On 22 November 1455, the Earl of Devon asked the Mayor of Exeter, Hugh Germyn, to keep the Bonville family’s forces away from the city in the absence of his own men. Germyn replied that the people of Exeter ‘were and beth the kynges tenaunts and this is the kynges Cite’. The city was at the heart of lands in which the violent dispute between the Courtenay’s and Bonville’s was being fought out.
The rivalry between the Courtenay’s, the Earl of Devon, and the Bonville’s, a prominent local baronial family, had developed over several years. Traditionally the Earl of Devon would be the most prominent noble in the region. However, the Bonville family had grown in importance and power. This led to disputes over land and appointments to regional offices of government.
Sieges and Murder
In the 1440s, there were attempts at arbitration between the two families. The peace ended abruptly in 1449 when the Earl of Devon lay siege to a Bonville held Castle. There followed a period in which the Courtenay’s raided manors held by the Bonville’s and their retainers. A lawyer, Nicholas Radford, was murdered by the Earls men, leading to widespread condemnation of their actions.
Exeter chooses neutrality
The Earl of Devon’s request to the City of Exeter was designed to further those raids. Exeter, knowing of the actions of liveried men inside London’s walls, chose to refuse the request. It was in their interests to remain neutral.
Clyst Heath and intervention of the Duke of York
The feud led to intervention by Richard 3rd Duke of York during his protectorate. It was prompted by a small battle at Clyst. Richard’s involvement complicated things as the Bonville family were allied to Yorkist lords. Consequently, the regional dispute fed into the growing problems nationally.
imsge of Exter (1563)
A drawing of Exeter entitled Civitas Exoniae (vulgo Excester) urbs primaria in comitatu Devoniae in “Civitates Orbis Terrarum”, Volume VI, 1617. The work of 6 volumes contains 546 prospects, bird-eye views and map views of cities from all over the world, edited by Georg Braun (1541-1622), a cleric of Cologne, and largely engraved by Franz Hogenberg, published at Cologne, 1572-1617, first volume published in Cologne in 1572, sixth and the final volume appeared in 1617. This map of Exeter Re-published in Lysons, Daniel & Lysons, Samuel, Magna Britannia, Vol.6, Devonshire, London, 1822, p.178 Identified on “List of Plates” as “from an old plan in Braun’s Civitates Orbis Terrarum 1618”. In the bottom left-hand corner are shown the arms of John Hooker (c. 1527–1601) (alias John Vowell) of Exeter, an English historian, writer, solicitor, antiquary, and civic administrator. From 1555 to his death he was Chamberlain of Exeter. He was twice MP for Exeter in 1570/1 and 1586 (Insignia Johannis Hooker, “Armorials of John Hooker”). At top right are the arms of the City of Exeter. At top left the royal arms of Queen Elizabeth I of England (1558-1603).