Powderham Castle is a fortified manor house situated within the parish and former manor of Powderham, within the former hundred of Exminster, Devon, about 6 miles (9.7 km) south of the city of Exeter and 1⁄4 mile (0.4 km) north-east of the village of Kenton, where the main public entrance gates are located.
It is situated on flat, formerly marshy ground on the west bank of the River Exe estuary where it is joined by its tributary the River Kenn. On the opposite side of the Exe is the small village of Lympstone. The castle was expanded and altered extensively in the 18th and 19th centuries, most notably by James Wyatt in the 1790s. The castle remains the seat of the Courtenay family, Earls of Devon.
Powderham Castle has been a Grade I listed building since 1952, and recognised as an internationally important structure. The staircase, hall, music room and master bedroom of the house were used as locations for the 1993 film The Remains of the Day. The house was also used as a setting for a recent film comedy, Churchill: The Hollywood Years.
The castle's licence to host wedding ceremonies was revoked with effect from 1 January 2009 after Hugh Courtenay, 18th Earl of Devon (1942-2015), refused a gay couple use of the building to hold their civil partnership ceremony because it did not fit with his religious beliefs. On 29 September 2009, the Earl auctioned 113 treasures from the castle, at Sotheby's in London, in order to cover debts accrued in running the 14th-century home. The sale of family silver, furniture, antiques and paintings made a total of £1,013,638. He denied that the auction was prompted by the loss of revenue from weddings. Subsequently, the Earl handed control of the estate to his son, Lord Charles Courtney. The licence to host weddings, civil ceremonies and civil partnerships at the Castle has now been reinstated. Charles Courtenay, 19th Earl of Devon (b. 1975), is a practising attorney in Los Angeles and is married to the American actress Alison Joy Langer. His heir apparent is his only son Jack Haydon Langer Courtenay, Lord Courtenay (b. 2009).
At Powderham Castle is still visible the portrait of “William Courtenay in the masquerade dress he wore aged 21 at his coming-of-age ball at Powderham Castle in 1789” by Richard Cosway (1742-1821) hanging over chimneypiece in Music Room.
William "Kitty" Courtenay, 9th Earl of Devon, was the only son of William Courtenay, de jure 8th Earl of Devon, 2nd Viscount Courtenay and his wife Frances Clack. He attracted infamy for a homosexual affair with art collector William Beckford from boyhood when it was discovered and publicised by his uncle. From October 1788 until 1831, his official title was The Rt. Hon. The 3rd Viscount Courtenay of Powderham.
Courtenay was baptized on 30 August 1768, the fourth of 14 children (his siblings all being girls) and was known as "Kitty" to family and friends. On his father's death he became The 3rd Viscount Courtenay of Powderham. With his new title and wealth, the young Lord Courtenay led an excessively flamboyant lifestyle. He was responsible for the addition of a new Music Room at Powderham Castle, designed by James Wyatt, which included a carpet made by the newly formed Axminster Carpet Company.
Courtenay became infamous for his affair with William Beckford; they had met when Courtenay was ten but Beckford, only 8 years his senior, was already a wealthy art collector and sugar plantation owner. Beckford was subsequently hounded out of polite British society when his letters to 18 years old Courtenay were intercepted by Courtenay's uncle, Lord Loughborough, who then publicised the affair in the newspapers.
Courtenay was forced to live abroad, and lived in the United States where he owned a property on the Hudson River in New York, and later in Paris. He died unmarried, and fathered no known children. He died on 26 May 1835 at age 66 in Paris due to natural causes. He was loved by his tenants, who insisted that he be buried in stately fashion. He was buried on 12 June 1835 in Powderham.
The Earls of Devon created after 1556, or in existence de jure, had occupied the manor of Powderham in Devon since the late 14th century, and Powderham Castle continues to be the principal seat of the present Earl of Devon.
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