Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia


Latin: Cornubiae
Roman: Cornubia
Cornewaile, Cornewall, Cornwalle, Cornewell, Cornwell, Cornoaille, Cornouaille, Cornovaglia, Cornwaile, Kornoval

Cornwall is a historic county located in the southwestern part of England. Cornwall is a peninsula bordered by the Celtic Sea to the north and west, the English Channel to the south, and the county of Devon to the east.

Cornwall has a strong Celtic identity, and the Cornish people are proud of their distinct cultural heritage. The Cornish language, known as Kernewek, is a Celtic language related to Welsh and Breton. Cornwall is steeped in folklore and legends, with stories of mythical creatures, giants, and ghosts passed down through generations.

Geoffrey attributes the land’s name to Corineus, a warrior of King Brute’s (Brutus), upon whom the land was bestowed. In Arthurian times, part of the county was, at one time, within the ancient realm of Dumnonia, and called Cornubia by the Romans. “Old Cornwall” included Devon. Arthurian Cornwall would have consisted of present-day Devon and Cornwall, and the sunken land of Lyonesse (Liones) to the west, of which the Scilly Islands are the touted remains. Subkingdoms include Lyonesse, the South Marches, and Tintagil. In French romance, Cornwall is sometimes confused with Cornouaille in Brittany.

The tribal rulers of Cornwall were united under a high king, but from the fifth to the ninth centuries it was gradually taken over by invading Saxons. It is the resistance of the Cornish people to these invaders that has led to the many legends associated with the county, none more potent than the belief that King Arthur held the Saxons at bay and will one day return from the dead to drive them from the land. In the body of Arthurian legends the kingdom was said to be the realm of King Mark, and it is by no means impossible that someone named Mark did indeed rule som territory within the region. To this day the county is remarkably Celtic in nature, and visiting the ancient sites to be found dotted all over the county is a worthwhile and satisfying experience.

Chrétien tells us that Arthur regularly reinforced his army with men drawn from Cornwall.

Cornwall’s chief castle in many legends is Tintagel. The Duke of Cornwall – in most stories named Gorlois – made war against Uther and was slain by him. Gorlois’s widow, Igerne (Igraine), married King Uther and became the mother of King Arthur. In the Tristan and Vulgate romances, Mark is the king or duke of the land. According to La Tavola Ritonda, it was divided among LancelotAmoroldoMordred, and Governal after Mark’s death.

In other legends, rulers of Cornwall are variously given as YderCadorCabarentin, and Clement. Welsh legend makes Gwynn Hyfar steward of Cornwall and Devon for Arthur. It was one of the lands that Arthur offered to Mordred in a peace that was never reached. Arthur’s final battle at Camlann may have been fought within its borders.

In the English ballad “King Arthur and King Cornwall”, the King of Cornwall is a sorcerer and the richest king in the world. He had once lived in Arthur’s kingdom (in Brittany) and had fathered a daughter on Guinevere (Guenevere). Guinevere needled Arthur with tales of Cornwall’s splendor until Arthur embarked on a quest to find the land. Arthur and his knights managed to tame a fiend called the Borlow-Beanie, which Cornwall owned, and they used it to gain possession of Cornwall’s magical items. Arthur used an enchanted sword to behead the king.

Cornwall | 0 to the 9th century AD

Celtic Inhabitants
During the Roman period, Cornwall was inhabited by Celtic tribes, likely part of the Dumnonii. These Celtic peoples had their own distinct culture and likely engaged in trade with the Roman Empire.

Roman Influence | 1st – 5th centuries
Cornwall, along with the rest of Britain, was under Roman influence and was part of the Roman province of Britannia. The Romans established trade routes, and Cornwall, known for its tin deposits, was an important source of this valuable metal for the Roman Empire. The extent of Romanization in Cornwall varied, and some areas retained their Celtic cultural identity.

Post-Roman Period | 5th – 7th centuries
With the decline of Roman rule and the departure of the Romans, Cornwall, like much of Britain, entered a period of political and cultural transition. It is believed that some Roman administraive structures may have continued to function in a limited capacity, while local rulers began to assert their authority. Cornwall was organized into several smaller Celtic kingdoms or territories during this time. The exact number and names of these kingdoms are unclear.

Cornwall, like other parts of Britain, experienced a period of change and increased migration. Celtic-speaking peoples continued to inhabit the region, and Cornwall retained its distinct cultural character.

Celtic Christianity
The spread of Christianity in Cornwall is associated with Celtic missionaries from Gaul (present-day France) and Wales. Saints such as Saint Piran and Saint Petroc played a role in the Christianization of the region. Monastic communities were established, contributing to Cornwall’s religious and cultural landscape.

Anglo-Saxon Period | 7th – 9th centuries
The Anglo-Saxon migration and settlement in England had an impact on Cornwall, although the region remained largely distinct from the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to the east. Cornwall was not part of the unified Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy and retained its Celtic character.

Viking Incursions | 8th – 10th centuries
Cornwall, with its exposed coastline, was vulnerable to Viking raids during the Viking Age. Viking incursions led to disruptions in local communities, and certain coastal areas may have been targeted.

Early Medieval Kingdoms
Cornwall during this period did not have a centralized political structure. Instead, it likely consisted of small kingdoms or territories, each with its own local rulers. The lack of a unified political entity contributed to the region’s ability to maintain its Celtic identity.

Comwales was the original form of Cornwall, which signifies the country inhabited by the Welsh of the Horn, according to The Place-names in Wales (1912).

Culhwch and Olwen | Late 11th century
Tristan | Thomas of England, 1170-1175
Vulgate Lancelot | 1215-1230
Vulgate Merlin | 1220-1235
Prose Tristan | 1230-1240
The Stanzaic Le Morte Arthur | 14th century
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470
”King Arthur and King Cornwall” | 16th century