Compared to the rest of the British Isles, Cornwall is known for its unique heritage and culture due to its independence until the 10th century. Cornish culture is celebrated for its independent mindset and stout ideals in the face of change. This makes the Cornish people hard-working and resilient. The Cornish language is vastly different from its English counterpart, this is due to Cornwall having a Brittonic language of the Celtic language family, much like Welsh, Irish and Scottish.
Cornwall is renowned throughout the Isles for its unique mining culture due to the large tin deposits found in the region. The historical significance of such a small part of the British Isles is felt widely throughout the world, as the Cornish helped revive the English language and also being on the forefront of mining technology, which allowed the growth of several economies around the world. This small section of Cornish history already makes it worthy of such study and fame.
From First Settlement To The Roman Occupation
The area of Cornwall has been permanently inhabited by humans for over 10,000 years, with several settlements in the region having been found mining the rich Cornish tin deposits, showing how prominent the mining culture is in the region. Fragments of Cornish culture have been found off the coast of modern Israel through shipwrecks dating to this period, with explorations of the region dating back to roughly 60 BCE with the mention of the land by the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, and the land being called ‘Belerion’ by the Greeks and Romans with the latter Occupying Cornwall and the Celtic people that lived there.
The Cornish-inspired architecture was built by the Romans using uniquely Roman materials. These buildings were separate from the rest of the isles and demonstrated a Cornish culture prevalent on the island. At this time, Cornwall was also known for connecting the British Isles to mainland Europe through the English Channel, showing its significance and benefit.
Cornwall in the Dark Ages
Devon and Cornwall held out against the Germanic conquest and settlement of Britain by the Saxons, Angles, and Jutes as the Kingdom of Dumnonia. Cornwall still kept close cultural ties with Ireland, Wales, and Brittany due to their Gaelic heritage and stood together against the Saxon threat. As the Kingdom of Dumnonia ceased existing at the beginning of the ninth century, the Kingdom of Cornwall prevailed and remained independent but far more cut off from cultural contacts. However, while Cornwall was independent, its borders shark considerably throughout the years and eventually was confined by the river Tamar
.Eventually, the Cornish people were subjugated by the Anglo-Saxons by the mid-tenth century. Although occupied, Cornish culture remained prevalent in the region, and the language was still widely spoken. Through the use of the Catholic Church, Cornwall was slowly anglicized through the appointment of English priests in the area.
From William the Conqueror to Oliver Cromwell
William the Conqueror appointed survivors of the Cornish royal line to prominent positions of leadership in Cornwall. The Normans built castles in the region, and the town that grew around Launceston Castle would go on to be the capital of the county. The Cornish were paramount in the translation of the Bible into English, with John of Trevisa being particularly important. This work brought the English language back from the verge of extinction back into relevance. Even by the 15th century, the Cornish language continued to be spoken and used in the region. the Tudor dynasty began suppressing Cornwall’s unique status through the use of administrative centralization.
In 1549, the Cornish people revolted against the English. This revolt was orchestrated by resentful tin miners due to the increased taxes put on the Cornish to help fund the levy of an army to go against Scotland. This caused significant financial hardships for them and intruded on a special Cornish tax exemption. The rebellion would be defeated at the Battle of Deptford Bridge. During the English civil war, Cornwall acted almost as a royalist enclave in the Parliamentarian south. This was due to the strong Cornish identity which saw the king as the protector of their privileges.
From the Victorian era to modern-day Cornwall
In the Victorian era, Cornwall was at the forefront of mining expertise and innovation. However as tin became increasingly scarce, Cornishmen emigrated to areas like the Americas and Oceania where their experience was in very high demand. This era was the peak of Cornish smuggling to avoid import fees by utilizing Cornwall’s rugged coastline. The Jamaica inn was famous for its involvement in the smuggling business.
With the revival of interest in Cornish culture in the 20th century, more people began to run for power to serve the interests of the people of Cornwall. Recently, Cornish became an ethnicity recorded in the national census in 2001 and gained minority status in 2004. This shows the slow revival and appreciation of the Cornish people and the Cornish culture which is still happening to this day.