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Cornwall, Connectivity and Identity in the Fourteenth Century

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In considering all these subjects I sought to show that Cornwall was strikingly distinctive, but that at the same time it was a place powerfully connected to a wider world. Indeed, it was the combination of these twin aspects of the peninsula – as both distinctive and connected – that made late medieval Cornwall what it was: a quite remarkable place. Cornwall was not, of course, that mythical construct the ‘typical’ English county. As Drake makes clear in the opening section, the history of medieval Cornwall cannot be divorced from more recent debates about the county’s ‘exceptional’ nature, which in its most extreme form leads to the argument that Cornwall should be separated from England altogether. It is very much the nature and extent of the ties binding Cornwall and its inhabitants with each other and with the wider realm that forms the subject of this book. After noting the historiographical contradictions at the heart of our understanding of Cornwall’s history, Drake sets out the dynamic he wishes to pursue: ‘The main aim of this book, therefore, is to present an account of how fourteenth-century Cornwall cohered with the rest of the kingdom while remaining a quite remarkable place’ (p. xix). Drake’s Cornwall was both strongly connected to England and a very distinctive place with its own traditions, language, and idiosyncrasies. The rest of the book illuminates how these things can both be true at once. Drawing on a wide range of published and archival material, this book seeks to show how Cornwall remained strikingly distinctive while still forming part of the kingdom. It argues that myths,saints, government, and lordship all endowed the name and notion of Cornwall with authority in the minds of its inhabitants, forging these people into a commonalty. At the same time, the earldom-duchy and the Crown together helped to link the county into the politics of England at large. With thousands of Cornishmen and women drawn east of the Tamar by the needs of the Crown, warfare, lordship, commerce, the law, the Church, and maritime interests, connectivity with the wider realm emerges as a potent integrative force. It will be essential reading on its subject. It will be used for a hundred years or more. It is substantial."

All that being so, there can be little doubt that a consistently comparative approach across a yet wider canvas would cast an even sharper light on the nature of Cornish integration into the kingdom and the Plantagenet polity at large. The idea of historical connectivity, developed by Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell in their study of the Mediterranean and enthusiastically adopted and adapted by me, may well point to a new way of understanding the cohesive forces that bound the Plantagenet Empire itself together. With the king of England standing at the centre of the hub of all pan-empire interactions – albeit as king, duke, lord and so on of these varying lordships – the movement of people, goods, and ideas within and between these many domains must have helped to bind all these territories together and to the king himself, just as connectivity linked Cornwall closely to the rest of the kingdom. In the Cornish peninsula, the degree of overlap between the many different strands of connectivity – regnal, lordly, military, commercial, legal, ecclesiastical, and maritime – was quite remarkable, creating a whole greater than the sum of its parts. It would be fascinating to explore whether or not this holds true across a wider Plantagenet polity and to consider the relative strength of the ties between the constituent parts of this sprawling empire. Within this new imperial historiography, a renewed focus on the maritime aspects of Plantagenet rulership would surely also be fruitful. Since every king from Edward I onwards asserted his lofty title as seignur le roi de la mare, in some sense the sea itself formed a watery Plantagenet domain that helped to bind together the family’s dynastic empire. In responding to Dr Matt Raven’s review of Cornwall, Connectivity and Identity in the Fourteenth Century, I would first like to thank Dr Raven for both reading my book so closely and for writing such a comprehensive review. I do not have anything much to add to his comments about the book itself – his review is immensely thorough. In the cause of scholarly debate, however, I thought I would respond to some of the broader points that he felt my study raised about the history of later medieval England, Britain, and a wider Europe. It is perhaps worth beginning with Dr Raven’s thoughts about the interconnected nature of warfare on land and warfare at sea in the middle ages. With its long coastland and its many resident gentlemen, Cornwall inevitably contributed to both these theatres of war throughout the 1300s and beyond. All the evidence points to this fact, from the naval pay rolls listing the hundreds of county ships that sailed in royal fleets through to the horse inventories recording the many Cornish knights who campaigned for the king. Dr Raven is surely right to emphasise the particular mobilisation of men and ships in the last quarter of the fourteenth century. It is in this period that the overlap of military personnel becomes most apparent, with many Cornish gentlemen serving the king at sea and these same folk mobilised at home to defend the county from enemy raiders. The evidence from Cornwall points to the fact that our understanding of this phase of the Hundred Years’ War – and of medieval warfare more generally – could be greatly enhanced by considered military service on land and at sea as an interlinked whole.Drake puts medieval Cornwall on the map... [this book] will be essential reading on its subject. It will be used for a hundred years or more." The links between Cornwall, a county frequently considered remote and separate in the Middle Ages, and the wider realm of England are newly discussed.

This fascinating study by Sam Drake is a welcome contribution not only to scholarship on late medieval Cornwall, it also represents an important and timely intervention in current approaches to history of regions in pre-modern Britain and Ireland." A word also ought to be said about Dr Raven’s kind comment that ‘ Cornwall, Connectivity and Identity shows how interesting and important the model of the county study can still be’. It is true that county studies have been out of vogue for some time now, being eschewed in favour of social network theory or completely abandoned. Yet there is still merit in county studies – and the genre does have a future – for the simple reason that there was a great deal of activity going on at the shire level that is both well documented and well worth investigating. The truism also bears repeating that to understand the wider history of the realm it is essential to appreciate the diversity of its constituent parts. The structures of the county had a key role to play here, with shires serving as a units of collective government and grievance that bound their inhabitants both to each other and into the kingdom at large. While county sentiment was by means perfectly defined or definable, it should be placed in a whole hierarchy of solidarities ranging from sub-county localism through to larger regionalism and regnal solidarity itself. All these overlapping sentiments served to determine the intertwined political dynamics of both the localities and the kingdom. Perhaps, though, it is the nature of the questions asked of the ‘county’ that really determines the value of this avenue of investigation. Although I explored at length the forces that bound the residents of Cornwall together, in a sense I sought to turn the traditional county study on its head by placing connectivity and Cornwall’s place in a wider world at the very centre of my book. I tried to ask very big questions about the Cornish peninsula in particular and about the role of the county in later medieval life more generally. operated (I briefly consulted G. R. Lewis’ 1908 The Stannaries, a Study of the Medieval Tin Miners of Cornwall and Devon, cited in the Overall, this is an interesting and useful volume which offers a substantial amount of historical flesh to clothe the archaeological bones for this intriguing period of Cornwall's history."Chapter 11 provides a fascinating account of commercial connectivity. Detailed study of both the tin trade and of debt patterns reveals the strength of Cornwall’s economic ties with London. The capital was especially important as a hub for Cornish goods and trade but Drake also takes care to illuminate commercial connectivity with other regions of England. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that ‘… the many interlinked strands of commercial connectivity, from networks of exchange and social interaction through to political considerations arising from trade, helped Cornwall cohere with the rest of England’ (p. 234). The following three chapters range in turn across the law, the church, and the sea. Despite the numerous customary courts which perforated the legal landscape of the region, Cornwall’s integration into the royal common law system encouraged ‘legal connectivity’ and Drake shows how many Cornishmen made careers out of legal expertise. These included no lesser personage than Robert Tresilian, who rose to become Chief Justice of the King’s Bench and whose loyalty to Richard II saw him executed in 1388. Chapter 13 surveys the county’s ecclesiastical institutions and points to the significant numbers of Cornishmen who left the county to pursue higher education (usually at Oxford), before becoming integrated into the Church both in and beyond Cornwall. The Church therefore acted as a bonding agent between Cornwall and the wider realm, in much the same way as the common law, the king’s armies, and the lordship of the earl-dukes. Chapter 14 comprising in an innovative discussion of maritime connection which ranges across trade connections with English ports, Wales, Ireland, Bordeaux and Brittany, and considers Cornish involvement in smuggling and the famously Cornish pastime of piracy (both as victims and perpetrators). Altogether, ‘The sea formed a most remarkable medium of interchange’ (p. 302). Cornwall, Connectivity and Identity in the Fourteenth Century won the Holyer an Gof Award in non-fiction and The Federation of Old Cornwall Societies (FOCS) Holyer an Gof Cup in 2020. We thank author S.J. Drake for sharing his thoughts on his writing process and the honour of winning two Holyer an Gof Publishing Awards from the Gorsedh Kernow.

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