CORNWALL (CORNEWALL), Charles (1669-1718), of Berrington, Herefs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



2 Mar. 1709 - 1710
1715 - 7 Oct. 1718

Family and Education

bap. 9 Aug. 1669, 1st s. of Robert Cornewall of Berrington and Ludlow, Salop by Edith, da. of Sir Francis Cornwallis of Abermarlais, Carm.  m. (1) s.p.; (2) aft. 1696, Dorothy, da. of Thomas Hanmer I*, 8s. (5 d.v.p.) 7da. (1 d.v.p.).  suc. fa. 1705.1

Offices Held

Ens. RN 1683, capt. 1692, c.-in-c. Dunkirk squadron 1710, r.-adm. 1716, c.-in-c. Mediterranean 1716–18, v.-adm. 1717–d.; comptroller of storekeeper’s accts. Navy Board Nov. 1714–16; plenip. to emperor of Morocco 1717–18.2


Cornwall, who dropped the ‘e’ from his name in order to distinguish his branch of the family from his cousins the Cornewalls of Moccas, was a naval officer who had seen action during the Nine Years War, serving with some distinction in the Mediterranean under Edward Russell* and Sir Clowdesley Shovell*. He may well have been on half-pay, however, when he made his first, unsuccessful, attempt to enter Parliament in the general election of January 1701. At this early stage in his political career he seems to have been under the tutelage of his cousin Henry Cornewall*, although he may not have shared Henry’s Tory sympathies: another Tory, Robert Price*, wrote to Lord Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†), ‘as to Captain Cornwall voting well, I hope he may, but I fear it, and the gentry are of a different opinion’. In March 1700 he announced his intention to put up for Herefordshire, and during the summer of that year he and Henry Cornewall, who proposed to stand for Weobley, gave a ‘great entertainment’ for the Herefordshire gentry. In the long run his candidature suffered through this association with his cousin, largely because of Henry Cornewall’s serpentine intrigues, which alienated several major interests in the county, especially the Harleys. Cornwall himself had begun by flattering Robert Harley*. In November he wrote to acknowledge Harley’s right to adjudicate as to who should have the honour of the county representation, ‘being assured that from so great a patriot of our country’s as you have upon all occasions proved yourself to be, we should still be a happy people if continued under the care and direction of . . . just such a great man’. However, Henry Cornewall managed to alienate both Harley and Lord Weymouth, although he tried (not very truthfully) to answer Weymouth’s newly manufactured objections to a serving naval officer with a ‘small’ estate:

I told you he had quitted the service when the peace was made, and that I would be answerable for him; that there was not in England a man that would be more hearty and zealous for his country and the Church of England than he; that he was resolved never more to be employed; that as to his estate it was between 5 and £600 a year; that he had between £10,000 and £12,000 in money, which he intended to lay out in land when he could find a convenient purchase in our country.

As the election approached, Charles and his kinsmen strove desperately to mend relations with the Harleys. An apology from one member of the Cornewall clan to Robert Harley imputed ‘the ill management of our knight of the shire’ to ‘Charles’s influencers’. The writer added, ‘I am sure (were he at liberty) he would not accept it without your approbation, but since he is so far engaged I hope . . . you’ll cover him in an honourable retreat’. Cornwall made a last-ditch effort to comply with Harley’s preferred solution to the imbroglio, by endeavouring to reach an agreement with his opponent to leave matters to the decision of a county meeting, and then blamed his principal opponent, the Tory Sir John Williams*, and Williams’ backer, Lord Chandos, for the failure of the negotiations. Harley would still not support him, but Cornwall had committed himself too far to withdraw and was obliged to go to a poll, where he was defeated. He did, however, receive four votes at the Weobley election, where his candidacy was announced shortly before the poll in the hope of drawing votes away from candidates opposing the election of his cousin Henry. Cornwall’s election petition was never reported. Thereafter he did all he could to conciliate Harley, who was now not only the arbiter of local politics but also a leading man at court. In October 1701 he wrote to Harley for help in obtaining command of a ship should war be declared. A month later he wrote again to ask for advice as to whether to put up a second time for knight of the shire. By way of establishing his political credentials on this occasion he stated his fear ‘lest the consequences’ of a dissolution ‘at this critical juncture might in any way retard the glorious designed ends the late [Parliament] seemed resolved to pursue’. In the event, he did not stand. Undeterred, he was quick to congratulate Harley on the latter’s re-election as Speaker the following January.3

By the summer of 1702 Cornwall’s temper had worsened. Resentment at continued exclusion from Parliament was exacerbated by a professional grievance. On Anne’s accession he was superseded in the command of the ship he had been given, now intended for the Newfoundland expedition, and interpreted the decision as ‘a modest way of terming me a blockhead, and consequently not fit to command on that service’. So angry was he that he refused the offer of a transfer to another vessel, upon which he was given ‘liberty to quit the service’. At about the same time he appeared at the county meeting in Herefordshire to select candidates for the 1702 general election, ‘full of complaints upon all the mismanagements of sea affairs’ and criticisms of the way in which county elections had been managed. According to one observer, he ‘said there had been very indirect practices used . . . the gentlemen at London choosing the knights there, and insinuated that the meeting of the gentlemen was to exclude the freeholders. This created some heat.’ He and his cousin promised their interest to John Prise* and Sir John Williams. By 1704, however, he had returned to the practice of writing begging letters to Harley to intercede for him with the Admiralty for reappointment to a naval command.4

Cornwall was off the half-pay list and back on active service by February 1708, though it is unclear whether his recall should be attributed to Harley’s influence or to the good offices of the Whig Junto, whose preferences carried increasing weight with the ministers. Cornwall’s hopes of securing his own return at Weobley in 1708 came to nothing, and rather than advance his own claims at the December 1708 by-election he backed the candidacy of the carpet-bagging Whig Sir John Germain, 1st Bt.* He was instead returned for Bewdley at a by-election in March 1709, and the support he received at this election from the Whig interest suggests that his own party affiliations were becoming more pronounced. Naval duties appear to have kept him away from the House, especially in 1710 when he was placed in command of the Dunkirk squadron, but he seems to have been able to establish his loyalty to the ministry, for in October 1709, after the appointment of Lord Orford (Edward Russell) to the Admiralty, he was confidently forecast for preferment. The redoubtable Whig Anne Clavering predicted that a ‘vacant flag’ would be given to ‘that notorious Whig C[harles] Cornwall, which I sincerely wish’.5

The ministerial and political changes of 1710 left Cornwall without a seat in Parliament and without friends at court. He therefore set about repairing his relationship with Harley, the new chief minister. Given command of a squadron detailed to convoy some merchant ships to Turkey, he wrote to Harley in December 1710 to offer whatever assistance might be required by Harley’s brother Nathaniel out in the Levant, and at his return conveyed family news, accompanied by a request for personal assistance:

A hardship has been done me during my service abroad in having a younger officer made a flag before me. I have served almost 30 years, above 20 of them in command, and was never charged with neglect of duty. I hope you will take me into your protection; I might urge the honour you have done me heretofore in owning me as a poor relation, but I shall desire that no other thing but my services may determine you in my behalf.

Further requests followed, some of which met with promises from Harley (now Lord Oxford), but no action; Cornwall was placed on half-pay and remained ‘labouring under the uncertainty of not knowing whether he is to be employed again or not’. His party sympathies were well known enough for him to be classed as a Whig in a list of naval captains submitted to Oxford in 1711, and more specific evidence of his political sentiments had come to the chief minister’s notice, evidence that may have prejudiced his chances of having his pretensions satisfied. Another voyager recently returned from the Levant wrote to Harley:

I could not but the other day admire to see Mr Cornwall at your levée professing a profound respect for you, who when at Smyrna did lately declare on his arrival, to the council and the rest of the merchants, that it was the High Church intentions to bring in the Pretender and wipe off the nation’s debts with a sponge. I acquaint you with this that you may not countenance such an enemy to the present ministry and yourself.6

On the Hanoverian succession Cornwall was brought into an office under the Navy Board, restored to a command and within two years advanced to the rank of admiral. He was returned for Weobley, though once more his parliamentary attendance was probably curtailed by his naval duties. He died at Lisbon on 7 Oct. 1718, and was buried at Westminster Abbey.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Add. 70091–3, extracts from par. reg.; C. J. Robinson, Mansions and Manors of Herefs. 118; J. Hanmer, Par. and Fam. of Hanmer, 137–8; C. G. S. Foljambe and C. Reade, House of Cornewall, 94.
  • 2. Add. 61585, ff. 174–5, 215; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1714–19, pp. 366, 405; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxxi. 573–4; xxxii. 161–2.
  • 3. Foljambe and Reade, 93; J. Charnock, Biographia Navalis, ii. 410–11; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 25, f. 13; HMC Portland, iii. 616, 634; iv. 12, 32; viii. 91–92; Add. 70019, ff. 168, 235, 272, 301–2, 311; 70226, Thomas Foley II* to Harley, 15 May 1700; 70219, Harley to Cyriac Cornewall, 7 Nov. 1700, Cornewall to Harley, 10 Nov. 1700, Cornewall to same, [1 Dec. 1700], Cornwall to same, 1 Dec. 1700, Harley to Cornwall, 11 Jan. 1701; Add. 70298–9, [–] to Harley, 28 Dec. 1700.
  • 4. HMC Portland, viii. 102–3, 116–17; Add. 70236, Edward* to Robert Harley. 15 [?July] 1702; 70256, H. Seward to [?same], 13 Apr. 1702.
  • 5. Add. 61582, f. 65; 61585, ff. 132, 150, 174–6, 215; PRO NI, De Ros mss D638/58/1, Cornwall to Ld. Coningsby (Thomas*), 29 July 1708; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 284; CJ, xvi. 225; HMC Portland, iv. 513; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxiv. 360; xxv. 356, 369; Clavering Corresp. (Surtees Soc. clxxviii), 50.
  • 6. Add. 70219, Cornwall to Robert Harley, 23 Dec. 1710, 25 Oct., 29 Dec. 1711, 30 Mar. 1711–12; 70310–1, ‘General list of the captains of her Majesty’s fleet’, 22 Aug. 1711; CJ, xvii. 374; HMC Portland, v. 98, 140.
  • 7. Boyer, Pol. State, xvi. 386; Foljambe and Reade, 93.