9 March 2015

“A good sword and a trusty hand!
A merry heart and true!
King James’s men shall understand
What Cornish lads can do!

And have they fixed the where and when?
And shall Trelawny die?
Here’s twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!”

That’s the beginning of the Song of the Western Men, a stirring, flag-waving, jingoistic poem/song written by RS Hawker, an Anglican priest, around 1825; it’s usually known as Trelawny. It goes on to say that the Cornish men will march to London and free Trelawny.

Apparently this year in Cornwall St Piran’s Day, 6 March, involved much singing of Trelawny. Like many such songs and anthems it is, I’m afraid, a braggadocio. It claims Cornish people will save bishop Trelawny.

Who was he? Jonathan Trelawny (1650-1721), born in Cornwall, and at the time the Anglican bishop of Bristol.

With six other Anglican bishops he was imprisoned in the Tower of London by king James II, a Catholic, in 1688. They were put on trial for seditious libel, basically for opposing the king’s romanising policy.

Did Cornish men save him? No.

The people of Cornwall did not march to rescue Trelawny; they did nothing to help him. He and the other bishops were saved by a London jury who acquitted them.

A boasting lie and saved by Cockneys: interesting ingredients.

Cornish lads

I think Roger Bryant’s Cornish lads is a much better Cornish anthem. It is musically more interesting, historically accurate and relevant today, and poignant, asking a hard question throughout, giving an answer at the end that pays tribute to the resourcefulness and resilience of the people of Cornwall. Sing it with pride.