‘Window to a Wider World’: Early and Medieval Cornwall




Helen Doe, Alston Kennerley, Philip Payton

Writing in 1963, Richard Pearce in his The Ports and Harbours of Cornwall observed what he termed the ‘fundamental significance’ of Cornwall in the maritime history of the British Isles. ‘Cornwall was the most typical and the most “maritime” of all our counties’, he asserted, ‘the one whose people were the most intimately associated with the sea’, and whose ‘known contribution to the nation’s rich maritime life’ had been ‘more varied than that of any other’.1 This, as Richard Pearce recognised, was (even if somewhat overstated) a powerful argument for a maritime history of Cornwall that in 1963 had yet to be written, and would not be for another half century. But it was also, as he no doubt intended, a passionate insistence that, to appreciate fully the historical experience of Cornwall and the Cornish, one had first to understand its all-pervasive maritime dimension.

Moreover, although he did not say so, an understanding of that maritime history would also underpin a broader appreciation of Cornwall’s place in the wider Atlantic, and ultimately global, world to which it belonged and whose histories it had helped to shape. As A.C. Todd argued four years later, in 1967, ‘Cornwall opens a window on the world in a way that no other county’ in Britain could: ‘Geographically it points to the New World’. For voyagers from across the Atlantic, he said, Cornwall’s ‘off-shore rocks and lighthouses are the first glimpses’ of Britain, while for those travellers departing these shores Cornwall is ‘the land’s end and the ocean’s beginning’.2 More recently, Barry Cunliffe, who has charted the creation in early times of ‘an Atlantic identity’ (which included Cornwall), has added that: ‘To stand on a sea-washed promontory looking westwards at sunset over the Atlantic is to share a timeless human experience.’3 As he has explained, tracing that dramatic interface between land and ocean, ‘four great bastions stand out against the sea’ – Cornwall, Brittany, south-west Wales and south-west Ireland – ‘each with its most westerly extremities creating the headlands familiar to sailors for hundreds of generations – Pointe du Raz and Ile d’Ouessant in Brittany, Land’s End in Cornwall, St David’s Head in Wales, and the many daunting crags of Co. Cork and Co. Kerry’.4 In ancient and medieval times, when the Mediterranean was the fulcrum of European civilisation, the Atlantic represented the edge of the known world, albeit one whose limits were ever probed and extended. By the early modern period, however, the Mediterranean had been eclipsed, and the Atlantic was now the great highway through which the expansion of European power and influence would achieve global reach. As Cunliffe has put it: the ‘Atlantic, once the end of the world, was now the beginning’.5

The maritime environment

Cornwall, so integral to that burgeoning Atlantic world described by Cunliffe and hinted at by Todd, and with its sentimental if not yet clearly defined ‘fundamental’ place in popular imaginings of Britain’s maritime heritage, is quintessentially a maritime region. Its maritime identity is deeply rooted in its history – and prehistory – but these in turn have been shaped by the geographical, geological and environmental milieu in which Cornwall exists. Surrounded on three sides by sea and on the fourth almost cut off by the River Tamar, Cornwall is nearly an island. Moreover, it is ‘geologically and scenically unique’6 in Britain, according to geographer R.M. Barton, a structural inheritance that accounts, among other things, for the ‘spectacular coastline’7 that E.B. Selwood, E.M. Durrance and C.M. Bristow described in their The Geology of Cornwall in 1998.

The oldest Cornish rocks are on the geologically complex Lizard peninsula, but most of Cornwall consists of strongly deformed sediments which were intruded by granites in the late Carboniferous or early Permian periods, about 300 million years ago. Earlier, in the main Carboniferous and Devonian periods, most of Cornwall was submerged beneath the sea. Then, in a complex series of geological events, sedimentary material was laid down on the seabed. At the end of the Carboniferous period two landmasses collided spectacularly, forcing this material up into a great mountain range. Some of the seabed caught in the early phases of this collision became the Lizard peninsula. Elsewhere, huge quantities of debris resulting from the collision slipped into what is now part of the southern Cornish coast, in the Roseland peninsula and along the southern side of the Helford River towards Mullion. Ten million years later came the granitic intrusion. A huge mass of molten granite welled up in a line from what is now the Isles of Scilly to Dartmoor. Subsequently erosion laid bare the granite (the Cornubian batholith, as it is called by geologists), forming the granite backbone of Cornwall that we recognise today. In the far west the coastline is itself granitic – with sheer granite cliffs meeting the full force of the Atlantic ocean – and in much of the rest of Cornwall, if we may generalise, the cliffs are composed of metamorphic slate, sedimentary material heated and hardened by the granitic intrusion. Additionally, along the southern coast, are the sunken tidal estuaries or ‘rias’, created by the twin effects of glacial incision of river valleys during the Pleistocene period and later rises in sea level.8

Although Cornwall faces the fury of south-westerly gales from the Atlantic, especially during winter, Cornish weather in geologically modern times has been generally clement, especially compared with other parts of Britain, with temperatures correspondingly higher (and with less variation towards extremes) than elsewhere. This mild, equable climate owes its existence in part to the Gulf Stream, which reaches Cornwall before other localities and contributes to the fact that the western coastal areas of Britain are on average warmer than the eastern. Originating in the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf Stream is a warm and extremely powerful ocean current that exits via the Strait of Florida and makes its way swiftly along the eastern seaboard of North America to Newfoundland, before turning eastwards across the Atlantic. For Cornwall, one of the several beneficial effects of the Gulf Stream has been the encouragement of various species of fish into Cornish waters, not least the ubiquitous pilchard, which was to play a major role in the Cornish maritime economy for several centuries.

The western extremity of Cornwall lies midway between Brittany and Ireland in a wide expanse of sea often referred to as the ‘Western Approaches’ or ‘Celtic Sea’. It is an area exposed to the distant fetch – measured in thousands of miles – of wind, waves and oceanic circulation, which has a major impact on the Cornish peninsula. Roughly congruent with these limits lies the edge of the continental shelf, at a depth of about 100 fathoms (200 metres). It is situated approximately 200 nautical miles from Cornwall and separates the relatively shallow, ecologically rich region from the deep ocean. Indeed, under international agreement that confers national ownership of coastal waters lying within 200 nautical miles of a country’s mainland, Britain claims a wedge-shaped sea area in the Western Approaches largely defined by the shape of Cornwall.9

The seabed around Cornwall is generally less variable and less rugged than the formations found on adjacent land. The slope from the Cornish coast to the north is more gradual compared with the slope to the south, where the depth contours are closer together. Depth is also a factor in determining where different forms of marine life are to be found. Varying temperature layers exist, for example, in which cold-water creatures are found below warm-water species. Cornwall also marks something of a divide between marine life adapted to colder water to the north and that adapted to warmer water to the south. Thus pilchard cellars are found mainly on the south coast of Cornwall. It has long been observed that pilchards and other species appear and disappear in irregular cycles separate from annual cycles. Recent research has shown that a variation of as little as half a degree in seawater temperature affects the presence (or not) of the zooplankton on which these fish feed.

The Western Approaches benefit from the oceanic circulation pattern called the north Atlantic drift, whose Gulf Stream brings warm-water species which find shelter in the varied form of Cornwall’s coastline, with its cliffs, sandy beaches and estuaries. Of course, Cornwall divides these waters and the species they carry, some passing to the north into the Bristol Channel and Irish Sea and others to the south into the English Channel. In both areas the seabed gradually shelves and becomes narrower, the rate of change over distance producing differing effects in the tidal movements of the waters between north and south. These vary principally with the lunar cycle in terms of tidal rise, fall and range. Indeed, tidal stream direction and rates are the most regular and predictable patterns affecting maritime activity, notably fisheries and the movement of shipping, influencing vessel design, harbour usage and port technology. For example, at Padstow the spring rise of tide is about 20 feet (7 metres) and the neap rise 15 feet (5 metres), while at Fowey it is 15 feet (5 metres) and 12 feet (4 metres). Tidal streams average about a knot along the Cornish coast, rising to two knots off headlands such as the Lizard and more for waters among the Scilly Isles.


1.1 Chart of the Western Approaches showing the oceanic reach from Cornwall

Source: J.W. Norie, A Complete Epitome of Practical Navigation

(London: Charles Wilson, 14th edn, 1848, edited by George Coleman), p. 128

Less predictable are the effects of non-tidal currents – arising from oceanic circulation, weather, wind and waves – which can be extreme. Coming up from the Bay of Biscay, for example, is a local variable current that runs northward across the Western Approaches. Before the development of electronic navigation systems many ships, ignorant of their positions owing to days of overcast skies and driven by the Biscay current, were wrecked on the Scilly Isles or the coasts of Cornwall. Similarly hazardous are oceanic waves, which, having travelled long distances, suddenly become more conspicuous and dangerous when constrained by shoaling and narrowing waters. Wind-driven waves are much more local, and follow the wind direction. However, they are often amplified by the seabed, making them a danger to coastal locations and structures.

Cornish maritime activity, lying in the path of temperate zone cyclonic depressions, and with prevailing winds coming from westwards, has always been conducted within a familiar if variable environmental context. Meteorological and oceanographic factors may well have been understood in the oral tradition from ancient times, enabling early mariners to cope with this environment. Yet the maritime environment has always impinged upon the safe operation of shipping of all types, large and small. Eventually, local pilotage knowledge would no longer be adequate to deal with the rapidly increasing number of ship movements, requiring numerous advances in navigational aids. In early times, however, such aids were few and navigation of the waters around Cornwall remained an especially demanding and potentially dangerous task.

Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age

Cornwall’s peninsular location at the south-western tip of Britain projects it into the Western Approaches and the Celtic Sea in a manner that distinguishes it from other parts of maritime Britain. To the immediate west, of course, is the Atlantic, that window to a wider world, and to the south are the Channel and the nearby lands of Iberia, Brittany and northern France. To the north is Wales and, to the north-west, Ireland. In historic times this geographical location deeply influenced Cornwall’s fortunes: as hub of an Atlantic maritime trading and cultural zone reaching out to its near neighbours (and ultimately far beyond), but also, paradoxically, as a peripheral appendage of an emerging English (later British) state with its political centre located in London and the metropolitan south-east. At times Cornwall has been the point of first defence against would-be invaders of the realm; at others it has been the place of first departure for economic or military adventure abroad.10 Both pivotal and peripheral, Cornwall’s location in British history has so often appeared an uneasy, even contradictory balance between these two imperatives - strategic importance in trade and warfare, and distance (even independence) from the metropolis.

As Caradoc Peters explains in his contribution, the strategic maritime location of Cornwall was already important in prehistoric times. By the end of the early Mesolithic period (c. 8000 BC), the new era of ‘hunter-gatherers’, Britain had been cut off from continental Europe by rising seas, and it is here that we detect the origins of maritime Cornwall. Features that are familiar today, such as the sunken tidal estuaries and creek systems of the Fal and Helford, had formed as the ice-cap melted. Encroaching sand dunes (towans) advanced inland, a process still observable in medieval times when sites such as Gwithian and St Enodoc were threatened or engulfed. Likewise, inundations from the sea continued until perhaps as late as the eleventh century: the Isles of Scilly had been essentially a unitary block until about that time, when it fragmented into the archipelago we recognise today. The stumps and roots of submerged forests in places such as Mount’s Bay, revealed when winter storms washed away the covering sand, were also enduring evidence of inundation. Such traces perpetuated folk memory of the rising seas, and tales of a ‘lost’ land of Lyonnesse somewhere off the western coast of Cornwall may be of remarkably early provenance.11

Similarly, a prehistoric belief in river-spirits and sea-gods may also be detected in the enduring themes of Cornish folklore.12 In 1865 the antiquarian Robert Hunt recorded an eerie tale which told of a recurring incident on Porthtowan beach. A lonely voice was heard calling from the sea in the dead of night: ‘The hour is come, but not the man’.13 Then, it was said, a figure shrouded all in black appeared on the cliff above, pausing briefly before rushing down the slope, across the sands and into the sea. The point of the story was straightforward: the sea-god, which sustains life through the bounty of the sea, demands perpetual appeasement, and it is the lot of maritime communities to offer that sacrifice – fishermen lost at sea, for example, or mariners drowned in shipwrecks. Mermaid stories, such as that of Zennor, where unwary locals are enticed beneath the waves by seductive sirens, may also betray the lasting influence of such prehistoric thought.

Archaeological evidence of settlement in the Mesolithic period includes the important Gwithian site, with its advantageous estuarine situation, and other north-coast locations such as Trevose Head and Bude where ‘microliths’ – small stone tools – have been uncovered.14 By the Neolithic period the domestication of animals was increasing and people had learned how to cultivate land and harvest crops: hunter-gatherers had become farmers. This growing sophistication was reflected in expanding trade, including a maritime dimension that may well have included contact with Brittany and Wales and other parts of littoral Britain. In the Late Neolithic era (c. 2700 BC) the ‘Beaker Culture’ arrived from continental Europe, bringing with it new artefacts (including the distinctive pottery after which it was named) and new cultural practices. This was the eve of the Bronze Age, a period that saw the all-important introduction of metalworking. It was not until c. 1400 BC that bronze – an alloy of tin and lead with copper – was in everyday use for weapons and tools but before that it was a precious commodity used for display and prestige by local elites. Earlier still, around 2000 BC, prestige items were more likely to have been made of plain copper or gold. Gold lunulae (crescendic collars), such as those discovered at Harlyn and Gwithian on the north coast, were ‘Irish’ in style but made of Cornish gold, suggestive of an ‘Atlantic’ cultural and trading zone that was by now in the making.15

Mineral-rich Cornwall had abundant deposits of tin, copper and lead – and even some gold – key generators of wealth in this period. Frustratingly, as Caradoc Peters notes, only limited evidence has been uncovered thus far for extensive mineral extraction in prehistoric Cornwall. Nonetheless, archaeologists point to Cornwall (and neighbouring Dartmoor) as the probable source for tin in British bronze artefacts of the period, while tin of probable Cornish provenance has been found in objects in places as far distant as the Netherlands and Bavaria. By the Late Bronze Age Cornwall had become the hub of maritime trading routes that stretched to Iberia and the Mediterranean, and from Ireland to south-east Britain and continental Europe. It was within this complex set of contacts that two new cultural innovations made their way to Cornwall: the use of iron in metalworking, and the speaking of a ‘Celtic’ language.16

The Celtic Iron Age

Today, use of the terms ‘Celt’ and ‘Celtic’ is problematic. There is evidence that the ancient Greeks referred to keltoi – barbarians, or ‘other’ – but it was not until the early modern period that scholars (notably the pioneering Edward Lhuyd, who came to Cornwall c. 1700 to chart the Cornish language and its speakers) began to use ‘Celtic’ to describe the related languages and cultures of Cornwall, Brittany, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man, along with their putative ‘proto-Celtic’ predecessors in mainland Europe. Some archaeologists, therefore, avoid the term when describing the Iron Age cultures of Britain and Ireland. Yet others insist upon its continuing relevance, and reference to the ‘Celtic Iron Age’ remains commonplace – not least in Cornwall.17 It is probable that easily accessible iron deposits in coastal districts – such as the naturally occurring iron bands in the cliffs at Trevelgue, near Newquay – were exploited at an early date. Trevelgue is also the site of an Iron Age promontory fort. First occupied in the early Iron Age, Trevelgue remained in continued (if interrupted) use until perhaps the sixth century AD, remarkable testimony to the enduring value and versatility of such coastal sites.


1.2 Map of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly

(Tim Absolom, The GeoMapping Unit, Plymouth University)

Similar promontory forts or ‘cliff castles’ are found elsewhere in Cornwall, on both north and south coasts, often situated on dramatic headlands. In the extreme south-east is Rame Head – still a distinctive landmark at the entrance of Plymouth Sound – and further westwards along the south coast, near Gorran Haven, is the massive Dodman. Long after its prehistoric occupation had ceased locals marvelled at these ancient earthworks, imagining them to be the work of giants. Robert Hunt was told that the ‘bulwarks’ had been thrown up by a giant in a single night. This giant went on to terrorise the locality but at length he fell ill. The cunning doctor summoned to bleed him waited until the troublesome giant was sufficiently weakened, and then pushed him off the cliff to his death. The four huge ramparts and ditches of Treryn Dinas, another cliff castle further west on the Penwith peninsula, were likewise thought to have been the handiwork of giants, so Hunt was informed, and similar stories attended other sites up and down the Cornish coast. On the north coast, near St Minver, is The Rumps – perhaps the most imposing of Cornwall’s promontory forts – which was occupied between the fourth century BC and the first century AD. Roundhouses have been excavated at the site, along with pottery, animal bones and other domestic items, indicating that, in addition to its supposed defensive role, the fort was an important community centre, as no doubt were the other cliff castles.18

Although tales of trading links with the Phoenicians and Carthaginians remain unattested, there is no doubt that Cornwall by the late Iron Age enjoyed a wide network of international maritime contacts. There is a defended promontory at St Catherine’s Point on the southern edge of Fowey Harbour which may have been an early maritime trading centre.19 Cornwall and Scilly may have been the fabled ‘Cassiterides’ (the Tin Isles) of Classical allusion. Indeed, Cornwall first emerges from the murk of prehistory courtesy of Classical writers such as Strabo, who notes the visit of a Roman official, one Publius Crassus, to organise tin trading with the Mediterranean. Diodorus, another writer, thought the inhabitants of ‘Bolerion’ (Cornwall) remarkably sophisticated and friendly – a result of their extensive trading contacts with other peoples – and explained how tin ore was extracted from the ground, smelted into ingots and then taken to the off-shore island of Ictis for trading with foreign merchants. It has been suggested that this trading post might be St George’s (or Looe) Island but most observers agree that ‘Ictis’ is St Michael’s Mount.20

The Romans and Dumnonia

Contacts with the Roman world grew as the Empire consolidated its rule in Britain, yet Roman intrusion in Cornwall seems to have been limited. Politically, Cornwall appears to have been a pagus or administrative subdivision of the canton of Dumnonia, with its capital at modern-day Exeter.21 Forays west of the Tamar were largely to protect trading interests. Nanstallon fort, near present-day Bodmin and the ancient tin-works along the Camel valley, was a Roman military out-post. Recently, similar forts have been discovered near Lostwithiel, on the River Fowey, and at Calstock on the Tamar: again, both tin-producing areas with riverain access to the sea. At St Enodoc, on the mouth of the Camel, numerous examples of late Roman metalwork and pottery have been uncovered, indications (supported by other more recent archaeological finds in the locality) that there was an important harbour on the Camel estuary in this period.22

The departure of the Legions c. AD 410 led to the gradual disintegration of the old Dumnonia. Irish colonisation and the arrival of Christianity, mass emigration to Brittany and increasing pressure from the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ English aided this long collapse. As Dumnonia faded, so the political entity of Cornwall became more apparent. By the ninth century Anglo-Saxon sources could speak of Cornuwalas and Westwalas: ‘Cornwall’ and ‘West Wales’. Latin texts referred to Cornubia and Old Welsh to Cerniu (‘Kernow’).23 Charting this so-called ‘Dark Age’ period is difficult but there are intriguing glimpses and insights into the continuing significance of Cornwall’s maritime situation, not least in folklore and story-telling. Semi-legendary figures such as the sixth-century ruler Marcus Cunomorus (‘King Mark’) emerge from the haze. Forever associated with this Mark is the story of the tragic lovers Tristan and Iseult, originally an early medieval tale reflecting the strong cultural and trading links between Cornwall, Ireland and Brittany in this period, but soon a drama of high European romance that has remained vibrant down to our own times. In this tale Tristan, Mark’s nephew, is sent to Ireland to seek for his uncle the hand of Iseult, the queen’s daughter, but he himself falls in love with the beautiful princess and is subsequently slain by a furious King Mark.24

Intriguingly, situated close to present-day Fowey is the so-called ‘Tristan stone’, with its Latin inscription DRVSTANVS HIC IACIT / CUNOMORI FILIVS – ‘Drustanus lies here, son of Cunomorus’. This Drustanus has been equated with Tristan of the Tristan and Iseult story, while Cunomorus is thought to be none other than Marcus Cunomorus, the cuckolded King Mark, whose regal fortress – legend avers – is the nearby earthwork of Castle Dore, two miles to the north of Fowey. If, as this circumstantial evidence suggests, these individuals are indeed the characters of the famous tale, then it is all the more complex and tragic, for here Mark emerges not as Tristan’s uncle but as his father. Moreover, the existence of this sixth-century memorial stone, together with Castle Dore and its commanding presence at the southern end of the strategic Camel–Fowey route, linking the north and south coasts of Cornwall, is vivid testament to the early importance of Fowey as a centre of power.

In some versions of the Tristan and Iseult story Mark is connected to the legendary King Arthur. Tales of Arthur, like those of Tristan and Iseult, are of early origin, reflecting the exploits of this semi-mythical leader (or leaders) of the ‘Celtic’ Britons in resisting the intrusions of the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ English. The Arthurian legend was well established in Cornwall by medieval times – evidenced, for example, in its prominence in the recently discovered Cornish-language play Beunans Ke (the ‘Life of St Kea’) – and from there it was taken to the continent by way of Brittany, becoming another tale of high European romance.25 Likewise, stories of Arthur were sometimes entwined with those of the ‘lost’ land of Lyonnesse, the Scillies seen as Arthur’s final resting place, the ‘Isle of Avalon’.26

Arthur was also connected in legend with Tintagel, a link first suggested by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his early twelfth-century The History of the Kings of Britain.27 Anxious to secure the legitimacy of Anglo-Norman rule by ‘proving’ descent from Arthur, and keen to invest this legitimacy in an existing site of political authority, Geoffrey alighted upon Tintagel, an ancient cliff fortress and seat of royal power in Dumnonian times. Such was the importance of Tintagel that its special status was still fresh in memory in the fifteenth-century Cornish-language play Beunans Meriasek (the ‘Life of St Meriasek’), where the Duke of Cornwall announces to the audience that he has ‘a castle sound/Which is named Tintagel/Where my chief dwelling is found’.28 Strategically irrelevant but, as Geoffrey recognised, politically symbolic, Tintagel became the site of an impressive medieval castle, founded upon the earlier royal fort on its spectacular north-coast headland.

The Land of Saints

If Cornwall is the land of King Arthur, then it is also the land of saints. Popular enthusiasts continue to imagine a theologically and liturgically coherent ‘Celtic Christianity’, with an organised ‘Celtic Church’ in the Dark Age period reaching out across the Celtic world to Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and even Galicia in northern Spain. Drawing upon the work of E.G. Bowen and his persuasive portrayal of Saints, Seaways and Settlements in the Celtic Lands, such enthusiasts still picture the sea-borne journeying of Celtic ‘saints’ (holy men and women, or missionaries) to and fro between the Celtic lands, accounting, among other things, for the multiplicity of ‘Celtic’ church dedications – Welsh, Breton, occasionally Irish and sometimes native Cornish – still apparent in Cornwall today.29 In this imagining, the Celtic world is a beacon of Christian light while the neighbouring Anglo-Saxons are still locked in the darkness of paganism. However, modern scholarship paints a somewhat different picture.30 Not only has that Celtic coherence proved elusive but we know now that Christianity came relatively late to Cornwall. It probably did not arrive until the sixth century, and when it did come it was the result of settlement in Cornwall by Christian nobles of Irish descent from the kingdom of Demetia (south-west Wales). These settlers are recorded in the numerous inscribed stones of the period to be found across Cornwall, some inscribed in Ogham (the Irish stroke alphabet) and others in Latin or Ogham and Latin combined. In effect, these stones chart the conversion of Cornwall to Christianity.31

The extent to which Welsh, Breton or Irish dedications in Cornwall actually represent that missionary activities of those ‘saints’ is open to doubt. The profusion of Welsh dedications in north Cornwall, for example – St Breock, St Issey, St Mabyn, St Teath and so on – may reflect the cultural influence of nearby south Wales rather than the actual presence on the ground of Welsh holy men and women. Yet we do know that some of these saints were indeed peripatetic in the way that Bowen described. In the seventh-century Vita Sancti Samsonis, the ‘Life of St Samson’ of Dol in Brittany, we learn of the exploits of one Welsh missionary active in Cornwall in the early days of Cornish Christianity.32 The Life tells us that Samson arrived from Wales on the shores of the Camel estuary before making his way down the riverain Camel–Fowey route (today popularised as ‘The Saints’ Way’) to the south coast before voyaging across to Brittany to begin his work there.

Like the tales of Tristan and Iseult, the Life of St Samson reminds us of the enduring maritime link between Cornwall and Brittany. Many Breton church dedications mirror those of Cornwall – St Gwénolé of Landévennec is St Winwaloe of Landewednack on the Lizard, for instance, and St Méen in eastern Brittany echoes St Mewan near St Austell – but the connections between Cornwall and Brittany pre-date the arrival of Christianity. Perhaps as early as AD 300 there was widespread emigration from Cornwall and other parts of south-west Britain to Brittany. Explanations for this movement have varied from the pressure of Irish settlement to the first signs of Anglo-Saxon advance, and recent scholarship has suggested that there may have been an official settlement policy designed to colonise hitherto sparsely populated areas. Certainly, by c. AD 500 these emigrants appear to have been in full control of the Armorican peninsula – Brittany – leading among other things to the closeness of the Breton and Cornish languages.33 Brittany was indeed ‘Little Britain’.

The Duchy, the Stannaries, and Maritime Courts

Meanwhile the English advance had continued in south-west Britain, Dumnonia collapsing finally in the face of expanding Wessex. In AD 936 King Athelstan fixed the Tamar as the boundary between Cornwall and England, rather as he had set the Wye as the boundary of Wales. Unlike neighbouring Devon, which was fully assimilated into Wessex (as its place-names attest), Cornwall retained its cultural autonomy – including its own language – and thus a measure of political accommodation. This accommodation was reflected in the medieval period in two constitutional peculiarities that set Cornwall apart: the Duchy of Cornwall and the Stannaries. In the medieval period the English Crown often exercised authority in its peripheral territories through indirect ‘palatine’ jurisdictions such as the Duchy of Lancaster and the Earldom of Chester.34 The Duchy of Cornwall was one such jurisdiction, established in 1337 in succession to the earlier Earldom of Cornwall. The Duchy created an aura of semi-independence but it also tied Cornwall closely to the Crown.35

Moreover, there was a particular maritime dimension to its jurisdiction, as Maryanne Kowaleski has explained: ‘in its relationship with the sea, and in the comprehensive territorial control exercised by its earls and then dukes, Cornwall occupied a unique position’, these earls and dukes expending enormous administrative effort in managing the profits from Cornwall’s ‘unusually rich maritime environment’.36 They were also alive to the strategic maritime importance of Cornwall, prompting their acquisition of the castles at Trematon (near Saltash, on the Tamar) and Restormel (near Lostwithiel, above the Fowey), together with control of the lower reaches of the Tamar and Fowey rivers and authority over the boroughs and ports of Saltash and Lostwithiel. Likewise, they recognised and took action to minimise the threat to their authority – and profits – from illegal smuggling operations. As Kowaleski has observed: ‘Cornwall’s long stretches of isolated coastline also raised anxieties about the ease of smuggling . . . distance from English centres of power helped promote the idea of Cornwall – like Wales, Scotland, and Ireland – as somehow “outside the realm”’.37 Similarly, there were anxieties about ‘wrecking’, the illegal plunder of ships that had come to grief (or were about to come to grief) on Cornish shores.


1.3 Cape Cornwall Engraving by T. Allom published in 1832

The Stannaries, which were absorbed into the Duchy at its foundation, were even older. Established by charter in 1201, the Stannaries consisted of four mining districts in which an independent system of Stannary Law held sway. These were Foweymoor (modern Bodmin Moor), Blackmoor (above St Austell), Tywarnhaile (St Agnes and Truro) and Penwith-with-Kerrier in the west. In 1305 Edward I defined the privileges of the Cornish tinners and in 1508 Henry VII in his Charter of Pardon granted enhanced powers to the Stannary Convocation or Tinners’ Parliament, including the right to veto legislation passed at Westminster.38 Intriguingly, the independent jurisdiction of the Stannary Courts in arbitrating disputes between tinners was mirrored in Cornwall’s medieval maritime courts. Richard Pearce wrote admiringly of the supposed democratic credentials of these maritime courts, eulogising ‘the administration of justice to the seafaring community in even the smallest harbours by courts of law sitting under the open sky and close to the high water mark and using an internationally recognised code of customs and laws of the sea’.39 In reality, the Duchy of Cornwall, like the former Earldom, used these maritime courts as a mechanism to profit from their right to adjudicate in disputes between mariners and merchants or arguments which had arisen at sea.40 In this way, the Duchy profited directly from the deliberations of maritime courts at Newlyn, Mousehole, Lostwithiel, Plymouth (in Devon) and probably other localities, such as Port Isaac, Padstow, St Ives, Mount’s Bay and Looe.

Together, the twin institutions of Duchy and Stannaries exercised significant economic power in medieval Cornwall.41 Although the long-term effect of the Duchy may have been to drain off the surplus wealth of the land, in the medieval period it acted as an important stimulus to economic diversification, not least through exploitation of Cornwall’s maritime opportunities. By the first half of the fifteenth century, for example, cloth exports had increased ten-fold compared to the previous century, the Cornish economy by now featuring a well-developed shipping trade (most Cornish exports were carried in Cornish ships), as well as shipbuilding and the ubiquitous fishing industry. Tin extraction, under the powerful patronage of the Stannaries, had also become an increasingly important economic activity. As Wendy Childs notes below, by the later medieval period tin had become the most important Cornish export commodity, with strong markets in the Mediterranean and in the Low Countries and Germany. By the sixteenth century copper was also being exported, going to Neath for smelting – the first indications of what would become in later centuries an intimate maritime–industrial link between Cornwall and South Wales.

The Duchy had also inherited significant maritime rights from the earlier Earldom. These included, in addition to adjudication in maritime courts, the income from profits on wrecks, duties on wine imports and customs fees levied on the drying and selling of fish, together with keelage, the charge on ships using Cornish ports. All these dues were recorded diligently by a Duchy official, the Havener, so that Cornwall possesses some of the earliest maritime records in the British Isles, dating back to the twelfth century.42 Established under the Earldom, the Havener became a full-time official in 1337 when the Duchy was created and his duties were expanded. His accounts demonstrate the fortunes of individual ports and of maritime activities – from fishing and overseas trade to piracy, privateering and shipwrecks – as well as illustrating the multiplicity of Cornish contacts with Spanish, French, Irish and English mariners and merchants who ventured into Cornish waters. They show, too, patterns of economic development in maritime Cornwall, as well as charting the impact of the Hundred Years War and of the Black Death.

One early record, of a Cornish ship wrecked in 1344, provides a fascinating insight into the diversity of Cornish exports in this period. The stricken vessel had been laden with tin, hides, cheeses, bacon, butter, cloth, beds, armour and feathers, an intriguing mixture of extractive, agricultural and manufactured items. Goods imported into Cornwall at this time included salt and canvas from Brittany, figs and raisons from Spain and garlic and onions from the Channel Islands. Wine was also a significant import commodity. Between 1338 and 1356 Fowey played host to some 78 ships carrying wine on which dues were levied, while Falmouth (including Penryn and Truro) received 75, Padstow 6, and Looe and Mousehole 3 apiece. In the 1350s almost all the profits recorded in the Havener’s accounts came from wine. By the fifteenth century wine imports accounted for some 15 per cent of Cornish maritime trade, while as much as 10–15 per cent of wine shipped from Bordeaux found its way to Cornwall. By now the size of ships had increased considerably to cope with this burgeoning trade.43

Trading Ports

The growth of maritime trade was facilitated by developments in ship design. The period 1400 to 1550 was an era of significant technological change in European shipbuilding known as ‘The Great Invention’. The arrival of the three-masted ship, together with more complex sail plans, allowed greater flexibility and longer trading distances. As Richard Unger has observed, ‘shipbuilders, by borrowing and copying design features, did create a range of highly versatile vessels, vessels which, with minor adjustments, could be used anywhere in the world.’44 The stalwart of the bulk carrying trade in European waters was the ubiquitous ‘cog’, a vessel that was present in Cornwall. Thirteen Cornish cogs appeared in a royal fleet in 1345, together with a large number from Devon. Moreover, it is in Cornwall – at Crane, near Godrevy in Gwithian parish – that the ‘most westerly depiction’ of a cog is found, scrawled on a slate block.45 By the 1450s Cornish ships were large and most were capable of shipping at least 150 tuns, the Barry of Fowey managing an impressive 217 tuns in 1443 and 230 tuns in 1448.46 The evidence of so many large ships based in Cornwall also points to the existence of effective ship repair and maintenance skills. Shipwrights were valued craftsmen and, although information is scarce, it is likely that Cornish shipwrights were impressed by the Crown to work alongside their Devonian counterparts on a massive warship built in Devon in 1418. Certainly, by 1516 Cornishmen were working alongside men from Devon and Yorkshire on Henry VIII’s Henry Grace A Dieu, as the Royal Navy began to take shape.47

It is at Fowey that there is the first mention in Britain of the other major technological change in ship design soon to become common, the ‘carvel’. Developed from the Portuguese caravel, the skeleton construction common to this type of vessel was to spread around northern Europe in the fifteenth century. Where ships like the cog were sturdy and heavy and limited in size by their build, the skeleton construction of frame with hull planking enabled the production of more versatile vessels. The Fowey carvel in question was owned by John Stevens of that port between 1443 and 1450.48 Indeed, as both Wendy Childs and Maryanne Kowaleski observe in their contributions, Fowey had by now become the pre-eminent Cornish port in terms of both the number and size of ships it accommodated.

A deep-water harbour placed strategically on the south Cornish coast, opposite the Continent (including English possessions in France), Fowey was of both economic and military significance. In the naval impressment of 1451 Fowey mustered the largest Cornish squadron, ten ships in all, compared to the five each sent by Saltash and Looe and the seven others from Penzance, Falmouth and Landulph (on the Tamar). Earlier, at the beginning of the Hundred Years War, Fowey (along with Dartmouth and Plymouth) had been granted to the Black Prince. Lying close to his headquarters in Lostwithiel (the Duchy Palace and Restormel Castle), Fowey was used frequently to provide local shipmasters, pilots and mariners, as well as to move men and arms to the battlefields of France. Additionally, ships from Fowey harbour were engaged in both coastal and foreign trade. From the late fifteenth century, for example, Fowey established an important symbiotic trade with Ireland, its ships taking precious cargoes of salt to Irish ports and returning laden with hake and other fish. Similarly, Fowey imported more grain and salt than any other Cornish port and was prominent in the export of hides, tin and fish. Wine featured significantly in the overseas imports arriving at Fowey and the port suffered accordingly when in 1450 Gascony (hitherto an English possession) was lost to the French, and wine no longer came down river to Bordeaux. Other Fowey trading links included those with Spain and Portugal, and as far away as the Baltic.

Yet, as Maryanne Kowaleski reminds us, despite the dominance of Fowey there was a remarkable profusion of maritime communities all around the Cornish coast, from tiny fishing coves to bustling harbours and important port towns. Many were on the south coast, where the sheltered estuaries provided sanctuary from the worst of the Cornish weather and privateers, and were well placed for cross-Channel trade. In 1478 William Worcestre was astonished to find that there were no fewer than 147 havens on the seventy-five-mile stretch from the Tamar to Penzance. In the far west, in particular, were the important ports of Mousehole and Newlyn. Mousehole, for example, exported Cornish cloth and, later, tin, its ships engaged in complex cross-trading to European ports – as in 1349 when the Saint Michael took a cargo from Dungarvan in Ireland to Flanders.49 But the inhospitable north coast also had its natural harbours, such as Hayle estuary, Boscastle and the Camel estuary, with the important port of Padstow. Many of these ports – north and south coast – were of remarkably early provenance. Saltash, on the Tamar, the early wealth of which was based on the export of Dartmoor tin, was granted its charter as early as 1190, a venerable status it remembers today:

Saltash was a Borough Town,

When Plymouth was a Furzy Down.50

Commercial Fishing

Whole communities made their living from the sea, from modest pickings offered by the marine life of the estuaries and shallows to the thriving commercial fishing industry which by the late twelfth century was exporting its catches to Spain, Brittany and, especially, before its loss, to Gascony. At this time St Ives and Mousehole dominated the Cornish fish trade, ahead of Fowey, Newlyn, Marazion and the other dozen or so Cornish ports engaged in commercial fishing. For much of this period the principal fishery for these western ports was neighbouring Mount’s Bay, but, by the fifteenth century, they too, like Fowey, developed interests in the Irish fisheries.51 Between 1300 and 1450 the number of Cornish ships carrying fish trebled and the number of Cornish fish cargoes and exporters doubled. Together, Cornwall and Devon exported a far greater value and volume of fish than did any other part of the kingdom. Between 1315 and 1465 some 20 per cent of all fish landed at the important market at Exeter came from Cornish ports: Looe, Polperro, Polruan, Fowey, St Mawes, Falmouth, Gweek and Penzance. By 1490 the fish trade in Cornwall accounted for at least one-third of overseas shipping, and a large fish curing industry had grown up in Mount’s Bay and at St Ives. This was to prepare pilchards for the Mediterranean market, the dry cure method proving a more satisfactory process than pickling in enabling fish to last longer in hot climes. Additionally there was lightly cured, quickly salted or wind-dried fish for middle distance markets and fully salt-cured fish for slightly longer distances. There was also, of course, fresh fish for local consumption.52

By the fifteenth century Cornwall was a leading fish-export region. Its fishing industry had become remarkably sophisticated, with ships from north-coast ports such as Padstow sometimes spending eight to twelve weeks away in the Atlantic fishing grounds off Ireland. They would then anchor in sheltered Irish bays to cure the fish on board, returning eventually to Padstow or other ports, where local merchants who had invested in the fishing expeditions gained their share of the catch: generally hake, mullet, ling and white herring. Suitably emboldened, Cornish fishermen ventured ever further afield – into the Baltic and into the North Atlantic and the seas around Iceland. Although trade in Icelandic waters was protected by a licence system Cornish shipowners were prepared to run the gauntlet of such legal stricture, and, by and large, got away with it. Later, Cornish fishermen were prepared to voyage to yet more distant fishing grounds, such as those off Newfoundland. Yet at the end of the medieval period it remained the case that Cornwall’s overseas maritime trading partners were still chiefly Brittany, Spain and the south of France, together with the Low Countries.53

Pilgrimage and War

Maintenance of the close trading links between Cornwall and Brittany reflected a broader fabric of cultural ties, including language and religion. Religious pilgrimage was taken seriously in medieval Cornwall and Brittany was an important destination for Cornish pilgrims. In 1537, for example, a party of Cornish attended a pardon at Lantregar (probably Tréguier) and, likewise, groups of Bretons travelled to Cornwall. Some settled in Cornwall, like the Breton carpenters who helped with church renovations at Bodmin and North Petherwin in the early sixteenth century, and many chose to live in maritime districts.54 In 1558 there were still nine Breton families resident in Constantine parish, on the Helford, and there were others at Fowey, Polruan and Looe. Earlier, in 1522, there was a strong Breton contingent among the twenty-three aliens noted in the parish of Paul, most resident in the fishing village of Mousehole, and the Breton presence there remained strong throughout the sixteenth century.55 But at least as important as Brittany as a pilgrimage destination was Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. Several Cornish churches were dedicated to St James (Santiago) – Antony, Jacobstowe, Kilkhampton – a measure, perhaps, of local enthusiasm for the saint and for the pilgrimages to his great cathedral at Santiago. But alongside the Cornish faithful anxious to make their way to Spain were other budding pilgrims from Ireland and Wales. Typically, these folk would make their way across the Celtic Sea to Padstow before travelling overland down the Camel–Fowey route to the south coast, thus avoiding the treacherous passage around Land’s End. From Fowey Cornish ships would take them across to Corunna, the landfall on the road to Santiago de Compostela. Drawing upon their existing experience in the wine trade and their knowledge of the Bay of Biscay, Cornish shipowners found the pilgrim traffic a lucrative addition to their existing business.56

The links with Brittany and the wider pattern of cross-Channel contact and trade were, of course, routinely disrupted by war and by the activities of pirates and privateers. Yet the Hundred Years War of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries fostered prosperity in maritime Cornwall despite the upheavals of the Black Death, with south-coast ports such as Fowey, Saltash and Looe benefiting especially from the demands for naval logistical support in the operations against France. In the last five years of the Hundred Years War Fowey supplied nineteen transport ships, while six came from Saltash and sixteen from elsewhere in Cornwall. Such support activity in time of war was not new: from the early medieval period Cornish maritime communities had become used to governmental demands for ships and men to help prosecute wars, and licences – letters of marque – were issued to merchants who were prepared to arm their ships and harry the enemy. In 1326, for example, when invasion from France seemed imminent, officials busied themselves locating men and ships at Fowey, Polruan, Lostwithiel, Looe, Padstow, Mousehole, St Michael’s Mount and in the Hayle and Fal estuaries. Such activity was a boost to shipbuilding in these areas but it also encouraged an independence of action in which the Cornish were quick to see the economic advantages of wartime. Privateering slipped easily into piracy, as individuals over-stepped the limits of their licences, and some were readily enticed as mercenaries. In 1342, for example, the Duchess of Brittany had no difficulty in enlisting Cornish privateers to fight alongside their Breton brethren against the English.57 Yet four years later, in 1346, Fowey sent more ships than the port of London to relieve the siege of Calais: such were the shifting sands of medieval loyalty and allegiance.

During the Wars of the Roses (1455–1485) the Duchy’s influence was at its weakest in Cornwall. A mood of ‘feudal anarchy’ prevailed, with Cornwall enjoying a good deal of independence, and Fowey carried on its own private war against the Cinque Ports of south-east England.58 The notorious Henry Bodrugan, member of a prominent Cornish family, happily operated beyond the law – such as it was – in the 1450s and 1460s, attacking the homes of rivals and opponents; his ships the Mary Bodrugan and the Barbarye of Fowey were implicated in acts of piracy.59 He was not alone. In 1486 two Hamburg ships, the Grasinius and the Marie, were seized off the coast of Cornwall, taken into Fowey and plundered. In the same year the Anne of Fowey captured a Breton ship bound for Ireland with a valuable cargo of wheat, wine, salt and mercury. This was not the first time that the Bretons had suffered at the hands of their Cornish ‘brethren’, and in 1457 Elizabeth Treffry of Fowey had famously defended her home, Place, against a Breton raiding party bent on revenge.

Fowey was also the home port of the infamous Mark Mixstowe (or Michaelstowe), another privateer opportunist who turned easily to piracy. His ship, the Mackerel, belonged to Henry VI’s admiral, the Duke of Exeter, and was licensed in time of war to attack enemy shipping. Such was the justification when Mixtowe, commanding a squadron from Fowey, seized sixteen French and Spanish vessels in 1402, the licence to harry proving an irresistible temptation to plunder for profit. His son, John Mixtowe, was likewise motivated, as in 1433 when he was accused of capturing a ship from Seville, bound for Sandwich in Kent, off Cape St Vincent. The crew was put ashore in Portugal and the ship taken into Fowey.60 At Mousehole piracy on occasions went considerably beyond harrying the enemy, as in 1318, when three local men took an English ship at Hayle, or in 1342, when Mousehole men seized the goods of a Bristol merchant at Fowey. And, as Joanna Mattingly has noted, ‘Mousehole’s most outrageous exploit occurred in 1333 when a diplomatic mission from Aquitaine was attacked’.61

Such violence, in Cornish ports or on the high seas, posed a threat to merchant ships of all nations. But low-level chicanery could also prove problematic for traders in this period, as in the case of two Exeter merchants, Roger Werth and Walter Yorke, who insisted that they had been duped by Cornish bureaucrats intent on abusing their powers. The Exeter men had arranged for 61 pieces of tin to be loaded aboard a vessel at Polruan, but before it could sail the ship was arrested by the Mayor of Lostwithiel. The impounded vessel was in great danger now from the wind and weather, and the Exeter men complained that the mayor – John Menhenecke – and his accomplice, Luke Fryse, were deliberately plotting its destruction, probably to obtain salvage rights on the valuable cargo.62

From Medieval to Tudor Cornwall

Yet, despite these many upheavals, Cornish trade in the medieval period had become increasingly ‘internationalised’. By 1500 trade with Brittany was still more important than that with any other destination, with the continuing export of tin, fish, cloth and other goods matched by the import of a wide variety of mixed cargoes from Breton ports. However, Cornish trading contacts now ranged ever further into the Atlantic world, as well as to the Mediterranean and northern Europe, with Cornish ships venturing as far as Iceland. Moreover, overseas mariners and merchants – not only the familiar Breton settlers but also trading partners from more far-flung destinations – were increasingly visiting or even residing in Cornish ports.

In 1536 or thereabouts John Leland visited Cornwall, finding that Padstow ‘is full of Irish men’,63 reflecting the intimate connection that had now developed between the town and the Irish fisheries. Earlier, in 1284, Reginald the Gascon (a victualler) was one of several foreign residents in Mousehole and Newlyn, and in 1440 two or three of the inns in Paul parish were run by aliens. As Joanna Mattingly has observed, foreign merchants are often identified by their surnames, as in the cases of David the Poitevin in Mousehole 1327 and David Trembrathan of Gascony in the mid-fifteenth century. Yet the latter is an enigma. Trembrathan is a Cornish name, so perhaps David was a Cornish merchant normally or formerly domiciled in Gascony, or maybe he was a Gascon settler who had adopted the name of his Cornish residence or sponsors. Either way, he was part of an increasingly cosmopolitan community in Mousehole and Newlyn – there were merchants from Waterford in Ireland, together with European salt traders, and by 1536 there was at least one black person resident in Paul parish.64

Upheaval would continue in Cornwall for a good while yet – there were two major Cornish rebellions in 1497 and there would be another, more bloody, rising in 1549. But the victory of Henry Tudor at Bosworth Field in 1485 heralded a new political order in these islands. This would lead soon enough to the Reformation, a religious upheaval which would further disrupt the nature of maritime Cornwall, ushering in a new period of turbulence and ‘maritime disorder’. Protestantism would rupture the ancient ties of kinship between Cornwall and (Catholic) Brittany, while religious animosity would bring to new heights the enduring rivalry between Spain and England, with Cornwall as ever cast in its ‘front line’ role.


1 Richard Pearce, The Ports and Harbours of Cornwall (St Austell: H.E. Warne, 1963), pp. 7–9.

2 A.C. Todd, The Cornish Miner in America (Truro: Bradford Barton, 1967), p. 13.

3 Barry Cunliffe, Facing the Ocean: The Atlantic and its Peoples (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 1.

4 Cunliffe, Facing the Ocean, p. 21.

5 Cunliffe, Facing the Ocean, p. 553.

6 R.M. Barton, An Introduction to the Geology of Cornwall (Truro: Bradford Barton, 1964), p. 7.

7 E.B. Selwood, E.M. Durrance and C.M. Durrance (eds), The Geology of Cornwall (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1998), p. 1.

8 See also, Alan P. Carr, ‘The Environmental Background’, in Michael Duffy, Stephen Fisher, Basil Greenhill, David J. Starkey, Joyce Youings (eds) The New Maritime History of Devon, Vol. I: From the Earliest Times to the Late Eighteenth Century (London: Conway, 1992), pp. 18, 20–21.

9 For further details on the maritime environment, see A.J. Southward and G.T. Boalch,‘The Marine Resources of Devon’s Coastal Water’, in Duffy et al (eds), The New Maritime History of Devon, Vol. I, pp. 51–61; William Ravenhill, ‘The Marine Cartography of Devon in the Context of South West England’, in David J. Starkey (ed.), Devon’s Coastline and Coastal Waters: Aspects of Man’s Relationship with the Sea (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1988), pp. 5–23; Alan Carr, ‘The Implications of Tidal Range’, in Starkey (ed.), Devon’s Coastline and Coastal Waters, pp. 25–32; Alan Southward, Gerald Boalch and Linda Maddock, ‘Climatic Change and the Herring and Pilchard Fisheries of Devon and Cornwall’, in Starkey (ed.), Devon’s Coastline and Coastal Waters, pp. 5–23; Stella Maris Turk, ‘Cornish and Scillonian Marine Studies, Past and Present’, in Stephen Fisher (ed.), Man and the Maritime Environment (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1994), pp. 76–100; A.J. Southward and G.T. Boalch, ‘The Effects of Changing Climate on Marine Life: Past and Present’, in Fisher (ed.), Man and the Maritime Environment, pp. 101–43.

10 See Philip Payton, The Making of Modern Cornwall: Historical Experience and the Persistence of ‘Difference’ (Redruth: Dyllansow Truran, 1992).

11 See Charles Thomas, Exploration of a Drowned Landscape: Archaeology and History of the Isles of Scilly (London: Batsford, 1985).

12 Charles Thomas, Studies in Cornish Folklore, No.2: The Sacrifice (London: University of London, 1952).

13 Robert Hunt, Popular Romances of the West of England (London: John Camden Hotten, 1865), p. 366.

14 Charles Thomas, Gwithian: Ten Year’s Work (1949–1958) (Gwithian: West Cornwall Field Club Excavation Staff, 1958) ; Peter Berridge and Alison Roberts, ‘The Mesolithic Period in Cornwall’, Cornish Archaeology 25 (1986).

15 Patricia M. Christie, ‘Cornwall in the Bronze Age’, Cornish Archaeology 25 (1986); see also Nicholas Johnson and Peter Rose, Cornwall’s Archaeological Heritage (Truro: Twelveheads, 1990).

16 For examples of Cornwall and Devon trade routes see Sean McGrail, ‘From the Ice Age to Early Medieval Times’, in Duffy et al (eds), The New Maritime History of Devon, Vol. I, pp. 35, 37.

17 For extensive debate of the ‘Celtic’ question in its Cornish context, see Philip Payton, Cornwall: A History (Fowey: Cornwall Editions, 2005), pp. 35–48. See also Vincent Megaw and Ruth Megaw, ‘The Prehistoric Celts: Identity and Contextuality’, in Martin Kuna and Natalie Venclova (eds), Wither Archaeology? (Prague: Institute of Archaeology, 1995); and Amy Hale and Philip Payton (eds), New Directions in Celtic Studies (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2000). For excellent summaries of Iron-Age Cornwall, see Henrietta Quinnell, ‘Cornwall during the Iron Age and Roman Period’, Cornish Archaeology 25 (1985); and Malcolm Todd, The South West to AD 1000 (London: Longman, 1987).

18 See Payton, Cornwall: A History, pp. 42–44.

19 Catherine Parkes, Fowey Estuary Historic Audit (Truro: Cornwall Archaeological Unit, 2000), p. 9.

20 Todd, The South West, p. 188.

21 Charles Thomas, The Importance of Being Cornish in Cornwall (Redruth: Institute of Cornish Studies, 1973), p. 5.

22 Recent discoveries at Lostwithiel and Calstock have been made in 2007–8 by the Department of Archaeology at the University of Exeter.

23 David Dumville, ‘Foreword’, in Lynette Olson, Early Monasteries in Cornwall: Studies in Celtic History XI (Cambridge: Boydell, 1989), pp. ix–x.

24 For summaries of the literary and historical development of the Tristan and Iseult story see Michael Stapleton (ed.), The Cambridge Guide to English Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 891–92, and Margaret Drabble (ed.), The Oxford Companion to English Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 998–99. For a contemporary Cornish re-telling of the story see Donald R. Rawe, Traditional Cornish Stories and Rhymes (Padstow: Lodenek Press, 1971), pp. 9–10.

25 Graham Thomas and Nicholas Williams (eds), Bewnans Ke: The Life of St Kea – A Critical Edition with Translation (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2007).

26 F.E. Halliday, A History of Cornwall (London: Duckworth, 1959), p. 29.

27 Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, ed. and trans. Lewis Thorpe (London: Guild Publishing, 1982).

28 Myrna Combellack, The Camborne Play: A Verse Translation of Beunans Meriasek (Redruth: Dyllansow Truran, 1988), pp. 96–8.

29 E.G. Bowen, Saints, Seaways and Settlements in the Celtic Lands (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2nd edn, 1977).

30 For a discussion of ‘Celtic Christianity’ see Donald E. Meek, The Quest for Celtic Christianity (Edinburgh: Handsel Press, 2000); for a Cornish context see Nicholas Orme, Cornwall and the Cross: Christianity 500–1560 (Phillimore: Chichester, 2007).

31 Charles Thomas, And Shall These Mute Stones Speak? Post-Roman Inscriptions in South-West Britain (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1994).

32 Ibid., p. 232.

33 Gwenael Le Duc, ‘The Colonization of Brittany from Britain: New Approaches and Questions’, unpub. Paper delivered at the 10th International Congress of Celtic Studies, University of Edinburgh, July 1995.

34 Diarmaid MacCulloch, ‘The Consolidation of England 1485–1603’, in John Morrill (ed.), The Illustrated History of Tudor and Stuart Britain (Oxford: University of Oxford Press, 1996), pp. 35–36.

35 See Bernard Deacon, Cornwall: A Concise History (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2007), pp. 31–38.

36 Maryanne Kowaleski (ed.), The Havener’s Accounts of the Earldom and Duchy of Cornwall 1287–1356 (Exeter: Devon and Cornwall Record Society ns 44, 2001), p. 1.

37 Kowaleski (ed.), The Havener’s Accounts, p. 5.

38 G.R. Lewis, The Stannaries: A Study of the Medieval Tin Miners of Cornwall and Devon (1908; Truro: Bradford Barton, 2nd edn, 1965); Robert R. Pennington, Stannary Law: A History of the Mining Law of Cornwall and Devon (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1973).

39 Pearce, The Ports and Harbours of Cornwall, p. 7.

40 Kowaleski (ed.), The Havener’s Accounts, p.41.

41 John Hatcher, Rural Economy and Society in the Duchy of Cornwall, 1300–1500 (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1970).

42 Kowaleski (ed.), The Havener’s Accounts.

43 Helen Doe, The Maritime History of Cornwall: An Introduction (Redruth: Tor Mark Press, 2006), pp. 9–10.

44 Richard W. Unger, The Ship in the Medieval Economy, 600–1600 (Montreal; McGill-Queens University Press, 1980), p. 203.

45 Ian Friel, ‘Devon Shipping’, in Duffy et al (eds), The New Maritime History of Devon, Vol. I, p. 76.

46 For a summary of the economic dimension of medieval Cornish maritime history, see Doe, The Maritime History of Cornwall: An Introduction, pp. 4–19.

47 Ian Friel, ‘Devon Shipping’ in Duffy et al (eds), The New Maritime History of Devon, Vol. I, p. 74.

48 Ibid., pp. 76–77; Dorothy A. Gardiner (ed.), A Calendar of Early Chancery Proceedings relating to West Country Shipping 1388–1493 (Exeter: Devon and Cornwall Record Society ns 21, 1976), p. 67.

49 Joanna Mattingly, Cornwall and the Coast: Mousehole and Newlyn (Chichester: Phillimore/Victoria County History, 2009), p. 31. 50 Payton, Cornwall: A History, p. 82.

50 Payton, Cornwall: A History, p. 82.

51 Mattingly, Cornwall and the Coast, p. 31.

52 Doe, The Maritime History of Cornwall: An Introduction, pp. 12–13.

53 Ibid., pp. 14–15.

54 Joanna Mattingly, ‘A Note on the Cornish-Breton Link’, Institute of Cornish Studies Newsletter, 4 (1995).

55 Mattingly, Cornwall and the Coast, p. 33.

56 Ada Alvey, In Search of St James: Cornwall to Compestella (Redruth: Dyllansow Truran, 1989).

57 Doe, The Maritime History of Cornwall, p. 8; Craig L. Lambert, Shipping the Medieval Military; English Maritime Logistics in the Fourteenth Century (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2011)

58 A.L. Rowse, Tudor Cornwall: Portrait of a Society (London: Jonathan Cape 1941; repr 1969; Redruth: Truran, 2005 edn); see especially chapter five, ‘Feudal Anarchy and Social Unrest’.

59 James Whetter, The Bodrugans: The Study of a Cornish Medieval Knightly Family (St Austell: Lyfrow Trelyspen, 1995).

60 Gardiner, A Calendar of Early Chancery Proceedings, pp. 36–37.

61 Mattingly, Cornwall and the Coast, p. 35.

62 Doe, The Maritime History of Cornwall: An Introduction, pp. 17–18.

63 Todd Gray, Cornwall: The Travellers’ Tales, Vol. 1 (Exeter: The Mint Press, 2000), p. 6.

64 Mattingly, Cornwall and the Coast, p. 33.

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