General history: Nobility, earldom and ennobled families

Magna Britannia: Volume 3, Cornwall. Originally published by T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1814.

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Daniel Lysons, Samuel Lysons, 'General history: Nobility, earldom and ennobled families', in Magna Britannia: Volume 3, Cornwall( London, 1814), British History Online [accessed 19 July 2024].

Daniel Lysons, Samuel Lysons, 'General history: Nobility, earldom and ennobled families', in Magna Britannia: Volume 3, Cornwall( London, 1814), British History Online, accessed July 19, 2024,

Daniel Lysons, Samuel Lysons. "General history: Nobility, earldom and ennobled families". Magna Britannia: Volume 3, Cornwall. (London, 1814), , British History Online. Web. 19 July 2024.

In this section

Nobility of the County.

It is an observation of Dr. Borlase's, that peerages planted in Cornwall have seldom been long-lived, have seldom arrived at the third, never at the fourth generation; and that this observation was equally applicable to the illustrious persons who had taken their title from the county; and that whilst other counties, as Devonshire, Oxford, Norfolk, &c., had transmitted their titles to several successive generations in the same family, it might be said of the title of Cornwall, as of other titles connected with the county, "vix gaudet tertius hæres."

Earldom of Cornwall.

The history of this title, before it was settled upon the King's eldest son, justifies Dr. Borlase's observation. William the Conqueror gave it to his relation, Robert Earl of Morteyne, commonly called Moreton, by whose son William, it was forfeited in the reign of Henry I. The natural son of that monarch, Reginald Fitz-Henry, who was invested with the title by King Stephen, left no legitimate male issue. King Henry II. gave the Earldom to his son John. After this, Henry Fitz-Count, natural son of Reginald above-mentioned, enjoyed it for a few years by sufferance. In 1219, he resigned it into the hands of King Henry III., and in 1224, the King's son Richard, afterwards King of the Romans, was created Earl of Cornwall. This Richard, Earl of Cornwall, left an only son Edmund, who dying without legitimate male issue, in 1300, the title again lapsed to the crown. King Edward II. gave it to his favourite, Piers de Gaveston, who was beheaded at Warwick in 1312. After this, the title was not revived till the year 1328, when it was bestowed by King Edward III. on his second brother, John of Eltham. The following year the King created his eldest son (afterwards known by the name of the Black Prince) Duke of Cornwall, and some years after procured an act of parliament for settling this title (together with the large possessions annexed to it) on the first-begotten son of the King of England. On the death of this illustrious Prince, his son, afterwards Richard II., being not entitled to the dukedom by the act then lately passed, was created Duke of Cornwall by his grandfather. Since his time, the title has been enjoyed under this act (fn. n1), without creation, by the following illustrious personages:—Kings Henry V. and Henry VI., before their accession to the throne; Edward, son of the latter; Edward V.; Edward, son of Richard III.; Arthur, son of Henry VII., and his younger brother Henry, afterwards Henry VIII.; Henry, son of James I., and his younger brother Charles, afterwards Charles I.; Charles II.; King George II.; Frederick Prince of Wales, and its present possessor, His Royal Highness the Prince Regent.

The Earls of Cornwall had their chief residence at Launceston castle; they also resided occasionally at the castles of Tintagel, Liskeard, Rostormel, and Moresk. Trematon was not in the immediate possession of the Earls till the reign of Edward III., from which time they have all ceased to be inhabited; for the county has never been honoured with the ducal residence, "by reason of which," says Carew, "the strength of their castles could not so guard them against the battery of time and neglect, but that from fair buildings, they fell into foul reparations; and from soul reparations, are now sunke into utter ruine."

Cornish Families which have been ennobled.

Edgcumbe, Earl Mount-Edgcumbe.—Although this nobleman's mansion of Mount-Edgcumbe, whence he takes his title, and which is his constant countryresidence, is situated in Devonshire, yet, as his demesne extends into Cornwall, the church-town of Maker, the parish in which Mount-Edgcumbe is situated, being in that county; — as Cotehele, the ancient residence of his ancestors, before they possessed Mount-Edgcumbe, still kept up and occasionally visited by the family, is on the Cornish bank of the Tamar;—as he possesses large estates in Cornwall, forfeited by Sir Henry Bodrugan, whose capital mansion of Bodrugan was many years a seat of the Edgcumbes; — his family comes expressly under the title prefixed to this head. The Edgcumbes were originally of Eggescombe, or Edgecumbe, in the parish of Milton-Abbots, in Devonshire. In the reign of Edward III., William de Eggecombe married the heiress of William de Cotehele, and fixed his residence at Cotehele, in the parish of Calstock; his son married the heiress of Denset; his grandson, the heiress of Holland. Sir Richard Edgcumbe, son of the latter, was a zealous and active friend of the Earl of Richmond, by whom he was knighted, at Bosworth-field, and from whom, after his accession to the crown, he received more substantial marks of his favour, by the appointment of Comptroller of the Household, the grant of Sir Henry Bodrugan's valuable estates before-mentioned, and the whole honor of Totness in Devonshire, forfeited by Lord Zouche. Sir Piers Edgcumbe, son of Sir Richard, married the heiress of Dernford, by which match he became possessed of Mount-Edgcumbe and Stonehouse, and considerable estates in Maker and Rame. Richard Edgcumbe, Esq., the immediate descendant, was created Baron Edgcumbe of Mount-Edgcumbe in 1742. In 1781, his younger son George, the third Lord Mount-Edgcumbe (having succeeded his elder brother in 1761) was created, in 1781, Viscount Mount-Edgcumbe and Valletort; and in 1789, Earl Mount-Edgcumbe. His son Richard, the present Earl, is LordLieutenant of the county of Cornwall.

Arms of Edgcumbe: — Gules, on a bend ermines cottised, Or; three boars' heads couped, Argent.

Crest: — On a wreath, O. and G., a boar passant, Argent; about the neck a chaplet of oak leaves, fructed, proper.

Supporters: — On each side a grey-hound Argent, guttee de poix, collar'd dovetail double, Gules.

Boscawen, Viscount Falmouth. — This ancient family were originally of Boscawen-Rose, in the parish of Burian, where they are traced to about the year 1200. They removed to Tregothnan, in St. Michael-Penkevil, in consequence of the marriage of John Boscawen with the heiress of Tregothnan, about the year 1330. The descendants of this John have ever since continued at Tregothnan, having married the heiresses of Albalanda, Brett, and Trevanion, and coheiresses of Halep, Carminow, Trethurfe, Clinton, and Godfrey. The elder branch of the Boscawens became extinct in 1701, by the death of Hugh Boscawen, who married one of the coheiresses of Theophilus, Earl of Lincoln. Bridget, a daughter, and eventually sole heiress of Hugh Boscawen, married Hugh Fortescue, Esq., of Filleigh in Devonshire, on whom the title of Lord Clinton and Say was conferred by King George I. (fn. n2) The male line of the Boscawens was continued by Edward, a younger son of Hugh Boscawen, who died in 1641. Hugh Boscawen, Esq., of Tregothnan, son and heir of Edward, was in 1720 created Baron Boscawen-Rose, and Viscount Falmouth. Edward, the present and fourth Viscount Falmouth, is grandson of Admiral Boscawen, a most distinguished naval officer, who was a younger son of the first Viscount.

Arms: — Ermine, a rose, Gules, barbed and seeded, proper.

The ancient arms of the family were, Vert, a bull Arg. with a chief, containing the arms now used.

Crest: — On a wreath, a falcon, close, proper.

Supporters: — Two sea-lions Argent, guttée de larmes.

Eliot, Lord Eliot. — This noble Lord's family is descended from the Eliots of Cutland, in Devonshire, which estate was given in exchange in the year 1565, by Richard Eliot, Esq., for the priory estate at St. Germans. The site of the priory became the residence of the Eliot family, and acquired the name of Port Eliot. Daniel Eliot, Esq., who died in 1702, left an only daughter married to Browne Willis, Esq., the celebrated antiquary. To keep up the name of his family, he bequeathed his estate to Edward Eliot, grandson of Nicholas, fourth son of Sir John Eliot, who died in 1632, as we are informed on Browne Willis's authority. Edward Eliot, Esq., a nephew of Edward above-mentioned, was created Baron Eliot of St. Germans, in 1784, and was succeeded by John Eliot Craggs, the present and second Lord Eliot. The Eliot family, after their settling in Cornwall, married the coheiress of Carswell, and sole heiress of Gedy. The late Lord Eliot married the heiress of Ellison, of South-Weald in Essex.

Arms of Eliot: — Argent, a fesse Gules between two bars gemelles wavy Azure; but the late Lord Eliot assumed the name and arms of Craggs (his father having married a natural daughter of Secretary Craggs). The arms of Craggs, as borne by Lord Eliot, are, Azure, a fesse Ermine; quartered with — Sable, on a fesse Or, three cross crosslets of the field.

Crest: — On a wreath, an elephant's head couped Argent, collared Gules.

Supporters: — Two eagles, regardant, with wings expanded, proper, and charged on their breasts with an ermine spot.

Trefusis, Lord Clinton and Say. — Although the ancient Cornish family of Trefusis did not acquire the barony of Clinton and Say till 1794, we are aware that his barony stands fourth in the list of English barons. The Trefusis family is to be traced, as resident at Trefusis, in Milor, the seat of their descendant Lord Clinton, four generations before 1292. During the course of twenty-three descents, they have married the heiresses of Delechamp, Treviados, and Balun; and coheiresses of Martin, Halep, Tresithney, Colan, Trevanion, Gaverigan, and Cotton; besides the match with Rolle, through which the barony of Clinton and Say was acquired, Francis Trefusis, Esq. having married Bridget, daughter of Robert Rolle, Esq., of Heanton, who had married Arabella, the elder daughter and coheir of Theophilus Clinton, Earl of Lincoln. The barony of Clinton and Say being in abeyance between the coheirs of this Earl, was given by King George I., in 1721, to Hugh Fortescue, son and heir of Hugh Fortescue, Esq., of Filleigh, in Devonshire, by Bridget, sole heiress of Hugh Boscawen, of Tregothnan, who had married one of the coheiresses of Clinton, and who in 1746 was created Baron Fortescue, and Earl Clinton. On His Lordship's decease without issue, in 1751, the barony of Clinton and Say (fn. n3) devolved to Margaret, only daughter of Samuel Rolle, Esq. (only brother of Bridget above-mentioned), then recently become the widow of Robert Walpole, second Earl of Orford. On the death of her son George, Earl of Orford, in 1791, this title was claimed by George William Trefusis, Esq., the descendant, in the fourth generation, of Francis Trefusis and Bridget Rolle. The claim was allowed by the House of Lords in 1794. Robert Cotton St. John Trefusis, the present Lord Clinton and Say, succeeded his father in 1797, being then a minor. Trefusis house is still the family-seat.

Arms of Trefusis: — Argent, a chevron, between three wharrow spindles, Sable.

Crest: — A griffin segreant Or, resting his dexter foot on a shield Argent.

Supporters: — Two grey-hounds Argent, plain collared and leashed, Gules.

A younger branch of the Trefusis family, settled at Landew in Lezant, became extinct in the reign of Charles I., when the coheiresses married Herle and Killiow.

Basset, Lord de Dunstanville. — The ancient family of Basset of Cornwall and Devonshire are descended from Osmund Basset, most probably a younger son of Sir Ralph Basset, the justiciary, in the reign of Henry I., as Sir Ralph was, in all probability, the grandson of Osmund Basset of Normandy, whose name appears, in 1050, as witness to an agreement respecting the abbey of St. Ebrulf, at Utica. The connection of the Bassets of Cornwall with the ancient family of Dunstanville is incorrectly stated in pedigrees apparently of the first authority, which represent them as descended from Thomas Basset and Alice Dunstanville. The fact is, that Thomas Basset, son of Gilbert, a younger son of the justiciary, and himself one of the justices of England (22 Henry III.), did marry Alice, daughter of Robert de Dunstanville, by whom he had three sons, Gilbert, Thomas, and Alan: Gilbert, the eldest, was founder of Bicester priory, in Oxfordshire, and to him King Henry II. confirmed the manors of Shalefeld and Aldeford, in Surrey, as having been the marriage-portion of his mother Alice Dunstanville (fn. n4); the sole heiress of this Gilbert married Verdun, and afterwards Camville, and the sole heiress of Camville, William de Longespee, Earl of Salisbury. Thomas, the second son of Thomas Basset, and Alice, above-mentioned, inherited part of the barony of Namptwich in Cheshire, and left three daughters coheiresses; Sir Alan, the third son, possessed Compton in Oxfordshire, by the gift, as some say, of his uncle, Walter de Dunstanville, or, according to Dugdale, of his elder brother Gilbert (fn. n5), to whom it had been given by the said Walter. This Sir Alan, who died 17 Henry III., had a son and heir, Gilbert, who was ancestor of the Bassets of Wycombe, Bucks, (a baronial family,) whose sole heiress married Roger de Bigod, Earl of Norfolk.

Having traced the posterity of Thomas Basset and Alice Dunstanville, to show that the Bassets of Cornwall are not descended from them, we have only to state briefly, that William Basset, Lord of Stoke-Basset and Ipsden, in Oxfordshire, (son of John, son of Osmund, which Osmund lived in the reign of Richard I. (fn. n6), and was, as we suppose, a younger son of the justiciary) married Cecilia, daughter of Alan de Dunstanville (fn. n7), with whom he is said to have had Menalida, in Cornwall, as a marriage-portion. Sir Alan, son of William Basset, had Whitechapel and Heyne in Devonshire, as a marriage-portion with Lucy Peverell. Their chief Devonshire seats were Umberlegh, and Heanton-Court, both of which came into the family with the heiress of Beaumont. From an early period, they resided also at Tehidy, in Cornwall, the mansion-house, probably, of the same estate which, at the time of the first William Basset's marriage, might have been called Menalida. William Basset had the royal licence to embattle his manor-house of Tehidy in Cornwall, in 1330. About the middle of the sixteenth century, the family of Basset became divided into two branches; the Devonshire branch descended from John, elder son of Sir John Basset, by Honora Grenville, which branch became extinct, in the male line, by the death of Francis Basset, Esq., about the year 1796; and the Cornish branch descended from George, younger son of Sir John and Honora above-mentioned. Before the separation of the branches, this ancient family had married the heiresses of Balun, Walleis, Helligan (fn. n8), Beaumont, and Budockside. Since that separation, the Cornish branch has married the heiresses of Delbridge, Hele, and Pendarves, and coheiresses of Spencer and Prideaux. By the coheiress of Spencer there was no issue. Francis Basset, Esq., the immediate descendant and male representative of the Bassets of Devonshire and Cornwall, was created a baronet in 1779, and in 1796 a baron, by the title of Lord de Dunstanville, of Tehidy Park, in the county of Cornwall, to him and the heirs-male of his body: in 1797, he was created also Lord Basset of Stratton, with remainder, in default of his own issue-male, to Frances, his only daughter, and her issue male.

Arms: — Barry-wavy of six, Or, and Gules.

Crest: — An unicorn's head.

Supporters: — Two unicorns collared, and each charged on the shoulder with a shield of the arms.


  • n1. A doubt having arisen in the reign of James I., on the death of Henry Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall, whether Prince Charles had a right to this dukedom, as not coming within the exact words of the act, by which the succession was confined to the first-begotten son of the King of England, it was determined, that he was so entitled both by reason and precedents; and the King's declaration on the subject, founded on the advice of the Privy Council, the Master of the Rolls, and His Majesty's counsel learned in the law concerning the Prince's title to the duchy, was published in 1613. Amongst other particulars, it is stated, that in a recital of the original statute, in a statute of 9 Henry V., the construction given to the expression of first-begotten son of the Kings of England, is, "the eldest sons of the Kings of England, that is to say, they that should be next heirs to the realm of England, should be Dukes of Cornwall."
  • n2. See p. lxxvi.
  • n3. The barony of Fortescue devolved, according to the patent, to his brother Matthew, father of the present Earl Fortescue.
  • n4. See Kennett's Parochial Antiquities, p. 157.
  • n5. Ibid. p. 213.
  • n6. Ibid. p. 119.
  • n7. Sir William Pole, whose pedigrees in general appear to be very correct, has, by mistake, called this lady the daughter of Alan Inglefield.
  • n8. It is worth remarking, that Lord de Dunstanville is descended from the Dunstanvilles through this marriage, as well as by the marriage of his ancestor with Cecilia de Dunstanville; the great-grandfather of Margery Helligan, who married Thomas Basset of Tehidy, in the reign of Edward III., having married Margery, daughter and heir of William de Dunstanville.