Athelstan, Charters and the English in Cornwall

  • Charles Insley


This is William of Malmesbury’s description of Athelstan and his campaigns against the Occidentales Britones, the British of the southwestern peninsula in the late 920s and early 930s. William’s description of the cleansing of Exeter and the expulsion of the Cornish (Cornu-alenses) from Devon has been seized upon by modern writers, in particular Peter Berresford Ellis, who have seen this as early evidence of ‘ethnic cleansing’—words used by Berresford Ellis—by the English of their British neighbours in the south-west.2 Berresford Ellis was writing in the early 1990s and by implication was inviting comparisons between the expulsion of the British beyond the River Tamar and the expulsion of Bosnian Muslims from Srebrenica, Mostar or Novi Travnik, or the attempts by the Serb leadership to create a ‘Greater Serbia’ and Athelstan’s ‘English Empire’. Berresford Ellis goes on to suggest that only the submission of the Cornish to Athelstan prevented similar campaigning in Cornwall itself.3


Ninth Century Eleventh Century English State Modern Writer Latin Poem 
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© Charles Insley 2005

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  • Charles Insley

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