The Isles of Scilly and the Duchy of Cornwall

The position of the Isles of Scilly and the means by which it became part of the Duchy of Cornwall is a matter of some ambiguity. Some would argue that is a state of affairs which is conveniently maintained by the Duchy.


Crispin Gill in his book “the Duchy of Cornwall” States:

“…….tenants who held Scilly in fee of the Honour of Launceston as a “foreign rent” for 300 puffins – and equally lacking in their successors, the monks of Tavistock Abbey, who later held the islands in “mortmain”. But on the Dissolution Scilly reverted to the Duchy.”


While F E Halliday says in his book “The History of Cornwall:

“The Marquis of Exeter in 1538 was arrested on trumped up charge of treason and executed. All his estates fell into the king’s hands, including some fifteen manors in Cornwall. Henry took the opportunity to consolidate the Duchy estates……..the Isles of Scilly themselves becoming Duchy property.”


In the History of Cornwall by Fortescue Hitchins and Samuel Drew published I think in 1814 they state:

“In the reign of Henry I a grant was made to Osbert abbot of Tavistock of all the churches of Scilly together with their appurtenances and ecclesiastical jurisdiction was settled on his successors under the Bishops of Exeter. After dissolution of abbies and monastical estates, the civil government, which, from the reign of Athelstan, had been vested chiefly in certain officers called Coroners, was granted by the Crown to lords proprietors on condition of receiving a certain rent. When the county of Cornwall was erected into a Duchy, these islands seem either to have been forgotten or purposely omitted as they are not mentioned in the general grant This omission has given rise to some disputes whether they belong to the Duchy or not. It is certain that some Kings of England have made separate grants of them when there have been Dukes of Cornwall; and when the dissolution of religious houses took place, the lands which belonged to the abbey of Tavistock fell to the Crown; and hence it is presumed, that the dominion of these islands accompanied their destiny. If, therefore Scilly is now considered as a part of the Duchy, it is rather permitted by favour, than given so by royal authority.” (Emphasis added)


In the now famous Cornwall Foreshore case the position of the Scilly Isles was raised on a number of occasions without the issue being resolved:

In the “Resume of the Duchy Case” it is said:

“Unquestionably property of a most important character both as regards extent and value was not specified but nevertheless passed e.g the Isles of Scilly which do not appear to have been parcel of the Honor of Launceston although, after the Charter, they appear to have been held of the Duke AS OF Honor of Launceston. This however is not descriptive of the islands being actually parcel of the honor but as parcel of the Earldom, they would pass to the Black Prince, …..”

The Crown disputed the means by which the Duchy claimed the Scilly Isles but since this was not the central point of the dispute it was not resolved.

The best summary of the position that I can find remains that of Hitchins and Drew in their book of 1814. The position of the Islands is doubtful, in my view, certainly it was not part of any of the four charters of the Duchy.