When?

17 March 1337

Where?

Westminster

Known for

In 1337, King Edward III of England established the Duchy of Cornwall and made his eldest son Duke of Cornwall. The Duchy was given special powers, which meant that the duke could rule Cornwall much like a king.

Yn 1337, Myghtern Edward III a Bow Sows a fondyas Duketh Kernow. Ev a wrug dh’y gottha mab bos Duk a Gernow. Gallosow arbennek a veu res dhe Dhuketh Kernow, may halla an Duk reynya yn Kernow moy po le kepar ha myghtern.

Photograph of the Duchy of Cornwall Coat of Arms
Duchy of Cornwall Coat of Arms.
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Kings and Earls of Cornwall

Cornwall had once been a British kingdom with its own kings. After the Normans and Bretons invaded Britain in 1066, Cornwall continued to be treated differently to England. Important men were made Earl of Cornwall and were given special powers to rule their Earldom. They did this from a number of buildings in Lostwithiel.

 
From earliest times Cornwall was distinct from the Kingdom of England, and under separate government…Cornwall, like Wales, was at the time of the Conquest [1066], and was subsequently, treated in many respects, as distinct from England The Duchy of Cornwall (1855)

The Duchy of Cornwall

On 17th March 1337, King Edward III changed the status of Cornwall from an Earldom to a Duchy. King Edward made his eldest son, Edward of Woodstock, the Duke of Cornwall. As the duke, Edward could collect money from his Duchy. He could also govern Cornwall and summon its Stannary Parliament.

 
Our most dear first begotten Edward…to be Duke of Cornwall, over which awhile ago Dukes for a long time successively presided as chief rulers King Edward III, 17th March 1337 at Westminster

Money from the Duchy of Cornwall came from taxes and charges on wine, tin, ports, farms, markets, fairs, parks, woods, mills, ferries and fisheries. It also came from rents from tenants living in cottages across Cornwall. Taxes on tin (called coinage) made a lot of money for the Duke of Cornwall. 

A distinct identity

By creating the Duchy of Cornwall, King Edward was recognising that Cornwall had a distinct identity.

 
The concept of the Duchy rests on the existence of a separate and ancient territory of Cornwall. That separate territory has never been assimilated [included] formally into England. Mr Recorder Paul Laity (1989)

Officers of the Duchy of Cornwall

Many different officers helped to run the Duchy of Cornwall. Some of these officers included:

Lord Warden of the Stannaries: the Duke's chief representative in the Duchy – responsible for the Stannary Parliament and courts
Receiver General: responsible for finances
High Sheriff: the chief officer for enforcing the law
High Steward: the chief officer of the stannaries
Havener: responsible for harbours and ports
Keepers of the Parks: responsible for deer parks
Bailiffs: responsible for enforcing the law and collecting fines

 
Grant for life to John Penfound, esquire, of the office of Keeper of the Parks of Helsbury and Lanteglos, co. Cornwall, receiving the accustomed fees from the issues of the Duchy of Cornwall at the hands of the Receiver General of the Duchy Westminster 1 March 1465, Calendar of Patent Rolls, Edward IV

Rights and territory

The Duchy of Cornwall was given a number of special rights. These included: 

The right to shipwrecks washed ashore in Cornwall
The right to treasure found in Cornwall
The right to appoint the coroner in Cornwall
The right to appoint the High Sherriff in Cornwall
The right to tax tin sold in Cornwall
The right to ‘royal fish’ found in Cornwall, including sturgeon and whales

King Edward also granted the Duchy of Cornwall absolute ownership of all land in Cornwall, the seashore above the low water mark, and all rivers that could be sailed upon, including the River Tamar up to the east bank.

 
The three Duchy Charters are sufficient in themselves to vest in the Dukes of Cornwall, not only the government of Cornwall, but the entire territorial dominion in and over the county which had previously been invested in the Crown The Duchy of Cornwall (1855)

The Dukes of Cornwall

The Duchy of Cornwall was established by royal charter (a type of legal document). The charter said that only the eldest son of a reigning English king or queen should be Duke of Cornwall. During times when there is no eldest son, the rights and ownerships of the Duchy are held in trust by the king or queen.

Dukes of Cornwall have used the money collected in their Duchy as their income. Today, the Duke of Cornwall is His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales.

Did you know?

In the Cornish language play Bewnans Meriasek (The Life of St Meriasek) the Duke of Cornwall is portrayed as a hero fighting to save Cornwall from the evil King Tewdar.

My yv duk in oll kernow
indella ytho ov thays,
hag vghel arluth in pov
a tamer the pen an vlays.
Tregys off lemen, heb wov,
berth in castle an dynas
sur in peddre,
ha war an tyreth vhel
thym yma castel arel
a veth gelwys tyndagyel:
henna yv o fen trygse.

I am Duke in all Cornwall,
So was my father,
And a high lord in the country
From Tamar to the end of the kingdom.
I am dwelling now, without a lie,
Within the Castle of Dynas,
Surely in Pidar,
And in the high land
I have another castle
Which is called Tintagel,
That is my chief dwelling-seat.

Whitley Stokes, Beunans Meriasek (1872)

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Western Morning News

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Cornwall

Payton, P, Cornwall (1996)

Beunans Meriasek

Stokes, W, Beunans Meriasek (1872)

A Charter of 1337

Read the Charter

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