CORNWALL - GENERAL HISTORY.
RICHARD of Cirencester says that this county took its name from the Carnabii;
it is more probable on the contrary, that those people took their name from
that of the country they inhabited: the truth seems to be that the country was
called by its antient inhabitants, Kernou, or as the Welch write it, Kerniw, or the
Horn, from its projecting promontories; that it was latinized to Carnubia or
Cornubia; that when the Saxons gave the name of Wealas to the Britons, they
distinguished those who had retired into Kernou or Cornubia, by the name of
Corn-wealas; and their country was thus called Cornuwall or Cornwall: that is,
Cornish-Wales. (fn. 1)
Antient Inhabitants, Language, and Government.
From the map of Roman Britain, it appears that the northern part of this
county, as far as the river Camel and Padstow haven, was antiently inhabited by
a British tribe called the Cimbri; the eastern part, as far as Falmouth haven, by
the Danmonii, and the remainder by the Carnabii. Before the coming of the
Romans, the Danmonii had subdued the two other tribes and usurped their dominions (fn. 2) . When the Romans divided Britain into six provinces, Cornwall formed
part of Britannia Prima; after their departure it became one of the last retreats
of the Britons, who seem to have been sometimes under the dominion of the
kings of Wales, and sometimes to have been governed by independent sovereigns
of their own, either by the names of dukes or kings (fn. 3) , till their country was conquered by King Athelstan, and annexed to the crown of England.
By its royal privileges, and the retention of its antient language, Cornwall still
continued nevertheless to retain some semblance of a distinct sovereignty. The
language, which was a dialect of the antient British, was generally spoken till the
reign of Henry VIII., when the introduction of the English liturgy paved the way
towards its gradual disuse.
It is said to have been at the desire of the Cornish, that the English service was
enjoined in preference to that of their native tongue; whilst in Wales, a contrary
system, which has proved the preservation of their language, was adopted (fn. 4) . Dr.
Moreman, the learned vicar of Menheniot, is said to have been the first in those
days (speaking of the kingdom at large), who "taught his parishioners and people to say the Lord's prayer, the belief, and the commandments, in the English
tongue, and did teach and catechize them therein (fn. 5) ." Mr. Carew, in his survey of
Cornwall, published in the year 1602, speaks of the language as then growing
fast into disuse. "The principal love and knowledge of this language," says he,
"lived in Dr. Kennall the civilian, and with him lyeth buried, for the English
speech doth still encroach upon it, and hath driven the same into the uttermost
skirts of the shire. Most of the inhabitants can speak no word of Cornish, but
very few are ignorant of the English, and yet some so affect their own, as to a
stranger they will not speak it; for if meeting them by chance you enquire the way,
or any such matter, your answer shall be, 'Mee a navidra cowza Sawzneck,' I
can speak no Saxonage."
Hals tells us that in the reign of Charles the First, some of the aged people in the
neighbourhood of Penryn were quite ignorant of the English language, and that
the Rev. Mr. Jackman, vicar of St. Feock, was obliged to administer the sacrament to them in the Cornish. Ray found only one person who could write the
language in 1663, but we are told by Mr. Scawen, that not long before the year
1678, a sermon was preached in it by the Rev. Mr. Robinson, rector of Landewednack. In the early part of the last century, as Dr. Borlase informs us, it was
still generally spoken by the fishermen and market-women in the extreme southern
part of the peninsula; in his Natural History, published in 1758, he speaks of the
language as having altogether ceased, so as not to be spoken anywhere in conversation. Some aged people however retained it rather later; Mr. Daines Barrington
gives an account of an old fish-woman of Mousehole, the only person he could
find or hear of, who spoke the Cornish language, when he made the tour of
Cornwall in 1768, as related in a communication to the Society of Antiquaries.
In 1776, in a further communication on the same subject to the society, it is stated
on the authority of a fisherman of Mousehole, that there were then four or five
persons besides himself who could converse in Cornish.
Dr. Pryce of Redruth, in his preface to his Archæologia Cornu-Britannica,
published in 1790, speaks of a very old man then living at Mousehole, as the only
person, to the best of his knowledge, who was capable of holding half an hour's
conversation on common subjects in the Cornish tongue. He afterwards says, that
there were a few other ancient persons who pretended to jabber it, but that they
were very illiterate, and their speech very much corrupted, although their pronunciation was generally correct. Mr. Whitaker, in his tour to the Lands-End, in
1799, heard of two persons who even then spoke it, but he had not an opportunity of ascertaining the fact. We find, upon inquiry, that there is no person
now who can converse in the language, though some old people are acquainted with many words of it, which they have learned from those of the last
A few MSS. are extant in the Cornish language, the most remarkable of which
are some interludes (fn. 6) , partly written in the fifteenth century, and a poem called
Mount Calvary, all of which were translated by Mr. J. Keigwin. Mr. Edward
Lloyd, who made a journey into Cornwall to collect materials for that purpose,
in 1700, published a Cornish grammar, in 1707. Dr. Borlase gives some Cornish
proverbs in his Natural History; and at the end of his Antiquities of Cornwall
has printed a Cornish Vocabulary. Dr. Pryce of Redruth, in 1790, published
Archæologia Cornu-Britannica, or an attempt to preserve the ancient Cornish
language, comprising a Cornish grammar, a copious vocabulary, lists of Cornish
names of places with their etymology, the Lord's prayer, creed, and commandments in Cornish, colloquies, a Cornish song, &c. &c.
It seems most probable, that the Dukes and Earls of Cornwall continued to possess
that shadow of sovereignty which they were allowed to retain immediately after the
conquest of the county by Athelstan. Carew speaks of it as an entire state by the
name of a kingdom, principality, duchy or earldom. We are told that the Earls of
Cornwall were always privileged with "royal jurisdiction and crown rights, giving
of liberty to send burgesses to parliament, and appointing a sheriff, admiral, and other
officers (fn. 7) " before the creation of the duchy, which took place in the year 1337,
when Edward the Black Prince was created Duke of Cornwall, and the duchy
settled by act of parliament on the eldest son of the King of England. Large
revenues were annexed to the duchy (fn. 8) , and the immediate government of the county
vested in the Duke, who has his Chancellor, Attorney, and Solicitor-general, and
other officers, his court of Exchequer, with the appointment of sheriffs, &c. &c.
The important concerns of the mining trade (which will be spoken of more at
large hereafter) are under a separate jurisdiction, at the head of which is the Lord
Warden of the Stannaries (fn. 9) and under him the Vice-Warden, the final appeal being
to the Duke and his council. The ancient privilege of the miners to be exempt
from all other jurisdiction than that of the Stannary courts, (except in such cases as
should affect land, life, or limb,) was confirmed by King Edward III. (fn. 10) The Vice-Warden's court, held generally once a month, is a court of Equity for all matters relating to the tin mines and trade, from which no writ of error lies to the courts at
Westminster, but there is an appeal to the Lord Warden, and from him to the Duke
and his council, or, during a vacancy of the duchy, to the King and his council.
Issues are frequently directed by the Vice-Warden to be tried in the Stannary courts
which are held at the end of every three weeks (except in the Stannary of Foy More
in which there is scarcely any business for the court), before the steward of each
Stannary, and a jury for trying all civil actions arising within the Stannaries in which
either the plaintiff or defendant is a privileged tinner. Appeals may be made from
this court to the Vice-Warden, and from him as in the other cases. (fn. 11)
King Henry VII., when he confirmed their ancient privileges, granted, that no
new laws affecting the miners should be enacted by the Duke and his council without the consent of twenty-four persons called Stannators, chosen six out of each of
the four Stannaries or mining districts (fn. 12) . The meeting of these Stannators, who
are some of the principal gentlemen of property in the mining districts, is called a
Stannary parliament, and, on their assembling, they choose a speaker. These parliaments have been convened occasionally by the Lord Warden, as the circumstances of the times have called for new laws, or a revision of the old. The last
Stannary parliament was held at Truro in 1752, and continued, by adjournments,
to the 11th September 1753.
The Stannary laws of Cornwall were published in an octavo volume in the reign
of Queen Anne, and again in folio with the laws and customs of the Stannaries of
Devon, by Thomas Pearce, in 1725 and 1750. The Stannary prison is at Lostwithiel: at the same town were kept the ancient records of the Stannaries which
were burnt in the civil war.
The assizes for the county were invariably held at Launceston from an early
period, till the time of Richard, King of the Romans, who, having built a
palace at Lostwithiel, transferred the assizes thither; but on a petition from the
men of Launceston, he consented, on the payment of a fine, that they should be
held as had been accustomed; and it so continued (except during the ravages of
the plague, when the assizes were held at Saltash), till the reign of George I. In
the year 1715, an act of parliament was passed, by which it was enacted, that after
the 20th of May 1716, the assizes should not be confined to the town of Launceston.
In consequence of this act, they were held alternately at Launceston and Bodmin,
till the year 1727, after which they were held solely at Launceston as before,
till the summer assizes in the year 1738, when the alternate arrangement, which
has ever since continued, was again adopted (fn. 13) ; the spring assizes being held at
Launceston, the summer at Bodmin.
The quarter sessions were formerly held at Bodmin and Truro, the sessions
beginning always at Bodmin on the Tuesday, and being adjourned to Truro on
the Friday. About the year 1580, as we find from Carew's survey, this arrangement was altered, and the whole sessions held at each place alternately; but this
having been found liable to inconveniences, before the publication of his work
(1602), it had been arranged, that the sessions should, "interchangeably, one quarter begin at Bodmin and end at Truro, and the next begin at Truro and end at
Bodmin." The Michaelmas sessions are now held wholly at Bodmin, the Easter
sessions at Truro, and the Epiphany and Mid-summer sessions at Lostwithiel. This
arrangement has subsisted many years.
The county-gaol was formerly at Launceston, being the old prison within the
precincts of the castle. It is described by Dr. Borlase (fn. 14) as a narrow wretched place
for human creatures to be confined in, all supposed innocent till convicted; but
here, he says, the "innocent and the guilty must be contented to remain till their
fate is determined, or a better one is built." This has since been happily accomplished, a commodious and well-arranged county gaol, upon Mr. Howard's system,
from a plan of the late Sir John Call, having been erected at Bodmin, under the
powers of an act passed in 1778. It was completed in 1780.