30th June 2017…..Trelawney Day at Pelynt


I am writing this the day after Trelawney Day, having just found out about it! Had I known I would perhaps have gone to the yearly commemorative concert in Pelynt yesterday. Pelynt is a village proud of its connection with a Cornish hero. I learned to play this tune on the recorder, when I was about eight I suppose, which is why it is familiar to me and why I burst into song whenever we drive through Pelynt (well the chorus which is all I can remember!).

Jonathan Trelawny was born in Pelynt in 1650. He was ordained in 1673. Along with his brother, Major General Charles Trelawny, he helped to put down the rebellion in the west led by the Duke of Monmouth. In gratitude for his services, King James IIknighted him and appointed him Bishop of Bristol in 1685.

Although he was loyal to the crown, Trelawny was one of seven Bishops who petitioned against the king’s Declaration of Indulgence in 1667, granting religious tolerance to the Catholics. Along with the other bishops, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for three weeks, then tried and acquitted. He became Bishop of Exeter in 1688 and Bishop of Winchester in 1707. He died in 1721.

Trelawny was the hero of the 1825 “The Song of the Western Men” by R. S. Hawker, the well known Vicar of Morwenstow Better known as “And shall Trelawny die?” or just plain “Trelawny”, the song was derived from an old Cornish proverb which forms the chorus.

Robert Stephen Hawker (1803-1875), priest, poet, and mystic.

Hawker was parson of the parish of Morwenstow on the desolate north Cornish coast for forty-one years. He first became known for his work in rescuing and burying the remains of shipwreck victims washed up on the jagged rocks below his church. He was one of the finest poets of his period, and his Arthurian masterpiece, The Quest of the Sangraal, drew from Tennyson the acclamation: “Hawker has beaten me on my own ground.”

His eccentricity was a by-word. He dressed in claret-coloured coat, blue fisherman’s jersey, long sea-boots and pink brimless hat. He talked to birds, invited his nine cats into church, and excommunicated one of them when it caught a mouse on a Sunday.

Hawker is best known for his ballad about the imprisonment of Bishop Trelawny, The Song of the Western Men. Of this ballad he wrote:

The history of that Ballad is suggestive of my whole life. I published it first anonymously in a Plymouth Paper. Everybody liked it. It, not myself, became popular. I was unnoted and unknown. It was seen by Mr Davies Gilbert, President of the Society of Antiquaries, etc., etc., and by him reprinted at his own Private Press at Eastbourne. Then it attracted the notice of Sir Walter Scott, who praised it, not me, unconscious of the Author. Afterwards Macaulay (Lord) extolled it in his History of England. All these years the Song has been bought and sold, set to music and applauded, while I have lived on among these far away rocks unprofited, unpraised and unknown. This is an epitome of my whole life. Others have drawn profit from my brain while I have been coolly relinquished to obscurity and unrequital and neglect.


A good sword and a trusty hand!
A merry heart and true!
King James’s men shall understand
What Cornish lads can do!
And have they fixed the where and when?
And shall Trelawny die?
Here’s twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!

And shall Trelawny live?
Or shall Trelawny die?
Here’s twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!

Out spake their Captain brave and bold:
A merry wight was he:
Though London Tower were Michael’s hold,
We’ll set Trelawny free!
‘We’ll cross the Tamar, land to land:
The Severn is no stay:
With “one and all,” and hand in hand;
And who shall bid us nay?

And shall Trelawny live?
Or shall Trelawny die?
Here’s twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!

And when we come to London Wall,
A pleasant sight to view,
Come forth! come forth! ye cowards all:
Here’s men as good as you.
‘Trelawny he’s in keep and hold;
Trelawny he may die:
Here’s twenty thousand Cornish bold
Will know the reason why

And shall Trelawny live?
Or shall Trelawny die?
Here’s twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s