Friday, October 11, 2013

Right-Wing English Separatists Declare “Precious” Cornish Nationalism “Dead”

The idea of a national identity for the people of Cornwall, England’s southwesternmost point and the most obscure of the Celtic nations, is “dead,” according to the chairman of the English Democrats political party.

Robin Tilbrook
The party’s chairman, Robin Tilbrook, was exulting over recently-released census data which show depressed figures for those identifying themselves as ethnically or nationally “Cornish.”  He added, “The census figures show that not many people are precious about declaring themselves as Cornish.  There’s at least five times more people for English nationalism than Cornish.”  Only 14% of Cornwall residents in the 2011 census indicated Cornish as their national identity—though that is a more impressive figure when one considers that Cornish was not one of the printed choices and that those 73,200 people Cornish nationals were all write-ins.  Moreover, Cornwall has one of the highest rates of immigration from other parts of the United Kingdom among England’s counties, and nearly 5% of the population is from immigrant ethnic groups.  Given that, the true figures for those thinking of themselves as Cornish first may give greater cause for English Democrat worries.

The English Democrats were founded in the late 1990s (as the English National Party) in response to devolution of powers to Scotland and Wales.  On the face of it, they are a devolutionist and Eurosceptical movement favoring removal of England from the European Union and of course from the U.K.  But its true motives are less savory: English Democrats regularly march in white-supremacist rallies alongside National Front neo-fascists, and the movement is part of a broader movement of Continental European right-wing extremist groups such as Serbia’s neo-Nazi Obraz movement, the affiliated Russky Obraz in Russia (which the English Democrats publicly support), the New Right (Noua Dreaptă) hate group in Romania, and even Golden Dawn, the violent, high-profile fascist party in Greece whose leaders and M.P.s have recently been rounded up by the Greek government.*

Coming to a Skinhead rally near you
The English Democrats have no seated legislators and have recently lost ground to the more centrist (but still plenty right of center) United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which aims to remove the entire U.K. from the E.U. and currently seats three parliamentarians in the House of Lords and nine in the European Parliament’s U.K. delegation in Strasbourg.  So the English Democrats are floundering for an edge in the polls.  Picking on the Cornish seems especially pathetic and bullying, but that sort of image problem has never bothered them before.

Cornwall has a peculiar status within England.  The only English county known formally as the Duchy of ..., rather than County of ..., this does not actually translate to any kind of autonomy.  It is semantic merely, like Pennsylvania’s designation as a “Commonwealth” or Quebec’s parliament being called a “National,” rather than provincial, assembly.  But it is also the constituent part of England with the most recent experience with sovereignty.  King Edward III unilaterally annexed to England the previously independent Duchy of Cornwall in 1337 and designated his son Edward, the “Black Prince,” as Duke of Cornwall.  Since then, that title has been reserved for the first in line to the throne, alongside the title Prince of Wales.  Today’s Prince of Wales, Charles, is thus Duke of Cornwall as well.  His specific royal prerogatives include silly medieval stuff like the right to all shipwrecks that wash ashore on Cornwall’s beaches or any porpoises “or other royalle Fishes” caught in Cornish waters, but also more serious assets such as over 540 square kilometers of productive land in and around Cornwall, including enough lucrative farmland to support his lavish lifestyle without dipping into other royal coffers.  Cornwall is really Charles’s personal royal fief—and is one day to be Prince William’s.

The current Duke of Cornwall is ready to claw the county back if necessary.
That is, unless the nationalist Party for Cornwall (Mebyon Kernow, or M.K.) has anything to say about it.  They argue that the original ducal line, and the Cornish sovereignty it embodied, were never formally extinguished.  In 2003, a non-binding referendum showed 55% favored a devolved legislature for the duchy.  Others favor being made a full constituent “country” of the U.K., like England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, or a quasi-independent “Crown Dependency” like Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man.  Still others, like the sometimes violent Cornish Nationalist Party, back full independence.

Cornwall is, along with Brittany across the water in France, one of the only two of the seven (as they are sometimes defined) Celtic nations to lack any home rule.  (Ireland is independent—most of it, anyway—while Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, and Spain’s region of Galicia all have powerful regional parliaments, and Scotland is voting on independence next year.)  The Cornish language went more or less extinct in the 19th century, by some reckonings, but recently it has been brought somewhat back to life by schooling elders who had dimly remembered passive knowledge of it up to proficiency, with the help of younger speakers of the more-healthy, mutually-intelligible Breton language in northwest France.

Cornish nationalists reacted strongly to Tilbrook’s death certificate, with one local leader, Wendron Loveday Jenkin, saying, “Most Cornish people define themselves as Cornish and British but not English, and many non-Cornish people living in Cornwall would recognise Cornwall as a land apart, a duchy and a distinct region, if not a nation.  A significant number of people have voted for Mebyon Kernow and more than 50,000 have called for Cornwall to have its own assembly to run its own affairs.”  And even this does not include the even greater popularity in the county of the Liberal Democratic Party, now the U.K.’s ruling junior coalition partner, which champions Cornish autonomy.

Indeed, the English Democrats and M.K. are a study in contrasts.  Like the separatist movements in Scotland, Wales, Brittany, and Galicia and Ireland’s Sinn Féin, Cornish nationalists are considerably left of center.  Galician separatism even includes a Communist component (though there are, to be far, smaller far-right Scottish and Welsh nationalist movements).  The English Democrats, however, have more affinity with far-right separatist groups on the Continent, nearly all of them from the more prosperous parts of their countries, like northern Italy’s Lega Nord (Northern League), Belgium’s Flemish nationalists, and the fascist-tinged Norman Movement in northeastern France.

But Lega Nord, for all its racist anti-immigrant bluster, does champion the rights of linguistic minorities such as Provençal and Swiss-German speakers in Italy’s northwestern Alpine fringes, and the Friulian, Ladin, and South Tyrolean peoples in the northeast along the border with Austria.  The English Democrats, by contrast, are as intolerant of indigenous diversity as they are of immigrants.  They hate anything that spoils the picture of an English unitary state and are even cold to movements to establish devolved parliaments for the Wessex and Yorkshire regions.

With high hopes for referenda on Scotland and Catalonia next year and rising nationalism in Wales, Cornish national identity may in fact be on the upswing.  It is the English Democrats who may be headed for the dustbin of history.  Good thing, too.

*Note: This article includes a revision of the original version, which featured a statement to the effect that the English Democrats were formally allied with the extremist groups listed in the third paragraph.  See comments below for the discussion.  Thank you to all readers who provide feedback, clarifications, and corrections.

[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook.]


  1. Excellent blog. Truly informative.

    Plaid Cymru have, thankfully, declined to get involved with the English Democrats. Not only do they seek to play down the distinctiveness of Cornwall and it's true history, they also have hopes of splitting Sir Fynwy/Monmouthshire away from Wales and claiming it for if the English nation haven't done enough 'land grabs' over the centuries.

    1. One point of clarification if I may. 'The English Nation' does not have any designs on Monmouthshire, this idea is embedded in the tiny minds of a couple of dozen elderly and middle-aged men who meet under the heading of the EDP conference. Best Wishes to English and Cornish nationalists.

  2. If Cornish nationalism is dead, then why's Mr Tilbrook even talking about it? For reasons best known to himself, we seem to worry him, which is very comforting. That 73,000 people registered on the 2011 census is remarkable, when you consider that "Cornish" was given no specific tick-box! Tilbrook omitted to mention that, in 2011, 41% of Cornwall's schoolchildren chose to register themselves as Cornish, rather than English or British. The fact of the matter is that nationalist feeling among the Cornish people has never been stronger than it is right now.. We've resisted "assimilation by the Borg" for a long, long time, and Mr Tilbrook can rest assured that resistance is far from futile - it's guaranteed!

  3. The English Democrats will want Cornish voters' support in the forthcoming elections to appoint an MEP to the region.
    I hope you give their candidate - Alan England - the welcome he so richly deserves.

  4. Lol typical! Why let any actual facts spoil a story when you "Play the Man not the Ball!"
    We have never had anything to do with the parties that you claim: not the National Front; Nor Serbia’s neo-Nazi Obraz movement; nor the New Right (Noua Dreaptă); nor Golden Dawn. What will you invent now?
    Yours sincerely
    Robin Tilbrook
    The English Democrats,
    FaceBook Profile:
    Party Tel: 0207 242 1066
    Twitter: @RobinTilbrook
    Party Website:
    English Democrats' FB Page:!/
    Chairman's FB
    Key facts about the English Democrats
    The English Democrats launched in 2002. The English Democrats are the English nationalist Party which campaigns for a referendum for Independence for England; for St George’s Day to be England’s National holiday; for Jerusalem to be England’s National Anthem; to leave the EU; for an end to mass immigration; for the Cross of St George to be flown on all public buildings in England.
    The English Democrats are England’s answer to the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru. The English Democrats’ greatest electoral successes to date include winning the Directly Elected Executive Mayoralty of Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council and the 2012 referendum; We won the referendum which triggered a referendum to give Salford City an Elected Mayor; In 2012 we saved all our deposits in the Police Commissioner elections and came second in South Yorkshire; In the 2009 EU election we gained 279,801 votes after a total EU campaign spend of less than £25,000 (giving the English Democrats by far the most cost efficient electoral result of any serious Party in the UK)

  5. For the record, Robin Tilbrook & leader of the Russian fascist group Russky Obraz met & issued joint statement of shared principles ( Russky Obraz staged similar high-profile appearances with Golden Dawn ( and others.

    But, Mr. Tilbrook, you're right that the BNP connection is not really as stated in this article. About 10% of ED voters are former or current members of BNP (a National Front splinter group) but you have characterized that publicly as a shift by those individuals to a more reasonable sensible centrist party (

    So, not formally allied but maybe informally allied?? Still doesn't look that good, you have to admit.

  6. Fair enough. I'll change the wording so it doesn't say formally allied.

  7. If I may draw your attention to some significant inaccuracies...

    You state: "... But it is also the constituent part of England with the most recent experience with sovereignty. King Edward III unilaterally annexed to England the previously independent Duchy of Cornwall in 1337 and designated his son Edward, the “Black Prince,” as Duke of Cornwall. Since then, that title has been reserved for the first in line to the throne, alongside the title Prince of Wales..."

    Cornwall was NOT annexed to England in 1337 - you misunderstand the import of the two Charters of 1337 and the Charter of the 8th of January 1338. Prior to this date the sovereignty of Cornwall had been inherited by an English king but was never merged with the sovereignty of England. Holding more than one separate sovereignty was - and is still - common. The sovereignties of Crown dependencies such as Canada, Australia, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are not merged with that of England.

    While currently (mis)governed as if it were part of England, Cornwall's seat of government well into the Middle Ages was the Council of the Duchy of Cornwall sitting in Lostwithiel. Since then nothing has altered de jure, but there has been a de facto (informal and not legally formalised, if you like) change in how Cornwall has been governed. Given sufficient political will it would appear that the government of Cornwall could return home without constitutional change...

    Incidentally the Duchy Charters state that it is the firstborn son (filius primogenitus) who becomes Duke of Cornwall, not the eldest surviving son or whoever may be the heir to the throne. This contrasts with the customary of primogeniture and is frequently misunderstood and misconstrued by commentators..

    Also the Duke is Duke upon birth, whereas the Duke of Cornwall has to be formally invested with the title Prince of Wales. This happens when he attains his majority.

    Finally I should warn that recent statements put out by the Duchy about its constitutional position are deliberately misleading and fly in the face of the evidence of the Duchy Charters and statements by the Attorney General of the Duchy of Cornwall in the mid nineteenth century including those made in the Duchy Foreshore Case between the Crown and the Duchy.

    There is a common misconception that "!the Crown and the Duchy are all one and the same thing." The Foreshore Case alone shows this not to be so.

  8. Cornish nationalists? Three men and a dog at most.

  9. Just to lay the old chestnut that Cornish and Breton (and Welsh) speakers can understand one another, they can't, at least not beyond the level of isolated words. They separated over 1,000 years ago and too many differences have accumulated over that time span.
    Nor was the Cornish language revival founded on the recollections of the last few (semi-)speakers of the language in the 18th and 19th centuries. If that was all that had survived we'd know roughly what manner of beast the language had been (as e.g. in the case of Norn) but there would have been too little to reconstruct a full grammar and vocabulary. Fortunately we have extensive manuscripts from the 14th-16th centuries amounting to over 20,000 lines of verse drama and some awfully boring sermons from the Reformation. These were worked over by scholars from the 19th century onwards, and their results began to be popularised, in the form of teaching and reference materials, during the 20th, especially from the '50's onwards. Many people now study the language although only a few score can speak it fluently.

    [Sorry to post as anon, but I can't seem to log in without losing my content]


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