Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This study traces the political, economic and administrative history of the duchy of Cornwall from 1500 until abolished by the government in 1650. It held an important, though autonomous place in the early Tudor constitution. Henry VII consolidated its political and economic dominance of southwestern England by reorganisation of its administrative structure to ensure that effective authority devolved from the monarch to the Warden of the stannaries, the duchy's principal officer. Henry VIII extended the duchy's influence in the Southwest in 1540 by significantly augmenting its landed estates in Cornwall. In the early-modern period the duchy contributed financially and politically to the Tudor and Stuart polity. Revenues derived from estates located within all the geographical areas of England south of the Trent and tax derived from the assaying and weighing of tin produced in Devon and Cornwall, provided a lucrative income. The Tudors utilised the rich source of patronage which the duchy offered to reward and honour prominent local men as well as courtiers. The most influential Cornish families dominated its affairs in the Southwest through the sixteenth century. In contrast to the Tudor regime, James I determined that the duchy must primarily serve as a financial agency to support the heir to the throne. First under Prince Henry and after 1616, under Prince Charles, policies were evolved to increase landed income. Elizabeth had granted a monopoly for buying tin, but this ill-conceived experiment failed. James opted for a scheme run by the duchy. This was financially successful, but lack of capital forced the crown again to sell the monopoly to London mercantile interests. However, successive grants produced a greatly enhanced income. The Stuart princes also introduced a Council which quickly assumed control of the duchy. Composed of duchy servants, members of the Princes' households and legal advisers, it administered every facet of its affairs and acted as a court of appeal for duchy tenants. The Warden of the stannaries was excluded and Cornish families lost much of their influence. Acting upon carefully prepared surveys of duchy lands, it increased net income more than threefold within a decade. The revenue devices employed by this Council resemble those employed in the 1630's, the era of personal rule. The duchy also provided political patronage. When Edward VI and Queen Mary extended the political franchise in Cornwall, it became the most represented county in Parliament. The duchy was then able to influence the small, poor boroughs tied to it economically. However, this was not undertaken systematically until after 1614, when lists of duchy candidates were successfully recommended to fourteen Cornish boroughs for most of the Parliaments before 1640.