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The history of Cornwall begins with the pre-Roman inhabitants, including speakers of a Celtic language that would develop into Brythonic and Cornish. After a period of Roman rule, Cornwall reverted to independent Celtic chieftains. The Roman term for the tribe which inhabited what is now Cornwall at the time of Roman rule, possibly the Cornovii, came from the Iberian word corno, meaning the land shape, but it is assumed that it was derived from a Brythonic tribal name which gave modern Cornish Kernow. The present English language name of the region derives from suffixing of Old English wealhas ("foreigners, Britons") to the Celtic name. In the historic times of the heptarchy, Cornwall was referred to as 'West Wales' with what is nowadays modern Wales being called 'North Wales'. The first account of Cornwall comes from the Sicilian Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (c.90 BC–c.30 BC), supposedly quoting or paraphrasing the fourth-century BC geographer Pytheas, who had sailed to Britain:
The inhabitants of that part of Britain called Belerion or the Land's End from their intercourse with foreign merchants, are civilised in their manner of life. They prepare the tin, working very carefully the earth in which it is produced…Here then the merchants buy the tin from the natives and carry it over to Gaul, and after travelling overland for about thirty days, they finally bring their loads on horses to the mouth of the Rhône. Who these merchants were is not known. There has been a theory that they were Phoenicians, however there is no evidence for this. Julius Caesar was the last classical writer to mention the tin trade, which appears to have declined during the Roman occupation.
The Annales Cambriae reported that in 721 the Britons were victors in battle at Hehil (possibly on the Camel estuary or further north near Bude) among the Cornish (apud Cornuenses), presumably against the West Saxons. Annales Cambriae. A century passed before we hear of the West Saxons attacking Cornwall again, this time under King Egbert, who in 814 laid waste to Cornwall from east to west.The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that in 825 (adjusted date) a battle was fought between the "Welsh" in Cornwall and the people of Devonshire, probably at Galford in Devon.Finally, in 838, the Cornish and their Viking allies were defeated by Egbert at Hengestesdune, probably Hingston Down near Moretonhampstead, Devon or Callington, Cornwall (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle). The tin trade revived in the Middle Ages, and the Cornish Rebellion of 1497, in which a makeshift Cornish army marched on London only to be crushed by the royal troops, is attributed to tin miners. In the mid-nineteenth century, however, the tin trade again fell into decline.
As Cornwall's reserves of tin began to be exhausted many Cornishmen emigrated to places such as the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa where their skills were in demand. The tin mines in Cornwall are now worked-out at current prices, but the expertise and culture of the Cornish tin miners lives on in a number of places around the world. It is said that, wherever you may go in the world, if you see a hole in the ground, you will find a Cornishman at the bottom of it (see Cornish emigration). Several Cornish mining words are in use in English language mining terminology, such as costean, gunnies, lode and vug. Since the decline of tin mining, agriculture and fishing, the area's economy has become increasingly dependent on tourism — some of Great Britain's most spectacular coastal scenery can be found here. Nevertheless, Cornwall remains one of the poorest parts of the United Kingdom and it has been granted Objective 1 status by the European Union. A political party, Mebyon Kernow, MK, or 'Sons of Cornwall', was formed in 1951 to attempt to assert some degree of autonomy; while the flag of St Piran is seen increasingly across Cornwall at protests, demonstrations and generally, the party has not achieved significant success at the ballot box, although they do have a number of district councillors. Two of the current Members of Parliament (MPs) in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, Andrew George, MP for St Ives, and Dan Rogerson, MP for North Cornwall, repeated their Parliamentary oaths in Cornish. Further, there is a caucus of local county councillors who are well-known locally for their persistent advocacy of Cornwall's political uniqueness.
Many place names in Cornwall are associated with Christian missionaries described as coming from Ireland and Wales in the fifth century AD and usually called saints. The historicity of some of these missionaries is problematic and it has been pointed out by Doble that it was customary in the middle ages to ascribe such geographic origins to saints. Some of these saints are not included in the early lists of saints. There are traditional stories attached to some of these saints, as other saints, which are implausible. For example St Ia is said to have travelled across the sea to Cornwall on a leaf and St Piran on a millstone. St Piran, after whom Perranporth is named, is now widely regarded as the patron saint of Cornwall. There is a theory that once silver was extracted from the copper ores of Cornwall in pre-Roman times, as silver is easily converted to its chloride (AgCl) by surface waters containing chlorine.