The three of us are fascinated by British history, historical crime, and gender studies. We began this project in Dr. Paul Fyfe’s Digital Humanities class at North Carolina State University in the spring of 2018 when we discovered our common interest. Our aim with this project is tell the story of Thomas Trethewy, Elizabeth Arundel Trethewy, John Vivian, and John Glynne, and how the actions of this group of people interacted with the sociopolitics of the time and region, and affected the sociopolitics of the region afterward. The account of Trethewy’s vendettas is also highly engaging, and we feel that not telling his story would be a loss to the colorful history of Cornwall.


To create the Tracking Trethewy’s Terror project, we examined the 1400-1499 Petitions to the King dataset pulled from the UK National Archives. To recreate the timeline and create a narrative, we relied on the textual translations of the Petitions available within the dataset. Some petitions were damaged between the date of their initial filing and when the UK National Archives obtained them, as such, some of the information is lost to time. To establish the greater political events around the Trethewy narrative, we utilized information from the UK historical websites: Cornwall Uncovered, British History Online, and’s Cornish Timeline page. Other sources include the Dictionary of National Biography--a key source in searching for historical figures that influence Trethewy’s narrative. C.S. Gilbert’s 1817 An Historical Survey of the County of Cornwall has given us greater insight into how the communities mentioned in the Petitions were positioned in the topography of Cornwall over time. Likewise, Alfred Leslie Rowse’s 1969 book, Tudor Cornwall: Portrait of a Society and Henry Saint-George, Lennard Samson, and John Lambrick Vivian’s 1874 book The Visitation of the County of Cornwall, in the Year 1620 were highly informational about Cornish society in the centuries after Trethewy’s saga.




After deciding on a specific data set from the National Archive Special Collections (TNA, SC8), we were able to export the information as a CSV file, a feature TNA recently created. As a supplement to the digitized petitions, descriptions provided by TNA, though often flawed particularly in their inconsistencies with naming conventions, permit the user to collect and export large groups of information without the immediate necessity of paleographical engagement using the original handwritten petitions. From there, we loaded the spreadsheet into OpenRefine, where we could separate values into their own columns, focusing on people and places mentioned. This then permitted us to load the information into Tableau to visualize clustering based on topics being discussed in each petition, as well as specific places where the petitions originated and who was mentioned in each. We were also able to take the place names we cleaned from the data set and use GIS software to create a Google map which produced a  visualization of the geospatial representation within the narrative. For future development of the project, the clean data could allow us to analyze relationships further using network graphs created with software such as Gephi.

Stefan Sinclair and Geoffrey Rockwell’s piece, “Text Analysis and Visualization: Making Meaning Count” has been immensely useful in informing how we built our visualizations. Most specifically, we found their two main rules for using visualization tools useful understanding the breadth of what we could and could not do. The rules are: “Don’t expect too much from the tools” and “Try things out” (309). When we began the project of unpacking the Petitions into a digital narrative, we had rough ideas of what we wanted to do and little understanding of what the tools could do.



Front-end goals

For our front-end, we wanted a web format that would allow us to embed iframes so that we could use our visualizations from Tableau as well as our maps. We also wanted the visualizations to fit seamlessly with the website design. Guiding our front-end design goals was scholarship from Miriam Posner and Lauren Klein, whose 2017 piece “Data as Media” was key in how we restructured and recontextualized the Petitions to the King dataset for the purposes of our project. Specifically, this piece made us aware of how closely our project relied on the dataset’s pre-existing boundaries--the conclusions of our project are entirely based off the information provided in the dataset.


The second Tableau visualization, “Tracing Trethewy’s Terror – Petition Origin-Destination Map” is intended to geolocate the places and people named in each petition, and provide an idea of the scope/breadth of the events that occurred. Each petition can be individually selected, and the origin ‘node’ is based on the central location/home of the petitioner. Each node has mouseover text that contains notes on the location, petitioner, people named and their roles, and any relevant links to further information.

This visualization ties into the first layer of the Google Map: “Places Named in the Petitions (Historical Names).” The Google Map does not group the locations by petition, but there is a clickable point that correlates exactly to the geolocation of every node in the first Tableau visualization. Selecting any point will allow viewing of the 1800s map that was used to geolocate places that no longer exist, along with any random photos Google associates with the area.

The first Tableau visualization, “Families and Characters by Place/Time,” is intended to similarly geolocate people and places, but in this case we wanted to represent time and movement throughout the family histories and petitions. Here the visualization is grouped by family name. Each family has a numbered series of connected nodes that begins with their earliest locatable mention in genealogical records. These powerful families had historic seats, some of which still exist today. Following the first node, the individual from our narrative is located, and their position throughout the narrative is traced in order by date. Where possible, each character’s death, as well as the next generation of each family, is included as an end node.

This visualization ties into the second layer of the Google Map (as well as the first): “Family Origins in Cornwall, Including Family Trees.” The five clickable points in this layer match the geolocations of each family’s origins in the second Tableau visualization. In addition to a view of the 1800s map of each location, partial family trees are available as additional photos.

The primary challenges we encountered in attempting to create these map visualizations were the ambiguity of names (both place and person), and the lack of any clear historical record of where these places were. Google searches for many of the place names yield only a single result: the initial UK Archive petition where it is mentioned. Historical gazetteers also were of no use for any of the unidentifiable places. We were fortunate, in the last hours before publication, to find a land use map from the 1800s that contained nearly every location in question. It took considerable time and effort to essentially ‘read’ the entire map in search of these places, and we had to use all of our other records and resources to choose the correct location where multiple locations shared the same name. Interestingly, many of the locations have modern day farms, businesses, or cottages that share the historic name, only with a slightly different spelling. The historic names appear to be tied to ownership of the land, which explains why the names went out of use upon the end of a specific family’s control of the land.

Building the visualizations required the creation of custom data sets for each, which was a timely endeavor in Microsoft Excel. Because we were attempting to create crossover between the petitions, the timeline, the family trees, the narrative, and location/names, each data set had to be constructed ‘by hand’, rather than through use of more powerful data management tools. Since the majority of the locations no longer exist, the 1800s land use map had to be used side-by-side with Google Maps to align locations to major landmarks, current places, persisting roadways, and other details. The latitude and longitude then had to be manually recorded and stored in Excel. The time-consuming nature of the data construction, and conversion of traditional humanities resources into tractable data, limited us from exploring more technologies, such as Carto. Ultimately, in continued research we would like to consult with experts in the history of Cornwall to verify and further discuss our map methodology and geolocation. We would also like to explore other visualization types and programs.​

The Petitions to the King that reference Thomas Trethewy contain absences of information that raise questions about historical perspective, data curation, and gender politics.

The Petitions to the King archives have been transcribed from their original form and put in an online database; however, most petitions contain a list of names of people and locations that do not appear in the body of the petition itself, but are referred to along with the petitioner. We are curious as to the purpose of these names and intend to look into whether we can find their further role in the petitions. Many of the petitions have been damaged over time, and as they were digitized, the transcribers made notations or suggestions about what they assumed was on the lost portion of the petition. There does not seem to be a standardized method used for making these deductions aside from looking at the contents of the rest of the petition. While this should be done, and is a reasonable thing to do, there is room for error in these assumptions. We intend to look into how thorough and informed these assumptions are.

Finally, the most interesting absence of information lies within the petitions as written in the 1400s. We have found several instances of violence against women in the Trethewy/Glynne feud, and given mention of abduction and rape in other petitions of the 1400, we are curious as to the extent of the violence visited upon the women in this saga.

These are the most obvious gaps in information in this dataset. What we have been able to do is plumb this amazing story from the depths of Cornish history as recorded in the Petitions to the King from 1400-99. The level of detail provided in the petitions has allowed us to reconstruct a timeline of events, a sketch of motives, and insight into the vibrant, irascible characters of these real-life Cornish villains.

Research Questions:

  • What is Elizabeth Trethewy’s role in her husband’s vendettas beyond her depiction in the Petitions to the King records?

  • Can more details of Thomas Trethewy’s exploits be found in records outside of the Petitions to the King?


Continuing methods

  • To continue our research, we are looking at historical records beyond Petitions to the King, as well as peerages, land records, and other historical documents.

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