Earl Fortescue is a title in the Peerage of Great Britain that was created in 1789 for Hugh Fortescue, 3rd Baron Fortescue.
The Fortescue family descends from Sir Hugh Fortescue of Filleigh, Devon, who died in 1719. His first wife's first cousin had been 13th Baron Clinton and 5th Earl of Lincoln. In 1721, the abeyance of the ancient barony of Clinton was terminated in favour of their son Hugh Fortescue (1696–1751), and he became the 14th Baron Clinton. On 5 July 1746, he was created Earl Clinton, with normal remainder to the heirs male of his body and Baron Fortescue, of Castle Hill in the County of Devon, with remainder, failing heirs male of his body, to his half-brother Matthew Fortescue. Both titles were in the Peerage of Great Britain.
Hugh, Earl Clinton (1696–1751), had no legitimate children and on his death, the barony of Clinton fell into abeyance (see the Baron Clinton for later history of this title) while the earldom became extinct. He was succeeded in the barony of Fortescue according to the special remainder by his half-brother, Matthew, the second Baron.
Matthew's son Hugh, the third Baron, sat as Member of Parliament for Beaumaris and served as Lord-Lieutenant of Devon. In 1789, he was created Viscount Ebrington, of Ebrington in the County of Gloucester, and Earl Fortescue, in the Peerage of Great Britain. Lord Fortescue married Hester, daughter of Prime Minister George Grenville.
He was succeeded by his eldest son, the second Earl, who was a prominent Whig politician. After representing several constituencies in the House of Commons he was in 1839 summoned to the House of Lords through a writ of acceleration in his father's junior title of Baron Fortescue. Lord Fortescue then served under Lord Melbourne as Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland from 1839 to 1841 and under Lord John Russell as Lord Steward of the Household from 1846 to 1850. His son, the third Earl, was also a Whig politician and held minor office from 1846 to 1851 in the same government as his father. In 1859 he was summoned to the House of Lords through a writ of acceleration in his father's junior title of Baron Fortescue. His eldest son, the fourth Earl, sat as Liberal Member of Parliament for Tiverton and Tavistock. He also held the honorary position of Lord-Lieutenant of Devon. On his death the titles passed to his eldest son, the fifth Earl. He was a Conservative politician and served as Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (Chief Government Whip in the House of Lords) in 1945 and from 1951 to 1958. He died without surviving male issue and was succeeded by his third and youngest brother, the sixth Earl. As of 2015 the titles are held by the latter's grandson, the eighth Earl, who succeeded his father in 1993.
Several other members of the Fortescue family may also be mentioned. The Hon. George Matthew Fortescue, second son of the first Earl, was Member of Parliament for Hindon. The Hon. John Fortescue, second son of the second Earl, was Member of Parliament for Barnstaple. The Hon. Dudley Fortescue, third son of the second Earl, was Member of Parliament for Andover. The Hon. Sir Seymour John Fortescue (1856–1942), second son of the third Earl, was a Captain in the Royal Navy and also served as Serjeant at Arms in the House of Lords. The Hon. Arthur Grenville Fortescue (1858–1895), fourth son of the third Earl, was a captain in the army and the grandfather of Arthur Henry Grenville Fortescue, a brigadier in the army. The Hon. Sir John William Fortescue, fifth son of the third Earl, was a major in the army and writer on the British Army. The Hon. Charles Grenville Fortescue (1861–1951), sixth son of the third Earl, was a brigadier-general in the army.
The principal seat of the present Earl Fortescue is Ebrington Manor, near Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire. The more grandiose former seat Castle Hill, Filleigh, North Devon has been since the 20th century the property and residence of descendants in the female line. Other historic Devon seats of branches of the Fortescue family were: Whympston in the parish of Modbury, Weare Giffard, Buckland Filleigh, Preston, Spriddlestone in the parish of Brixton and Fallapit in the parish of East Allington.
In the family's mythology, the House of Fortescue is said to date from the Battle of Hastings (1066), where Richard le Fort supposedly saved the life of William the Conqueror by the shelter of his shield, and was thereafter known by the Norman-French epithet Fort-Escu ("strong shield"). His descendants took for their Latin motto: Forte scutum salus ducum - "A strong shield is the safety of leaders". The family first appears in surviving records as holding the manor of Whympston in the parish of Modbury in South Devon, part of which Ralph Fortescue granted circa 1140 to nearby Modbury Priory. The Devon antiquarian Sir William Pole (died 1635) states that the manor of Whympston was granted to the family in 1209 by King John. Further grants to Modbury Priory were made by the family in the 13th century. Reference to their origin at Whympston is made on the 17th-century mural monument at Weare Giffard, North Devon, one of the family's later seats.Hugh Fortescue, 1st Earl Clinton, 1st Baron Fortescue, 14th Baron Clinton (1696–1751)
Matthew Fortescue, 2nd Baron Fortescue (1719–1785)
Hugh Fortescue, 3rd Baron Fortescue (1753–1841), created Earl Fortescue in 1789
Hugh Fortescue, 1st Earl Fortescue (1753–1841)
Hugh Fortescue, 2nd Earl Fortescue (1783–1861)
Hugh Fortescue, 3rd Earl Fortescue (1818–1905)
Hugh Fortescue, 4th Earl Fortescue (1854–1932)
Hugh William Fortescue, 5th Earl Fortescue (1888–1958)
Denzil George Fortescue, 6th Earl Fortescue (1893–1977)
Richard Archibald Fortescue, 7th Earl Fortescue (1922–1993)
Charles Hugh Richard Fortescue, 8th Earl Fortescue (born 1951)
The heir presumptive is the present holder's first cousin John Andrew Francis Fortescue (born 1955).
The heir presumptive's heir apparent is his son Thomas Edmund Horatio Fortescue (born 1993).