The dignity of Cornwall was previously awarded as an earldom, first held by Robert of Mortain half brother to king William I, and finally by John of Eltham younger brother of Edward III, who died at Perth in Scotland on the 13th September of 1336.
After the death of his brother Edward III granted Cornwall to his son Edward of Woodstock now better known as the Edward, the Black Prince, only in the form of a Dukedom, being the very first example of the creation of a duke in England. When the Black Prince predeceased his father Edward III the title reverted to the crown and was then recreated in 1376 in favour of the Black Prince's son Richard of Bordeaux and then merged with the crown in 1376 when this Richard became Richard II.
On the deposition of Richard II by Henry IV in 1399, Henry granted the title to his eldest son Henry of Monmouth who subsequently became Henry V in 1413. On the birth of his son in 1421 Henry V established the doctrine that the eldest son and heir of a reigning Sovereign becomes Duke of Cornwall at birth, a view that was expressly re-iterated by Henry VI on the birth of his first and only son Edward of Westminster in 1453.
From that time, heirs apparent who are also the Sovereign's sons become Duke of Cornwall either at birth or when the death of an older brother makes them the heir apparent or immediately their parent succeeds to the Crown. This is in contrast to the title of Prince of Wales which has to be specifically created for each new holder who has then to be formally invested with that dignity.
A technical note on the succession to the title
The charter issued by Henry V in 1421 specifically granted the title of Duke of Cornwall to his son entailed on his 'heirs the first-begotten sons of the kings of England'. Technically speaking this means that the title of Duke of Cornwall is regarded as being a single creation which falls into abeyance each time there is no one that satisfies the required criterion; i.e. someone who is the eldest son of the reigning monarch.
As is often the case with Peerage Law this stipulation was regarded as retrospective in its application and was backdated to the original creation so that legally speaking Richard II was not Duke of Cornwall. (Being the grandson of, rather than son of a reigning monarch and hence the inclusion of Richard II as an example of a Prince of Wales who was not a Duke of Cornwall in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica entry for PRINCE.)
Fortunately no one much takes any notice of this nonsense and Richard II is universally regarded as having been Duke of Cornwall, but it does explain the apparent contradiction between Richard's assumption of the title and its denial to his descendant George Augustus Hanover who despite being the heir apparent following the death of his father Frederick Louis Hanover, Prince of Wales in 1751, as he was the grandson of the current monarch George II. (Being the only example to date of an heir apparent not to become Duke of Cornwall.)
The phrase 'the first-begotten sons' has also been interpreted somewhat liberally to mean the eldest son still alive, so that when in 1502 when the heir apparent Arthur predeceased his father Henry VII the title was treated as passing automatically to the next heir in line, which was Henry, Duke of York the future Henry VIII. Similarly in 1613, following the death of Prince Henry the title passed to his younger brother Charles Stuart the future Charles I.
It is also worth mentioning that because the eldest son of the monarch automatically succeeds to the title means that on a number of occasions the tenure of some of the holders has been somewhat shortlived. As with the two Henrys born in 1511 and 1514 to Henry VIII who are regarded as Dukes of Cornwall despite the fact that they died within days of their birth. (Note that there is some uncertainty as to the names of these two sons; the name Henry is a presumption rather than a fact.)
The Duchy of Cornwall
One of the other distinguishing features of the title is that along with the original creation of the dukedom there was also created the separate legal entity of the Duchy of Cornwall. The Duchy was specifically brought into being to provide the heir apparent with an income and continues to this day as the current Duke of Cornwall, Prince Charles receives no allowance from the Civil List and relies entirely on the income from the Duchy. (Not that this involves any hardship as the Duchy provides an income in excess of £7 million each year.)
THE DUKES OF CORNWALL
There have been twenty-four Dukes of Cornwall to date, of whom thirteen have succeeded to the throne, nine have predeceased their father and one, James Francis Edward Stuart (alias the Young Pretender) who lost the title as a result of his father's deposition as king during the Glorious Revolution in 1688, and was later formally attainted in 1702. The current and twenty-fourth Duke, Charles Philip Windsor, commonly known as Prince Charles may or may not succeed his mother as sovereign.
- Edward, the Black Prince (1337-1376)
- Richard of Bordeaux (1376-1377) became Richard II
- Henry of Monmouth (1399-1413) became Henry V
- Henry (1421-1422) became Henry VI
- Edward of Westminster (1453-1471)
- Edward of Westminster (1470-1483) became Edward V
- Edward of Middleham (1483-1484)
- Arthur Tudor (1486-1502)
- Henry Tudor, Duke of York (1502-1509) became Henry VIII
- Henry Tudor (1511-1511)
- Henry Tudor (1514-1514)
- Edward Tudor (1537-1547) became Edward VI
- Henry Frederick Stuart, Duke of Rothesay (1603-1612)
- Charles Stuart (1612-1625) became Charles I
- Charles James Stuart (1629-1629)
- Charles Stuart (1630-1649) became Charles II
- James Francis Edward Stuart (1688)
- George Augustus Hanover (1714-1727) became George II
- Frederick Louis Hanover, Prince of Wales (1727-1751)
- George Augustus Hanover (1762-1820) became George IV
- Albert Edward Hanover (1841-1901) became Edward VII
- George Frederick Windsor (1901-1910) became George V
- Edward Albert Windsor (1910-1936) became Edward VIII
- Charles Philip Windsor (1952-to date)
- The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for
CORNWALL, EARLS AND DUKES OF and PRINCE
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)