Brief history of the Duchy of Cornwall
The official version of duchy history
Previous official versions of duchy history
Analysis of latest ducal claims
Suppression of Cornish identity
Duchy of Cornwall latest

The Survey of Cornwall is much vaunted by Anglo-centric historians and has been reprinted and redistributed at least twice – once in 1953 and again in 1969. Perhaps they appreciate the fact that, at a time when the Cornish language was facing increasing marginalisation, Cornwall-based Carew wrote an essay entitled the Excellency of the English Tongue which stated: Saxon, our natural language.

Cornwall as Duchy within England: As a means of re-defining the existing constitutional framework in favour of an expanding and consolidating England, lawyer, judge and historian Sir John Doddridge was commissioned to create a compromise situation. His 1603 [first published 1630] Historical Account of the Ancient and Modern State of the Principality of Wales, Duchy of Cornwall and Earldom of Chester begins: The uttermost part of this island towards the west, stretching itself by a long extent into the ocean, is called Cornwall. This territory was anciently reputed a Dukedom . . . . until at a time it was a-new constituted a Duchy, the first erected in England after the Conquest.

In Doddridge’s original text, the words ‘in England’ are highlighted in the way I have shown. This reveals where Doddridge’s real purpose lay. For his work was undertaken at the behest of the London Government and presented to the King himself. The intention was to portray Cornwall as a duchy, but, for the first time, place that duchy firmly within England. Anglophiles ensure Doddridge’s message never falls by the wayside. For as with Carew’s Survey, Doddridge’s text has also been reprinted twice, once in 1714 and again in 1973. Anglophile’s usually shape their historical accounts around quotes from Carew and Doddridge, rarely quoting relevant extracts from Norden.

It should be noted that Doddridge does not attempt to infer that Cornwall is a shire county. Nor does he attempt to differentiate between the territory of Cornwall or the Duchy of Cornwall. He readily admits that the territory of Cornwall is the Duchy of Cornwall. This is because his paymasters only concern [at this stage] is to get the duchy placed within England. The joint duchy/London government strategy of separating the territory of Cornwall from the Duchy of Cornwall, thereby portraying Cornwall as a county of England and the duchy as a ‘private estate’, came much later.

It is clear from the above that the Anglo/Cornish jurisdictional conflict that had prompted the formal establishment in 1337 of a Duke of Cornwall was ongoing. However, the duchy government found itself increasingly at odds with the London government’s UK project.

The Cornish people had been militarily subdued, official references to Anglia et Cornubia were becoming a thing of the past, maps were being redrawn to show Cornwall as a county of England and administrative absorption of Cornwall into England continued apace. Yet this course of action would render the heir apparent fiscally dependent on the royal household at a time when questions were beginning to be raised about the cost of such a constitutional luxury.

A sovereign without a territory?

In the early modern period, the Duchy of Cornwall’s special status was overlooked as other, larger, overseas territories captured the attention of the imperial government. The duchy was now officially portrayed as being in England, and in any event Cornwall was undergoing de facto administrative absorption into England/United Kingdom. People forgot about Cornwall’s unique status and the heavily propagandised inhabitants of Cornwall came to believe they were part of the England/UK political bloc. However, whilst Cornish distinctiveness suffered, it was never extinguished, and the de jure legal separation remained.

In 1855 a financially motivated territorial dispute broke out between the government of the Duchy of Cornwall and the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The dispute centred on which government owned Cornwall’s increasing lucrative tidal riverbed, foreshore and undersea mineral assets. The Duchy of Cornwall was obliged to re-state its independence and prove once again that Cornwall lay within the Duchy of Cornwall’s jurisdiction. A startled UK government was forced to concede duchy independence. The subsequent Cornwall Submarine Mines Act 1858 acknowledged that Cornwall was co-terminus with the Duchy of Cornwall, and that Cornwall was the soil and territorial possession not of the Queen in right of the Crown of the United Kingdom, but the Duke of Cornwall in right of the Duchy of Cornwall.

The duke was effectively ‘sovereign’ because he held Cornwall against the Crown, not from the Crown. This is why today in Cornwall, bona vacantia falls to the duke as presumptive, absolute and ultimate owner of the soil and territorial possessions of Cornwall. In the UK the Queen in right of the Crown is absolute owner and bona vacantia falls to her. Moreover, as the presumptive, absolute and ultimate owner of the whole of Cornwall, the leaseholders and freeholders of Cornwall hold their land from the government of the Duchy of Cornwall. East of the Tamar, citizens hold their land from the Crown. A careful reading of the whole of the original Act of 1858 reveals that the Act restricts UK government jurisdiction to Cornwall’s offshore waters.

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