Cornwall is a country located at the south-western tip of Great Britain, between the river Tamar, the Celtic Sea and the English Channel. it includes the archipelago of the Isles of Scilly. Cornwall is an administrative part of England, where it has the status of a ceremonial county. The Cornish people have developed and preserved a distinctive culture, with Celtic roots, bearing similarities to the cultures of neighbouring Wales and Brittany.
Formerly an independent kingdom, Cornwall was annexed by the Anglo-Saxon kings in the 9th century AD, to be integrated into the English feudal administration. Since then, and until today, it has retained a distinct territorial identity: first as an earldom, and then as a duchy.
The Cornish people maintained their own local institutions (together with their English neighbours of Devon), the Stannary Parliaments, which existed until the 19th century to regulate aspects of tin production, a fundamental sector of the Cornish economy.
At the beginning of the 20th century, modern Cornish nationalism was born, in the image of what was happening in the other Celtic nations of the British Isles.
Cornish is the historical language of Cornwall. It is a Celtic language of the Brythonic branch, along with Welsh and Breton.
According to the 2011 census, Cornish is spoken by about 500 people in Cornwall. Very few, if any, of them have Cornish as their mother tongue, as the language ceased to be used as a community language in the 18th century. Since the second half of the 20th century, efforts to revitalise it have been made.
The rest of the population speaks, for the most part, English.
Cornish was recognised in 2002 by the UK authorities, as a language to be protected under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. This recognition does not grant Cornish official status, but it obliges the UK to promote and develop it.
At the 2011 UK census, 73,220 people living in Cornwall declared their national identity to be Cornish. This amounts to 14% of Cornwall’s population, roughly twice the 2001 census figure.
In the school census (PLASC), self-identification of pupils with the Cornish identity has steadily increased, from 24% in 2006 to 51% in 2016.
Since 2014, the UK government has recognised the Cornish people as a national minority, in accordance with the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The Cornwall Council had previously released a report in which it argued why the national identity of the Cornish people should be recognised.
Politics and government
Cornwall does not have legislative autonomy, but it does have executive autonomy through its two councils: the Cornwall Council, which administers the part of the country on the island of Great Britain, and the Council of the Isles of Scilly, corresponding to that archipelago. The two councils jointly administer certain powers, such as those related to health. The Cornwall Council also has powers over transport, support to business and employee training, European funds, culture, and heritage.
The Cornish national movement is calling for Cornish devolution, similar to that of Scotland and Wales. This is coupled with the demand for recognition of Cornwall as one of the home nations of the United Kingdom. The main political party supporting this demand is Mebyon Kernow, which usually receives 1% to 7% of the votes in elections.
Furthermore, the country has a long tradition of electing independent councillors not belonging to the main UK parties. At the Cornwall Council, independents hold between a quarter and a third of the total number of seats; at the Scilly Council, all members are independents.
Language and culture
- Cornwall Council – Cornish language cornwall.gov.uk/leisure-and-culture/the-cornish-language/
- Gorsedh Kernow gorsedhkernow.org.uk
- Kesva an Taves Kernewek kesva.org
- Kowethas an Yezh Kernewek cornish-language.org
- Agan Tavas agantavas.com
(Last updated November 2020.)