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The duchy of Cornwall is one of two royal duchies in Englandmarker, the other being the duchy of Lancaster. The eldest son of the reigning British monarch inherits the duchy and title of Duke of Cornwall at the time of his birth, or of his parent's succession to the throne. (If the monarch has no son, the estates of the duchy are held by the crown, and there is no duke.) The current duke is Charles, Prince of Wales.

The duchy owns land totalling 571 km² (or 135,000 acres). Nearly half of the holdings are in Devonmarker, with other large holdings in Cornwallmarker, Herefordshiremarker, Somersetmarker and Walesmarker For the fiscal year 2007, the duchy was valued at £647 million, and annual profit in 2007 was £16.3 million, thus yielding 2.5%.

As a crown body managed by the crown estate, the duchy is exempt from paying corporation tax, but, since 1993, the prince of Wales has voluntarily paid income tax. The prince paid a voluntary contribution to the treasurymarker of 50% of his duchy income from the time he became eligible for its full income at the age of 21 in 1969, and he has paid 25% since his 1981 marriage. Tax is calculated after deducting business expenditure, the biggest source of which is the prince's staff of about 110 persons, including private secretaries and a valet working in his office at Clarence Housemarker and at Highgrove Housemarker. Detailed records are kept to determine the split between public and private expenditure.

Duchy of Cornwall dispute

For some Cornish people, the duchy, as shown by Thomas Pemberton Leigh and the officers of the duchy of Cornwall in 1855, in its dispute with the crown over the ownership of the Cornish foreshore, has quite a different significance, based on the original Acts and Charters of its creation. Cornwall itself, in this framework, is described, de jure, as a duchy (as opposed to an ordinary county), and the duchy estates are distinguished from the duchy itself, having themselves been annexed and united to "the aforesaid duchy". The duke of Cornwall may even be described as Cornwall's head-of-state. For example, the duke traditionally had a ceremonial role in summoning the Cornish Stannary Parliament. In addition, the treasury solicitors agency for Bona vacantia considers the duchy of Cornwall to comprise the county of Cornwall.

The duchy and the county

It should be noted, however, that the administrative machinery of Cornwall almost invariably refers to itself as a county. Although it can be argued that the administrative county and duchy, in this sense, are separate co-existing entities, this should be considered within the context of the honour (kingdom/dukedom) within which exists the necessary infrastructure for administration and taxation (county/shire). The administrative county of Cornwall, therefore, is within the duchy of Cornwall. The reason the Royal Commission on the Constitution (Kilbrandon, 1973) recommended that Cornwall be officially referred to as 'the duchy' was to recognise concerns over its territorial integrity.


The duchy was established in 1337 by Edward III of England for his son, Edward, prince of Wales. The significance of this honour can be seen in the subsequent charter of Henry IV to Prince Henry:

"We have made and created Henry our most dear first-begotten Son, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall and Earl of Chester, and have given and granted, and by our Charter have confirmed to him the said Principality, Duchy, and Earldom, that he may preside there, and by presiding, may direct and defend the said parts. We have invested him with the said Principality, Duchy, and Earldom, per sertum in capite et annulum in digito aureum ac virgam auream juxta morem."

By this charter, all the manors of the earldom passed to the duchy and are known as the Antiqua maneria.

It is commonly understood that the former earldom of Cornwall was raised to a duchy by the First Duchy Charter on March 17, 1337. Although this now appears to be entitled the 'Charter of Creation', it was originally called 'The Great Charter' and within it, it can be seen as referring to the fact that a duchy had been created. This charter is simply an enumeration of what this territorial possession comprises in terms of territory, estates, revenues, and rights, both public and private. This was done to remove, as stated within the charter, any doubt as to what the honour comprised. During the latter period of the earldom of Cornwall various parts of this territorial possession were granted as separate parcels (for example, stannaries, vice comitatus, and so forth) which could have been construed as a severance from the earldom. The purpose of the first charter was to show clearly that these still formed part of the honour. From this, it is shown that it is:
:A) incorrect to assign the name of this territorial honour exclusively to the estates, which formed only a part of the possessions "annexed and united" the duchy of Cornwall; and,
:B) considered inappropriate to use the name of this territorial honour as a commercial brand name.

Legal rights

Both the duchy of Cornwall and the duchy of Lancaster (since 1399 held by the monarch in a personal capacity) have special legal rights not available to other landed estates: for example, the rules on bona vacantia operate in favour of the holders of the duchies (as opposed to the crown) and there are separate attorneys-general for the duchies. Generally, the exemptions all tend to follow the same line: any rights pertaining to the crown in most areas of the country instead pertain to the duke of Cornwall in right of the duchy.

In 1780, Edmund Burke sought to curtail further the power of the crown by removing the various principalities which existed.

… the five several distinct principalities besides the supreme …. If you travel beyond Mount Edgcumbe, you find him [the king] in his incognito, and he is duke of Cornwall …. Thus every one of these principalities has the apparatus of a kingdom …. Cornwall is the best of them….

However, his Parliamentary Bill failed, due to the fact that the current duke (George, b. 1762) was still a minor.

Andrew George, MP

On February 11, 2009, the West Cornwallmarker member of Parliament, Andrew George, met with specialists in the House of Commonsmarker Library to discuss his ongoing research into constitutional aspects of the duchy of Cornwall. Mr George has been researching the legal privileges granted to the duchy in the fourteenth century in order to determine whether these archaic arrangements are still applicable (and even useful) to Cornwall and Scilly in the context of a modern democratic state meeting its ambitions for future constitutional development.

The duchy as a private estate

Thomas Pemberton Leigh, Attorney General to the duchy of Cornwall, collated a large body of evidence in the 1858 Cornish Foreshore Case that showed Cornwall to be extra-territorial to Englandmarker. For example, on George III's accession on October 25, 1760, he surrendered crown lands held in England, Walesmarker, and Scotlandmarker to the state in return for an annual civil list payment (an unearned allowance). The duchy of Cornwall (that is, Cornwall) was excluded from this legal arrangement, so today the crown estates have no jurisdiction in Cornwall.

High sheriffs must, by law, swear an oath of allegiance to the sovereign, but the high sheriff of Cornwall swears an oath of allegiance to the duke. Nearly all laws passed for England and Wales today do not apply to the duke or his territorial possession known as the duchy of Cornwall, and only two named individuals in the UK have the privilege of ignoring just laws: the sovereign of the UK and the sovereign of Cornwall "in right of his duchy of Cornwall".

Various laws, and the government’s own legal department, state that the duchy of Cornwall is co-terminous with the administrative area of Cornwall and, to this day, the queen is the owner of last resort of all land in England, Wales and Scotland, but not of Cornwall.

Discrepancies in the great charter translations

The English translation of the First Duchy Charter of 1337, as deployed in Rowe v. Brenton, states that the King's son is duke of Cornwall and heir to the kingdom of England: " have and to hold to the said duke, and to the first begotten sons of him and his heirs, Kings of England, (such sons) being dukes of the said place, and heirs apparent to the said kingdom of England."

A later government translation states that "the King's son is 'Duke of Cornwall in the Kingdom of England'" (Halsbury's Laws 1973).

The charter roll of March 16, 1337 announcing the great charter said that inspiration "was drawn from the time when Cornwall was recognised as being a separate kingdom, and that the intention was to 'restore Cornwall’s original ancient honours'."

Today, the duchy states that the "main purpose of the charter is to create an income for the duke".

In 1857, the duchy stated that the "three charters confirm and acknowledge Cornwall as being co-terminous with the Duchy, which is extra-territorial to England and subject to its own chief ruler, law-making apparatus, and tax-raising regime."

Today the duchy states that "it is merely a collection of private estates".

Halsbury's Laws refer only to the March 17, 1337 great charter. Two subsequent charters of March 18, 1337 and January 3, 1338 confirming that Cornwall was for all time to be subject to its own law-making regime, and not subject to England’s Summons of Exchequer, are not referenced.

In 2006, the case for Cornwall, in respect of alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, Articles 6, (independent and impartial courts); 8, (respect family life); 10, (freedom of expression); 13, (violations by officials); 14 with Protocol 12, (discrimination on the grounds of association with a national minority, property, birth or other status); 17, (the official destruction of rights); Protocol 1 Article 1, (property rights) with 385 supporting documents, was submitted by members of the Cornish Stannary Parliament to the European Court of Human Rightsmarker. On April 13, 2006 the Court stated that it "will deal with the case as soon as practicable".

The duchy in the Interregnum, 1649-1660

On the death of King Charles I the Crown lands came under the control of Parliament; this lasted until the restoration of King Charles II in 1660.


Lord Warden of the Stannaries

Chancellor (Keeper of the Privy Seal)




  • 1808–1829: Benjamin Tucker

Keeper of the Records


  • 1957–?: Edmund Parker



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