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Legend of King Arthur • Tintagel Castle

by mythic44

Tintagel Castle is a medieval fortification long associated with the Arthurian legends

Located on the peninsula of Tintagel Island, adjacent to the village of Tintagel in Cornwall, England, in the United Kingdom. The site was possibly occupied in the Romano-British period, due to an array of artefacts dating to this period which have been found on the peninsula, but as yet no Roman era structure has been proved to have existed there. It subsequently saw settlement during the Early Medieval period, when it was probably one of the seasonal residences of the regional king of Dumnonia. In the 13th century, during the Later Medieval period, after Cornwall had been subsumed into the kingdom of England, a castle was built on the site by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, which later fell into disrepair and ruin. Archaeological investigation into the site began in the 19th century as it became a tourist attraction, with visitors coming to see the ruins of Richard’s castle, excavations in the 1930s however revealed significant traces of a much earlier high status settlement that had trading links with the Mediterranean during the Late Roman period.

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Not incidentally, the castle has a long association with the Arthurian legends, going back to the 12th century when Geoffrey of Monmouth in his mythical account of British history, the Historia Regum Britanniae described Tintagel as the place of Arthur’s conception. According to the tale told by Geoffrey, his father, King Uther Pendragon, was disguised by Merlin’s sorcery to look like Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall the husband of Ygerna, Arthur’s mother.

Arthurian legend – The castle has a long association with the Arthurian legends, being first associated with King Arthur by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his mythical account of British history, the Historia Regum Britanniae. The Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), was written circa 1135-38 by the Welshman Geoffrey of Monmouth. In this book, which is a fictionalised account of British history, Arthur’s father, the king of all Britain, Uther Pendragon, is said to go to war against Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall, in order to capture the wife of Gorlois, Igraine, with whom Uther has fallen in love. While Gorlois defends himself against Uther’s armies at his fort of Dimilioc, he sends Igraine to stay safe within Tintagel Castle, which is supposedly his most secure refuge. Besieging Dimilioc, Uther tells his friend Ulfin how he loves Igraine, but Ulfin replies that it would be impossible to take Tintagel, for “it is right by the sea, and surrounded by the sea on all sides; and there is no other way into it, except that provided by a narrow rocky passage–and there, three armed warriors could forbid all entry, even if you took up your stand with the whole of Britain behind you.” Geoffrey of Monmouth’s story goes on to explain how the wizard Merlin was summoned, and in order to help get them into Tintagel Castle, he magically changed Uther’s appearance to that of Gorlois, whilst also changing his own and Ulfin’s appearances to those of two of Gorlois’s companions. Disguised thus, they are able to enter Tintagel, where Uther goes to Igraine, and “in that night was the most famous of men, Arthur, conceived.”

It was here in Tintagel Castle, almost every source agrees, that Arthur was conceived

The then King of England, Uther Pendragon, besotted with Igraine, wife of the Duke of Tintagel, persuaded the wizard Merlin to disguise him as her husband. Hours after her husband had been killed elsewhere, Igraine was tricked into sleeping with Pendragon. When she learned the truth the following morning she agreed to marry the King. The story of Arthur, with all its fascinating characters, Lancelot, Guinevere, Galahad, starts here.

Site of legend, romance and history, Tintagel occupies a spectacular cliff location on the Cornish Coast. Though small and very touristy, Tintagel is charming and either the scenery, its history or its legendary status are sure to capture your imagination.

Tintagel is no mere tourist trend, it has been boldly inscribed upon the tourist map for centuries. Ever since the 12th century historian, George of Monmouth wrote Historia Regum Britanniae, or History of the Kings of Britain, generations of pilgrims have come to Tintagel in homage to the great legend of King Arthur. Most notable of these are Tennyson, Swinburne, Hardy and Turner who all produced marvellous works inspired by this outstanding location.

Monmouth cited Tintagel as the spot where 5th century King Arthur was conceived. Tintagel Castle could quite possibly have been the very spot. Not only has excavation proved the site was inhabited at the time but below Tintagel Castle on Tintagel Beach you’ll also find Merlin’s Cave, it all fits the legend.

Tintagel Castle is perched high on a clifftop in North Cornwall. Over time, the waves have eroded the cliffs and some hundreds of years ago some of the castle slipped into the sea as a cave underneath it gave way. There is even a stone they named the Arthur Stone, that was uncovered as recently as 1998 on the site of the Castle. This piece of 1500 year old slate was inscribed with the name Artognou.

A lot of the history and evidence are displayed and explained in the Visitor Centre, right at the base of the Tintagel Castle site. You should have a talk and wander round this before you proceed across the bridge to the Castle.

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Tintagel Castle


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