Norman Earls of Cornwall
Robert of Mortain was the son of Herluin of Conteville and Herleva of Falaise, which of course made him William the Conquerors's half brother and one of the key supporters of his planned invasion of England supplying the largest contingent of 120 ships to William's fleet.
Robert of Mortain was rewarded with the grant of almost 800 manors in seventeen counties making him the second largest landowner in England at the time. Of these eight hundred or so manors around a third of these were in Cornwall and hence he is regarded as the first Earl of Cornwall. He built a castle at Launceston from which he effectively ruled Cornwall in the immediate post-conquest years.
With the death of William I in 1087, Robert objected to William Rufus' seizure of power and together with other leading magnates such as Odo of Bayeux attempted to lead an insurrection in favour of Robert Curthose, William I's eldest son. The rebellion failed and as a result Robert of Mortain lost his English lands. Robert retired to Mortain where he remained as Count and died there sometime between the years 1089 and 1097.
Robert had earlier married Matilda, daughter of Roger of Montgomery, the Earl of Shrewsbury, which marriage produced a son named William. William was to make his peace with William Rufus and was restored to his father's lands and position by the year 1095. But William Rufus died in 1100 and was replaced as king by brother Henry, as once again Robert Curthose lost out.
In the resulting struggle between the two brothers William sided with Robert, apparently because Henry refused to grant him his uncle Odo's old earldom of Kent. William was therefore at Robert's side at the crucial battle of Tinchenbrai. Henry won a comprehensive victory and William was take prisoner and some sources say blinded by Henry. Although he was later released fron captivity and became a monk at Bermondsey Abbey (where he died in 1140) his honours and lands were forfeited.
The earldom thereby remained vacant for the remainder of Henry I's reign, but after Stephen seized power in 1135, he granted the earldom to Reginald de Dunstanville, one of Henry I's many illegitimate offspring in the year 1140. Reginald de Dunstanville however died without heirs in 1175 and the title Earl of Cornwall reverted to the crown once more.
Plantagenet Earls of Cornwall
In the year 1170 Henry II created his fourth son John, Earl of Cornwall; the first in collection of titles that was later to include the earldoms of Nottingham, Lancaster, Devon and Dorset as well as the title Earl of Gloucester which he gained by his marriage to Isabel of Gloucester - all of which became merged with the crown when John became king in 1999.
King John of course, died in 1216 and was succeeded by his son Henry III, who on the 3rd June 1226 granted Cornwall to his younger brother Richard. This however did not prevent Richard from supporting the baronial opposition to brother Henry III, although he later made his peace with the king, before he went on crusade in 1240. Richard later turned down the throne of Sicily but accepted the offer of the King of the Romans in 1257, a position which he held until his death.
He fought on his brother's side at the battle of Lewes after which he was captured and spent more than a year as a prisoner of Simon de Montfort. Richard died on the 2nd of April 1272 at the age of 63 as a result, it is said, of grief after the assassination of his eldest surviving son, Henry of Almain at the hands of the sons of Simon de Montfort the previous year. The earldom of Cornwall therfore passed to his next surviving son Edmund. On Edmund's death, in October 1300 it became extinct for want of heirs.
The earldom did not remain vacant for long, by 1307 Edward II was king and almost as soon as he was crowned he created his favourite Piers Gaveston Earl of Cornwall. Gaveston's arrogance and monopoly over royal patronage excited a great deal of resentment in the realm. Gaveston was repeatedly forced into exile only to return at the request of the king. Eventually the barons under the leadership of Thomas 'the Martyr' Plantagenet rose in rebellion and seized hold of Piers Gaveston; he was taken to Warwick castle and beheaded at nearby Blacklow Hill on the 19th of June 1312; after which the earldom reverted to the crown once again.
Edward II himself was dead in 1327 and his son and successor Edward III created his younger brother John of Eltham the Earl of Cornwall in 1328. John however died without issue on the 14th September 1336 and was to prove to be the very last Earl of Cornwall
In 1337 Edward III granted Cornwall to his son Edward, the Black Prince only this time as a dukedom, the first to be created in England and created by a Royal Charter of the 7th March 1337 the Duchy of Cornwall which under the terms of the charter is automatically vested in the monarch's eldest son and heir.
THE EARLS OF CORNWALL
Creation of 1170
- John Plantagenet alias king John Earl of Cornwall (1170-1199)
Creation of 1226
Thereafter see Duke of Cornwall.
- The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for
CORNWALL, EARLS AND DUKES OF
- Royal Genealogy information held at University of Hull see
- RoyaList Online at http://www.royalist.info/royalist/index.html
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
- THE ENGLISH PEERAGE or, a view of the ANCIENT and PRESENT STATE of the ENGLISH NOBILITY London: (1790) see