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.
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|
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.|
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.]