Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis Biography

(One of the Leading British Generals in the American War of Independence)

Birthday: December 31, 1738 (Capricorn)

Born In: Grosvenor Square, London, England

Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis was a British army general and statesman. He was also honored as “Earl Cornwallis,’’ and his military career began during the Seven Years' War. He subsequently led the British generals in the American War of Independence. Despite his several victories in the past, his major defeat at Yorktown, which was the final campaign of the American Revolution, is considered Cornwallis's biggest failure. His 1781 surrender to the American and French armies finally ended the long-run conflicts in North America. Nevertheless, the defeat did not end his career. More honors and responsibilities awaited Cornwallis in Britain. With the support of the successive British governments, Cornwallis was titled “Knight Companion” in 1786. He is also remembered for the reformative legislations that he passed, such as the ‘Cornwallis Code’ and the ‘Permanent Settlement,’ while serving as the commander-in-chief and the governor-general in India (1786–1793, 1805). He also suppressed the king of Mysore, Tipu Sultan. Cornwallis also served as the commander-in-chief and the governor-general of Ireland (1798–1801), where he played a crucial role in passing the ‘Act of Union.’ When Cornwallis was reappointed in India, he could not serve for long, as he died shortly after.

Quick Facts

British Celebrities Born In December

Also Known As: Viscount Brome, The Earl Cornwallis

Died At Age: 66


Spouse/Ex-: Jemima Tullekin Jones

father: Charles Cornwallis, 1st Earl Cornwallis

mother: Elizabeth Townshend

siblings: 4th Earl Cornwallis, James Cornwallis, Lady Charlotte Cornwallis, Lady Elizabeth Cornwallis, Lady Mary Cornwallis, William Cornwallis

children: Charles, Mary

Born Country: England

Military Leaders Political Leaders

Died on: October 5, 1805

place of death: Ghazipur, India

City: London, England

Cause of Death: Fever

Notable Alumni: Clare College, Cambridge

More Facts

education: Eton College, Clare College, Cambridge

awards: Knight Companion of The Most Noble Order of the Garter

Childhood & Early Life
Born on December 31, 1738, in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, London, Charles Edward Cornwallis V was the eldest child of Charles Cornwallis, 5th Baron Cornwallis, and Elizabeth, the daughter of 2nd Viscount Townshend. His brother, William, served the ‘Royal Navy’ as an admiral.
Cornwallis attended ‘Eton College’ and ‘Clare College,’ Cambridge. On December 8, 1757, he received his commission as an ensign in the ‘1st Foot Guards’ and later joined the military academy in Turin, Italy, where he completed his studies in 1758.
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Military Career
Cornwallis was posted to Geneva during the Seven Years' War (also known as the French and Indian War). However, the British troops had already sailed from the Isle of Wight before he reached his regiment.
After a year, Cornwallis was appointed under Lord Granby's service. He participated in the Battle of Minden. He became a captain in the ‘85th Regiment of Foot’ and was named the brevet lieutenant-colonel of the ‘12th Foot’ in May 1761.
Cornwallis was noted for his gallantry while leading the Battle of Villinghausen in July 1761.
Political Career
Cornwallis became a member of parliament in January 1760 and thus entered the ‘House of Commons.’ He entered the ‘House of Lords’ after succeeding his father (who died in 1762), as the “2nd Earl Cornwallis.”
Cornwallis took over his administrative duties after the ‘Treaty of Paris,’ signed on September 3, 1783, ended the American Revolutionary War. He established an alliance with Lord Rockingham, a supporter of American colonists' constitutional rights, and supported the American colonial position.
Cornwallis opposed the 1765 ‘Stamp Act’ while maintaining a strong support for the colonists during the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783).
Role in American War of Independence
In 1766, Cornwallis was named the colonel of the ‘33rd Regiment of Foot.’ He was made the “Constable of the Tower of London” in 1771. King George III promoted him to the post of major general on September 29, 1775.
Cornwallis moved to America in early 1776, where he was appointed as a lieutenant general, under Major General Henry Clinton's command. After a failed attempt to capture Charleston, South Carolina, they aided General William Howe’s campaign of the capture of New York City. Cornwallis served on Howe's campaign to control Philadelphia.
Tensions surfaced between Cornwallis and General Clinton after the defeat at Princeton. The issues sustained throughout and after the war.
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Cornwallis played a significant role in the Battle of Brandywine, the Battle of Germantown, and the conquest of Fort Mercer. After he returned from a short break, Cornwallis was made the second-in-command, while General Clinton replaced Howe as the commander-in-chief.
In November 1778, Cornwallis traveled to England to visit his ailing wife. Upon his return to America, he and General Clinton took over Charleston in May 1780, after which Cornwallis was drafted as the leader of the British campaign in the south.
Cornwallis moved to North Carolina after the victory in the Battle of Camden in August 1780. His army lost the Battle of Cowpens in January 1781. Although he won over General Nathanael Greene at ‘Guilford Courthouse’ in March 1781, Cornwallis's army lost resources.
The American and French armies seized Cornwallis's army and made him surrender on October 1781, ending the last significant battle of the Revolutionary War, known as the Battle of Yorktown.
Return to Britain
Despite the defeat, Cornwallis continued with his military career. He was named a “Knight Companion of The Most Noble Order of the Garter” in 1786 (until 1794) with King George III and the newly appointed prime minister William Pitt's support.
In February 1786, Cornwallis became the governor-general and commander-in-chief in India, where he passed several reforms. His army suppressed the then-ruler of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, in the Third Anglo-Mysore War (1789 to 1792).
Cornwallis was awarded with the honorary title of “Marquess” in 1792. He returned to England in 1793 and was then sent to Ireland as lord lieutenant (1798–1801), to end the 1798 Irish rebellion and limit the French invasion. He also played a role in the passing of the 1800 ‘Act of Union’ to unite the English and the Irish parliaments.
From 1794 to 1798, Cornwallis held the title of “Master-General of the Ordnance’’ (MGO). His appointment as the lord lieutenant and the commander-in-chief of Ireland was highly opposed.
As an MGO, Cornwallis reformed Britain's coastal defences and the artillery training program at the ‘Woolwich Academy.’ He also oversaw the military's infrastructure, storage depots, supply structure, and engineering forces. However, his reformative actions in the interest of the military were curtailed heavily by the ongoing war.
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Cornwallis Code
While in India, Cornwallis worked on the Muslim and Hindu law structures and passed the ‘Cornwallis Code’ in 1793, a newly devised civil and criminal code. The code placed the British at the top of the social hierarchy and thus triggered racism. However, Cornwallis did a lot to improve the conditions of the lower classes.
Cornwallis passed a legislation in the interest of local weavers, banished child slavery, and established a Sanskrit college for Hindus (the ‘Government Sanskrit College’) in Benares in 1791.
Cornwallis also introduced the ‘Permanent Settlement,’ a significant land taxation reform from the ‘Cornwallis Code.’
He instituted a mint in Calcutta, the then-capital of British-ruled India, and was hence regarded as a harbinger of India's modern currency.
The Treaty of Amiens
In March 1802, Cornwallis signed the ‘Treaty of Amiens’ to settle the War of the Second Coalition. However, by May 1803, the UK was again in a war-like situation, for which Cornwallis's extreme lenient conduct during the negotiations was blamed.
King George III reappointed Cornwallis as the governor-general of India in 1805, to suppress of Lord Wellesley.
Personal Life & Death
Cornwallis married Jemima Tullekin Jones, daughter of a regimental colonel, on July 14, 1768, and had two children: Mary and Charles. Jemima died on April 14, 1779.
On October 5, 1805, Cornwallis died of a fever in Ghazipur. His memorial monument is now under the security of the ‘Archaeological Survey of India.’
His son, Charles, succeeded Cornwallis. The tradition of “Marquessate” ended after Charles died in 1823, as he had no son. Hence, Cornwallis's brother, the Right Reverend James Cornwallis, inherited the earldom.
English actor Tom Wilkinson portrayed Cornwallis in the 2000 film ‘The Patriot.’
To commemorate Cornwallis's victory over Tipu Sultan, ‘Fort Cornwallis’ was established in 1786 in George Town, Prince of Wales Island.
The ‘Victoria Memorial’ in Kolkata, the ‘St. Paul's Cathedral’ of London's ‘Fort Museum,’ and ‘Fort St. George’ of Chennai have statues of Cornwallis installed on the premises.

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