CORNWALL ON EARLY MAPS

5 August 2011

The Gough map of Britain which the Bodleian Library put on display in June is now online here.

It is now dated about 1375 (with a revision in the fifteenth century) and presents Britain in recognisable shape. Parts are faded.

Cornwall is marked, in the 1375 hand, as Cornubia in red ink inside a cartouche. Similarly shown are, for example, Devon (as Deuonia) and Norfolk (both in red ink and in a cartouche). On this map Cornwall is treated like any other marked county of England.

Let me mention two other early maps which I have previously discussed in Aristotle’s teeth.

The Matthew Paris map of about 1250 also shows Cornwall (Cornubia). And also, for example, Devon, Somerset, and Norfolk in the same style. Again, Cornwall is shown as a county of England, undistinguishable from the others marked.

The mappa mundi at Hereford cathedral also shows Cornubia. There is a nationalist claim that this map shows Cornwall as a separate country from England and as one of the nations of Britain with England, Wales, and Scotland. The difficulty here is that the Hereford mappa mundi marks Lindsey, Snowdon, and Northumberland, none of which were or are countries, in the same style and colour as Cornwall. The Hereford map does not clearly show Cornwall as a separate country from England.

Perhaps I might reprint what I said about maps and their interpretation in Aristotle’s teeth:

“This map [Hereford mappa mundi] was drawn about 1300 and probably by Richard of Haldingham, a priest at Lincoln cathedral. It is probably based on previous maps and texts. It presents largely inaccurately countries and cities and rivers; and also numerous pictures and much text representing history, religion, and the natural and fabulous worlds.

Does it show Cornwall as a separate country from England? No, it doesn’t.

This mappa mundi does indeed mark the area at Lands End as Cornubia.

However, the appearance of a place on a map does not in itself mean that the mapmaker and his patron regard it as a separate political and administrative entity. Maps have many purposes and we should not read our own as the mapmaker’s.

The map marks Cornwall in red and in a distinct script, the same colour and script used to mark Anglia, Scotia, Wallia, and Hibernia on the map. The same colour and script are also used on the map to mark Lindsey, Northumberland, and Lothian, for example – and Snowdon.

No one suggests Snowdon is shown as a separate country; no one suggests that Lindsey or Northumberland are separate countries from England on the map. What did the mapmaker mean by showing these places and Cornwall? We do not know. The mere marking of Cornwall on this map does not show it is a separate country from England.”

In another post on Aristotle’s teeth I made similar points about the claims that several medieval and Tudor maps show Cornwall as a separate country from England:

“Several medieval maps do indeed include the name Cornwall in the correct geographical place. This does not necessarily mean the mapmaker was himself asserting or reflecting the view that Cornwall was politically and administratively separate from England. That requires other evidence…

Consider: Orbilius’s map of 1595 marks England, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall – and Kent. Kent was not a separate state in 1595 and nor was Cornwall. Alessandrino’s 1561 map marks England, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall – and Picardy.

The legends of maps also do not assert the existence of a separate Cornwall even when they mark Cornwall by name. For example, the Alessandrino map, which names Cornwall, in the legends says the map contains England, Scotland, and Ireland. A map of 1565 which marks England, Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall says in the legend that the British island has “duo regna nempe Angli cum Scoticum” (two kingdoms, namely of the English and the Scottish).

Look at two maps which show well the difficulty in interpreting what the mapmaker is saying about the places on the map and the need to avoid simplistic takes.

The 1540 map of Sebastian Munster marks Cornwall as Cornubia, and in telling small capitals; but places the word in what is now Devon. It also marks Cornewal (as Corneuual) in lowercase writing in what is now Cornwall. What are we to make of this? The 1556 map of George Lily indeed marks Cornubia plainly but the descriptive title of the map is “Britanniae insulae quae Angliae et Scotiae regna continet cum Hibernia adiacente” (the kingdoms of England and Scotland with Ireland alongside). No mention of Cornwall (or Wales) there. The legend on the map names eight “regiones” and includes Cornubia in a bizarre and puzzling collection of Cumbria, Westmorland, North Wales, South Wales, Devon, Berkshire (Bercheria), and Suffolk.

I do not think it is convincing to claim that the existence of a place word on a map or in its legend means that the place is a separate country. Kent was an integral part of England in 1595 as was Suffolk in 1556.

We should not confuse the past with the present. We should not conflate cultural differences with political and administrative separation. A name on a map of the past does not in itself say the place was an independent political entity.”

Note

Gough map: Bodleian Library
Matthew Paris map of Britain: British Library
Hereford mappa mundi: Hereford Cathedral


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