Background

This is the unofficial1 national anthem of Cornwall. It was written by R. S. Hawker in 1825, and is probably his most well known piece of work. It was inspired by the story of Jonathan Trelawny's imprisonment in the Tower of London by James II, although it also holds references to the Cornish Rebellion of 1497, led by Michael Joseph An Gof.

The chorus was sung by the Cornishmen at the time of Trelawny's imprisonment. Hawker took the refrain, and produced this piece of work, which he originally published anonymously:

  "The history of that Ballad is suggestive of my whole life. I published it first anonymously in a Plymouth Paper. Everybody liked it. It, not myself, became popular. I was unnoted and unknown. It was seen by Mr Davies Gilbert, President of the Society of Antiquaries, etc., etc., and by him reprinted at his own Private Press at Eastbourne. Then it attracted the notice of Sir Walter Scott, who praised it, not me, unconscious of the Author. Afterwards Macaulay (Lord) extolled it in his History of England. All these years the Song has been bought and sold, set to music and applauded, while I have lived on among these far away rocks unprofited, unpraised and unknown. This is an epitome of my whole life. Others have drawn profit from my brain while I have been coolly relinquished to obscurity and unrequital and neglect."2

Lyrics

A good sword and a trusty hand,
A merry heart and true!
King James's men shall understand
What Cornish lads can do.
And have they fixed the where and when?
And shall Trelawny die?
Here's twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!

It was King James II's second Declaration of Indulgence that led to Trelawny's imprisonment.

And shall Trelawney live?
Or shall Trelawney die?
Here's twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!

Any good anthem deserves a rousing chorus.

Out spake their Captain brave and bold:
A merry knight was he:
"If London Tower were Michael's hold,
We'll set Trelawney free!
We'll cross the Tamar, land to land,
The Severn is no stay:
With 'one and all', and hand in hand,
And who shall bid us nay?"

The Tamar serves as a border between Cornwall and Devon.
Their journey to London would take them by Bristol, where the Severn has its estuary.

And shall Trelawney live?
Or shall Trelawney die?
Here's twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!

The 'twenty thousand Cornish men' reflects the level of feeling towards Trelawny's incarceration.
At the time of a Cornish rebellion, a mere 15,000 strong army headed for London.

"And when we come to London Wall,
A pleasent sight to view,
Come forth! come forth ye cowards all,
Here's men as good as you!
Trelawney he's in keep and hold:
Trelawney he may die:
But twenty thousand Cornish bold
Will know the reason why!"

Originally built in AD 200 by the occupying Romans, London Wall encircled the city as a defensive measure.

And shall Trelawney live?
Or shall Trelawney die?
Here's twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!

Your typical Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus composition.

Notes

  1. it is of course hard to have an official national anthem, when you are not a nation. Mebyon Kernow
  2. Brandon, Piers. Hawker of Morwenstow : portrait of a Victorian eccentric. J. Cape, 1975. ISBN: 0907746268

CST Approved

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