County, Duchy, Nation or Country? The Case For Cornwall!

by Craig Weatherhill    


FOR many decades, Cornwall has been the poor relation in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  It vies with the west of Wales as being the poorest region of northern Europe, has the UK’s lowest average income and among the UK’s highest domestic overheads.  Although its citizens pay the same proportion of their income in taxes as anyone else, Cornwall has been scandalously underfunded by London for far too long.  In 2002, it was reliably calculated that the UK Government takes £300 million a year more from Cornwall than it gives back (‘Business Age’ magazine).  Cornwall was once a proud independent Celtic kingdom but through historical events which lay outside both democratic and legal process, it has been counted, by London, as part of England since the mid 16th century; its people labelled as “English” and, since 1889, it has been administered as though it were a mere county of England.

Cornwall is much more than that.  It is still home to an indigenous people with a 12,000-year history – with the Welsh, the oldest peoples of Britain – and who are genetically distinct from the inhabitants of England.  It has an ancient and surviving language whose history can be traced back for 5,000 years.  It also has a unique and quite remarkable constitutional status within the UK, which has long been subjected to official and media concealment.  It retains, intact, a legal right to govern itself (also, for the most part, concealed from the public eye); and, for some 700 years, it even has a separate Head of State.

A rapidly growing body of Cornish inhabitants believes that this programme of diminishing Cornwall is holding its community back from advancement in the modern world.  It is their opinion that the appellation of “county”, to the exclusion of other lawful and more senior titles, is detrimental to efforts to give Cornwall its rightful place in the world.  Indeed, the Royal Commission on the Constitution (‘Kilbrandon Report’) in 1973, makes mention of the dubious legality of administrative “county” status being imposed in 1889, and recommended that Cornwall be referred to as a Duchy.  This recommendation has been signally ignored by the UK government and the mainstream media ever since.

Legal opinion regarding Cornwall’s status appears to be in accord.  G.D. Flather QC, Assistant Commissioner for the Boundaries Commission correctly concluded in 1988 that while Cornwall is currently administered by England, a de jure joinder of the two has never been achieved.  More recently, Dr John Kirkhope, a Solicitor, Notary Public and legal researcher based in Weston-super-Mare, has concurred with Flather’s conclusion and several other legal opinions and judgements have also agreed with it.  However, the status quo continues regardless.

The Cornish people are actively being denied the opportunity to state their case to be rightfully recognised as a nation. This, too, is unjust in a society that prides itself upon upholding standards of democracy, fairness and freedom.  We would respectfully ask your indulgence to accept this document as the Case for Cornwall in this regard.


The Genetic Evidence

The last dozen years have seen a major genetic study of the peoples of Britain being carried out by Oxford University under the wing of the Wellcome Trust and headed by Sir Walter Bodmer.  Its findings were published in ‘Nature’ in March 2015.  These results have answered several perplexing historical questions, and revealed some facts that the genetic researchers have described as “striking” and “astonishing”.

In fact, the results indicate that the people of Britain have not had a tendency to move from their post-Roman and earlier tribal areas anywhere on the island since the 7th century.

The Cornish and the Welsh are revealed as having the longest history of any of the peoples of modern Britain, entering an empty island after the Ice Age from a refuge area in the Iberian peninsula, largely coinciding with that occupied by the Basques.  80% of Cornish people and 82% of the Welsh retain the genetic markers of those early Mesolithic colonists 12,000 years ago.

The Cornish people were found to form a genetic group markedly distinct from that of their Devonian neighbours and different again from the genetic make-up of southern and central England, whose early origins from northern Europe (and ultimately from the region of the Ukraine and the northern Balkans) also differed.  The geographical demarcation line between the Cornish and Devonian genetic groups was equally striking:  the River Tamar, Cornwall’s political border for over a thousand years.


The Cornish Language

Cornwall’s Celtic language has a history that is at least 5,000 years old.  According to archaeologist Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe and archeo-linguist Professor John Koch, Celtic originally developed from Indo-European in southwestern Iberia, around the Tagus estuary, c.4,000 BC.  It then became the lingua franca of the Atlantic sea-trading routes, becoming adopted by Ireland and Western Britain by 3,000 BC; and the remainder of Britain by 2,000 BC.

In the early Bronze Age, the language split into two distinct dialects:  Goidelic (Gaelic or Q-Celtic) and Brythonic (British or P-Celtic).  These, in turn, diversified into distinct regional languages during the post-Roman centuries, British or P-Celtic becoming Cumbric, Welsh, Cornish and Breton, the last three of which survive to this day.

Six nations currently retain speakers of their own Celtic languages.  These are:  Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany.  That Cornish died out in the late 18th century is an oft-repeated fallacy, with native speakers being reliably attested as alive as late as 1914, well after a concerted and successful effort to revive the language had been put into action.

Presently, around 560 people in Cornwall count Cornish as their first language, with between 3,000 and 4,000 people using the language on a regular basis, but as a second language.  Many more are currently in the stages of learning Cornish.  Cornwall’s Unitary Council has an active Cornish Language policy that is currently seeing thousands of street signs and settlement nameplates being presented in bilingual form.  Other organizations, such as the National Trust and ‘English’ Heritage, have also adopted active Cornish language policies.

Since 2002, Cornish has been a protected language under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.  Despite this, and the facts at hand, UNESCO, deceitfully advised by government departments in London, declared Cornish as extinct in 2009.  Protests and factual evidence from Cornwall itself achieved a change of heart and, in 2010 UNESCO listed Cornish as alive but critically endangered.

In Cornish, the opening verses of the Book of Genesis appear as follows:

“Y’n dallathvos Duw a wrug an nev ha’n nor.  Hag yth esa an nor neb composter ha gwag, hag yth esa tewlder war vejeth an downder, ha spyrys Duw a wre gwaya war vejeth an dowrow.  Ha Duw a leverys: ‘Bedhens golow,’ hag y feu golow.  Ha Duw a welas an golow, fatell o va da, ha Duw a dhybarthas an golow orth an tewlder.  Ha Duw a elwys an golow dedh ha’n tewlder ev a elwys nos, hag y feu gordhuwher ha myttyn, an kensa jorna.”


Cornwall’s True Name

The true name of any country is that which is used in the traditional language of that same country.  ‘Cornwall’ is a hybrid name coined by pre-Norman English scribes, and adopted by the subsequent Norman administration.  The Cornish, and therefore true, name for Cornwall is Kernow (pronounced: ‘CAIR-nau’).  This is of great antiquity and is first found in the Roman ‘Ravenna Cosmography’ of c.400 AD, within a place-name Durocornouio(n), “fortress of the Cornovii or Cornish” (identified as Tintagel).  It appears in pre-Norman centuries variously as Corneu and Cerniu, reaching its modern form, Kernow, in the 14th century.  The name is believed to translate into English as “(land of) promontory-dwellers.”

West Saxon records, primarily the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, show that the early English referred to the Cornish as Westwalas (and to the Welsh as Northwalas), using the Saxon word walas, which they exclusively applied to Celtic speaking British natives.  In 891 AD (the same year in which the name England is first recorded, and as Englaland), the native and Saxon names became hybridised as Cornwalas, hence Cornwall.

Prehistory and The Roman Empire

The aforementioned genetic evidence is testament to a long and remarkable history of continuity, with none of the pre-Roman “invasions” which were once postulated.  After the arrival of the early Mesolithic colonists, there appears to have been further influxes of people, again from the Biscay coasts, at the beginning and end of the Neolithic period 6,000 and 4,000 years ago, firstly bringing the skills of agriculture and megalith-building, and latterly knowledge of mineral extraction and processing, and the fashioning of metals into implements and weaponry.  West Cornwall in particular is rich in tin and copper. An amalgam of the two produces bronze, thereby heralding the succeeding Bronze Age.  The provenance of these late settlers is not confirmed but the abundance of maritime Bell Beakers, a style originating in western Iberia, strongly suggests that they hailed from Galicia, at the northwestern tip of the Iberian peninsula and which is also rich in tin.

Cornwall is also abundant in iron, particularly in its mid part, and this undoubtedly played a major role in the formation of the Iron Age, around 800 BC.  That tin remained a major commodity for export was confirmed by the writings of Pytheas, a Greek geographer and explorer from the then Greek colony of Massalia (Marseilles); the first known Mediterranean visitor to Britain whose visit occurred c325 BC.  In his Peritou Okeanou (On the Ocean), cited by later classical writers, West Cornwall was the first place in Britain ever to have been written about.  Describing the Iron Age native Cornish of the Land’s End peninsula as “civilised”, “ingenious” and “especially hospitable to strangers” through their frequent contact with maritime Atlantic traders, Pytheas described how tin was extracted and smelted, then formed into ingots which were taken on wheeled wagons to a nearby island which was joined to the mainland at low water; a perfect description of St Michael’s Mount which archaeology has now confirmed as a maritime export and import centre during the Iron Age and Roman period.

For the most part, the 400 year Roman occupation of Britain left the people of the Cornish peninsula to their own devices, constructing just three small forts near navigable rivers (and also near important mineral deposits), and undoubtedly acting as trading centres.  A handful of way markers (“milestones”) were also set up beside two native routeways: one in north Cornwall, the other towards the west and aiming in the direction of the trading port at St Michael’s Mount.  Administration was carried out from distance at Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter).


The Kingdom of Dumnonia and Cornwall

Cornwall’s individual status certainly dates back into prehistory, but there is no written record of it until the post-Roman centuries.  It was originally a named part of an overall Kingdom of Dumnonia, named during the Roman occupation, which stretched from the Somerset Levels to Lands End.  The names of several successive historical kings are listed in genealogies between c.400 AD to c.700 AD.  Thereafter, the record is frustratingly fragmented, but Gerent II (d. c.710); Donyarth (d. 875) and Huwal (fl. c.926) are known of from that period.

Dumnonia ceased to exist as a named entity c.815 AD when concerted westward expansion of the Saxon kingdom of Wessex, under its king Ecgberht, seized most of Devon.  What remained was the kingdom of Cornwall/Kernow (believed to have consisted of most of present-day Cornwall, south and west of the Ottery and Tamar Rivers, plus Dartmoor and the South Hams), which remained so until Athelstan in 926 AD, when he removed the Cornish from Exeter, seized Dartmoor and the South Hams (in which Cornish remained spoken in places during the reign of Edward I), and fixed the River Tamar as the border between the south-western Celtic kingdom and his own English one.  In doing so, Cornwall regained the corner north of the River Ottery in which the majority of place-names are English (in the remainder of Cornwall, the vast majority of place-names derive from Cornish).

Cornwall remained an independent Celtic kingdom until the Norman Conquest, although West Saxon kings gained an increasing amount of influence and land ownership in Cornwall through the Roman church controlled by Canterbury.  It is clear that the Danish king of England, Cnut (r.1016-1035) did not regard Cornwall as part of his realm.  Cnut created a tripartite legal system for the whole of his realm – Danelaw, Mercialaw and Wessexlaw.  This entirely excluded Cornwall from the English legal system; an exclusion that lasted through to the reign of Henry I, where its continued exclusion from that legal system can be noticed in his Leges Henrici.  This prolonged exclusion served to solidify Cornwall’s ancient Stannary laws, and the unique laws written into the Earldom of Cornwall and the subsequent Duchy that survive to this day.

The Earldom of Cornwall

After 1066, the Norman conquerors recognised Cornwall’s distinct status. According to William of Worcester, Cadoc, last of the Cornish royal line, was still alive and referred to as eorl.  William I assumed ownership and direct rule in most of England but, in Cornwall, he appointed an Earl of Cornwall to act, rule and manage estates on his behalf as viceroy in a similar fashion to the Viceroys appointed by Queen Victoria in India. Cadoc may have died before he could be appointed but William I’s initial appointments were deliberately chosen Celtic speakers, being Breton in the case of Earls Brient and Alan.  Breton and Cornish were, at that time, almost identical languages.  In doing this, William built upon an existing administrative structure, and recognized the close affinity between Cornwall and Brittany.

Although some place-names of Norman-French origin are found in Cornwall (e.g. Baripper, Reawla, Catchfrench), they form a tiny minority. The Celtic majority of place-names remained, indicating that Norman-French was not forced upon the Cornish, who appear to have been treated very differently, and much more kindly, than the Saxon English were by the Norman kings.  The Cornish language continued to flourish, and not reduced to peasant status as Middle English was at that time.  It is an ironic fact that English was seriously endangered by the 13th century but saved from a threatened extinction by large publications such as the Polychronicon, produced in English by three Cornish-speaking scholars:  John of Cornwall, John Trevisa and Richard Pencrych.  Within 50 years of their contribution, English replaced French as the official language of the Court, and was saved to enjoy its future success.

Earls of Cornwall continued to be appointed throughout the Plantagenet era, although several later Earls were rarely seen in Cornwall.  Earl Richard, for example, built a strategically useless castle on the site of the post-Roman royal seat at Tintagel to deliberately use a locational association with the revered kings of the past, real and legendary (Arthur), in order to gain popular support and further his own aims of being crowned “King of the Romans”, which he achieved in Aachen in 1249, becoming the richest man the world has ever seen.  (Tintagel Castle was then left to decay).

It should also be mentioned that, on some copies of Magna Carta of 1215, the separate arms of England and Cornwall appear at top left and right of the document.  Also, until 1549, court documents commonly contained the phrase “in Anglia et in Cornubia” (‘in England and in Cornwall’), while Cornwall continued to be shown on maps which include the Mappa Mundi as a distinct entity, Cornubia, separately named from Anglia (England), Wallia (Wales) and Scotia (Scotland).  That convention also ceased after 1549.

The Duchy of Cornwall

The Earldom of Cornwall was terminated and superseded by the Duchy of Cornwall by way of three Royal Charters of Edward III in 1337 and 1338, for his eldest son Edward, the “Black Prince” and all future male heirs to the throne.  The Duchy has remained in place from then until the present day.  The intention seems to have been twofold:  to provide the heir to the throne with revenue chiefly derived from the 17 Duchy Manors; and to provide him with a training ground in the art of sovereignty.

There have been several disputes regarding the rights and status of the Duchy of Cornwall.  Perhaps the most significant was that between the Duchy and the Crown between 1855 and 1859 over rights to the Cornish foreshore.  This was settled, in favour of the Duchy, out of court and on the strength of a painstakingly researched submission by the Duchy’s Attorney-General, Thomas Pemberton-Leigh, and material gathered by his predecessor, Sir George Harrison.

This asserted, and was accepted, that the Duchy of Cornwall was extra-territorial to the throne of England; and that all rights, powers and prerogatives enjoyed elsewhere by the Crown were, in Cornwall, wholly vested in the Duke who, to all intents and purposes, was quasi-sovereign: Head of State and ruler of Cornwall.  The Crown, therefore, holds no jurisdiction in Cornwall and, during times when there is no living Duke, the Crown holds the Duchy in trust, but is not permitted to make decisions regarding its structure or function.  As A.L. Rowse commented, there may not be a Duke of Cornwall, but there is always a Duchy.  The Duchy remains distinct and unique.  It owns Cornwall through an “allodial” right to the land, permitting it to own the freehold to every square inch of Cornwall.  Under the terms of the Duchy Charters, agents of the Crown cannot operate in Cornwall without the express written permission of the Duchy.

In the last two centuries, successive Dukes of Cornwall have shown no interest in ruling as Cornwall’s Head of State but, instead, have portrayed themselves simply as owners of a “private estate”.  However, as legal expert Dr John Kirkhope has noted, it is a very peculiar private estate that has rights of bona vacantia, right of wreck, ownership of the foreshore and the fundus of rivers in Cornwall, the right to appoint its own High Sheriff.   It is an extremely curious private estate that has the right (as outlined below) to convene a national legislative parliament with extraordinary powers: the Cornish Stannary Parliament through which the Duchy operated its own courts and taxation system (known as “coinage”), and also had the right to summon its own militia.

In practice, a second Duchy of Cornwall has been created, and by no formal process.  The first is that which was founded in 1337, and consists of the entire territory of Cornwall.  The second is the “private estate”, consisting of additional estates and enterprises which have been acquired in a variety of geographical locations within and outside Cornwall by successive Dukes.

The details of the Duchy of Cornwall and its powers and rights testify that Cornwall is no mere “county of England”.  It has an entirely different and quite unique status.  How that status can actually be defined remains undetermined.  In the 1850s, Thomas Pemberton-Leigh, the Duchy’s Attorney-General, held that Cornwall was much like a “County Palatine”.  Dr John Kirkhope offers an alternative view: that Cornwall more closely, but not entirely, resembles a Crown Dependency, with similarities to the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, neither of which are part of England or the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  In the 17th century, Sir Matthew Hale said that Cornwall was like a County Palatine but was not because it lacked exclusive jurisdiction. Cornwall, therefore, resembles both a County Palatine, and a Crown Dependency, but conforms to neither one.  Its constitutional status is absolutely unique.  In Dr Kirkhope’s learned opinion, the Seignory of Sark is the closest current parallel to the Duchy of Cornwall, although differences are still apparent.  Cornwall is, quite simply, unique and in a category of its own.

Cornwall is not specifically named in the 1707 Act of Union and it is possible that not only is it certainly the only part of the British mainland that is not ruled by the Crown, but may even be excluded from the overall United Kingdom.  The truth is far from clear but these are questions that both government departments and the Duchy continually avoid.

The Crown appears to take the view that Cornwall is a constituent nation of the UK.  In 2012 at the Queen’s Jubilee flotilla on the Thames in London, the Royal Barge Gloriana flew the flags of the UK’s constituent nations:  England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland (flying the saltire of St Patrick which had not been seen since before 1972), the City of London (very much a state within a state), and Cornwall’s Cross of St Piran, all six flying in absolute equality.

The Council of the Duchy of Cornwall (more recently renamed the Prince of Wales’s Council) is another mysterious entity that appears to exercise more power than generally realised.  Its members are appointed, not elected, and its only member who is resident in Cornwall is the current High Sheriff.  The public are not made privy to the proceedings of this Council whose undemocratic influence on decisions affecting Cornwall and its people is widely suspected of being substantial.

Officers of this Council include: Secretary and Keeper of the Records (effectively its Chief Executive Officer);  Attorney-General; Receiver-General; Lord Steward (also referred to as High Steward, Seneschal and Chief Commissioner); Solicitor-General; High Sheriff of Cornwall; Lord Warden of the Stannaries and Vice-Warden of the Stannaries.  There are further offices which do not appear to be currently filled:  Auditor; Keeper of the Privy Seal, Surveyor-General; Herald of Cornwall and, curiously, Vice Admiral of the Duchy of Cornwall (not appointed since 1917).  One can argue that this is all a very strange set-up indeed for a mere “private landed estate”.

The principal role of the Lord Warden of the Stannaries is to convene Cornwall’s legitimate legislative Parliament when so instructed.  This has not happened since 1752, but the office continues to be filled.


The Parliament of Cornwall

The true antiquity of Cornwall’s parliament will never be known, but it is generally agreed that it predated the Norman Conquest.  With the major part of Cornwall’s medieval economy being based upon tin extraction, it was formed around this activity and was variously known as the Convocation of Tinners and as the Cornish Stannary Parliament.

Under this system of governance, Cornwall was divided into four areas, or Stannaries.  These collectively provided 24 elected Stannators and 24 Assistant Stannators.  Over time, this Parliament gained full legislative power in the Duchy, with Stannary Courts also being formed.  These not only heard disputes involving mining, but also cases of assault, trespass, defamation and company law.  Appeals arising from Stannary Court decisions went to the Prince’s Council (“Duchy Council”), and then to the Privy Council, but not to the ordinary courts of England.  Stannary Courts were abolished in the late 19th century, but Stannary Law was not abolished, and cases under Stannary Law are still heard in the 21st century.

In 1497, Henry VII of England suspended the Stannary Parliament and imposed crippling taxes to fund his campaign against Scotland.  The Cornish rose against him, marching in force to Blackheath on the edge of London, where they were heavily defeated by Henry Tudor’s army.  Undaunted, the Cornish rose and marched again in the same year, supporting the pretender Perkin Warbeck’s claim to Henry’s throne, but this was aborted en route when Warbeck deserted them.

Henry VII later agreed to forgive the Cornish people and, for the princely sum of £1,000, he not only restored the Stannary Parliament in 1508 but, under his Charter of Pardon, granted it the astonishing and perpetual power of veto over Acts and Statutes enacted by the parliament in Westminster.  The included term “their heirs and successors” then brought the Stannary and its powers beyond merely the realm of mining and all its service industries, to surely encompass the entire Cornish community.

It is a little known fact that the powers of the Cornish Stannary Parliament, including this right of veto, remain intact at law to this day.  This was confirmed in 1977 to Plaid Cymru’s Member of Parliament, Dafydd Wigley by the government’s Attorney-General Lord Elwyn Jones.  A further question regarding who had the right to abolish this Cornish Parliament and its right of veto produced an unexpected answer from the Hansard Library: that only the Cornish people had that right (and not “the people of Cornwall”, a quite deliberate distinction).

However, the Duchy allowed the Parliament to lapse.  It was last convened by the Duchy in 1752, and met for the last time in the following year.  From that time onward, successive Dukes of Cornwall have signally failed to reconvene Cornwall’s legitimate Parliament but it is to be stressed that the Duchy continues to appoint the officer whose task it is to convene that Parliament when instructed:  the Lord Warden of the Stannaries.

Professor Robert Pennington, author of Stannary Law (1973), stated of the Cornish Stannary Parliament that:  “no other institution has ever had such wide powers in the history of this country (i.e. the U.K.)”, and that it remains capable of being summoned.  The lapse of 263 years does not negate or cancel a law, a fact supported by judgements in several prominent legal precedents.


The Anglicisation of Cornwall

This began in earnest from 1549, following Henry VIII’s acrimonious break with the Roman Catholic church.  After Henry’s death, and the succession of Edward VI, a sickly 9-year old boy, the self-appointed “Lord Protector” Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and uncle of the new king, and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer took it upon themselves to impose a new Protestant English State religion upon the land under the Act of Uniformity.

The Cornish people took this imposition, of both religion and the language in which it was to be conducted, very badly indeed.  A considerable proportion of Cornish people in 1549 spoke no English at all, but they were well used to centuries of Latin services, with Cornish language elements included.  Cornish forces under Sir Humphrey Arundell  marched east once again, laying siege to Exeter for five weeks, and fighting five brutal battles with English forces strengthened by mercenaries from Germany and Italy.  The appalling nature of this conflict included the atrocity of 900 unarmed Cornish prisoners having their throats cut in just 10 minutes by the German lanzknechts under the command of Lord William Grey. (To this day, ‘English’ Heritage refuses to recognise these known battle sites or to include them in the Register of British Battlefields).  The Cornish and their allies from the Dartmoor Stannaries were defeated, and after horrifying death-squads under Provost Marshal Sir Anthony Kingston were sent into Cornwall, an estimated 11% of Cornwall’s male population were slaughtered, a detail seldom mentioned in history books.  The overall death toll may have been as great as 20% of the entire Cornish population.

The Cornish Parliament’s absolute and perpetual right of veto of Acts and Statutes of Westminster, as represented by the Cornish Articles of Demand sent to London, had been totally ignored in the case of Cranmer’s Act of Uniformity, just 41 years after being granted by Royal Charter of Henry VII.  It has been unlawfully ignored by Westminster and Whitehall ever since.

England’s State Religion and language were duly imposed on Cornwall.  No longer did official documents contain the phrase: “in Anglia et Cornubia” (‘in England and Cornwall’), as had been commonplace in the late medieval period.  No longer was Cornwall described as one of the four nations of the island, as many commentators, including Henry VIII’s own chronicler, had done, or shown as such on maps as had previously been the case.  The British Sea, so named from at least Roman times, was renamed the English Channel.  Even the island lying off Looe, “St Michael’s Island” since at least the 13th century, was renamed “St George’s Island” in order to impose England’s patron saint upon the Duchy.

From 1549 onward, Cornwall became regarded by London as part of England, but under no legal process had this been achieved, nor has it ever been so achieved.  Again, we are reminded of the modern legal opinions that while Cornwall may be de facto joindered with England, there is no de jure basis for any such joinder.

In fact, between 1497 and 1645, the Cornish rose against the English no less than six times, and largely because Cornish identity was under attack.  During the Civil War (‘War of the Five Nations’), the Cornish were referred to as “foreigners”, and Parliamentarian encroachment into Cornwall was referred to as “invasion”.

Cornwall continues to be unlawfully denied its true identity and status by the UK Government, and endures the imposition of ongoing acts of assimilation, despite these being prohibited under the Framework Convention for the protection of National Minorities.  Today, it finds itself assailed by official agencies such as English Heritage, Natural England, Sport England, NHS England, Arts Council England, Highways England: the continuing increase of these assimilative titles is seemingly endless.

Cornwall’s National Symbols

Cornwall has, for many centuries, enjoyed its own national symbols.  It has had a succession of patron saints:  the Celtic priest St Petroc (recently appropriated by Devon); St Michael the Archangel, most likely introduced by the Normans, and the Celtic priest St Piran, originally the patron saint of tinners, but now of Cornwall itself.

The annual Feast of St Piran, held on March 5th, is participated in by thousands processing in several towns and across the sand dunes near Perranporth to the 1,500-year old remains of the saint’s oratory.

St Piran
The national flag is the striking Cross of St Piran, a white cross on a jet-black background that, as aforementioned, was flown on the Royal Barge Gloriana alongside those of the other nations of the UK during the Jubilee flotilla in 2012.  The antiquity of the flag is uncertain.  It was mentioned as old by Davies Gilbert in 1824, and is the direct reverse of the original flag of Brittany, with which Cornwall has been closely linked, socially, culturally and linguistically, since the 5th century AD.

Cornwall’s national bird is the Cornish Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), a strikingly noble black corvid with a red curved beak and legs, and a distinctive call.  The Chough vanished from Cornish shores for a period of some 50 years, but has now returned in numbers.

The national flower of Cornwall is taken to be the white flower of the Cornish Heath (Erica vagans), although the yellow flower of the dwarf Western Heath (Ulex gallii) has also been used.

Cornish tartans have been in common use for half a century, notably the Cornish national tartan and the Cornish hunting tartan.

The traditional Cornish motto, adopted by both the old and new Cornwall Councils, is Onen hag Oll (One and All).

Cornwall’s National Anthem is generally agreed to be Song of the Western Men (Trelawny), to a rousing tune with words penned by the Reverend R.S. Hawker.  The Cornish Gorsedh (or College of Bards, similar to those of Wales and Brittany) sings Bro Goth agan Tasow, “Old Land of our Fathers”, to the same tune as the Welsh National Anthem, while “Hail to the Homeland”, by Kenneth Pelmear and Pearce Gilbert, is preferred by some.

Like Wales and Scotland, Cornwall has its own distinct political party, Mebyon Kernow (“Sons of Cornwall”).  The party is 60 years old, has several councillors on Cornwall’s Unitary Authority and, for the General Election in May 2015, fielded candidates in all six Cornish constituencies, although unfairly denied Election broadcasts by the British media.

Cornwall is represented in the International Celtic Congress.  Cornwall also takes part in several pan-Celtic cultural festivals.

Far from being the primitive “Celtic Fringe” people as they are far too often portrayed in the popular media, the Cornish have continued to show the same ingenuity that Pytheas remarked upon in the 4th century BC.  The experience gained over millennia of hard rock mining led to a whole string of remarkable Cornish inventions that went on to transform the world during and after the Industrial Revolution.  The safety fuse for explosives, the mining safety lamp, the steam jet, concrete raft foundations, hydraulic jacks, the steam locomotive, the compound steam engine and the road car were all Cornish inventions.  Maritime skills led to further Cornish inventions such the dipping needle compass, accurate navigational chronometers, the flashing code for lighthouses, the life-saving rocket apparatus, cork life-jackets and the screw propeller, while the very first successful flight of a powered aeroplane was conducted by the son of Cornish emigrants to New Zealand (and not by the Wright brothers, whose flight took place 8 months later).  The ongoing ingenuity of the Cornish people should never be underestimated.

Legal Protections

Cornwall has two of these, both of which fall under the jurisdiction of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg and, after protracted delay and denial, have been agreed to by the UK Government acting as co-signatory to both protections.

The first was enacted in 2002, with the Cornish language being included in the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages and following a detailed and favourable report by Professor Ken MacKinnon commissioned by the UK government.   The obligation under this Charter for the UK government to provide funding for the Cornish language was ignored in 2016 when the government made the decision to cancel all funding for it.

The second protection, also achieved only after several decades of persistent campaigning by the Cornish, and stonewalling by London, was finally placed upon the Cornish people themselves in April 2014.  This declares the Cornish people to form a National Minority group on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.  This now places the Cornish people on a par with their Celtic cousins in Wales and Scotland.  As earlier stated, its prohibiting of acts of assimilation against national minorities continues to be ignored by the UK government with regard to the Cornish.


What, then, is Cornwall?  Is it a mere administrative county of England?  A Duchy with a unique constitutional status?  A nation?  Or a full-blown country?

a) County:  Cornwall has long been referred to as a comitatus, a word which gave rise to the English word ‘county’ and often translated as such, but which, in the medieval period of the documents in which it is found, had a rather different meaning to that understood today.  The meaning of the original Latin word is given as ‘retinue’ but, in the medieval period it described a “territory under a Count (comes)’.  The British equivalent of a Count is Earl and, therefore, the “Comitatus of Cornwall” meant the “Earldom of Cornwall” which it was between 1066 and 1337.

Administrative county status placed on Cornwall stemmed from the Local Government Act of 1888, although curiously, it was not applied to Cornwall until the following year.  The aforementioned Royal Commission on the Constitution 1973 highlighted the many doubts regarding the legality of this action and, indeed this was yet another Act of the Westminster Parliament imposed in contempt of the Cornish Parliament’s lawful Right of Veto.

A county is also defined as a “shire”, but Cornwall has never been a shire.  In fact, several of its ancient internal divisions, known as keverangow (later redefined as “Hundreds”) have in the past had their own names appended with -shire.  That a shire could contain shires is an absurdity.

b) Duchy:  That the entire mainland territory of Cornwall, including the bed and waters of the River Tamar has been a Duchy since 1337 is beyond doubt.  It is perpetual and enshrined in law.  Moreover, it is a Duchy with unique standing, extra-territorial to the Crown and with a different Head of State, different laws and different privileges than England or the remainder of the UK.  As the defined legal status of Cornwall is more reminiscent of both County Palatine and Crown Dependency, this removes Cornwall from the status of a mere “county of England”.

c) Nation:  The Oxford Modern Dictionary gives the definition of ‘Nation’ as follows:  “A community of people of mainly common descent, history, language, etc., forming a State or inhabiting a territory.”  Cornwall ticks every single box and is most certainly a nation under this definition.  The recent genetic findings confirm that its people are of mainly common descent; its history is unique in Britain, and it retains its own language with a history dating back 5,000 years.  That it forms a State is confirmed by the existence and constitutional status of the territorial Duchy, and the territory inhabited by that community has been defined by sea and the River Tamar for more than a thousand years.  That Cornwall is a nation in its own right is beyond all reasonable doubt.

d) Country:  The Oxford Modern Dictionary defines “country” as follows:  “1a. the territory of a nation with its own government; a State; 1b.  a territory possessing its own language, people, culture, etc.  2 (often attrib.) rural districts as opposed to towns or the capital (a cottage in the country, a country town).  3. the land of a person’s birth or citizenship; a fatherland.  4a. a territory, esp. an area of interest or knowledge.  4b. a region associated with a particular person, esp. a writer (Hardy country).  5. (Brit.) a national population, esp. as voters (the country won’t stand for it).

Cornwall qualifies for appellation as a country, particularly under definitions 1a, 1b, and 5.   It is a territory as a nation with its own government (as already established), even though that government may at present be held in abeyance, but remains intact at law.  It is, again as established above, a territory possessing its own language, people, culture, etc., and it has a national population as evidenced by its inclusion as a protected National Minority.   It can be argued that Cornwall can also claim to conform to definitions 3, 4a and 4b, although these are of less importance in the context of this submission.


Conclusions and Submissions

Dr John Kirkhope

In a personal comment to the author of this submission, Dr John Kirkhope, Notary Public and Solicitor, who has studied in depth the constitutional status of the Duchy of Cornwall, stated that:  “Cornwall is unique.  It is like a County Palatine, but isn’t.  It has a miners’ Parliament but with the most extraordinary powers.  The Duchy is the most astonishing creation, and there is nothing like it in our jurisprudence.  Cornwall is in a category of its own, of which there is just one member: Cornwall.  It is unique unto itself.”

It is therefore clear that, beyond any reasonable doubt, Cornwall fully satisfies the criteria required for appellation as a Duchy, a Nation and a Country.  Its small size and population (530,000) should not be judged as acting against its claim for nationhood: recognised autonomous nations such as Andorra, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, San Marino and Monaco are both smaller than Cornwall in area and population, while the population of Iceland, although occupying a much greater land area, is, at 370,000, considerably smaller than that of Cornwall.  Those smaller nations are all permitted to participate in international sport:  Cornwall is not.

Nonetheless, the UK government and its agencies, including local government, and assisted by the mainstream media, written, audio and visual, continue to deny Cornwall any status other than the legally disputed “county”.  They even deny it the status of Duchy, in complete disregard of the recommendations of the 1973 Royal Commission on the Constitution.  We contend that Cornwall has the right to hold nation status, equal to that enjoyed by Scotland and Wales which, unlike Cornwall, are able to participate in international competitions, such as the Commonwealth Games, the Olympic Games and the World Cup (football, rugby and cricket).

However, the UK Government itself seems to be in a state of confusion regarding Cornwall’s status.  In its fourth compliance report to the Council of Europe in respect of the Framework Convention. it makes specific mention of a forthcoming National Library of Cornwall.  The UK Government, in its announcement of National Minority status for the Cornish in April 2014, stated that this gives the Cornish people the same rights as the Welsh and the Scots.  Clearly, in the government’s own practice, it does not.

Duchy of Cornwall
The UK government, in apparent collusion with the secretive administration of the Duchy of Cornwall, also denies Cornwall the right of autonomy, and its lawful, fully legislative Parliament.  It has even ignored calls for a legislative Cornish Assembly as well as a 50,000 word petition supporting that call submitted in 2001.  It is contended that this continued denial is in itself unlawful as, in 1977, central government’s own Attorney-General, Lord Elwyn Jones, in response to a Question in the House, confirmed that Cornwall’s parliament and its right of veto over Westminster remained fully intact at law.

It is equally clear that this official diminishing of Cornwall’s status over a considerable period of time, has severely disadvantaged the Cornish people, most of whom can no longer afford their own home, and see the quality of life in their own communities being severely eroded by a rampant market in second homes occupied only for a few short weeks in any year.  At present, the Cornish population is bracing itself against an influx of up to 150,000 more people from elsewhere, through an imposition of 52,500 houses, mostly unaffordable to Cornish residents, to be built by 2030 and being insisted upon by the UK government, and its unelected agent in Bristol, to be adopted as policy by Cornwall’s undemocratically imposed (in 2009) Unitary Authority.  This is in complete defiance of Article 16 of the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which prohibits the adverse alteration of population proportions in areas occupied by national minorities.

Although figures can only be estimated, it is believed that, c.1960, the proportion of ethnically Cornish people in the Duchy’s population was in excess of 75%.  Significant inward migration since then has reduced that figure to around 45% and the imposition of 52,500 houses (most of them unaffordable to Cornish residents) may reduce that to 35% by 2030.  It is understandable that many have become convinced that this ongoing reduction of ethnically Cornish people within the Duchy’s overall population is a deliberately planned policy.

It is worth noting that even the young in Cornwall have awareness of identity.  In 2013, 46% of the Duchy’s schoolchildren registered their ethnicity as Cornish, and not as English or British, and the figure exceeded 50% in the following year.  In the UK’s national census for 2011, no specific tick box for “Cornish” was provided, and it was nowhere clear in the Census form that Cornish people were being afforded any right to record their own ethnicity as Cornish.  Nonetheless, a total of 74,000 people did so.

Under the present “county of England” position, Cornwall is reduced to a mere appendage of the island of Britain, devoid of status or identity, and is prevented from furthering itself to a position where it can take up its rightful place in the global community.  It has been further disadvantaged by losing its Member of the European Parliament (shared with Plymouth) and now having to share six MEPs with an artificial “South West” region stretching as far to the east as Gloucestershire, plus Gibraltar.  None of these six MEPs is situated anywhere close to Cornwall, effectively denying it a knowledgeable or representative voice in the European Parliament.  Meanwhile, Luxembourg, with a comparable population to Cornwall, but about half the land area, continues to enjoy the representation no less than six MEPs.

Cornwall’s case for recognition as a Nation and Nation State cannot be furthered within the United Kingdom, where the will of central government and of the Duke of Cornwall’s Duchy reigns supreme, even in the Courts.  It is, therefore, compelled to turn to the international community for help and support in regaining its rightful status.

Kernow Matters respectfully requests full consideration of Cornwall’s case, and formal acknowledgement and recognition of nation status for Cornwall, on a par with that enjoyed by Wales and Scotland. We also request that the UK Government be persuaded to comply with law, restore Cornwall’s right to autonomy and self-governance, and to abandon “county of England” status for Cornwall.  We request that Cornwall be rightfully recognised, within the UK, in Europe and globally, as the Duchy, Nation and Country that it is.

Addendum: The Border Threat 2016

After an aborted attempt during the recent coalition government, the current Conservative government is again, in 2016, posing a threat to Cornwall’s 1,100 year old border in direct defiance of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.  This takes the form of revised parliamentary constituencies, one of which is intended to unite a part of North Devon and a portion of North Cornwall – the historic, cultural and legally enshrined border between them to be wilfully ignored and discarded.  Former Prime Minister David Cameron, in response to Cornish concern during his previous attempt, is on televised record as sneering: “It’s not exactly the Amazon, for Heaven’s sake”.  Clearly, Mr Cameron had neither knowledge nor understanding of the reality of the border’s legal, constitutional, territorial, historical or cultural importance.

No notice is being taken by the UK government of the fundamental differences between the two halves of this proposed constituency, or how both can be adequately represented or even understood by a single Member of Parliament.  The border at the left (east) bank of the Tamar was allegedly determined by treaty between two kings: Athelstan of England and Huwal of Cornwall c.930 AD, and was subsequently written into the Duchy of Cornwall Charters of 1337-8 in perpetuity.  Indeed such Acts of Parliament as the 1997 Tamar Bridge Act observes both this border and the continued existence of separate Heads of State as mentioned below.

The two halves have separate de jure Heads of State, the Duke of Cornwall (Cornwall) and the Monarch (Devon and the remainder of the UK) who each appoint a High Sheriff in the two realms.  Laws pertaining to the Duchy and the Stannary are applicable in one half, but not in the other.  These include bona vacantia, right of wreck and many more.  One half has legal protections, of minority language and ethnicity; the other does not.

The electorate numbers by which this reorganisation is being determined is based upon the electoral roll at the 2015 General Election.  The fact that a marked increase in Cornwall’s population is planned within the next 14 years, at the whim of the Government’s own Planning Inspectorate, is not being taken into account.  This omission is both ludicrous and unacceptable.

It is contended, by the Cornish people, that the determination of the UK government to create this cross-border constituency is in direct and wilful breach of legally binding Charters and Framework Conventions, ancient and modern, British and European.  The government’s openly contemptuous attitude to the Cornish viewpoint has needlessly created considerable anger within the Cornish community and, as explained above, the proposal is entirely impractical, as well as potentially unlawful and unethical.  That a single Member of Parliament can be expected to adequately represent two such contrasting regions within one constituency is a practical absurdity that will seriously disadvantage at least one of those regions.  Without any doubt, and as we have experienced time and again in history, it will be the Cornish half that will be forced to suffer the disadvantage.

The author of this document, on behalf of Kernow Matters, is Craig Weatherhill, a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedh. An archaeologist, historian, writer and scholar of long standing, he also has knowledge of Cornwall’s constitutional status.


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17 September 17, 2016