History of Cornwall
The history of Cornwall begins with the pre-Roman inhabitants, including speakers of a Celtic language, Common Brittonic, that would develop into Southwestern Brittonic and then the Cornish language. Cornwall was part of the territory of the tribe of the Dumnonii that included modern-day Devon and parts of Somerset. After a period of Roman rule, Cornwall reverted to rule by independent Romano-British princes and continued to have a close relationship with Brittany and Wales as well as southern Ireland, which neighboured across the Celtic Sea. After the collapse of Dumnonia, the remaining territory of Cornwall came into conflict with neighbouring Wessex.
By the time of the Norman conquest of England, Cornwall had fallen under the control of the Kingdom of England. In 1337, the title Duke of Cornwall was created by the English monarchy, to be held by the king's eldest son and heir. Cornwall, along with the neighbouring county of Devon, maintained Stannary institutions that granted some local control over its most important product, tin, but by the time of Henry VIII most vestiges of Cornish autonomy had been removed as England became an increasingly centralised state under the Tudor dynasty. Conflicts with the centre took place with the Cornish Rebellion of 1497 and Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549. By the 18th century, Cornwall was incorporated into the Kingdom of Great Britain along with the rest of England and the Cornish language had gone into steep decline. The Industrial Revolution brought huge change to Cornwall, as well as the adoption of methodism among the general populace, turning the area nonconformist. Decline of mining in Cornwall resulted in mass emigration overseas and the Cornish diaspora, as well as the start of the Celtic Revival and Cornish revival which resulted in the beginnings of Cornish nationalism in the late 20th century.
Cornwall's Early Medieval history, in particular the early Welsh and Breton references to a Cornish "king" named Arthur, have featured in such legendary works as Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, predating the Arthurian legends of the Matter of Britain (see the list of legendary rulers of Cornwall).
- 1 Pre-Roman Cornwall
- 2 Roman Cornwall
- 3 Post-Roman and Medieval periods
- 4 Tudor and Stuart period
- 5 18th and 19th centuries
- 6 20th and 21st centuries
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
Late Stone Age
The present human history of Cornwall begins with the reoccupation of Britain after the last Ice Age. The inhabitants may have been related to the Iberians who occupied Spain and Portugal.
The upland areas of Cornwall were the parts first open to settlement as the vegetation required little in the way of clearance: they were perhaps first occupied in Neolithic times (Palaeolithic remains are almost non-existent in Cornwall). Many megaliths of this period exist in Cornwall and prehistoric remains in general are more numerous in Cornwall than in any other English county except Wiltshire. The remains are of various kinds and include menhirs, barrows and hut circles.
Cornwall and neighbouring Devon had large reserves of tin, which was mined extensively during the Bronze Age by people associated with the Beaker culture. Tin is necessary to make bronze from copper, and by about 1600 BCE the West Country was experiencing a trade boom driven by the export of tin across Europe. This prosperity helped feed the skilfully wrought gold ornaments recovered from Wessex culture sites.
There is evidence of a relatively large scale disruption of cultural practices around the 12th century BCE that some scholars think may indicate an invasion or migration into southern Britain.
Around 750 BCE the Iron Age reached Britain, permitting greater scope of agriculture through the use of new iron ploughs and axes. The building of hill forts also peaked during the British Iron Age. During broadly the same time (900 to 500 BCE), Celtic cultures and peoples spread across the British Isles.
During the British Iron Age Cornwall, like all of Britain south of the Firth of Forth, was inhabited by Celts known as the Britons. The Celtic language spoken at the time, Common Brittonic, eventually developed into several distinct tongues, including Cornish.
The first account of Cornwall comes from the Sicilian Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (ca. 90 BCE–ca. 30 BCE), supposedly quoting or paraphrasing the 4th-century BCE geographer Pytheas, who had sailed to Britain:
The inhabitants of that part of Britain called Belerion (or Land's End) from their intercourse with foreign merchants, are civilised in their manner of life. They prepare the tin, working very carefully the earth in which it is produced ... Here then the merchants buy the tin from the natives and carry it over to Gaul, and after travelling overland for about thirty days, they finally bring their loads on horses to the mouth of the Rhône.
Who these merchants were is not known. Historical sources such as Strabo, though not entirely reliable, state that the Phoenicians traded tin with Cornwall. There is no archaeological evidence for this. Some modern historians have attempted to debunk earlier antiquarian constructions of "the Phoenician legacy of Cornwall", including belief that the Phoenicians even settled Cornwall.
By the time that Classical written sources appear, Cornwall was inhabited by tribes speaking Celtic languages. The ancient Greeks and Romans used the name Belerion or Bolerium for the south-west tip of the island of Britain, but the late-Roman source for the Ravenna Cosmography (compiled about 700 CE) introduces a place-name Puro coronavis, the first part of which seems to be a misspelling of Duro (meaning Fort). This appears to indicate that the tribe of the Cornovii, known from earlier Roman sources as inhabitants of an area centred on modern Shropshire, had by about the 5th century established a power-base in the south-west (perhaps at Tintagel). The tribal name is therefore likely to be the origin of Kernow or later Curnow used for Cornwall in the Cornish language. John Morris suggested that a contingent of the Cornovii was sent to South West Britain at the end of the Roman era, to rule the land there and keep out the invading Irish, but this theory was dismissed by Professor Philip Payton in his book Cornwall: A History. The Cornish Cornovii may even be a completely separate tribe, taking their name from the horn shape of the peninsula.
During the time of Roman dominance in Britain, Cornwall was rather remote from the main centres of Romanisation. The Roman road system extended into Cornwall, but the only known significant Roman sites are three forts:- Tregear near Nanstallon was discovered in early 1970s, the other two found more recently at Restormel Castle, Lostwithiel (discovered 2007) and a fort near to St Andrew’s Church in Calstock (discovered early in 2007). A Roman style villa was found at Magor Farm near Camborne. Furthermore, the British tin trade had been largely eclipsed by the more convenient supply from Iberia.
Only a few Roman milestones have been found in Cornwall; two have been recovered from around Tintagel in the north, one at Mynheer Farm near the hill fort at Carn Brea, Redruth, and another two close to St Michael's Mount, one of which is preserved at Breage Parish Church. The stone at Tintagel Parish Church bears an inscription to Imperator Caesar Licinius, and the other stone at Trethevy is inscribed to the Imperial Caesars Trebonianus Gallus and Volusianus.
According to Léon Fleuriot, however, Cornwall remained closely integrated with neighbouring territories by well-travelled sea routes. Fleuriot suggests that an overland route connecting Padstow with Fowey and Lostwithiel served, in Roman times, as a convenient conduit for trade between Gaul (especially Armorica) and the western parts of the British Isles.
Archaeological sites at Chysauster Ancient Village and Carn Euny in West Penwith and the Isles of Scilly demonstrate a uniquely Cornish 'courtyard house' architecture built in stone of the Roman period, entirely distinct from that of southern Britain, yet with parallels in Atlantic Ireland, North Britain and the Continent, and influential on the later development of stone-built fortified homesteads known in Cornwall as "Rounds".
Post-Roman and Medieval periods
In the wake of the Roman withdrawal from Great Britain, in about 410, Saxons and other Germanic peoples were able to conquer and settle most of the east of the island over the next two centuries. In the west, however, Devon and Cornwall held out as the British kingdom of Dumnonia. It had close cultural contacts with Christian Ireland, Wales, Romano-Celtic Brittany and Byzantium via the West Atlantic trade network, and there is exceptional archaeological evidence for Late Antique trading contacts at the stronghold of Tintagel in Cornwall. The Breton language is closer to Cornish than to Welsh, showing the close contacts between the areas.
Relationship with Wessex
However, the early kings of Wessex in particular are notable for their prevalence of Brythonic names and therefore care should be exercised in assuming a stark ethnic antipathy between emergent 'British' and 'English' identities and culture; rather a struggle for dominance of warring elites more or less aligned with eastern 'Germanic' and western 'Romano-Celtic' cultures. Atlantic Brythons were often recorded in alliance with Scandinavian forces such as the Danes, or Normans in Brittany, up to the period of the Norman Conquest.
In the early eighth century Cornwall was probably a sub-dvision of Dumnonia, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in 710 Geraint, king of Dumnonia, fought against Ine, king of Wessex. However, the Annales Cambriae states that in 722 the Battle of Hehil "among the Cornishmen" was won by the Britons. In the view of historian T. M. Charles-Edwards, this probably indicates that Dumnonia had fallen by 722, and that the British victory of that year against Wessex secured the survival of the new kingdom of Cornwall for another one hundred and fifty years. There were intermittent battles between Wessex and Cornwall for the rest of the eighth century, and Cuthred, king of Wessex, fought against the Cornish in 743 and 753.
However, according to John Reuben Davies, Dumnonia ceased to exist around the beginning of the ninth century, but:
- The kingdom of Cornwall, on the other hand, remained as an independent British territory in the face of pressure from Wessex, cut off from fellow Brittonic-speakers in Wales and Brittany by the sea and the West Saxons.
In 814 King Egbert of Wessex ravaged Cornwall "from the east to the west", and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in 825 the Cornish fought the men of Devon. In 838 the Cornish in alliance with Vikings were defeated by the West Saxons at Hingston Down. In 875, the Annales Cambriae record that king Dungarth of Cornwall drowned, but Alfred the Great had been able to go hunting in Cornwall a decade earlier, and Dungarth was probably an under-king. Kenstec (c.833-c.870) became the first bishop of Cornwall to profess obedience to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and in the same period the bishop of Sherborne was instructed to visit Cornwall annually to root out the errors of the Cornish church, further indications that Cornwall was becoming subject to Wessex in the middle of the ninth century. In the 880s Alfred the Great was able to leave estates in Cornwall in his will.
William of Malmesbury, writing around 1120, says that in about 927 King Æthelstan of England expelled the Cornish from Exeter and fixed Cornwall's eastern boundary at the River Tamar. T. M. Charles-Edwards dismisses William's account as an "improbable story" on the ground that Cornwall was by then firmly under English control, but John Reuben Davies sees the expedition as the suppression of a British uprising, which was followed by the confinement of the Cornish beyond the Tamar and the creation of a separate bishopric for Cornwall. It now acquired Anglo-Saxon administrative features such as the hundred system, but unlike Devon, its culture was not anglicised. Most people still spoke Cornish, and place-names are still mainly Brittonic. In 944 Æthelstan's successor, Edmund I, styled himself 'King of the English and ruler of this province of the Britons'.
The antiquarian William Camden wrote in his book Britannia in 1607:
- As for those Cornwallians, although they stoutly bent all their force together in defence of their Countrey, yet soone became they subject to the Saxons, as who neither matched then in number, neither was their Countrey sufficiently fenced by nature to defend them.
The Cornish Church
The first centuries after the Romans left are known as the 'age of the saints', as Celtic Christianity and a revival of Celtic art spread from Ireland, Wales and Scotland into Great Britain, Brittany, and beyond. According to tradition the area was evangelised in the 5th and 6th centuries by the children of Brychan Brycheiniog and saints from Ireland. Cornish saints such as Piran, Meriasek, or Geraint exercised a religious and arguably political influence; they were often closely connected to the local civil rulers and in some cases were kings themselves. There was an important monastery at Bodmin and sporadically, Cornish bishops are named in various records.
By the 880s more Saxon priests were being appointed to the Church in Cornwall and they controlled some church estates like Polltun, Caellwic and Landwithan (Pawton, in St Breock; perhaps Celliwig (Kellywick in Egloshayle?); and Lawhitton. Eventually they passed these over to Wessex kings. However according to Alfred the Great's will the amount of land he owned in Cornwall was very small. West of the Tamar Alfred the Great only owned a small area in the Stratton region, plus a few other small estates around Lifton on Cornish soil east of the Tamar). These were provided to him through the Church whose Canterbury appointed priesthood was increasingly English dominated.
The early organisation and affiliations of the Church in Cornwall are unclear, but in the mid-9th century it was led by a Bishop Kenstec with his see at Dinurrin, a location which has sometimes been identified as Bodmin and sometimes as Gerrans. Kenstec acknowledged the authority of Ceolnoth, bringing Cornwall under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the 920s or 930s King Athelstan established a bishopric at St Germans to cover the whole of Cornwall, which seems to have been initially subordinated to the see of Sherborne but emerged as a full bishopric in its own right by the end of the 10th century. The first few bishops here were native Cornish, but those appointed from 963 onwards were all English. From around 1027 the see was held jointly with that of Crediton, and in 1050 they were merged to become the diocese of Exeter.
The 11th century
In 1013 Wessex was conquered by a Danish army under the leadership of the Viking leader and King of Denmark Sweyn Forkbeard. Sweyn annexed Wessex to his Viking empire which included Denmark and Norway. He did not, however, annexe Cornwall, Wales and Scotland, allowing these "client nations" self-rule in return for an annual payment of tribute or "danegeld". Between 1013–1035 Cornwall, Wales, much of Scotland and Ireland were not included in the territories of King Canute the Great.
The chronology of English expansion into Cornwall is unclear, but it had been absorbed into England by the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042–1066), when it apparently formed part of Godwin's and later Harold's earldom of Wessex. The records of Domesday Book show that by this time the native Cornish landowning class had been almost completely dispossessed and replaced by English landowners, the largest of whom was Harold Godwinson himself. The Cornish language continued to be spoken, particularly in western and central Cornwall, and acquired a number of characteristics establishing its identity as a separate language from Breton. However Cornwall showed a very different type of settlement pattern from that of Saxon Wessex and places continued, even after 1066, to be named in the Celtic Cornish tradition.
According to William Worcester, writing in the 15th century, Cadoc (Cornish: Kadog) was a survivor of the Cornish royal line and was appointed as the first Earl of Cornwall by William the Conqueror following the Norman conquest of England. Brian, son of Eudes, Count of Penthièvre, defeated a second raid in the southwest of England, launched from Ireland by Harold's sons in 1069. Brian was granted lands in Cornwall but by 1072 he had probably returned to Brittany: he died without issue . However, much of the land in Cornwall was seized and transferred into the hands of a new Norman aristocracy, with the lion's share going to Robert, Count of Mortain, half-brother of King William and the largest landholder in England after the king, while some was held by King William and by existing monasteries (the remainder by the Bishop of Exeter, and a single manor each by Judhael of Totnes and Gotshelm). Robert eventually displaced the Cornish Earl though nothing is known of Cadoc apart from what William Worcester says four centuries later. Four Norman castles were built in east Cornwall at different periods, at Launceston, Trematon, Restormel and Tintagel. A new town grew up around the castle and this became the capital of the county. On several occasions over the following centuries noblemen were created Earl of Cornwall, but each time their line soon died out and the title lapsed until revived for a new appointee. In 1336, Edward, the Black Prince was named Duke of Cornwall, a title that has been awarded to the eldest son of the Sovereign since 1421.
A popular Cornish literature, centred on the religious-themed mystery plays, emerged in the 14th century (see Cornish literature) based around Glasney College—the college established by the Bishop of Exeter in the 13th century .
Tudor and Stuart period
The general tendency of administrative centralisation under the Tudor dynasty began to undermine Cornwall's distinctive status. For example, under the Tudors, the practice of distinguishing between some laws, such as those related to the tin industry, that applied simply in Anglia or in Anglia et Cornubia (in England and Cornwall) ceased. The Cornish Rebellion of 1497 originated among Cornish tin miners who opposed the raising of taxes by Henry VII to make war on Scotland. This levy was resented for the economic hardship it would cause; it also intruded on a special Cornish tax exemption. The rebels marched on London, gaining supporters as they went, but were defeated at the Battle of Deptford Bridge.
The Cornish also rose up in the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549. Much of south-western Britain rebelled against the Act of Uniformity 1549, which introduced the obligatory use of the Protestant Book of Common Prayer. Cornwall was mostly Catholic in sympathy at this time; the Act was doubly resented in Cornwall because the Prayer Book was in English only and most Cornish people at this time spoke the Cornish language rather than English. They therefore wished church services to continue to be conducted in Latin; although they did not understand this language either, it had the benefit of long-established tradition and lacked the political and cultural connotations of the use of English. Twenty percent of the Cornish population are believed to have been killed during 1549: it is one of the major factors that contributed to the decline in the Cornish language.
Civil War, 1642–1649
Cornwall played a significant role during the English Civil War, as it was a Royalist enclave in the generally Parliamentarian south-west. The reason for this was that Cornwall's rights and privileges were tied up with the royal Duchy and Stannaries and so the Cornish saw the King as protector of their rights and Ducal privileges. The strong local Cornish identity also meant the Cornish would resist any meddling in their affairs by any outsiders. The English Parliament wanted to reduce royal power. Parliamentary forces invaded Cornwall three times and burned the Duchy archives. In 1645 Cornish Royalist leader Sir Richard Grenville, 1st Baronet made Launceston his base and he stationed Cornish troops along the River Tamar and issued them with instructions to keep "all foreign troops out of Cornwall". Grenville tried to use "Cornish particularist sentiment" to muster support for the Royalist cause and put a plan to the Prince which would, if implemented, have created a semi-independent Cornwall.
18th and 19th centuries
On 1 November 1755 at 09:40 the Lisbon earthquake caused a tsunami to strike the Cornish coast at around 14:00. The epicentre was approximately 250 miles (400 km) off Cape St Vincent on the Portuguese coast, over 1,000 miles (1,600 km) south west of the Lizard. At St Michael's Mount, the sea rose suddenly and then retired, ten minutes later it rose 6 ft (1.8 m) feet very rapidly, then ebbed equally rapidly, and continued to rise and fall for five hours. The sea rose 8 ft (2.4 m) in Penzance and 10 ft (3.0 m) at Newlyn. The same effect was reported at St Ives and Hayle. The 18th century French writer, Arnold Boscowitz, claimed that "great loss of life and property occurred upon the coasts of Cornwall".
Developments in tin mining
At one time the Cornish were the world's foremost experts of mining (See Mining in Cornwall and Devon ) and a School of Mines was established in 1888. As Cornwall's reserves of tin began to be exhausted, many Cornishmen emigrated to places such as the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa where their skills were in demand. There is no current tin mining undertaken in Cornwall, however a popular legend says that wherever you may go in the world, if you see a hole in the ground, you'll find a Cornishman at the bottom of it. Several Cornish mining words are in use in English language mining terminology, such as costean, gunnies, and vug.
Since the decline of tin mining, agriculture and fishing, the area's economy has become increasingly dependent on tourism— some of Britain's most spectacular coastal scenery can be found here. However Cornwall is one of the poorest parts of Western Europe and it has been granted Objective 1 status by the EU.
Politics, religion and administration
Cornwall and Devon were the site of a Jacobite rebellion in 1715 led by James Paynter of St. Columb. This coincided with the larger and better-known "Fifteen Rebellion" which took place in Scotland and the north of England. However the Cornish uprising was quickly quashed by the authorities. James Paynter was tried for High Treason but claiming his right as a Cornish tinner was tried in front of a jury of other Cornish tinners and was cleared.
Industrialised communities have long appeared to weaken the pre-eminence of the Church of England, and as the Cornish people were readily involved in mining, a rift developed between the Cornish people and their Anglican clergy in the early 18th-century. Resisting the established church, many ordinary Cornish people were Roman Catholic or non-religious until the late 18th century, when Methodism was introduced to Cornwall during a series of visits by John and Charles Wesley. Methodist separation from the Church of England was made formal in 1795.
In 1841 there were ten hundreds of Cornwall: Stratton, Lesnewth and Trigg; East and West; Powder; Pydar; Kerrier; Penwith; and Scilly. The shire suffix has been attached to several of these, notably: the first three formed Triggshire; East and West appear to be divisions of Wivelshire; Powdershire and Pydarshire. The old names of Kerrier and Penwith have been re-used for modern local government districts. The ecclesiastical division within Cornwall into rural deaneries used versions of the same names though the areas did not correspond exactly: Trigg Major, Trigg Minor, East Wivelshire, West Wivelshire, Powder, Pydar, Kerrier and Penwith were all deaneries of the Diocese of Exeter but boundaries were altered in 1875 when five more deaneries were created (from December 1876 all in the Diocese of Truro).
20th and 21st centuries
A revival of interest in Cornish studies began in the early 20th century with the work of Henry Jenner and the building of links with the other five Celtic nations.
A political party, Mebyon Kernow, was formed in 1951 to attempt to serve the interests of Cornwall and to support greater self-government for the county. The party has had elected a number of members to county, district, town and parish councils but has had no national success, although the more widespread use of the Flag of St Piran has been accredited to this party.
Recently there have been some developments in the recognition of Cornish identity or ethnicity. In 2001 for the first time in the UK the inhabitants of Cornwall could record their ethnicity as Cornish on the national census, and in 2004 the schools census in Cornwall carried a Cornish option as a subdivision of white British.
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- Timeline of Cornish history
- Constitutional status of Cornwall
- List of Cornish soldiers, commanders and sailors
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||Constructs such as ibid., loc. cit. and idem are discouraged by Wikipedia's style guide for footnotes, as they are easily broken. Please improve this article by replacing them with named references (quick guide), or an abbreviated title. (March 2013)|
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