Statue of Catherine de Courtenay.
The House of Courtenay was an important dynasty in medieval France originating from the castle of Courtenay in the Gâtinais (Loiret), going back to the 10th century. The dynasty descended from Athon, the first lord of Courtenay, apparently himself a descendant of the Counts of Sens and from Pharamond, reputed founder of the French monarchy in 420. Athon took advantage of the succession crisis in the Duchy of Burgundy between Otto-William, Duke of Burgundy and Robert II of France to capture a piece of land for himself, where he established his own seigneury, taking his surname from the town he founded and fortified.
The Courtenay family was divided into two branches in the 12th century. The elder branch continued to rule Courtenay, but became extinct around 1150 with the death of Renaud de Courtenay. It was inherited by Peter, son of Louis VI of France, through his marriage to the heiress Elizabeth, and continued as the Capetian branch. This branch also acquired through marriage the County of Namur and the Latin Empire of Constantinople. The Capetian branch became extinct in 1730.
The cadet branch participated in the crusades and came to rule the County of Edessa, a Crusader state; it became extinct around 1200.
In the mid-12th century a branch of the pre-Capetian family settled in England, obtained the barony of Okehampton and inherited the title of Earls of Devon (in 1293) from the de Redvers family. The title was subsequently recreated for Hugh de Courtenay, nephew of Hugh the elder Despenser. Currently the head of this family is Hugh Courtenay, 18th Earl of Devon.
Their male-line descent from Louis VI of France induced the impoverished 17th-century members of the Courtenay family to seek to be acknowledged as “princes du sang” (Princes of the Blood Royal) and “cousins to the king”, two titles normally reserved for the members of the royal family and prized for the seats at the Royal Council and the Parliament of Paris that it conferred upon its owners.
Three kings in a row – Henri IV, Louis XIII, and Louis XIV – turned down their petitions. That the Bourbon monarchs confined the French royalty to the descendants of Louis IX is evidenced by the Treaty of Montmartre (1662) which named the non-Capetian House of Lorraine as the next in line to the French throne after the Bourbons, thus bypassing the Courtenay, a Capetian family. Although the Courtenays protested this clause, their claims to the princely title were never acknowledged by the Paris Court of Accounts.
The last male member of the French Courtenays committed suicide in 1727, but his sister married the Marquis de Bauffremont, and her descendants assumed the dubious title of Prince de Courtenay, which they bear to this day.