William Scawen was a pivotal figure in the late 17th century, notable for his contributions towards the revival of the Cornish language and his political career.

Early Life and Political Career

William Scawen was born to Robert Scawen of St. Germans and Isabella Nicholls, daughter of Humphrey Nicholls of St Tudy. He was known as a Cornish gentleman and held the position of Vice-Warden of the Stannaries. In April 1640, he was elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for St Germans and East Looe in the Short Parliament. However, the parliament did not last long, and he found himself supporting the Royalist cause during the English Civil War, fighting alongside Cornish-speaking soldiers. Upon the Restoration, Scawen was proposed for the honour of Knight of the Royal Oak (source).

Contribution to Cornish Language Revival

Realising that the Cornish language was on the verge of extinction, Scawen devoted himself to preserving it, a journey he embarked on at the age of 78. Between 1679 and 1680, he translated a Cornish medieval passion poem, “Pascon agan Arluth,” into English. His seminal work included observations on an ancient manuscript titled “Passio Christi,” written in Cornish, which is now housed in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford. This manuscript, published in London in 1777, provides a detailed account of the language, customs, and manners of the Cornish people. Although only a short first draft was ever published, the evolving manuscript, which Scawen worked on until his demise, spans hundreds of pages filled with insightful notes. Scawen identified sixteen reasons contributing to the decline of the Cornish language, such as the gentry’s antipathy towards it, proximity to English-speaking Devon, loss of records during the Civil War, absence of a Bible in Cornish, cessation of native language miracle play performances, and the loss of contact with Brittany (source).

Family and Legacy

Scawen’s sister, Elizabeth, married Martin Keigwin, and together they bore John Keigwin. The Keigwin family also played a significant role in promoting the Cornish language revival, thus continuing Scawen’s legacy (source).

In addition to the information gathered other sources corroborate Scawen’s notable work in Cornish language revival and his political activities (Wikipedia, ResearchGate, Kresen Kernow, St Germans, Cornwall - Wikipedia).