Back in 2018 – in the early days of this blog – I spent a lot of time delving into research of the earls of Cornwall. This interest was based on an earlier article I had written for The Cornish Banner (published in 2011), and a series of other smaller articles for another publication.
In 2018 I uploaded the post ‘The First Norman Earl of Cornwall’, and so it makes sense to include a companion post for the last earl of Cornwall. I hope to dig out the research on the various earls in order to put together a short book (or at the very least, to upload onto the pages on this blog). But for now, here’s a short overview of Cornwall’s final earl.
The last earl of Cornwall was no more than a boy. Born at Eltham Palace in Kent in 1316, he was the second son of the unfortunate and hapless king Edward II and his wife, Isabella. Called John, he was given the earldom in October 1328 at the tender age of twelve. It was a tumultuous time for England: Edward II was captured and killed – some believe by vicious torture involving a hot poking device – by his wife and new lover, Roger Mortimer.
John was a young earl, living far away from his Cornish lands. He took little interest in the estates and castles of Cornwall, with neglect and ruin striking the once thriving strongholds of Tintagel and Restormel.
John was due to marry Maria, Ferdinand IV of Castile, but died at the age of twenty before this union could take place. The cause of his death remains a mystery. However, there is a statement from a medieval chronicler who claims John was killed by his brother, Edward III, in a fit of rage. More likely, John was a sickly child and succumbed to illness at the young age of twenty.
His notable achievements include a military campaign against Scotland in the 1330s. His actions speak volumes for his character, with some accounts stating that he set fire to an abbey which contained people who sought sanctuary from the English soldiers. These actions were heavily reprimanded by Edward III, which gives rise to the suggestion that he punished his brother by beating him, leading to his death.
The body of Cornwall’s last earl was laid to rest at Westminster Abbey in January 1337. Later that year, Edward III raised the earldom to become a duchy. The royal charter stated the duchy would pass to the eldest son of the reigning monarch, and never again would this title slip from the hands of the royal family.