8 May 2009

I shall put here a collection of statements falling on a continuum from facts to fancies about Cornwall.

Aristotle’s teeth: see his History of animals, book 2, part 1

To maintain web links I have retained the date 8 May 2009 but put here the date of the latest revision and additions: Version 9 October 2014.


CLICK INDEX English Channel | Shires and counties | Never part of England | Submarine Mines Act | Jonathan Trelawny | 1888 county | Maps | Current status of Cornwall | Henry VIII’s coronation | Athelstan | Agincourt | Hereford mappa mundi | 1888 Local Government Act | Tamar Bridge Act 1998 Act | Domesday and Cornwall| Magna Carta | English language saved from extinction | The names of England and Cornwall | Huwal and the Tamar


The English Channel was originally called the British Ocean or British Sea and that was its name until the middle of the sixteenth century or until the unsuccessful uprising of Catholics from Cornwall and elsewhere against the Protestant government and prayer book in 1549.

Yes and no.

It was initially first recorded as the British Ocean or British Sea. The earliest mention of the name English Channel seems to be on a map of about 1450 which marks it in Latin as “the British Ocean now called the English Channel” – “canalites Anglie”: British Library, Harley MS 3686, folio 13. At this date “British” referred to the Celtic-speaking people and their culture.

William Camden in his Britannia (1586) says that it is called variously the British Sea, the Channel, and the Sleeve.

Although English Channel seems to predominate as the name from the sixteenth century, variation in the name continued. For example, Oceanus Britannicus appears on maps in 1561 (Johannes Honter), 1570 (G de Jode), 1579 (Christopher Saxton), 1593 (Ortelius), 1607 (Mercator, as Britannicus Oceanus), and 1640 (Nicholas Sanson, as Britannicus Oceanus). British Ocean appears in 1701 (Robert Morden) and 1720 (Emanuel Bowen and John Owen).

The English Sea, as Mare Anglicanum, appears in 1540 (Sebastian Munster).The Chanell of England is on a map by Lucas Janz Waghenaer of about 1588 who also marks only as Angliae Pars what is Cornwall.

The British Sea appears on maps in 1556 (George Lily), 1572 (Tommaso Porcacchi, as Mare Britannicum), 1607 (William Kip, as Mare Britannicum), 1612 (John Speed), 1640 (WJ Blaeu, as Mare Britannicum), and 1646 (Jan Jansson).

The British Channel is found on maps in 1675 (John Seller, as Brittish Chanell), 1748 (Thomas Martyn), 1784 (GA Walpoole), 1784 (Thomas Kitchin), 1787 (John Cary), 1787 (Thomas Jefferys), 1814 (J Thomson), and as late as 1840 (Robert Creighton). A painting by John Brett (1871) is named “the British Channel seen from the Dorsetshire cliffs”. There was no rigidity: on other maps by Cary and in Walpoole it is named the English Channel.

John Speed in his 1611/12 book of maps, Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, calls it the British Sea and the British Ocean.

Robert Dudley (1646) marks the southwest of the Scillies as The Sleave and the Channel as the Narrow Seas.

There is a discussion of the various names here.


Cornwall contains shires (counties) therefore it is not a county because a county does not contain other counties, only a country does. So Cornwall is a country.

No. This is based on a misunderstanding of the uses and meanings of the word shire.

In the past the Old English word scir (shire) carried several meanings: a district, diocese, parish, estate, office (see J Bosworth and TN Toller An Anglo-Saxon dictionary and JR Clark Hall A concise Anglo-Saxon dictionary).

Broadly, the Anglo-Saxon hierarchy of local government comprised villages and towns (vills), then these collected into hundreds (called wapentakes in the north), then the hundreds/wapentakes collected into shires. Tithings based on vills were the local police units. Estates owned by nobles spread over these arrangements. This system was continued by the Normans and new units developed over time; eventually hundreds faded away as active units but most of the shires are with us today. When the Normans conquered England the name given to the shires in their legal documents was the Latin comitatus which in English is translated as county. Thus shire and county after 1066 are two words for the same thing, they are synonymous, apart from the instances in the next paragraph. The word county is found after 1066 to describe the presentday counties or shires. It is used in documents to describe Cornwall.

Before shire came to mean a county the word was sometimes used as a suffix to mean a lesser area and this meaning has lingered in several instances. Examples of the use of shire meaning hundreds and other non-county districts are: Salfordshire, Hallamshire, Cravenshire, Coxwoldshire, and Yetholmshire, all parts of counties. Associated with the palatine bishopric of Durham were the areas, none of which were counties, of Islandshire, Norhamshire, and Bedlingtonshire in Northumberland and Allertonshire and Howdenshire in Yorkshire. A large list of such instances by JA PICTON is in Notes and queries for 22 January 1887, page 61, accessible here.

In medieval Cornwall the shires of Triggshire, Powdershire, Pydarshire, and East and West Wivelshire were not counties but the equivalent of hundreds. (Note that William STUBBS writes “In Cornwall, in the twelfth century, the subdivisions were not called hundreds but shires”: Constitutional history of England in its origin and development, 1891, 111).

Richmondshire, Hexhamshire, and Winchcombeshire are previous counties which have become parts of other counties. Blackburnshire is referenced by James CROSSLEY in his 1845 introduction to Thomas POTT’S Discovery of witches (1613).


Cornwall was administered differently from England and was never part of England

Consider the following indications that Cornwall since the Norman Conquest has been governed as an integral part of England and indistinguishable in significance in governance from the rest of England, a county in England with the apparatus of a county in England. This is about government, not differences in culture or language or ethnicity. (I shall look at the history of Cornwall in the eighth-tenth centuries in another post.)

In the Domesday survey of manors in 1086 Cornwall is discussed in the same way, in the same format and language, as other English counties. There is no suggestion in Domesday that the manors in Cornwall collectively were part of a country rather than a county of England or that the Cornwall ones were organised in any different way from those in other counties of England. To collect the Domesday data England was divided into several areas, each with its own Domesday commissioners, and Cornwall was in the western area with the counties Devon, Dorset, Somerset, and Wiltshire.

Henry of Huntingdon (early 12th century) in Book I of his History of the English says the West Saxons conquered all England and “divided it into eighty seven counties” of which “the tenth is Cornwall.”

The records of the eyres, the law courts of the king’s itinerant judges, show Cornwall and England with common legal arrangements from the police duties of tithings at the lowest level of administration to the itinerant courts at the highest. There are no examples of peculiar Cornwall arrangements. In Select pleas of the crown, published 1888, FW Maitland prints examples from Cornwall of the records of the medieval eyres and there are some accessible extracts from the eyres in the Charles Henderson papers in the library of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, Truro.

Roger of Hovedene, who died in about 1201, describes in his Chronica judges’ circuits of the 1170s. He includes Cornwall with other counties of England in one of the circuits.The 1293 statute of the justices of assize of Edward I appointed justices throughout the whole of the kingdom of England, “per totum regnum Angliae” (my expansion of the abbreviated Latin). The statute divides the country into four groups and the lists thirty seven counties (using the word comitatus) with Cornwall listed unremarked in the group of south of England counties. (The statutes: revised edition (1870), volume 1, Henry III to James II, 1235-6 to 1685, London). These instances show Cornwall was an integral part of the justice system of England from an early date.

There was an unlicensed gild at Launceston which was fined three marks by Henry II (reigned 1154-1189) in 1180 (CE CHALLIS (ed) (1913) British borough charters 1042-1216 CUP, page lxxiii; DM STENTON (1951, 1965) English society in the early middle ages 1066-1307 Penguin, page 185; both referring to the Pipe Rolls) and there was a mint there in the early years of the reign of Henry II (Stenton op cit page 167). These show that Cornwall is integrated in the administrative system of England and is behaving like other English places. (CE CHALLIS (ed) A new history of the Royal Mint, 1992, Cambridge University Press, says, page 65, that there was a mint at Launceston during Anglo-Saxon times.)

In 1205-06 king John sold the disafforestation of Cornwall for 2200 marks to the knights and freemen of the county; the amounts apart, exactly as he did for Devon and parts of Essex and Surrey (disafforestation is acquiring immunity from forest laws). The king treated Cornwall here as he did other counties of England; the king’s laws of the forest applied there as elsewhere (See DM STENTON (1951, 1965 fourth edition) English society in the early middle ages 1066-1307 Penguin, page 112; the Pipe Rolls record the transaction).

The fine rolls of Henry III show the king dealing with Cornwall as with any other county in England, sending orders to the sheriff and deciding disputes. In 1223 Cornwall appears, undistinguished, in a list of thirty counties (7/303, roll 60/18). Interestingly on 13 February 1225 (9/80, roll 60/22) the king gives the “county” of Cornwall and most of his possessions in it to his brother Richard in order to give Richard a suitable income.

In his letters to king Henry II Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, recites the king’s territories and titles but does not mention Cornwall which was clearly encompassed in England. For example in 1169 he addresses Henry as “Anglorum regi, duci Normannie, comiti Andegavorum, et duci Aquitaniie” (DUGGAN Anne J (2000) The correspondence of THomas Becket 1160-1170 OUP).

The inspeximus charter from Henry III confirming the grant to Robert de Cardinan about Tywardeath begins “Henricus dei gratia rex Angliae, dominus Hiberniae, dux Norm Aquit, et comes Andeg” – Henry king of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Aquitaine and count of Anjou. There is no mention of Cornwall in the king’s titles even though the inspeximus is about Cornwall. Cornwall was clearly administratively and politically encompassed in England and not separate administratively (DUGDALE William et al Monasticon Anglicanum volume 4, page 656-657).

Cornwall sent members to the parliament of England from the late thirteenth century, when parliament originated, in the same way as other parts of England. Several of these members from Cornwall had local names: for example, Willielmus de Tregony, Rogerus de Carminou, and Reginaldus de Treworgi. These summons to and attendances at parliaments of England are telling evidence that Cornwall was regarded as an integral part of England and not a separate country.

Medieval taxes such as the 1291 papal taxation and the 1377 poll tax, and the Tudor subsidies (taxes), show people in Cornwall being taxed on the same basis and through the same taxes and administration as people in the rest of England. Indeed, the cause of the 1497 uprising by some people of Cornwall was a tax levied on the whole of England and the local Cornish objections to the tax did not include any reference to Cornwall being separate from England. Cornwall, unlike Durham and Cheshire, was not exempt from the fifteenth-and-tenth taxes of medieval England. (Cornwall tinners paid tax at double the rate of Devon tinners but did not after 1305 pay ordinary tax as well. Miners in the Forest of Dean and the Mendips paid both mining taxes and ordinary taxes. See GR LEWIS [1908] The stannaries: a study of the medieval tin miners of Cornwall and Devon Boston, Houghton, Mifflin, pages 131-132, 149 and footnote 2 on page 131. Lewis cannot explain the double tax rate for Cornish miners, footnote page 132.)

The E179 series on the National Archives website lists numerous lay and clerical national taxes paid in medieval and post-medieval Cornwall.

The 1311 ‘New ordinances’ imposed on Edward II by the barons included the exile of Piers Gaveston, the earl of Cornwall from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. The list of places prohibited to Gaveston is comprehensive and it does not mention separately by name Cornwall, although he was the earl, and this suggests that Cornwall was considered as part of England.

The 1337 charters which deal with the dukedom of Cornwall then created refer to the income-generating properties and the offices of the dukedom, including estates outside Cornwall, which indicates that the purpose of the duchy was a fitting income for the duke not the establishment or acknowledgement of Cornwall as a territory separate from the rest of England; refer to Cornwall as a county using the very same Latin word (comitatus, ‘county’) to describe Cornwall as the other counties mentioned such as Devon, Surrey, and Hertford; and refer to Cornwall as a place “in the kingdom of England.” A copy of the first charter is here.

There are instances in the Cartulary of Launceston Priory of writs from the king after the creation of the dukedom in 1337 instructing the sheriff of Cornwall although there was an adult duke of Cornwall: for example, writ dated 18 October 1364 (number 46) from Edward III to the sheriff of Cornwall to put a financial levy on goods of Launceston priory for money it owed; writ dated 1 May 1360 (number 52) from Edward III ordering the sheriff of Cornwall to see if the king was damaged by the acquiring of lands in Cornwall (HULL Peter (ed) (1987) Cartulary of Launceston Priory, Devon and Cornwall Record Society. Original: Lambeth Palace MS 719). These show the king instructing the sheriff of Cornwall and show that Cornwall was not administratively separate from England after the creation of the dukedom of Cornwall.

The following and other examples from the Patent Rolls firmly contradict the notion that after 1337 Cornwall was a duchy independent of England and they show the king and his council continuing to govern Cornwall when there was a duke of Cornwall in existence: in 1364 the king granted licences to trade to people in Cornwall and in 1371 the duke of Cornwall complained to the council about offences by locals in Cornwall. The king also granted the right to hold fairs and markets in places in Cornwall. See summaries of the Patent Rolls here, a project of GR Boynton and the University of Iowa. Instances from the fifteenth century, again when there was a duke of Cornwall, include in 1402 parliament being asked to ask the king to restore Pomeroy lands in Cornwall and Devon, seized by Philip Courtenay, at National Archives SC 8/22/1078, and in 1474 a writ from king Edward IV to the sheriff of Cornwall about a forthcoming trial (SC 8/30/1458). In 1459 the duke complained, in part successfully, against the king taking part of his duchy powers and income (SC 8/28/1395) which suggests the powers of the duke in the duchy had been changed since 1337 and the duchy was seen as a source of income by the duke.

The Patent Rolls also record a commission of assize of Richard II, dated 4 February 1388, when there was not a duke, and lists the components of the circuits. The southwestern is named as the counties of Wiltshire, Hampshire, Somerset, Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall. Cornwall is listed using the identical word (comitatus, county, used in the phrase in comitatibus) as the others. A list of the king’s justiciars and the areas they are responsible for also puts Cornwall in these counties along with Bristol and uses the same phrase ‘in comitatibus’ for them. Cornwall, at the end of the fourteenth century and fifty years after the creation of the dukedom, is thus shown as part of county system of England and as part of the judicial system of England.

John Trevisa, a Cornishman, asserts in his Middle English translation of 1385 of Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon that Cornwall is an integral part of England which has thirty seven shires and he writes that “Cornewayle is a schere of Engelond” and “Cornwayle is in Engelond,” and is governed by the laws of England. Further he says that it was in Wessex with seven other shires. (See item 17 for more about Trevisa.)

Writing in 1478 William of Worcester in his Itinerary describes St Ives as several miles from “the extreme end of the west of the kingdom of England” (ab ultimo fine occidentalis regni Anglie).

Medieval coins recite the title “king of England” and often include France, Ireland, and Aquitaine in the named dominions, but not Cornwall, suggesting that was seen as part of England.

In Acts of the Privy Council (volume 2, edited JR DASENT 1890) entries for 1549 include the phrases “the county of Cornewall” (page 356) and two occurrences of “in comitatu Cornubie” (pages 366 and 552). The phrase “in comitatu” in the page 552 entry is applied to Dorset and Glamorgan too.

Ralph Holinshed in his Chronicles: description and history of England (1587) wrote that Cornwall was one of the “shires of England” (volume 2, chapter 4) and named Cornwall as one of the “counties, cities, boroughs, and ports sending knights, citizens, burgesses, and barons to the parliament of England” (volume 2, chapter 8). He also described the kingdoms of early England and said “The fourth kingdome was of the West Saxons…including…Cornwalle” (volume 1, chapter 6).

The Privy Council wrote letters ordering musters in Cornwall (and elsewhere): see Lambeth Palace Library MS 247, ff34r-37r of 31 January 1579/80 and ff 40v-45r of 18 March 1579/80; also see Privy Council appointment of surveyors of castles and fortresses in Cornwall (and elsewhere) MS247, ff33r-34r of about 1579.

Richard Carew began his Survey of Cornwall with the words: “Cornwall, the farthest shire of England westwards.”

The letter of thanks to the people of Cornwall from king Charles I, dated 10 September 1643, refers to Cornwall as a “county” three times.

Two acts of parliament have named parts separate from England but they do not mention Cornwall at all as it was plainly part of England. The 1746 ‘Wales and Berwick’ Act (20 George II chapter 42) states that reference in acts of parliament to England shall be taken to include Wales and Berwick upon Tweed. The 1841 Ordnance Survey Act is described in the introduction as applying to “Great Britain, Berwick upon Tweed, and the Isle of Man.” Its interpretation clause mentions England,Scotland, Berwick upon Tweed, and the Isle of Man.

(I shall look at the history of Cornwall in the eighth-tenth centuries in another post.)


What did the 1858 Cornwall Submarine Mines Act really say about Cornwall?

The Cornwall Submarine Mines Act 1858 set out the rights of the monarch and duke of Cornwall with respect to mines and minerals in Cornwall under the foreshore (that is the land between low and high tide marks) and under the sea. It said that the duke had the rights for the foreshore and the monarch the rights beyond the low tide mark, that is under the open sea.

The act is about property, exploitation, and income not sovereignty or constitutional status. Significantly, the Act does not say that the duchy of Cornwall possesses the area seaward of the foreshore as every maritime country does. The open sea belongs to the country of Britain. See the parliamentary question and answer in Hansard 11 October 2010 column 245W-246W which confirms that the sea off Cornwall does not belong to the duchy but to the Crown Estate, that is the monarch and government of the UK.

The 1858 Act was based upon the arbitration award of John Patteson of June 1857. He had arbitrated between the crown and duchy about “the right to mines under the sea within the county of Cornwall”. The request from the crown and duchy representatives to Patteson was for his judgement on mineral rights not constitutional status and the unspoken issue was profits from the mining and sale of the minerals. Some nationalists appear to mistakenly conflate the duchy arguments presented to Patteson and the Act.

Patteson’s arbitration distributed the rights as the Act sets out. It is noteworthy that he specifically said that in respect of minerals which were below low water mark (that is, on land recognised as the crown’s) but which could be mined only by commencing works on the duchy’s property, the crown should automatically be able to undertake such works. Thus the crown could automatically use duchy land and property for crown mining works without seeking duchy permission.

The documents setting out the cases of the Crown and the Duchy are in the National Archives: CRES 37/253.

The Act does not say that Cornwall is a territorial possession of Britain and does not say that the duchy and county of Cornwall are coterminous. It does talk of “the soil and territorial possessions of the duchy of Cornwall” (part v and in almost identical words part iii).

The act also describes Cornwall as a “county” and in part vii defines it with reference to the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844.

The Duchy of Cornwall Act 1844 and the Duchy of Cornwall (Number 2) Act 1844 both talk of “the county of Cornwall.”

Thus the Act does not say Cornwall, which it describes as a county, is separate from England or a separate country. Note that the Act defines the duke of Cornwall in terms not of sovereignty but of income as the “personage for the time being entitled to the revenues of the duchy of Cornwall” (viii), that is, the duke or, when there is not one, the monarch.

Read the act here.

Incidentally, the Durham County Palatine Act 1858 divides the proceeds of the foreshore of County Durham between the crown and the bishopric of Durham Church of England Commissioners: this does not mean Durham is anything other than a county of England.

Added 11 February 2009:
The answer to a question in the Commons about who owns the foreshore in Britain has shown that the foreshore is not an issue of sovereignty or constitutional status (Hansard 10 February 2009 column 1847W).

The government reply about this part of the country was: “The duchy of Cornwall owns all the Isles of Scilly foreshore and the majority of the foreshore in Cornwall”. The word ‘majority’ is intriguing and leads me to wonder which parts of the foreshore of Cornwall it does not own.

However, the refutation of sovereignty and constitutional status came in the first part of the reply: “The Crown Estate owns around fifty five percent of the foreshore around the UK. The rest of the foreshore is owned by various bodies, including the Crown and the duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, such as port authorities, local authorities, the National Trust, and private individuals.”

Clearly private individuals and the National Trust, for example, are not sovereign entities, independent of England, and with a special constitutional status. Those attributes and powers are not conferred by ownership of the foreshore. The ownership of the foreshore is not in itself a question of sovereignty or constitutional status but of land ownership and, as in the Submarine Mines Act 1858, of any use and profits therefrom.


Did Cornishmen save Trelawny?

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 song written by RS Hawker around 1825; it’s usually known as Trelawny. The song goes on to say that the Cornishmen will march to London and free Trelawny.

Who was he? Jonathan Trelawny (1650-1721), born in Cornwall, and an Anglican bishop.

Did Cornishmen save him? No.

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.

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


Cornwall became a county only in 1888


This misunderstands the chief purpose of the local government act of 1888: the establishment of county councils and their functions in already existing counties, along with county boroughs.

Long before that Cornwall had been described as a county and administered as other English counties with the same law-and-order arrangements of magistrates and quarter sessions and with the same local government arrangements of vestries and churchwardens and overseers and other local officials and rates levied and collected. For example, in Acts of the Privy Council (volume 2, edited JR DASENT 1890) entries for 1549 include the phrases “the county of Cornewall” (page 356) and two occurrences of “in comitatu Cornubie” (pages 366 and 552). The phrase “in comitatu” in the page 552 entry is applied to Dorset and Glamorgan too.

The 1337 charters setting up the dukedom refer to Cornwall as a county. As for the view that this was a unique term for Cornwall with a unique meaning that did not equate to shire, consider that the charters use the very same Latin word (comitatus, ‘county’) to describe Cornwall as the other counties mentioned such as Devon, Surrey, and Hertford, as I explained in post 3 in Aristotle’s teeth. See also post 4 and the acts of 1844 and 1858.

See also number 13 on the 1888 Local Government Act.


Several medieval and Tudor maps show Cornwall as a separate country from England

No. 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.

Matthew Paris drew a map of Britain around 1250 in his Abbeviation chronicorum . This shows Cornwall (as Cornubia) with an eastern border bulging eastwards; Dorset and Somerset are marked, wrongly, and Devon is placed north of them. The map marks Cornwall but does not show it as separate from England.

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.

The world map of Hartmann Schedel, published in 1493, shows Britain only as Anglia and Scotia. The writing of the word “Anglia” begins at what we call Lands End.

See number 12 for the Hereford mappa mundi.


What is the current status of Cornwall, the duchy, and the stannaries?

On 6 and 29 March 2007 the department for constitutional affairs gave written answers to parliamentary questions about Cornwall, the duchy of Cornwall, and the stannaries. Here are the government’s clear answers:

“Cornwall is an administrative county of England which is subject to UK legislation” and “Cornwall has always been an integral part” of the UK.

The duchy is “a private estate that funds the public, charitable and private activities” of prince Charles, his wife, and two sons.

“There are no valid Cornish stannary organisations in existence.”

On 6 October 2008 the government said, “Cornwall is an administrative county of England, electing MPs to the UK Parliament, and is subject to UK legislation. It has always been an integral part of the Union. The Government have no plans to alter the constitutional status of Cornwall” (Hansard 6 October 2008 column 154W). See the post here .

On stannary law the government has said: “The body of Stannary customary law has not been systematically repealed. It is likely however that such customary law has been superseded by modern legislation. There were also provisions in 19th century primary legislation relating to the stannaries, but these have largely been repealed” (Hansard 20 May 2009 column 1451W).


Cornwall was mentioned separately at Henry VIII’s coronation

We have an account from Ralph Holinshed in his 1587 Chronicles of the public coronation procession of Henry VIII in June 1509. Part of this says:

“Then next followed the nine children of honor upon great coursers, appareled on their bodies in blue velvet, powdered with floure delices of gold, and chaines of goldsmiths worke, everie one of their horsses trapped with a trapper of the kings title, as of England and France, Gascoigne, Guien, Normandie, Angiou, Cornewalle, Wales, Ireland, etc wrought upon velvets, with imbroderie, and goldsmiths worke.” floure delices are fleur de lis. The crowning was the next day.

Yes, Cornwall is mentioned separately, along with eight other places (and an ‘etc’ which suggests more than nine), as part of the king’s claimed titles, a mixture of reality and fantasy, though the Holinshed extract makes clear that the emphasis is on pageant. The relative nearness of the 1497 uprising and the 1508 agreement with the stannary, and an awareness of the cultural distinction of Cornwall, may have persuaded the king and his counsellors that it was politic to include Cornwall specifically in the pageant or it may have been a public assertion of mastery. A mention in the pageant, though interesting, does not mean that Cornwall was politically and administratively separate from England. Holinshed did not suggest it was significant.

Henry VIII’s regnal style was initially king of England and France and lord of Ireland: this is how he saw himself and presented himself to the world though the France part was fiction. In 1542 lord of Ireland was changed to king of Ireland. Cornwall is not mentioned separately which suggests it is included under England.

The regal title of Henry VIII inscribed on the wall of St Mawes castle in Cornwall is, in Latin, Henry VIII invincible king of England, France, and Ireland – Henricus octavus rex Angl Franc et Hiberniae invictus (AL Rowse (1941, 1969) Tudor Cornwall page 17); no mention of a separate Cornwall.

In the coronation oath, the serious part of the coronation, the reference is to “the people of England,” with no separate mention of Cornwall (RYMER Thomas Foedera II.i.33 gives the wording of the oath of Edward II. The coronation oath of Henry VIII in English and Latin is here.)

At the funeral of Henry VII in 1509 Holinshed records that the garter-king-at-arms cried of his successor son Henry VIII: “Vive le roy Henrie le huietesme, roy d’Angleterre, roy de France, sire d’Irland.”

Incidentally, Henry VII, after his victory at Bosworth, went to St Paul’s cathedral in London where he ‘retired his three standards’. These were a flag with an image of St George, presumably the flag of England; a flag with a red dragon on a white and green background, presumably the flag of Wales; and a yellow tartan flag with an image of a dun cow on it (Edward Hall Chronicle: page 423 in the 1809 edition).

In her will Mary I (reigned 1553-1558), Henry VIII’s daughter, listed her titles and possessions: queen of England, Spain, France, Sicily, Jerusalem, and Ireland, along with her lesser titles for Austria, Burgundy, Milan, Brabant, Flanders and Tirol. It is an impressive roll call and Cornwall is not mentioned.


King Athelstan tyrannically attacked the Cornish

Yes but no but…

The hostile view of king Athelstan of the West Saxons and England taken by some Cornish nationalists is based on a brief passage from William of Malmesbury’s Gesta regum Anglorum (Chronicle of the kings of the English), written in Latin in the early twelfth century. In this William says that Athelstan sharply attacked the Cornish in Exeter, drove them from the city where until then they had lived alongside the English as equals, and drove them over the Tamar, fixing that as the boundary of their territory. William of Malmesbury adds unpleasantly that Exeter was thus purged of the contaminated people: in the original Latin, contaminatae gentis. This event is not recorded by anyone else. Note that these are the words of William of Malmesbury not Athelstan.

That Exeter snippet is not the whole story. It has a context.

The couple of Exeter sentences in William of Malmesbury are tantalisingly brief and offer no explanation for Athelstan’s expulsion of the Cornish inhabitants but he faced military attacks from within Britain throughout his reign and it is most probable that he was responding to what he saw as a lively danger from Britons in the southwest although, as William’s account specifically mentions, they were living alongside the English in Exeter as equals not as a servile people. Athelstan appears to have gone to Exeter after he had mastered the Welsh rulers at Hereford, and William compares the fixing of the boundary at the river Tamar with the king’s fixing the river Wye as the boundary of the Welsh (originally called the North Welsh; the Cornish were also called the West Welsh). FM Stenton (Anglo-Saxon England 1971, 3rd edition) has suggested that the Cornish, including those in Exeter, were in revolt, and this rings true. Athelstan dealt effectively with them by containing them in the far west. A few years later he defeated a combined force of Scottish, Dublin Viking, and Strathclyde soldiers at Brunanburh. William’s ‘contaminated’ comment on the Cornish inhabitants of Exeter is straightforward nastiness against the enemies of a king he much admired.

CWC Oman ( England before the Norman Conquest 1919, footnote page 518) suggests plausibly that the story by William of Malmesbury of the expulsion from Exeter is unbelievable.

A simple view of Athelstan as an enemy of “British” people is untenable. There is an aspect to Athelstan which should please those attracted to the all-Celts-together school and which makes what happened at Exeter less simple of interpretation.

He seriously helped the Bretons who were the very descendants of those Cornish Britons who had fled to Armorica from Athelstan’s West Saxon ancestors. Armorica became known as Brittany from these immigrant Britons. In the early tenth century, led by Mathuedoi, a large contingent of Bretons fled to England from the Danes then ravaging Brittany – tenth century asylum seekers. The exact date of the flight and settlement being unknown, it is unclear whether the king at the time was Edward, Athelstan’s father and predecessor, or Athelstan. In any case Athelstan was godfather to Mathuedoi’s son, Alan Barbetorte, and during his reign the Bretons continued to live in England and at his court. In 936 the Bretons, led by Alan, returned successfully to their homeland with Athelstan’s support.

The asylum story is told in the Chronicle of Nantes; this says the flight happened when Athelstan was king. The 936 return with Athelstan’s support is recorded in Flodoard’s Annales, written contemporaneously in the tenth century. Michael Lapidge (Anglo-Saxon litanies of the saints 1991) quotes a Breton prayer of the time asking for the safe-keeping of the English clergy and people which suggests a warm appreciation of the king and people of England. Lapidge also says that Irishmen came to Athelstan’s court (Anglo-Latin literature 900-1066, 1993).

I’d say there was a palpable Anglo-Breton civil alliance. Athelstan was a friend and ally of the Bretons.

However, Athelstan’s support of the Bretons goes further. He is known as a patron of Christianity in England (see Stenton 1971, 356) but Karen Jankulak (The medieval cult of St Petroc 2000) discusses in detail his place in the establishment of cults of Breton saints in England – there were also cults of English and Cornish saints in Brittany. There was a palpable and welcomed Breton religious influence in Athelstan’s England and Jankulak writes of the probability of “a substantial and prolonged” settlement of Bretons in England while Athelstan was king.

Athelstan, king of the English, was by conquest overlord of the Scots, Welsh, Cornish, and Stathclyde British and called himself rex totius Britanniae, which after the battle at Brunanburh was more or less true. However, he was a friend over the years to the Bretons, gave them salvatory refuge in England and support in their reseizure of Brittany, and enabled Anglo-Breton cultural interchange; and played an important part in Anglo-Cornish-Breton religious interchange.

[Oman paragraph added to the original post October 2008]


Cornishmen fought at Agincourt, the Cornish archers excelled, and they fought under the flag of Cornwall

Yes and no.

First, the men in the army that fought in the Agincourt campaign
The major but not only source of information about the names of the men who fought at Agincourt is the Agincourt Roll. The roll we have is largely made from three lists, ultimately copies of an original one now lost. The original one did apparently include the names of the archers. The present roll is not complete and only a few archers are listed by name. There is an online database of medieval soldiers in England herewhich includes Agincourt soldiers. It also discusses the various sources of soldier information.

We can be reasonably sure that Cornishmen fought at Agincourt though as far as I can see none of the contemporary chroniclers, English and French, mention this apart from giving a very few Cornish surnames; nor do any of the other sources that have been explored and published. None mention the presence of bands of Cornish soldiers or Cornish archers though in the fifteenth century the emphasis in histories tended to be on the grandees as individual heroes rather than the sansculotte archers and foot soldiers.

The French army included Bretons and a few Scots, Henry V’s army included Welsh.

In the Agincourt Roll there are a handful of surnames in the retinues which certainly look Cornish and I list them below.

Thomas Rymer published in his Foedera a list from the Patent Rolls dated 29 May 1415 of seventeen counties and retinues but Cornwall was not among them. (For 10 February 1417 Rymer has a list of twenty one counties to provide feathers for soldiers in the continuing French campaign but Cornwall is not among them.) Rymer’s published collection is not exhaustive and we can reasonably assume that in 1415 all the counties were asked to array soldiers though this was ostensibly for the defence of the country not the coming campaign in northern France.

Henry V used crown valuables as security for loans of cash to pay for his French war and among those noted in Rymer on 14 July 1415 as giving a loan to Henry V in return for the security of a jewelled silver tabernacle was John, the prior at Launceston.

Recruiting the army
How was the Agincourt army recruited? As in the English armies of the late middle ages, the men-at-arms (called lances), archers on horse, and archers on foot largely assembled as retinues under lords and knights; all three historic versions of the Agincourt Roll are ordered under leaders of retinues not localities. A local lord or knight would of course bring with him local men and men from elsewhere. Men also engaged with commanders unconnected to their locality: some of the people with Cornish surnames on the roll serve under magnates who are not from Cornwall.

Everyone was indentured, that is, was under a detailed contract with the king or with a retinue commander and many of these indentures have survived. In a few instances specialist groups of soldiers were recruited as in the case of archers from the northwest mentioned in the next-but-one paragraph.

Medieval soldiers were organised by type (mounted men-at-arms, mounted archers, foot archers, foot soldiers, and so on) and by line. The usual arrangement was these men in three lines, vanguard, middle, and rear but Henry’s army at Agincourt was in three divisions in one line, as they were insufficient in number for anything else, and with the archers on the wings as was usual (Bradbury 1985, 127-129) though the disposition of the archers at the battle is contended. Within those dispositions those from the same lordly retinue stood together, initially at any rate until the melee of battle might separate them though the archers are problematic as I shall explain.

Archers were recruited in two ways: into a mixed retinue of lances and archers or into bowmen contingents. The presence of a large number of archers from south Wales, Cheshire, and Lancashire in special bowmen contingents in Henry V’s army is recorded (for example see Bennett 2003, 171-172). There appear to be no records of such a specialist contingent from Cornwall.

We do not know whether the special contingents of archers remained together or were divided and spread through other retinues. We do not know whether archers generally remained in the mixed retinues to which they were engaged or were joined together with other archers from other retinues (Curry 2000, 433).

Referring to the killing of the French prisoners towards the end of the battle, the French chroniclers Jean Le Fevre (St Remy) and Jehan de Waurin say they were killed by Henry V’s archers (Curry 2000, 163-164).

Although sir John Cornwall is listed as having brought thirty lances/men-at-arms and ninety foot soldiers (archers and bill men) to France in 1415 their names are not given and consequently we cannot hazard how many might have been Cornish. John Cornwall played a noted part in the campaign, both at Harfleur and at the fording of the Somme. He was at the battle too as we shall see. There are notices of his activities in the various contemporary accounts of the campaign. Another name missing from the roll is Carew who is named in Peter Bassett’s fifteenth-century chronicle as “baron Carew of the land of Cornwall” (cited in Curry 2000, 87) and who would have taken men with him to the battle. This is presumably Thomas Carew (circa 1368-1430) who is more usually associated with Devon and Wales. See below for more on Carew.

The crying up of Cornish archers at Agincourt does not then reflect the evidence of the early accounts or the Agincourt Roll or other extant contemporary documents but rather rests literarily on Michael Drayton and Richard Carew. Michael Drayton’s poem, The battle of Agincourt, published in 1627, two hundred years after the battle, actually says little singular about the Cornish soldiers. He recites the counties of England and Wales with soldiers at Agincourt and Cornwall appears among the thirty six former. Drayton says each county band of soldiers had a distinguishing banner: “The Cornishmen two wrestlers had for theirs.” The descriptions of county flags appear to be invented by Drayton and we have seen how men were recruited into retinues under a magnate and not in county bands as such. The whole is a patriotic poem in which Drayton is primarily keen to show the whole of England and Wales behind king Henry. There is nothing about Cornish archers in the poem, nothing that singles out the soldiers from Cornwall.

Richard Carew, writing his 1602 Survey of Cornwall at the beginning of the seventeenth century, has a section about pastimes in Cornwall in which personified archery laments its neglect by current Cornishmen and makes large claims for its importance and mentions Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt, the leading battles of the English and French in the middle ages (pages 72-73). At the end of this he writes of “Cornishmen’s former sufficiency” in archery. There is no evidence given here for any singular importance of Cornish archers at these battles and it is a judgement whether Carew had evidence he did not reveal or was being merely grandiloquent and whether one is convinced by evidence or by emotive noise. Carew’s comment on archery comes around the time of an anonymous Agincourt ballad which praises “good English bowmen” as decisive in winning the battle (Agincourt or the English bowman’s glory, ballad reproduced by Curry 2000 pages 302-304).

Drayton wrote an imaginative poem not an account steeped in accuracy, Carew’s account lacks any evidence. They are insufficient to build a history on. All that can be said is that at Agincourt there were men from all over England, including Cornwall.

Now for the flag

There are three relevant comments about John Cornwall. In John Hardyng’s fifteenth-century Chronicle there is an account of John Cornwall, and others, guarding the river crossing for the army and displaying their standards (cited in Curry 2002, 84). In the French chronicles of Jehan de Waurin and Jean Le Fevre the banners of English magnates on display at the battle included that of John Cornwall (cited in Curry 2000, 154).

Note that the banner in these instances is of John Cornwall, his personal flag not a county flag. Medieval banners of individuals were not simple crosses.

Nevertheless I suspect that these references, and especially those of Waurin-Le Fevre, have encouraged the false belief that the present county flag, or something like it, was at Agincourt.

Short bibliography

BENNETT Michael (2003) Community, class, and careerism
BRADBURY Jim (1985) The medieval archer Boydell Press
CAREW Richard (1602) The survey of Cornwall
CURRY Anne (2000) The battle of Agincourt: sources and interpretations Boydell Press
DRAYTON Michael (1627) The battle of Agincourt (poem)
NICOLAS NH (1832) The battle of Agincourt
RYMER Thomas (1704-32 ) Foedera . Volume 9 has the material for Henry V.

There is a free and searchable database of medieval soldiers from England during the years 1369-1453 here.

Both Curry and Nicolas include extracts from contemporary records, Curry includes later accounts too, and Nicolas includes an Agincourt Roll. Rymer includes state papers, orders, etc.

The putative Cornish names on the Agincourt Roll and the retinues in which they are listed:

Thomas Carew
Sir John Cornewayle
Lewys Cornewayle: lance, retinue of the earl of March
William Cornewayle: lance, retinue of the earl of March
Stemham Cornysshe: lance, retinue of the earl of March
Robert Cornu or Corun: retinue of sir de Harington
William Kylleryen: retinue of the earl of Huntingdon
Thomas Tryskebett (Tryskebetter): retinue of lord Camoys
Henry Veell: retinue of the duke of Gloucester

The Roll mentions only the mahoffs and the vast numbers who also fought, and who would include men from Cornwall, are omitted.

The chronicles and public documents – largely in Rymer’s Foedera – and histories also mention Thomas Carew, “baron Carew of the land of Cornwall,” and sir John Cornwall as being there. Nicolas (‘Retinue of Henry V’ in his 1832 book, page arabic 85) says Thomas Carew raised twelve men-at-war and twenty four foot soldiers and Richard Carew raised one man-at-war and thirty horse soldiers: see Calendar of patent rolls 22 April 1415 page 299 m33 which mentions Thomas Carrewe, chivaler, “captain and leader of men at arms and archers whom the king has sent to sea for the resistance of his enemies.” Davies Giddy Gilbert mentions sir John Colshull as being killed at Agincourt: Gilbert 1838
Parochial history of Cornwall
, volume 1, 418, and volume 3, 316.

The Welsh fought both for and against Henry V. David Llewellyn/Gamme of Brecknock fought for the king. J Endell TYLER in his 1838 Henry of Monmouth says William Gwyn of Llanstephan fought for the French (Patent Rolls P 2, 3 Henry V). Pierre COCHON Chronique normande (1430s) says in chapter 30 that there were Irish in Henry’s subsequent army (cited in Curry 2000, 114).


The mappa mundi at Hereford cathedral shows Cornwall as a separate country from England.

This map 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.

The city of Exeter is marked on the map as west of a large river which cuts right across the western peninsula.

See number 7 for other maps.


The application of the 1888 local government act to Cornwall was specially delayed to meet various Cornish concerns

No. This is probably based on a misunderstanding of the difference in dates between an act getting royal assent and coming into effect.

The 1888 Local Government Act, which applied to England and Wales and inter alia established county councils, received royal assent in August 1888 and, in accordance with section 109, came into force everywhere on 1 April 1889 (except London where it came into force on 21 March 1889): such a delay is normal in parliamentary Acts and there was no special Cornish delay. Section 103 provided that the first elections to the new county councils should be in January 1889 and not earlier than the 14th. The election to the new Cornwall county council was on 24 January 1889, the same day as the first elections to the new Durham and Norfolk county councils for example; sixty six councillors were elected in Cornwall and at a subsequent meeting of the council in February twenty two aldermen were elected by the councillors. Until April when the Act came into force the council was a “provisional council” which then moved seamlessly into the legally constituted county council.

The first meeting in February 1889 was at Bodmin, as was the second meeting; the third and all subsequent meetings of the council were at Truro.

Section 49 of the 1888 Act provided for separate administrative arrangements for the Isles of Scilly, independent of Cornwall.

See also number 6 on the 1888 Act.

See the following reports in the West Briton :
31 January 1889 page 2b-c (report of the first county council election of 24 January 1889)

14 February 1889 page 2a-c (report of the first meeting of the provisional council on 7 February 1889) and page 3 (election of the aldermen)

7 March 1889 page 2d-f (lists the aldermen and councillors) and page 4f (report of the second meeting of the provisional council on 28 February 1889)

4 April 1889 page 3d-g (report of the first meeting of the legally constituted council on 1 April 1889 when the 1888 Act came into force)


The Tamar Bridge Act 1998 shows that Cornwall is a sovereign entity


This Act states that nothing in it shall disadvantage the duke of Cornwall – or the queen; and the Act requires written consent from the queen or the duke, or government departments before the bridge authorities avail themselves of any land belonging to those three (Tamar Bridge Act 1998, vi.41).

This does not show that the duchy of Cornwall is a sovereign entity or that the duchy of Cornwall is independent of England. It gives protection for the possessions (and income) of the queen, duke, and government departments. Like the Cornwall Submarine Mines Act 1858, it is about such protection not constitutional matters.

An original prohibition on the disposal of duchy of Cornwall possessions (including lands) was abolished by the following acts of the UK parliament which therein gave power to the duchy to sell lands and possessions belonging to the duchy, to buy possessions for the duchy, and to regulate leases of duchy possessions: Duchy of Cornwall Act 1842, Duchy of Cornwall Act 1844, and the Duchy of Cornwall Act 1863, the last one consolidating the powers of the first two. These powers apply to duchy possessions and activities everywhere and are not restricted to them in the county of Cornwall. (The Duchy of Cornwall 1844 (2) Act dealt with coventionary tenements within Cornwall.)

The point here is that commercial and financial powers were conferred on the duchy by the British parliament: the duchy did not already have the powers and did not have the authority to give itself such powers but was dependent upon receiving the necessary authority and powers from parliament. This points to dependency not sovereignty.

The Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall Act 1838 required the two duchies to submit annual accounts of the income and spending in approved form to the UK Treasury, which shows that neither duchy was a sovereign entity.

Similarly the duchy of Lancaster required parliamentary authority to undertake financial transactions: see the Duchy of Lancaster acts of 1808, 1812, and 1817.

The General Pier and Harbour Act 1861 provides that nothing in it should disadvantage the duchies of Lancaster or Cornwall; again, a financial and property protection, the Cornwall paragraph explicitly mentioning “profits.”

These acts of the UK parliament show that the duchy of Cornwall is not sovereign or independent or quasi-independent in any way. The proper protection of commercial, financial, and property interests is what they are about.


What does Domesday say about Cornwall?

In 1086 a survey of all manors in England was carried out on the orders of king William I, the Conqueror. The survey was thorough: the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (MS E for 1085) says “not a single hide or yard of land…not even an ox or cow or pig was left out.”

The survey was not of settlements or churches but of manors and Cornwall, with 356 places detailed, appears in both the Exchequer and the Exeter versions of the Domesday Book. The survey’s main purpose seems to have been tax assessment: however, see KAPELLE William E ‘The purpose of Domesday Book: a quandary’ in Medieval Studies 1992 (9, 55-66) Illinois Medieval Association.

For the survey England was didivded into seven circuits to be visited by the king’s commissioners: Cornwall was in the second circuit with Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset, and Devon. It was visited by the same commissioners as these counties and investigated in the same way.

If you look at the Doomsday record there is no defining difference between Cornwall and the rest of England. Cornwall is discussed in the same way, in the same format and language, as other English counties; the measurements of land (hides, ploughs, and so forth) and the nomenclature of the classes of people are the same as for other counties in the survey. There is no suggestion in Domesday that the manors in Cornwall collectively were part of a separate country rather than a county of England or that the Cornwall ones were organised in any different way from those in other counties of England. Cornwall appears in Domesday as a county of England.

The places in Cornwall have some distinct features but these are nothing to do with Doomsday or constitutional niceties. The pattern of settlement varies across England according to the nature of the land and time of settlement and the culture: for example, on high ground, at the spring line, or in river valleys, compact or elongated, and so forth. The differences are well-known and well documented. The names of most Cornwall places reflect the Cornish language; in the rest of England there are differences in names between Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian settlements reflecting those different languages; there are also differences among Anglo-Saxon names according to the date of settlement; and there are Celtic-language names for places and features.

At the time of Domesday all the land belonged to the king but most was ‘sublet’ and in the hands of tenants-in-chief, the largest in Cornwall at the time of Domesday being Robert, count of Mortain in Normandy (or, as often in English, Moreton), half brother of king William. Robert held land in several other counties and sublet much of his land.

Incidentally, Robert of Mortain was not a Breton as some nationalists say, but a Norman born of Norman parents; perhaps there is a confusion here with Brian (also known as Brient) of Brittany. Neither Robert nor Brian was officially styled earl of Cornwall.

In short, in Domesday, Cornwall is treated identically to the other counties in England. There is nothing in the survey records to suggest that Cornwall was seen by king William and his officials as anything other than a part of England. There is nothing in Domesday to suggest Cornwall was in any way that mattered different from other counties in England.

See GREEN Judith A (1997) The aristocracy of Norman England, pages 230-232, for a summary of various explanations of the purpose of Domesday survey and book; and for a copy of Domesday Book on line.


Cornwall is mentioned separately from England in Magna Carta


Cornwall is not mentioned at all in Magna Carta which begins by describing king John as “king of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and count of Anjou.” Clauses 56-58 (modern numbering) mention Wales and the Welsh and clause 59 the king of Scotland.


The English language was saved from extinction by a couple of Cornishmen, John Cornwall and Richard Pencrych


English was never in danger of extinction though its status after the Norman Conquest was lowly. In the late 1200s Robert of Gloucester, whose identity and authorship is not clearcut, explained in a poem written in English that though the grandees spoke Norman French, “ac lowe men holdeth to Engliss” — but ordinary people speak English. Ordinary people, peasants, labourers, and artisans, went on speaking English after 1066, the rulers spoke Norman French, though some people were roughly bilingual and fewer trilingual, including Latin. Let me repeat: at no point was English on the brink of extinction or heading for extinction; it was always the language of the majority of the population though it certainly lacked the social status of a language spoken by the rulers of England and had changed considerably from the West Saxon Old English that once had that status. After 1066 Norman French was the language of the royal court, the law courts, the nobles, and the socially aspiring; and also of instruction in the schools, but not many children went to school.

In contrast to Robert’s assertion, Walter of Bibbesworth wrote Le Tretiz in medieval French verse and put Middle English glosses between the lines. In the preface it states that the Tretiz was written for Dyonise de Mountechensi (or Dionysia) to help her to teach her children French. A member of a noble family clearly spoke English.

Now for the processes and events that led to the restoration of English (or rather, Middle English) as the country’s unchallenged language and the re-establishment of its prestige.

After 1066 the English and Normans were identifiably different and were hostile to each other (see for example Thomas 2003, 50-51). However, a hundred years later Richard FitzNigel in the Dialogue of the Exchequer records in chapter 10 his view that:

“the English and Normans having lived together and having intermarried and become so intermingled, today I can scarcely tell who’s English and who’s Norman. I’m speaking about the freemen not the villeins who aren’t free.”

That is probably an optimistic view for the time but it points to the melding that was rushing on; the English and Normans were ceasing to be two people and becoming one people with one language, English.

Migration into England from Normandy seems to have dried up by the middle of the twelfth century (Bates 1989, 856-857). The loss of Normandy in 1204 incited people to choose between England and Normandy; the rise of Parisian French (Francien) worked to cut off insular Norman-French speakers from the continental mainstream; and the upsurge in war between England and France further patriotically pushed everyone in England to regard themselves as English and see the English language as theirs. During the fourteenth century the status of vernacular, native languages in Europe began to rise (Steinsaltz 2002, 15).

In 1258 the proclamation of the king’s and magnates’ adherence to reforming Provisions of Oxford was issued in English as well as Latin and French. In this the word is spelt “Engleneloande”.

The shift from French to English was rapid. Despite attempts to maintain Norman-French, on 13 October 1362 Parliament was opened in English not French and the law courts accepted English as their working language. The Rotuli parliamentorum (Parliamentary Rolls) show that in 1399 Richard II abdicated in both Latin and English and Henry IV claimed the throne in English, described as his mother tongue.

In the mid to end of the fourteenth century William of Nassington was writing in his English-language poem Speculum vitae of the combinations of English, French, and Latin languages used in England but points to the march of English:

“Bothe lered and lewed, olde and yonge,
Alle understonden english tonge.”

The dates of the progress of English to the regained status of official language of the country are relevant to the Cornish claim.

John Trevisa says that John (of) Cornwall began to teach schoolchildren Latin through English not French and this approach was taken up by Richard Pencrych and then others. As I have tried to show, they were riding a wave, reflecting what was happening in the country: the shift from French began in the 1200s and English replaced French thoroughly in the 1300s as the status and universal language of England. Trevisa translated Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon, written in Latin, into English in 1385, two years before Chaucer began the Canterbury Tales. Higden said that French was the language of school instruction and this diminished English. In his translation Trevisa adds his own comment to Higden’s account and says that this was the position “tofore the furste morayne,” that is before the Black Death in 1348-49. However, he continues, the position “ys setthe somdel ychaunged” because John Cornwall “chayngede the lore in gramerscole and construccion of Freynsh into Englysch and Richard Pencrych lurnede that manere techyng of hym” and that the position in 1385 is that “in al the gramerescoles of Engelond childern leveth Frensch and constueth and lurneth an Englysch.”

Higden wrote his Polychronicon in the middle of the fourteenth century; Trevisa, writing in 1385, does not give the year of John Cornwall’s change to English as the language of instruction in schools, but Trevisa’s wording suggests the change to English as the language of instruction was after the Black Death.

Note that Trevisa had no part in these school changes except to record his observation of them. Stevenson (1901) point out that Pencrych more likely came not from Cornwall but from Penkridge in Staffordshire; and Orme, informed by OJ Padel, says that the surname is not Cornish.

Of course the vast majority of boys did not go to “gramerscole” in fourteenth-century England and would be unaffected directly by changes there; no girls went. The evidence strongly points to language changes happening in several spheres in England during the fourteenth century and the schools, like parliament and the courts and the kings, followed them. The two men from Cornwall were an integral part of those changes but not the saviours of English. English did not need saving.

For an account of John Trevisa see FOWLER David C (1995) The life and times of John Trevisa, medieval scholar University of Washington Press. Also see the database in ORME Nicholas ‘The Cornish at Oxford’ in the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall 2010, 43-82; page 61 discusses John Cornwall.


Dialogue of the Exchequer (De necessariis observantiis scaccarii dialogus). This was written in the 1170s. There are various texts giving various readings; none of the texts is the original. The free translation in this post is mine.
“…sed iam cohabitantibus Anglicis et Normannis et alterutrum uxores ducentibus vel nubentibus, sic permixtae sunt nationes ut vix decerni possit hodie, de liberis loquor, quis Anglicus quis Normannus sit genere; exceptis duntaxat ascriptitiis qui villani dicuntur, quibus non est liberum…”

BATES David (October 1989) ‘Normandy and England after 1066’ in English historical review pages 851-880

STEINSALTZ David (2002) ‘The politics of French language in Shakespeare’s history plays’ in SEL studies in English literature 1500-1900 John Hopkins University Press. Steinsaltz is quoting GALBRAITH VH (1982) ‘Nationality and language in medieval England’ in Kings and chroniclers: essays in medieval history Hambledon, London, pages 124-125.

STEVENSON WH ‘The introduction of English as the vehicle of instruction in English schools’ in KER WP (1901) (ed) An English miscellany: presented to Dr Furnivall Clarendon Press

THOMAS Hugh M (2003) The English and the Normans: ethnic hostility, assimilation, and identity 1066-c1220 OUP


England as a name for the country only appears in the tenth century, Cornwall earlier

The name of England
The main way of reference in the early middle ages was the king of the x people, rather than king of x land, king of the West Saxons rather than king of Wessex. The reference is to peoples not territory. To an extent we are looking for a form, x land, that was unusual in these times though there are examples. Henry II (reigned 1154-1189) used both the titles rex Angliae and rex Anglorum, king of England and king of the English. Pevious Norman kings only rex Anglorum (Nicholas 1838).

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC) shows development in the use of language over time and it is difficult to know how some of the phrases in the ASC are to be taken. For example, the ASC for 866 writes (MS A) of “Angelcynnes lond.” Is that to be understood as the land of the English people or as England? In MS C for 986 it tells of a cattle plague “on Angelcyn.” Does that mean among the English people or in England? (See Swanton 1996, pages xxxii and 125 for a discussion of semantic shift in Old English in the ASC. He suggests that “the insistence on people rather than place reflects a migratory tradition”.)

Another difficulty is that the name of the Anglians, one of the groups of English people, eventually became the name of the whole country and people and language in the forms England and English. It is not always possible to tell whether a reference to Angli or Engle, without a geographic tag such as East, is to the Anglians or to the English people of the whole country collectively. Who did the pope mean when in 595 he wrote of the Angli? Bede (died 735 CE), who wrote his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum in Latin, refers to Angli frequently, that is to people, as in the book title, and to the land of the ‘Angli’ and refers to the English church, the church in all England, rather than just the Christian church in his historic Anglian areas of Mercia, Northumbria, and East Anglia (and Jutish Kent). It seems the church was thought of as serving the whole country of the English before the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were united.

It is understandable that in the west the Welsh and Cornish languages refer to the English by their words for Saxon as the Saxons or West Saxons were the people they had most contact with. However, the Scots faced the Anglians and at one time the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria stretched to Edinburgh yet their word for English, Sassenach, is derived from Saxon too. I have not seen any convincing explanation of this. The last dominant group before the Norman Conquest was the West Saxons but, as I shall now explain, Anglian seems to have become the dominant term long before 1066.

The use of English for the language is found early and may have been the ethnic marker that distinguished speakers of ‘Englisc’ as a collective group from Britons (Ward-Perkins 2000, 524 and Charles Edwards 1995).

Ine (ruled 688-726) was a West Saxon king and the word Engliscmon is used in the Laws of Ine, written about 694, originating among the West Saxons. This suggests a common identity for all the English people, Saxons and Angles, perhaps based on the language as mentioned in the paragraph above; but the surviving manuscript for the Laws dates from just after the time of king Alfred (ruled 871-901) and it is possible that an original term has been replaced to reflect the development of a sense of Englishness at that time (Ward-Perkins 2000, 524). The struggles with the Danes during Alfred’s reign would have helped the growth of a sense of English commonality. In several charters from Alfred’s reign he is described as the king of the Anglo-Saxons not just the West Saxons. Examples are “Angol Saxonum rex” and “Angulsaxonum rex” (Sawyer charters 354 and 356). This suggests a growing commonality of the English people.

There seems a confusing variety which suggests the reality was less geographically and perhaps ethnically clear cut than Bede claims in his Historia. Kirby points out that Boniface (ca 672-ca 754), a West Saxon monk, referred to all the ‘English’ as Angles and calls himself one; Levison points out that Boniface, calling himself an Angle, refers to his country as transmarina Saxonia; pope Gregory (ca 540-604) referred to Athelbert, the king of Kent and according to Bede’s scheme a Jute, as a king of the Angles; Vitalian (pope 657-672) referred to Oswiu, a northern king, as a king of the Saxons; and Wilfrid (ca 634-ca 709), the bishop of York is described as bishop of the Saxons (Kirby 2000, 12-14).

An entry in Monasticon Anglicanum (volume 6, part 2, page 608) records that long before this the West Saxon king Egbert (ruled 802-839) in a council at Winchester renamed the kingdom England (written in Latin, Angliam). This suggests that the name England, in contemporary form, was used for the whole country by the early 800s as it is likely that Egbert, a West Saxon, would have changed the name only if it was already in the air. Brut y Tywysogion, or rather the Gwent chronicle edited by Aneurin Owen, records for the year 829 that king Egbert called the country of Lloegr “Inglont” and the language “Ingles.” Neither of these sources is contemporary with king Egbert and it is difficult to assess their claim, whether they are reflecting a genuinely ninth-century or a later understanding of England and the English collectively.

Egbert was not only king of the West Saxons; he became by conquest king of the whole of southern, eastern, and midland England and in 829 received the submission of the Northumbrians, thus becoming then king of all England (with subkings in the formerly independent kingdoms).

Cnut (ruled 1016-1035) interestingly is referred to as ‘king of the Norwegians’ but ‘king of England’ (Robertson 1925, 155-156, cited in Swanton 1996).

See Andreas LEMKE ‘The Old English translation of Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum in its histotrcal and cultural context’ Gottingen University (2015) for a discussion of the name of England and its people and identity.

The name of Cornwall
The element corn appears in all several words referring to the people and place of what is now called Cornwall, in Cornish Kernow.

The name Cornwealum and Cornwalum, spelt in both ways, first appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC) for the year 891/2 in this dative form. Westwealas, variously spelt, which means the West Welsh and is what the English first called the Cornish Dumnonian to differentiate them from the generality of Welsh, is first found in the ASC for 815.

The Welsh annals, Annales Cambriae sub anno 875 have an entry that reads “rex Corniu, id est Cornubiae”. The earliest extant ms dates from the early twelfth century and is derived from lost writing of the late tenth century. The phrase id est Cornubiae is not in this earliest ms.

The Welsh genealogical account, Bonedd y saint, written in the twelfth century from earlier material, records a person Custennin Gorneu, a form of the Welsh for Cornwall, Kernow; the name in English is Constantine of Cornwall.

The Ravenna Cosmography of the early eighth century in a corrupt text records a place Purocornavis (verses 30-32). Its location is not known but it appears to be in Cornwall and presumably is a corruption of the unattested form Durocornavium. Note that the Antonine Iter 13 (second or third century) records a place Durocornovio in Wiltshire.

The tribal name Cornovii seems to have been given by Romans to tribes in Cornwall, the west midlands and Shropshire, and Caithness in the far north of Scotland. I cannot discern any likely common meaning of corn here.

Ptolemy (ca 90-ca 165) in his Geography (book 2, chapter 2) records Land‘s End as Bolerium, a Latinised form of the Greek Bolerion (with various spellings) used by Diodorus Siculus in his Bibliotheca historia written in the first century.

Dumnonia as a place distinct from other British areas appears to develop from the physical separation of the British after they lost the battle of Deorham in 577 to the West Saxons. Cornwall as a place distinct from the rest of Dumnonia, which largely became Devon and Somerset, seems to have developed as the West Saxon culture and administration subsequently spread westward and the distinction was perhaps confirmed by the expulsion from Exeter by Athelstan around 936.


CHARLES-EDWARDS T (1995) ‘Language and society among the Insular Celts’ in GREEN M (ed.) The Celtic World (London, 1995) (cited by Ward-Perkins)

DUGDALE William et al Monasticon Anglicanum: a history of the abbeys and other monasteries, hospitals, friaries, and cathedrals and collegiate churches, with their dependencies, in England and Wales Originally published as three volumes 1655-73, published in other editions since.

KIRBY DP (2000) The earliest English kings Routledge

LEVISON W (1946) England and the continent in the eighth century Oxford. Cited in HARRIS Stephen J ‘Bede, social practice, and the problem with foreigners’ in Essays in Medieval Studies 1996 (13, 97-109) Illinois Medieval Association

NICHOLAS HN (1838) Chronology of history . He reprinted the regnal titles from TD HARDY (1837) ‘Introduction’ to the Roruli chartarum ; the titles are described as “incomplete and inaccurate” by Denys HAY in footnote 1 on page 56 in his ‘The use of the term Great Britain in the middle ages’ in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1955-56 pages 55-66, volume 89.

OWEN Aneurin Chronicle of the princes (Brut y Tywysogion)
From: Archaeologia Cambrensis the journal of the Cambrian Archeological Association for 1864 (volume 10, 3rd series): page 10 in the appendix at the end of the journal, after page 370.

ROBERTSON AJ (ed) (1925) The laws of the kings of England from Edmund to Harold I , page 155-156, Cambridge, cited in Swanton 1996, footnote page xxxii-xxxiii

SWANTON MJ (1996) The Anglo-Saxon chronicle Dent (and later issues)

WARD-PERKINS Bryan ‘Why did the Anglo-Saxons not become more British?’ in English Historical Review June 2000, 513-533


The Tamar border between Cornwall and England was fixed in a treaty between Athelstan and king Huwal of Cornwall in 936 AD


The references we have to a Huwal (or Howel or Hywel) are not to any treaty about a Tamar border. The references to a Tamar border do not mention any treaty.

Our knowledge of the establishment of the Tamar border is from a brief passage in William of Malmesbury’s Gesta regum Anglorum written in Latin about two hundred years after the claimed event (see item 10 of Aristotle’s teeth).

In his Gesta regum Anglorum William of Malmesbury says that after receiving the subjugation of the rulers of the Northern Welsh (including Hywel Dha who was ruler in southwest Wales and was not the Huwal of Cornwall) at a meeting at Hereford, Athelstan went to Exeter and fiercely drove out the West Britons from the city and over the river Tamar. No date is given and this event is recorded only in William’s history though he presumably got it from a source unknown to us; no treaty is suggested or mentioned in the account and Huwal of Cornwall is not mentioned in it.

There is one other incident that is relevant.

In MS D of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the entry for 926, written in the late eleventh to early twelfth century, there is a record of a meeting at Eamont Bridge of king Athelstan, the victor, and the vanquished rulers. This says that Huwal, the king of the West Welsh, was among the kings of Britain who were subjugated to Athelstan: “Huwal Westwala cyning”. The submission at Eamont Bridge that might be regarded as a treaty.

This Eamont Bridge meeting is also recorded in the Chronicon ex chronicis by John of Worcester (or Florence of Worcester, the authorship is questioned), written in Latin in the early twelfth century. This also records Huwal, king of the West Britons “(Occidentalium Brytonum”) in a list of kings who were first defeated by king Athelstan and who then did homage to him at Eamont Bridge in 926.

The references to Huwal are fleeting; the brief account of the setting of the Tamar boundary definitely does not mention any treaty or Huwal.

The Huwal whose name appears as a witness on several of king Athelstan’s charters in the 930s as Howel or Howaell and described there as a subking (“subregulus”) is Hywel Dda of Wales. There is a reference only in MS A of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 918 to Howel one of the kings “on Northwealum” but this is clearly a king in Wales not Cornwall.