirs male. Lysons, ii., 371, states that "as late as 1743 Sir Francis Vyvian, one of the representatives of Trethurfe, possessed an eighth share," i.e., of the estates forming the honour, and that " another eighth was for nearly a century in the family of Northmore, which afterwards passed to Luxmoore, and from Luxmoore to Holland." "One-fourth was sometime in the family of Coxe. The Mohuns, who possessed one-fourth by inheritance, acquired another fourth and the site of the castle." From a deed excerpted in Trans. Devon. Assoc., xxxi., 130, it appears that on 30 March, 1653, John Northleigh, of Peamore, esquire, was the owner of one-fourth of the manor of Okehampton, and as such owner demised one-fourth of two tenements within that manor known as Villake, otherwise Velelake, to John Ballamy, of Sampford Courtney, miller. Is John Northmore identical with John Northleigh of this deed ? Fuller particulars as to the knights' holding of the honour of Okehampton in 1 166 will be found in Liber Niger, p. 119; of those holding in 1 24 1 in Testa de Nevill, p. 179 ; and of those holding in 1422 in Mr. Whale's paper in Trans. Devon. Assoc., xxxviii., 318. The descents, attainders and new grants given above are taken from " The Case in the House of Lords, 1832." See also Dr. Round's Peerage and Family History.

                            Oswald J. Reichel.