“The Cornish: A Neglected Nation?
By Professor Mark Stoyle
What are the constituent nations of Britain? To most of us, the answer to this question will seem obvious: the English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh nations. The idea that Cornwall, too, might have a right to be regarded as a separate nation is one that - outside Cornwall itself - has practically vanished from the popular consciousness. Yet 500 years ago, matters were very different. Throughout the mediaeval and early modern periods, the inhabitants of Cornwall were generally agreed - both by themselves and by their English neighbours - to be a distinctive people or 'race'.
The story of how this slowly changed - of how, in the words of A.L. Rowse, the Cornish were gradually 'absorbed into the mainstream of English life' between 1485 and 1700 - is one of the most intriguing chapters of British history. Yet, until very recently, it has also been one of the most neglected. Now - as the drive to create a 'Europe of the regions' and the accelerating 'break-up of Britain' have aroused a growing interest in Cornish identity and distinctiveness in the present - a new generation of historians is beginning to explore the nature of Cornish identity and distinctiveness in the past.
Physical isolation provides the key to Cornish history. A rocky peninsula, jutting out some 90 miles into the Atlantic Ocean, Cornwall stands at the extreme south-western corner of the British Isles. Surrounded by waves on all sides but one, it is practically severed from the adjoining lands to the east by the River Tamar, which runs almost from sea to sea.”
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