Henry Jenner, Cornish language reviver

Henry Jenner is seen as the man who led the revival of the Cornish language, though today there are major splits among the small number of speakers, as to what exactly they should be speaking.

Henry Jenner was born at St Columb in1848. His father was a curate at St Columb Major church.

He became a clerk in the Probate Division of the High Court in London. Later he worked in the Department of Ancient Manuscripts in the British Museum. He quickly became involved in Celtic languages and in 1875 read a paper on the Manx language to the Philological Society. In 1876 he wrote a paper on the Cornish language.

While working at the British Museum as a Keeper of Manuscripts Henry Jenner found, in 1877, a 41-line fragment of early Cornish verse on the back of a charter dated 1340.

In 1903 he was made Bard of the Breton Gorsedd with the bardic name Gwaz Mikael. Also in 1903 he founded the first Cornish language society, Cowethas Kelto-Kemuak. The following year he guided Cornwall’s membership of the Celtic Congress through the Pan-Celtic Congress at Caernarfon, and Cornwall as recognised as one of the six Celtic Nations.

Shortly after this in 1904, he published his “Handbook of the Cornish Language” and thus began the Cornish Revival. Jenner had based his revival of Cornish on 'where it had left off', i.e. Late or Modern Cornish. His ideas on spelling and pronunciation had been influenced by Lhuyd and the tradition of speaking Cornish of its last semi-speakers.

In 1909 Jenner, and his wife Kitty Lee, retired to Hayle. Three years later he became the librarian of the Morrab Library, a post he held until 1927.

In 1917 at the Neath Eisteddfod he met D. Rhys Phillips (Y Beili Glas) and this led to the first Cornish Gorseth at Boscawen Un in 1928. He died on 1934, having made a great contribution to Cornwall and its culture.

 

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