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The Kingdom of Cornwall (Cornish: Kernow) was an independent polity in southwest Britainmarker during the Early Middle Ages, roughly contiguous with the modern Englishmarker county of Cornwallmarker. During the the sub-Roman and early medieval periods Cornwall was evidently part of the kingdom of Dumnonia, which included most of the West Country, but the exact nature of its relationship with the kingdom is unclear. Between the 7th and the 10th centuries most of Dumnonia's land was gradually taken by the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessexmarker, and Cornwall emerged as a rump state known to the Saxons as West Wales. It is unclear when exactly Cornwall was finally conquered and absorbed into England, but it had certainly happened by the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042–1066), when it was part of the Earldom of Wessex. Since then, the titles Earl of Cornwall and Duke of Cornwall have been used by the English peerage, beginning in the reign of William I.


Its name could derive from a possible British tribe called the Cornovii, whose existence is implied from the place-name "Durocornovio" meaning Fortress of the Cornish (Dyn Kernowyon in the Cornish language), recorded in the Roman Ravenna Cosmography. Another theory is that the name is a geographical reference to the horn shaped peninsula itself; the common Celtic root cern, or the Latin cornu, both of which mean "horn" or "peninsula", suggestive of the shape of Cornwall's landmass. Kernow is the Cornish language name of Cornwall to this day, with cognates in Welsh Cernyw and Breton Kernev. (Kernev is also the Breton form of the region of Brittany known in French as Cornouaille.) Its name in Latin was Cornubia, but it was known to the Anglo-Saxons of neighbouring Wessexmarker as the kingdom of the West Welsh, later as Cornwallmarker.

Status and character

Cornwall seems to have originally been part of the greater kingdom of Dumnonia, although tradition seems to indicate that it had its own monarchs at times and may have been one of a number of sub-kingdoms. It was certainly independent after the majority of the latter kingdom fell under Anglo-Saxon control in the 8th century.

Two waves of migrations took place to Armorica (Brittany) from Dumnonia and Cornwall and this may have resulted in rulers who exercised kingship in both Brittany and Cornwall , explaining those occurrences of the same names of rulers in both territories.

Cornwall had remained largely un-Romanized and settlements continued in use into the post-Roman period. It is suggested that the kings were itinerant, stopping at various palaces, such as Tintagelmarker and Celliwig, at different times of the year. Lesser lords built defended 'rounds' like Kelly Roundsmarker and Castle Doremarker.

Cornwall may have reverted to paganism after the Roman departure from Britain, or perhaps Christianity never reached these far-flung parts of the Empire. In the 5th and 6th centuries, however, the area was according to tradition evangelized by the children of Brychan Brycheiniog and saints from Irelandmarker. There was an important monastery at Bodminmarker and sporadically, Cornish bishops are named in various records until they submitted to the See of Canterbury in the mid-9th century (Cornwall being included in the Diocese of Sherbornemarker).

Kings of Cornwall

Cornish monarchs are recorded in a number of Old Welsh documents and Saints' Lives as well as in local and Arthurian tradition:

Since the 19th century, there has been controversy concerning a certain Huwal, "King of the West Welsh". This character only appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for 927, accepting King Athelstan of Wessexmarker as his overlord. 'West Wales' was an old term for Dumnonia or Cornwall, but may also refer to present day West Walesmarker, then generally known as Deheubarthmarker, where Hywel Dda was king. Other 'kings', such as Ricatus, mentioned on memorial stones may have ruled more localised regions.

According to William of Worcester, writing in the 15th century, Cadoc, described as the last survivor of the Cornish royal line at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, was appointed Earl of Cornwall by William I of England.

In the De Gestis Herewardi Saxonis written in the 12th century it is recorded that Hereward the Wake took refuge in Cornwall in the 11th century at the court of the Cornish Prince or King Alef.

An early 17th century pedigree of a so-called 'Earl of Cornwall' in the Book of Baglan [680825] may possibly also represent a list of rulers in Cornwall

Arthurian connection

  • Geoffrey of Monmouth said that King Arthur was conceived at Tintagel Castlemarker.
  • Geoffrey also said that Arthur’s final Battle of Camlann, was fought in Cornwall. According to unreliable tradition this was at Slaughterbridgemarker near Camelfordmarker.
  • Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote in his 'Prophecies of Merlin' (Prophetiae Merlini ) "that the race that is oppressed shall prevail in the end, for it will resist the savagery of the invaders. The Boar of Cornwall shall bring relief from these invaders, for it will trample the necks beneath its feet."
  • Camelfordmarker is sometimes said without justification to have been Camelot.

Arrival of the Saxons and Normans

Canute's territories 1014-1035

Lying in the extreme west of Britain, Cornwall was protected from Anglo-Saxon land invasions until 814 when King Egbert of Wessex subdued parts of Devon that were until then part of Cornwall. Clashes continued throughout the early 9th century and by the 880s Wessex had gained control of at least part of Cornwall, where Alfred the Great had estates. William of Malmesbury, writing around 1120, says that King Athelstan of England (924–939) fixed Cornwall's eastern boundary at the Tamar. The chronology of English expansion into Cornwall is unclear but most historians place the end of independence during the reign of Edward the Confessor. The eldest son of the English monarch became Duke of Cornwall in 1337, in succession to the previous Earls of Cornwall. Cornwall's separate status from England has often been disputed yet was upheld in court as recently as the 1970s with the Tamar Bridgemarker Act (see Constitutional Status of Cornwall).

William Camden writing in his book Britannia in 1607 states:

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.[680826]

Cornwall showed a very different type of settlement pattern to that of Saxon Wessex and places continued (even after 1066) to be named in the Celtic Cornish tradition with Saxon architecture being uncommon in Cornwall. The earliest record for any Anglo Saxon place names west of the Tamar is around 1040.

See also


  • Snyder, Christopher A. (2003), The Britons. Oxford: Blackwell ISBN 063122260X
  • Thomas, Charles (1993) English Heritage Book of Tintagel: Arthur and archaeology. London: B. T. Batsford

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