John Angarrack uncovers the conspiracy that made Cornwall a ‘county’
Sebastian Munster’s 1550 version clearly shows eight of the most important features of Britain, four of these are England, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall.
A glance at any map of Europe or Britain before approximately 1550 will show something rather at odds with today’s maps; Cornwall is depicted as a country. So what happened? Why was Cornwall, viewed as an entity on an equal footing as Wales and Scotland, gradually demoted to that of a possession of England.
Most users look upon maps as a means to communicate geographical information, however, some view the production and distribution of maps as an opportunity to both create and impart a political message. In any empire it is essential for the imperial power to control the production and distribution of maps; maps are often produced by the victors of battles as a way of celebrating new territorial gains. In a Britain controlled by an English-dominated Westminster parliament, state-funded cartographers, educationalists and historians produce and distribute maps because this powerful form of imaging is used to represent, and advance, a political agenda.
Whether depicting an English Empire in Britain, or an Anglo-British empire worldwide, when distributed to the communities of subjugated peoples, maps not only discredit the previous localised understanding of borders and territory but also help ensure that subsequent generations grow to accept London as their administrative, economic, cultural and spiritual capital; any notion of what independent status existed before is eroded. This is one way by which sovereignty is maintained, and the results of such policy can be seen in Cornwall today.
Today, approved school history books reveal to pupils ‘revised’ maps of pre-16th century Britain; maps that depict Cornwall as being part of England from the 10th century.
These maps have only recently been drawn and are another way in which Cornwall’s history is buried.
Genuine medieval maps show Cornwall as something other than a county of England and it is these maps that are left out of modern school history books and replaced with revised maps; maps that substitute pre-Tudor Cornish semi-autonomy with English rule over the county of Cornwall.
So how did Cornwall suddenly lose its status as a nation within Britain?
This re-writing of history to an English agenda is in evidence with the Historical Atlas of the South West England distributed free to all comprehensive schools in Cornwall. Genuine maps showing Cornwall as one of the four nations of Britain were redrawn and replaced with forged maps depicting early medieval Cornwall as a county of England.
Take Richard of Hereford’s Word Map, one of the oldest maps in the world, shows how Britannia Insula is composed of Anglia, Cornubia, Scotia and Wallia. In other words, for centuries after the Saxon King Athelstan’s armies allegedly defeated the Cornish forces for the control of Cornubia, Cornwall was still looked upon as being one of the four nations of Britain.
There was little domestic map making after the Hereford World Map until the middle decades of the 16th century when there was a marked increase in cartographic effort, most notably in centres of learning throughout continental Europe.
In 1540, Professor Sebastian Munster of Basle University published one of the first truly separate maps of the British Isles. In his map ANGLIA and SCOTIA are depicted in large upper case letters with the remaining constituent nations of WALLIA and CORNUBIA depicted in smaller upper case characters. This method of determining relative importance was, and still is, a common feature of cartographic interpretation.
Englishman George Lily was a Catholic exile to the Papal Court of Rome. By using large upper case letters in his 1556 map entitled Britannie Insulae or British Isles, the constitutional significance of both WALLIA and CORNUBIA is revealed. Lily’s earlier map of 1546 also included a discussion of social aspects of Britain. Included in the passage is the reference “Cornubicum quo Cornubiens, Wallicum quo Wallia, Anglicum quo Angli et bons parte Scotia” or “The Cornish live in Cornwall, the Welsh live in Wales, the English live in England and some of Scotland.”
It is worth mentioning that Lily relied on Polydore Vergil as an important source of information. Vergil was an Italian government official who gained royal favour after settling in England in 1502. It was Henry VII who encouraged Vergil to write his Anglia Historia (History of England) first published in a number of volumes in 1543.
Within this series Vergil, historian to the royal court, confirmed that: Britain is divided into four parts; “whereof the one is inhabited by Englishmen, the other of Scots, the third Welshmen and the fourth of Cornish people…..and which all differ among themselves either in tongue, either in manners, or else in laws and ordnances.”
In the days when those who drew royal disapproval met deadly retribution, this stark acknowledgement of Cornwall’s unique status can be no flight of fancy. Yet historical ‘revisionists’ refuse to come to terms with these factual accounts of history.
These ancient maps, although rudimentary in their nature, have great value. In their day, the people threat made these maps were held in the highest of royal esteem and worked at the cutting edge of technological expertise. The object of these medieval mapping exercises were the same as today; to convey to the reader who owned what and where.
Girolamo Ruscelli had a studio in Venice. His 1561 map entitled Anglia et Hibernia is but one example of his work. Here, once again, the nations of HIBERNIA, SCOTIA, ANGLIA, WALLIA and CORNUBIA are delineated in upper case characters. Standard practice dictates that all other features, as befitting their constitutional insignificance, were presented in lower case characters.
Another map of the same year exhibiting similar features to the above was published by Johannes Honter. This image, taken from an updated edition of his earlier atlas, featured a map of Britain. Depicted is a large upper case ANGLIA taking cartographic precendence over the remaining smaller, but still upper case, nations of SCOTIA, WALLIA and CORNUBIA.
In dertermining what reaction there is today to medieval Cornwall being depicted as a nation of Britain we need to examine how this map, and another from Sebastion Munster in 1538 (plate 6) are dealt with in conventional, education authority approved books.
The Cornish dimension deselected
One of the foremost authorities on medieval maps of Britain is Rodney W Shirley. His Early Printed Maps of the British Isles 1477 – 1650 provides an example of how academics routinely deselect the Cornish dimension from British history.
When analysing the detail of Sebastian Munter’s 1538 map, Shirley refers to every single river, town and nation depicted except Cornwall. Although written across the map in the same explicit way as Wallia (Wales), the author refuses to draw attention to Cornubia .
When dealing with the 1561 map by Johannes Honter (plate 5), Shirley once again completely ignores the Cornish dimension. The word CORNUBIA is carved across the map in huge letter, and Honter is stating that CORNUBIA , ANGLIA, WALLIA and SCOTIA formed the four constituent parts of Britain, yet Shirley only acknowledges England, Wales and Scotland in his text.
It seems that Anglo-academia can discuss the historic Principality of Wales while resolutely refusing to draw attention to the equally historic Duchy of Cornwall.
It is not only land that was encroached by English map makers. We are taught that the Spanish Armada sailed up the ‘English’ Channel when the fact is that in the days of the Armada there was no English Channel, there was only a Mare Britannia, or British Sea. The Celtic Sea that separated Cornwall, Wales and Ireland soon became known as St George’s Channel (St George being the Patron Saint of England).
It is noticeable that up until the Tudor period, the mapmakers used the international language of Latin. After the rise of the Tudor regime, maps produced for domestic consumption began to use English. Up until the Tudor conquest, most maps showed Cornwall a nation of Britain with the Mare Britannia, or the British Sea, to the south and the Mare Hiberni, or Celtic Sea, to the north.
Gerard Mercator’s 1564 twin maps portraying firstly Anglia, and then Cornwallia et Wallia, were probably the last to depict Cornwall as a nation of Britain.
Up until the mid-16 century, maps portrayed Cornwall as a nation of Britain; yet 24 years after the Prayer Book of 1549 when Cornish forces were defeated by German and Italian mercenaries employed by the English crown, Humphrey Lhund and Abraham Ortelius produced Angliae Regni Florentissimi Nova Descripto. This New Description of the Kingdom of England portrayed Cornwall and Wales as distinct regions, not of Britain, but of England.
Manufacture and teaching of the state’s version of history
Christopher Saxton worked under the patronage of Thomas Seckford, a wealthy lawyer who worked in turn for Lord Burghley – The Lord Treasurer. Commissioned by Queen Elizabeth to make maps of their newly expanded domain, Saxton’s 1579 ‘Anglia’ portrayed England as encompassing Wales and Cornwall, with the whole subdivided up into administrative areas equating to today’s counties.
There were still aberrations. Humphery Lhunyd and Abraham Ortelius’s repeated their 1573 version in 1595, and Norden’s map of The Duchy of Cornwall was produced at about the same time. These, however, proved to be the exception.
If mapmakers failed to confirm to the political will of government, government in turn failed to offer commissions. Gerard Mercator soon discarded his previous view of Britain and followed Saxton with his Anglia Regnum of 1595.
From about 1600 onwards, maps (now produced in English) begin using the word county with the ‘County’ of Cornwall starting to appear for the first time. Mare Britannia was replaced by the British Sea, which was in turn replaced by the English Channel. At the same time the St George’s Channel largely replaced the Celtic Sea. The whole shift in perspective took approximately a century to complete. Although different maps now show different combinations of these new terms, this is roughly how the situation stands today.
It is now possible to see how a cartographic coup de grace enabled England to annex Cornwall dealing another blow to the independence of a once separate entity.
Maps are more than a means to transmit benign information. Like the design and flying of officially sanctioned flags, the development, funding and promotion of state sanctioned culture or the manufacture and teaching of the state’s version of history, the production and distribution of state-approved maps is a means to shape public opinion.
Mapmakers to the royal court demoted Cornwall to a county and this move is interpreted as another way in which Cornwall was deprived of its status.
So when one looks at modern maps and the Tamar is joined by a line that designates the ‘county’ of Cornwall remember that for more than 500 years that line represented the state boundary of the nation of Cornwall and was shown on maps as thus.
This is an edited version of a chapter on maps in ‘Our Future is History’ by John Angarrack.
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