Early Modern Cornwall 1485 – 1688

A time of new religious and political ideas. During this period English rulers sought to establish firmer control over the furthermost parts of Britain – Scotland and Ireland especially but this trend also affected Cornwall. Here the loyalty of many gentry, particularly in East Cornwall was secured as they were increasingly Anglicised, their loyalty to England secured by representation in Parliament in great numbers and the Cornish language was relegated in significance. Cornish was retained almost exclusively in the West of the county. So there was a divide between better-off East involving itself in English affairs, and the poorer and more lawless West.

This was a time of new religious and political ideas, economic expansion, and the beginnings of European expansion and conflict over trade and possessions in the New World. Cornwall was not immune to all of this and Cornish people ‘flexed their muscles’ on many occasions.

In 1497, there was considerable unrest when Henry VII tried to raise taxation to pay for his war against the Scottish.A small poorly armed Cornish force organized by Michael Joseph An Gof and Thomas Flamank marched on London along with Lord Audley only to be met and defeated by a 10,000 strong professional army at the Battle of Deptford Bridge, Blackheath (just south of Greenwich). The leaders were all caught and executed. There is a commemorative plaque on Greenwich Park wall as pictured. Later in that year Perkin Warbeck landed in Cornwall as a Pretender to the throne and received some support from the Cornish, who still felt aggrieved from the previous incidents, although this was a short lived attempt.

One of the later results of this (as a concession from Henry) was the passing of the 1508 ‘Charter of Pardon’ This established the rights of the Stannary Parliament to veto English legislation.

However, over the period as a whole this institution became less and less effective as a defender of local interests.

During Henry VIIIs reign, international security became more important and the Cornish Coast was fortified with the castles of Pendennis, St Mawes and Fowey. Invasion from France, Spain (especially) and pirates from further afield was a recurring threat as the century progressed.

Religious houses were dissolved by 1540 here as elsewhere in Britain but this provoked little reaction, even though the Cornish were religiously conservative.

However in 1549 the introduction of English Protestant services, in the Book of Common Prayer was to have a major impact in the form of an armed rebellion through Devon and Cornwall in which some 5,000 were killed. Moreover the change to English language services played a large part in the later demise of the Cornish language. Estimates suggest that by 1700 only a small core of some 5,000 Cornish speakers existed within the county.

One of many recently erected memorials in Cornwall and Devon to the 1549 Prayer Book rebellion It was during the long reign of Elizabeth that much Anglicisation took place. Many towns were granted Charters and the right to return MPs. In addition to the 2 members returned for the county, 21 other constituencies each returned 2 MPs.

During the late 16th century there were many conflicts with Spain with some Spanish vessels landing on the Cornish coast. Cornish privateers, such as the Killigrews worked out of the Helford and Spanish ships in Saltash and Fowey were seized while peace existed between England and Spain.

When war was declared in 1585, Cornwall was even more involved.The main Spanish Armada battle took place just off neighbouring Plymouth, but there are incidents of the Spanish attacking Fowey and in particular landing at Mousehole in 1595. Incidently, one of the surnames found in that area is Jose pronounced as Jose in English but Hose in its native Spanish) .

The tin industry also expanded considerably, especially in the central and western areas. A pattern was set at this time of the predominance of the tin industry in terms of Cornwall’s overall economy and this was to be the case for the next two centuries and more.

Things settled down after the Civil War, with winners and losers across the county. One of the main beneficiaries were the Killigrews of Falmouth – the town being granted a charter in return for the Killigrew’s notable support of the King towards the end of the war. This is the point from which Falmouth becomes the main port on the river, taking over from the ports of Truro and Penryn. Falmouth parish church may look similar to many Cornish churches but inside can instantly be seen as a Restoration building dedicated as it is to Charles the Martyr. One of the main ‘losers’ were the Basset family who had to sell St Michael’s Mount to the St Aubyns to fund the Royalist cause

Although in 1688 Bishop Trelawny (of Cornish origin but Bishop of Bristol) was imprisoned in the Tower of London for opposing the King’s attempts towards religious tolerance, at the time this event made little impact on the county. Later he was made famous by Rev. Hawker’s 19th century song ‘Trelawney’ – the Cornish Anthem. 20,000 men did not march on London to support Trelawney – Hawker seems to have confused this with the AnGof rebellion of 1497 – at the beginning of the Early Modern period!


History of Cornwall



Neolithic Cornwall

Neolithic Cornwall

The upland areas of Cornwall were the parts first open to settlement as the vegetation required little in the way of clearance: they were perhaps first occupied in Neolithic times.

Hurler Stone Circles

Cornwall in the Bronze Age

Bronze Age cultures began to appear in Cornwall around 2200 BC with new ideas spreading from the Continent to the existing population, but the changes were gradual not sudden and stone tools continued to be used...

Cornwall in the Iron Age

Cornwall in the Iron Age

New, stronger iron ploughs and axes meant that farming improved. Cornwall contains many archaeological remains from this time: small villages with field systems around them, hillforts and cliff castles that...

Roman Cornwall

Roman sites and finds in Cornwall are few and far-between. In Cornwall, the first impact of the Roman domination of north-west Europe must have been felt around 56BC...



Cornwall 410 - 1066

Cornwall 410 - 1066

After the Roman withdrawal from Great Britain, Saxons and other peoples were able to conquer and settle most of the east of the island. But Cornwall remained under the rule of local Romano-British and Celtic elites...

Mediaeval Cornwall 1066-1485

Mediaeval Cornwall


With the arrival of the Normans to the British mainland in 1066, the River Tamar became the agreed border. There was also a general acceptance that Cornwall had a separate identity to the rest of England...


Sancreed Beacon

Early Modern Cornwall 1485

During this period English rulers sought to establish firmer control over the furthermost parts of Britain - Scotland and Ireland especially but this trend also affected Cornwall. Here the loyalty of many gentry, particularly in East Cornwall...

Cornwall & The Civil War 1642

Cornwall & The Civil War 1642

The Civil Wars of the mid seventeenth century were a result of political, constitutional, religious and social changes and disagreements, which culminated in a struggle for control of the country between King and Parliament...


treffry viaduct

Industry in Cornwall

The industrial revolution had a huge impact on Cornwall and the county at this time was amongst the most industrialized part of the UK, if not the world...

History of Transport

History of Transport

The development of Cornwall’s roads was hugely affected by the county’s unique topography and landscape. Cornwall’s rivers run north-south, so all traffic along the peninsular...