Thursday Thought: St. Piran’s day

This Saturday, March 5th, I’ve been invited to a St. Piran’s Day party. It’ll be a rollicking good time! Unfortunately it is in Australia, which is a bit far.

St. Piran

St. Piran

Piran is the patron saint of tinners and of Cornwall.  I tell his legend in the Prologue to The Miner & the Viscount. You can read it here.

The story speaks to Cornwall’s mystical origins rooted in the Celtic culture and language. Piran, or Pyran (Cornish: Peran) was an early 6th-century Irish Christian missionary who became a Cornish abbot and saint. It was Piran’s demise and miraculous escape from martyrdom that gives him legendary status.

Druid priests in Ireland tied Piran spread-eagled to a mill-stone and rolled it over the edge of a high cliff into the stormy Irish sea. Miraculously, the storm immediately calmed and Piran floated safely over the water to land upon a sandy beach on the Cornish coast. It became known as Perranporth.

St. Piran's Oratory

St. Piran’s Oratory

My daughter Sarah and I visited St. Piran’s Oratory when we were in Cornwall on our book tour last summer. We expertly guided by Eileen Carter, who led the restoration effort, and by Colin Retallick, who plays the role of the saint in the annual reenactment of his arrival in Cornwall.

Happy St. Piran’s Day!







Thursday Thought: Rebellion & Reform

This week I attended an excellent lecture at the Osher Lifetime Learning Institute of the University of Cincinnati. It was about The New Jersey Campaign in the Revolutionary War when, after many setbacks, General George Washington defeated the British army sent to bring the colonials to heel. It was presented in fascinating detail by my friend Steve Appel, an enthusiastic student of American history.

General Charles Cornwallis

General Charles Cornwallis

I was interested. I am working on the sequel to my historical novel The Miner & the Viscount. The working title is Rebellion & Reform. It is set in my native Cornwall at the time of the ministry of the great William Pitt the Younger, whose family’s country seat was at Boconnoc in Cornwall.

The first part of the title refers to the rebellion of the American Colonies against George III and his British government. The second part refers to the early efforts to reform the corrupt British electoral system of “rotten boroughs”, where seats in parliament were owned by landowners who controlled the few voters – including my protagonist Edward Eliot of St. Germans. Little remote Cornwall had 44 Members of Parliament – about the same as all of Scotland!

One of the delights of doing my research is coming across connections. Charles Cornwallis was one of the abler English generals. He was an aristocrat. He was the first Marquess Cornwallis and became the 2nd Earl of Cornwallis when his father died. He is remembered by American historians mainly for his inglorious defeat at Yorktown, although in fairness he was hampered by poor management from his superiors. Prior to that he had voted in the House of Lords against the Stamp Act in sympathy for the American colonists.

However, defeat did not end his career. Lord Cornwallis went on to fill important government posts, including serving as Governor-General of India, where he initiated important reforms; Master of the Ordnance in England; Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, where he facilitated the Act of Union; and negotiator of the peace with Napoleon.

Cornwallis house St. Germans

Cornwallis house
St. Germans

The connection to Cornwall? William Eliot, Member of Parliament for my hometown Liskeard and the 2nd Earl of St. Germans, married Cornwallis’ granddaughter Jemima. She became the Countess of St. Germans.

Cornwallis inscription in St. Germans

Cornwallis inscription in St. Germans

There is a Cornwallis house in the village, with a tablet dedicated to their descendant John Granville Cornwallis, who became the 6th Earl of St. Germans. So many connections. Cannot imagine why the writers of the American constitution were convinced of the separation of powers!







Thursday Thought: Once a Priory, now a Grand House

Port Eliot

Port Eliot

Edward Eliot, my protagonist in The Miner & the Viscount, inherited the great estate of Port Eliot, near St. Germans in Cornwall. This is one wing of the house, with the imposing main entrance wing to the right. The wing at the left at one point housed servants but now is where the estate offices are located.

 Here the Earl of St. Germans, the present owner, is showing me around the house.
Art collection

Art collection

He is enormously knowledgeable about the accomplishments of his famous ancestors. There is a fabulous collection of paintings, including 14 by the great English portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Chapter 57 in The Miner & the Viscount tells the delightful story of a visit by Reynolds to his friends the Eliots, who were among his earliest patrons. Reynolds and Edward Eliot tell stories of their travels, Edward’s still youthful mother flirts with the artist charmingly, and Edward’s wife Catherine does her best to pry from Reynolds the secrets of his technique and his earnings.
St. Germanus Church

St. Germanus Church

To the right of the house was the church of St. Germanus, once the cathedral of Cornwall. Port Eliot was originally a priory until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and sold it to a layman supporter. It was eventually bought by the Eliot family, who over the centuries improved it for family use.

Round Room

Round Room

  This is part of the spectacular 40 foot diameter Round Room at Port Eliot. It was designed by Sir John Soane the great 18th century architect and interior designer. The contemporary “Riddle Mural” was painted over several years by Robert Lenkiewicz from nearby Plymouth, but not finished when he died.

Thursday Thoughts: China Clay

Charleston Harbour, Cornwall

Charlestown Harbour, Cornwall

This is Charlestown Harbour, near St Austell in Cornwall. It was planned by the great engineer John Smeaton, who also designed the Eddystone Lighthouse. Readers of The Miner & the Viscount met him as the innovator of improvements in steam engines and water wheels for the hard rock mines.

Smeaton was helped by William Cookworthy, a Quaker and a pharmacist, who developed hydraulic lime, an essential ingredient in building the lighthouse.

The port was built to export copper from the nearby mines of Crinnis Hill, South Polmear and United Mines, Holmbush. However, it later became an important port for the export of China Clay.

William Cookworthy again played an important part. He developed a process for making china clay and built a factory to produce porcelain. One of his early backers was Thomas Pitt of Boconnoc (later the first Baron Camelford). It was on his land that deposits of saponaceous clay were found.

When I visited Boconnoc for research on my book, the present owner, Anthony Fortescue (whose family married into the Pitts), told me he had managed the family’s china clay pit when he was a young man.

Thanks to www.facebook.com/KernowPhotos for this photo and some of these notes.


Thursday Thoughts: Mystery unveiled at Lanhydrock

AN ANCIENT book has been discovered at Lanhydrock that helped Henry VIII to build his case against the Pope and annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, first of his six wives.

We can connect threads here. As readers of The Miner & the Viscount know, Lanhydrock is the great house that is the home of my fictitious villains, the Trenances. Like Lanhydrock House and churchmany Cornish estates, there is a church right by the house. Why? Because it was originally a priory. When Henry VIII brought about the Dissolution of the Monasteries (the greatest real estate scam in history) many priories plundered from the church were sold to wealthy laymen.

The book (dated 1495) is a summary of works by philosopher and theologian William of Ockham who was a major figure in medieval intellectual and political thought. Its contents help explain the persuasiveness of the arguments Henry VIII’s advisers made against the Pope.

The book has been at Lanhydrock for many years, but what has just been discovered is its direct connection to the royal library at Westminster Palace. There is an inventory number inside which corresponds to the inventory prepared in 1542 for Henry VIII’s chief library.

To help  gather evidence to support an annulment to Henry VIII’s his marriage, his agents scoured the country for texts such as Ockham’s which questioned the authority of the Pope and argued for the independence of the monarch. The volume at Lanhydrock contains marginal notes and marks which were made by Henry VIII’s secretarial staff to draw his attention to relevant passages.

So was the Reformation at its root motivated to sweep corruption from the Roman Catholic Church? Or was it Henry’s cover story for schemes truly driven by sex and money? We know he wanted to get rid of his Spanish queen so that he could marry the lusty Anne Boleyn. He also created the opportunity to seize the property of the Church of Rome.

With Paul Holden at Lanhydrock in the Long Gallery

Richard Hoskin with Paul Holden at Lanhydrock in the Long Gallery

Lanhydrock is now in the National Trust. Paul Holden, house and collections manager, said: “To have such an interesting book in the collection is fascinating in itself but to find out that it was once owned by Henry VIII, and played a part in a pivotal moment in British history, is very exciting.

“It’s thrilling to discover that the book at Lanhydrock is from the Royal library. The book is important not only for its provenance but for the notes entered in it by Henry VIII’s advisers and no doubt intended for him to see. They draw attention to precisely the sort of issues that were so relevant to the King’s policies in the years leading up to the break with Rome.”

On a personal note, I owe much to Paul for the expert information he provided me about Lanhydrock and the Robartes family. He added much to the richness of my book.


Duke and Duchess of Cornwall visit Kentucky

Duke and Duchess of Cornwall

Duke and Duchess of Cornwall

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall are visiting Louisville, KY. Just around the corner. As  the eldest son of the monarch Prince Charles also inherits the title of Duke of Cornwall. In 1337 Edward III set up the Duchy of Cornwall to provide an income for his eldest son. Edward, the Black Prince was the first to benefit.

Today, the Duchy is a huge source of wealth for the Duke. Its work includes development of admirable new towns with traditional architecture and quality materials, such as Poundbury in Dorset. Might there be such a development in Cornwall?


Thomas Newcomen

I am pleased to welcome a guest blogger, Susan W. Howard, now of San Jose, CA., and a descendant of the illustrious Hornblower family of Cornwall. This link will take you to the biography of Joseph Hornblower  http://penwood.famroots.org/joseph_hornblower.htm

Susan gave a talk about her researches at the Cornish Gathering in Milwaukee. She has written this brief portrait of Thomas Newcomen, who is credited with being the inventor of the atmospheric steam engine, which would “do the work of five horses.” One was built at the Wheal Vor mine as early as 1710 and by the time my story opens in 1760 as many as 70 were at work in Cornwall. The engine worked by injecting cold water into the steam cylinder to create a vacuum. The later designs of the Scotsman James Watt and the great Cornishman Richard Trevithick used the energy of expanding steam.

              The Newcomen Engine

The Newcomen Engine

Thomas Newcomen, inventor of the atmospheric steam engine, was a modest and devoutly religious man who left behind few records of his life. Some eighteenth century scientists such as Royal Society member John Desaguliers had difficulty in giving Newcomen credit for his invention. Desaguliers wrote that the engine that began pumping water from the mines at Coneygree colliery near Dudley Castle in Staffordshire in 1712 came about “very luckily by accident.” Newcomen in fact did possess the intellectual capacity and practical experience to build the engine. He relied upon his close-knit circle of fellow Baptists to supply help and needed expertise. Among them were John Calley, Humphrey Potter, and Joseph Hornblower, who built Newcomen engines in Cornwall. Newcomen may have begun building an engine at Wheal Vor in Cornwall as early as 1710; the Royal Cornwall Museum gives him credit for a machine built there in 1716.

Thomas Newcomen was born in Dartmouth, Devon in 1664. He became an ironmonger and while in his early twenties he visited mining regions in the West Midlands and Cornwall to sell and to manufacture metal tools and small household items. No record of an apprenticeship survives, but bills for ironmongery and purchases of bulk iron have been found. Letters written by his contemporaries do contain references to Newcomen and the steam engine. Two of Newcomen’s own letters have survived, and as far as can be discovered, no portrait of him was made. Apparently he began experimenting with steam engines in the mid-1690s. The extent that the ideas of other inventors or scientists influenced his work is a matter of conjecture. Inventor Thomas Savery had already been granted a patent for a “fire engine,” so Newcomen joined in a partnership with him to build an engine suitable for pumping water from the mines. Eventually more than 2,000 atmospheric steam engines were built. Newcomen was also a lay preacher, a trustee of the Netherton Baptist chapel (near Dudley) and an Overseer of the Poor. After his death in 1729 at the London home of fellow Baptist Edward Wallin, Newcomen was buried in Bunhill Fields, a nonconformist cemetery in London; the location of his gravesite, like so many of the details of his life, remains unknown.

Note: Desaguliers quote from L.T.C. Rolt and J. S. Allen, The Steam Engine of Thomas Newcomen, (Landmark Publishing, Ashbourne, Derbershire, 1997) 46.


Cornish Genealogy

I was delighted to be a speaker in mid-August at the 2014 International Gathering of the Cornish American Heritage Society. My topic, The Cornish Chronicle, tells the story of my native shire drawn from my historical novel The Miner & the Viscount.

 A major purpose of the Cornish American Heritage Society is to help members track their ancestry and find out about their own family history. See www.cousinjack.org

Tracing family roots is a particular fascination for the Cornish people. We are, naturally, special. We are Celtic, a unique race with our own language, spiritual connections, culture, traditions, and character. Cornwall itself is remote, self-contained, with scenery that ranges from picturesque towns and villages, fields and woods to rugged moors and rocky cliffs. Perhaps our isolation instills our character. We Cornish are sturdily independent; some even say we are stubborn.

Why are we so fascinated with our antecedents? Perhaps it is because of the eternal questions we ask ourselves. What is the purpose of our existence? Why were we put upon this earth? What hereditary characteristics or abilities make us the way we are? What places do we came from, and what communities are we part of? Perhaps we validate ourselves by knowing about our origins. There are some excellent resources to aid our search. www.ancestry.com is an extensive general source. For the Cornish in particular, the Cornish Global Migration Programme is a treasure trove. It is based in Murdoch House in Redruth. It was founded by our family friend,Dr. F. L. Harris, and ably directed for many years by Moira Tangy (cousin of my friend Mary Tangye Fryer). Its current director, Mike Kiernan, is speaking to the International Gathering. Find out more at www.murdochhouse.org/CGMP

Murdoch House by the way was the first house in Britain to be lit by gas, another example of Cornish inventiveness.

For those of you who would like professional help in tracing your Cornish roots, try Rachael Eustice at http://www.cornish-cousins.com in Penzance. If you are interested in the great emigration to Australia take a look at the Heraldry and Genealogy Society of Canberra at www.hagsoc.org.au/

You will discover many, many resources as you follow the trails that most interest you. You might also want to look at my essay, entitled “ancestry.com,” which I’ve posted on this website under the Meet the Author tab.





Try the first chapter!

My new book is turning out to be a great adventure. So thrilling for an author! Readers around the world tell me they find The Miner and the Viscount really interesting, a great story filled with fascinating characters, a page turner, as one reader put it.

Of course, I want everyone to read it. But you probably want to judge the book for yourself. Here’s my offer:

Sign up for my Newsletter and I will send you the first chapter of The Miner and the Viscount.  It’s an easy way to be introduced to the characters and plot of my book. If you like it and decide to buy a copy, you can easily do so right on my website.  If you decide to pass, no problem. But by getting my newsletter, I’m hoping you will soon change your mind and come around to purchasing a copy.

The Newsletter, by the way, is intended to share information and answer questions from readers wanting to know more of the background of the story, Cornwall itself, and the exhilarations (and travails) that went into writing the book.

Here’s the link to the newsletter/free chapter sign-up: http://eepurl.com/XMEor Be sure to check the box indicating you’d like me to send you the chapter.

Many thanks!





What or Who is a Viscount?

Anyone growing up in the U.K. would likely know the answer, but our American cousins might be unfamiliar with the term. As explained in my talk, The Cornish Chronicle, British peerage had a series of heriditary titles in masculine and feminine form, of which Viscount was one, as shown here:

Duke Duchess
Marquess Marchioness
Earl Countess
Viscount Viscountess
Baron Baroness

The peerage hierarchy of aristocracy actually predated the Norman Conquest of 1066. Simply stated, it was a system that described the ranks of nobles owing fealty to the king.  In return for swearing loyalty and promising troops when required, the barons received land (manors) and privileges from the king. Over time the roles have become more ceremonial and less hereditary. But the privileges were much sought after and the wealthy would trade cash for “honours”. Today Life Peers are created with the right to sit in the House of Lords without being able to pass on their titles to their heirs.

My fictional villain Sir James Trenance inherited upon the death of his father the barony that the family had previously purchased. Not content with this he also purchased an Irish Viscountcy, but got into trouble with the king when he was slow in paying for it.

In Chapter 32, you will find this exchange when Sir James informs his wife that he has come into a Viscountcy: 

 “You have been raised to a viscountcy? How did that come about? Will a place come with it? Will there be emoluments?”

“More likely more damn expense,” he replied. “All I have to do is support the king’s friends in the election, make sure they’re elected in some of these boroughs as well as the county. Made me a viscount. Cost me a pretty penny though, ten thousand pounds. Need new robes too, and the old coronet won’t do, need one with eighteen silver balls. Suppose you’ll need one too, now that you’re a viscountess. Worth it, though, should show these Cornish gentry how to make real money.”  

The English aristocracy were sticklers for pomp and circumstance, ritual and costume – which they valued as markers of rank and importance. Peers enjoyed the privilege of attending the coronation of a new monarch, when ceremonial robes and coronets would be worn. Shown here is a typical viscount coronet, featuring the desired 18 silver balls.