Cornwall is the homeland of the Cornish people and the cultural and ethnic origin of the Cornish diaspora. It retains a distinct cultural identity that reflects its unique history, and is recognised as one of the Celtic nations with a rich cultural heritage. It was formerly a Brythonic kingdom and subsequently a royal duchy. The Cornish nationalist movement contests the present constitutional status of Cornwall and seeks greater autonomy within the United Kingdom in the form of a devolved legislative Cornish Assembly and powers similar to those in Wales and Scotland. In 2014, Cornish people were granted minority status under the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, giving Cornish people recognition as a distinct ethnic group.
First inhabited in the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods, Cornwall continued to be occupied by Neolithic and then Bronze Age peoples, and later (in the Iron Age) by Brythons with strong trade and cultural links to Wales and Brittany. Mining in Cornwall and Devon in the south west of England began in the early Bronze Age.
Few Roman remains have been found in Cornwall and there is little evidence that the Romans settled or had much military presence there. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Cornwall was ruled by chieftains of the Cornovii which may have included semi-historical or legendary figures such as King Mark of Cornwall and King Arthur, evidenced by folklore traditions derived from the Historia Regum Britanniae. The Cornovii division of the Dumnonii tribe were separated from the Brythons of Wales after the Battle of Deorham and often came into conflict with the expanding kingdom of Wessex. King Athelstan in AD 936 set the boundary between English and Cornish at the high water mark of the eastern bank of the River Tamar. From the early Middle Ages, language and culture were shared by Brythons trading across both sides of the Channel, resulting in the corresponding high medieval Breton kingdoms of Domnonée and Cornouaille and the Celtic Christianity common to both areas.
Historically Tin mining in Britain was important in the Cornish economy, becoming increasingly significant during the High Middle Ages and expanding greatly during the 19th century when rich copper mines were also in production. In the mid-19th century, however, the tin and copper mines entered a period of decline. Subsequently, china clay extraction became more important and metal mining had virtually ended by the 1990s. Traditionally, fishing (particularly of pilchards) and agriculture (notably dairy products and vegetables) were the other important sectors of the economy. Railways led to a growth of tourism in the 20th century; however, Cornwall's economy struggled after the decline of the mining and fishing industries.
Cornwall is noted for its geology and coastal scenery. A large part of the Cornubian batholith is within Cornwall. The north coast has many cliffs where exposed geological formations are studied. The area is noted for its wild moorland landscapes, its long and varied coastline, its attractive villages, its many place-names derived from the Cornish language, and its very mild climate. Extensive stretches of Cornwall's coastline, and Bodmin Moor, are protected as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.