William Cornwallis (died 1614)

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For the British Admiral who fought in the Napoleonic Wars, see William Cornwallis.

Sir William Cornwallis (ca. 1579 – 1614) was an early English essayist.


He was the elder son of Sir Charles Cornwallis by his first wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Farnham of Fincham in Norfolk; and was M.P. for Lostwithiel in 1597 and for Orford in 1604 and 1614. He appears to have been knighted in 1602.

Cornwallis is often confused with his uncle of the same name.[1] The latter was a friend of Ben Jonson, and employed him to write Penates, or a Private Entertainment for the King and Queen, on their visit to his house at Highgate on May-day, 1604.[2] The elder Sir William Cornwallis died in 1611; this William Cornwallis therefore sometimes described as "the younger", and is the cousin of Anne Cornwallis, Countess of Argyll, who married Archibald Campbell, 7th Earl of Argyll as his second wife.[1]


Cornwallis spent his life in studious retirement. His essays are in imitation of Montaigne. His works include:[2]

  • Discourses upon Seneca the tragedian, 1601, 1631.
  • Essayes by Sir W. Cornewaleys (E. Mattes), 1st part 1600, 2nd part 1610, 1616, two parts with a frontispiece 1617, and 1632, with the essays on Seneca, 1631.
  • The Miraculous and Happy Union between England and Scotland, 1604.
  • Essays on certain Paradoxes, 2nd edit. enlarged twenty-four leaves, not paged, 1617; one of these essays, The Praise of King Richard III, is reprinted in the Somers Tracts, iii. 316, edit. 1810.
  • Essays or Encomiums, 1616, 1626.
  • Verses in Joshua Sylvester's Lacrymæ Lacrymarum on the death of Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, and lines on the monument of Lucy, Lady Latimer, in Hackney Church (the wife of Sir William Cornwallis the elder).[2]

His Essayes (pub. 1616) are written, unusually for the time, in the tradition of Montaigne, rather than that of Francis Bacon. He also wrote Essayes of Certaine Paradoxes (1617) containing the "Encomium on Richard III," and Discourses upon Seneca the Tragedian (1601), the first book in English on the drama of Seneca the Younger.


Cornwallis married on 26 August 1595 Catherine, daughter of Sir Philip Parker of Erwarton, Suffolk, by whom he had his eldest son, Charles, and other children.[2]


  • Sir William Cornwallis, Discourses upon Seneca the Tragedian, London, 1601. Facsimile ed., introd. by Robert Hood Brown, 1952, Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, ISBN 9780820112206.


  1. ^ a b Kincaid, Arthur. "Cornwallis, Sir William, the younger". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/6345.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b c d  "Cornwallis, William (d.1631?)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 

External links[edit]


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Cornwallis, William (d.1631?)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.