THIS paper will argue that, despite its geographical isolation, Cornwall was directly affected by the conflict between Henry III and the barons during the years 1258-67. That this was so was due in large part to the fact that the county was held by the King's brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, who was captured at the battle of Lewes in May 1264 and imprisoned by Simon de Montfort. Richard's Cornish possessions were at this time appropriated by Simon, who installed his own bailiffs, until his own defeat at Evesham in August 1265. After his release from captivity Richard recovered his Cornish estate and sought to strengthen his position in the county by acquiring control of the two castles of Restormel and Trematon. Richard's takeover of these castles marked the culmination of the Earl's somewhat uneasy relations with his Cornish subjects over the years and was perhaps the most serious of the repercussions for the local community of the years of reform and rebellion.
To contemporary observers medieval Cornwall had a peculiarly distinct identity. It was a remote and somewhat forbidding county, inhabited by a `strange unfriendly folk', who were possessed of a fierce attachment to their local independence. John de Grandisson, soon after his appointment as Bishop of Exeter in 1327, wrote despairingly to his friends at Avignon, describing the south-west as `not only the ends of the earth, but the very end of the ends thereof'. The diocese, he wrote, was almost entirely cut off from the rest of England and was surrounded by a hostile, endless and rarely navigable sea. In the western parts of Cornwall, the Bishop observed in amazement, the inhabitants did not even speak English.(1) Thus when Grandisson preached a sermon in Latin at St Buryan on 12 July 1336, the rector of St Just in Penwith had to translate it into Cornish, and others into English and French, for the benefit of the congregation.(2) When Adam de Carleton tendered his resignation as Archdeacon of Cornwall in 1342, after more than thirty-five years in office, he too confessed himself unable to communicate with the Cornish, and furthermore stated that `the folk of these parts are quite extraordinary, being of a rebellious temper, and obdurate in the face of attempts to teach and correct'. In the seventeenth century Richard Carew ascribed this `roughness' of the Cornish to their `fostering a fresh memory of their expulsion long ago by the English' which they expressed `with a bitter repining at their fellowship'.(1) Cornwall's isolation was thus partly the result of geography, partly of language, and partly of culture and tradition. The Cornish were generally regarded as being wary of, and hostile to, authority and outsiders. When justices in eyre visited the county in 1233, for the first time in more than thirty years, the Dunstable annalist claimed that all the inhabitants fled to the woods for fear of them, and that a special proclamation was necessary whereby the accused, except for those appealed of homicide, were permitted to return in peace on finding sureties for their future good behaviour.(2) The cartulary of Beaulieu abbey reveals the open hostility and resentment shown by the inhabitants of the Lizard peninsula towards the presence of the abbey, which had been granted the church of St Keverne by Earl Richard in 1235. Despite instructions to the sheriffand bailiffs of Cornwall to ensure that there was no molestation of Beaulieu's rights, in 1240 the papal legate Otto was forced to issue orders reiterating the abbey's possession of St Keverne and its protection from a people who credited Beaulieu with an income of 1,000 [pounds sterling] a year.(3) Even their closest neighbours treated the Cornish with caution and suspicion. The cartulary of Newenham abbey in Devon referred to two vicars of Pelynt of the early fourteenth century as Cornishmen `who wrought ill to the house; of which people let posterity beware'.(4)
The sense of Cornwall's separateness was heightened still further by the inhabitants' persistent quest for a greater degree of local autonomy. During the reign of King John and the minority of Henry III, the Cornish community repeatedly paid to have the right to elect their own sheriff and for the disafforestation of the county.(5) Under Edward I, the communitas of the county sought the right to elect resident Cornish knights to serve as assessors and collectors of taxes, in opposition to the inclination of the Exchequer to assign outsiders to the task.(6) The county was also quick to join in the national trend of petitioning Parliament which flourished during the early fourteenth century. In 1302, for example, the men of Cornwall sought the confirmation of their charter from King John relating to the county shrievalty, while in 1325 they petitioned for the appointment of six knights as keepers of the peace and of the coast.(1) There certainly appears to have been, as J. R. Maddicott has pointed out, a `contagious desire for local autonomy' in Cornwall, where `the quest for county liberties started early and continued late', an attitude which the Cornish shared with their neighbours in other south-western shires and which perhaps derived from the example set by the many boroughs in the region which held royal or seigneurial charters granting them a variety of liberties and franchises.(2)
The attachment of the Cornish to their local autonomy and their hostility to external authority was made manifest during the short-lived earldom of Henry fitz Count, who was removed from the county in September 1220.(3) Less than five years later, in February 1225, Cornwall was granted to Henry III's brother, Richard, who was then created earl of Cornwall and count of Poitou in May 1227. Richard was granted everything that the King held in Cornwall, that is, the royal demesne, the stannaries, the appurtenant franchises and liberties; only those homages, debts and farms which were owed to the Crown on the day the grant was made were excluded.(4) The stannaries were the real prize. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Cornwall and Devon produced the bulk of European tin. It was widely acknowledged to be of the finest quality and was exported to all parts of Europe and thence, through the energies of Italian merchants, to the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, and indirectly as far as India and China.(5) The sale and coinage of Cornish tin provided the bed-rock of Richard's wealth, yielding him perhaps 1,000 [pounds sterling] to 2,000 [pounds sterling] a year out of a total annual income of between 5,000 [pounds sterling] and 6,000 [pounds sterling].(6) Cornwall was thus vital to the Earl's finances, and Richard,having finally become tenant in fee in 1231, soon began to consolidate his Cornish estate.
Richard's acquisitions in the county were concentrated into just two short periods: the 1230s and early 1240s, and the late 1260s, in the aftermath of the Barons' War. His first major purchase of property was prompted by his desire to build a castle at Tintagel. Between 1233 and 1236 he acquired the `island' of Tintagel and the surrounding manor of Bossiney from Gervase de Tintagel in return for three manors elsewhere in the county. About the same time he purchased the adjacent manor of Trenewith and other adjoining lands from the prior of Bodmin and one of his tenants. From the first Tintagel castle probably served little strategic purpose and may simply have been a status-symbol, its name linked irrevocably with that of King Arthur. The name `Tintagel' first appeared in Geoffrey of Monmouth's fictional History of the Kings of Britain, completed before 1139, and the increasing popularity of this work in the early thirteenth century may have led Richard to exploit the growing fame of the place in an attempt to consolidate his position in the county. The castle was completed by 1245 when Richard allowed his nephew, the Welsh rebel, Dafydd ap Llywelyn, to shelter there. It still functioned under Earl Edmund, who paid its constable over 3 [pounds sterling] a year in 1297, but by the 1330s much of the structure had become ruinous.(1)
Richard's other acquisitions in the 1230s and early 1240s were on a lesser scale and included a further grant of land from the Crown, a purchase of three Cornish acres at Talskiddy, an area just to the north of the rich tin-mining district of Blackmore, and lands reacquired after the Earl …