Tintagel Castle, and the English Heritage

We left Camelot Castle well before the mandatory check-out time of 10 a.m. but we could not possibly leave Tintagel until we had visited and explored the Tintagel Castle ruins for the ruins simply could not be overlooked–they are an intrinsic part of the English Heritage.

I found the following information about Tintagel Castle on the net:

Tintagel Castle (Cornish: Dintagel, meaning “fort of the constriction”) is a medieval fortification 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, as an array of artefacts dating to this period have been found on the peninsula, but as yet no Roman era structure has been proven 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. A castle was built on the site by Richard, earl of  Cornwall in the 13th century, during the Later Medieval period, after Cornwall had been subsumed into the kingdom of England. It 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. In the 1930s, excavations revealed significant traces of a much earlier high status settlement, which had trading links with the Mediterranean during the Late Roman period….

knight 1The castle has a long association with Arthurian legends. This began in the 12th century when Geoffrey of Monmouth described Tintagel as the place of Arthur’s conception in his fictionalized account of British history, the Historia Regum Britanniae. Geoffrey told the story that Arthur’s father King Uther Pendragon was disguised by  Merlin’s sorcery to look like Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, the husband of Igraine, Arthur’s mother. ….

Tintagel Castle has been a tourist destination since the mid-19th century and is now managed by English Heritage. …

Late Medieval period

In 1225, Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall, traded with Gervase de Tintagel, swapping the land of Merthen  (originally part of the manor of Winniaton) for Tintagel Castle.

knight 6A castle was built on the site by Earl Richard in 1233 to establish a connection with the Arthurian legends that were associated by Geoffrey of Monmouth with the area and because it was seen as the traditional place for Cornish kings. The castle was built in a more old-fashioned style for the time to make it appear more ancient. Richard hoped that, in this way, he could gain the Cornish people’s trust, since they were suspicious of outsiders. The castle itself held no real strategic value.

However, the dating to the period of Earl Richard has superseded Ralegh Radford’s interpretation which attributed the earliest elements of the castle to Earl Reginald de Dunstanville and later elements to Earl Richard. Sidney Toy suggests an earlier period of construction in Castles: a short history of fortifications from 1600 B.C. to A. D. 1600 (London: Heinemann, 1939)….

John Holland, Earl of Huntington was appointed constable of Tintagel Castle in 1389…. (Tintagel Castle, wikipedia, accessed 11 Jan 2016)

Arthurian Legends

The castle has a long association with the Arthurian legends, being first associated with King Arthur by Welshman Geoffrey of Monmouth in his book the Historia Regum Britanniae (“History of the Kings of Britain'”), written circa 1135–38, which includes a detailed account of the legend. According to Geoffrey and the legend, Arthur’s father was Uther Pendragon, the king of all Britain. He goes to war against Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall, to capture Gorlois’ wife Igraine, with whom Uther has fallen in love. Gorlois defends himself against Uther’s armies at his fort of Dimilioc, but he sends Igraine to stay safely within Tintagel Castle which is his most secure refuge, according to the legend and the Historia Regum Britanniae. Uther besieges Dimilioc, telling 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’s History mentions Tintagel Castle as the site of Arthur’s conception, but “it nowhere claims that Arthur was born at Tintagel, or that he ever visited the place in later life, or that in any sense the stronghold became his property when he was king.” However, the legend and the book continued to become hugely popular, spreading across Britain in the Late Medieval period, when more Arthurian texts were produced, many of them continuing to propagate the idea that Arthur himself was actually born at Tintagel. There is now a footpath from the site to Cadbury Castle in Somerset called Arthur’s Way.

However, many continue to argue against these legends. For example, archaeologist C. A. Ralegh Radford refused to believe in the legend and all of the associations, declaring in 1935 that “no concrete evidence whatsoever has yet been found to support the legendary connection of the Castle with King Arthur”, Charles Thomas, a specialist in Cornish history, was unable to find solid links, mainly due to the fact that legends and stories would have been handed down only verbally during this period. Thomas stated in 1993 that “there simply is no independently attested connection in early Cornish folklore locating Arthur, at any age or in any capacity, at Tintagel.” Many others disagree, maintaining that the legendary figure would essentially have been an Early Medieval British leader, involved in fighting the migrating Anglo-Saxons who were settling in Britain at that time. A stone was found at Tintagel bearing the inscription PATERN[–] COLI AVI FICIT ARTOGNOU , and it has been claimed by some to provide evidence for a historical Arthur, but most historians reject this view. … (Tintagel Castle, wikipedia, accessed 11 Jan 2016)

The English Heritage Guidebook Tintagel Castle, written by Colleen E. Batey in collaboration with the English Heritage, gives the following information on the traditions of King Arthur’s legendary association with Tintagel Castle:

The Emergence of Arthur

The foremost figure popularly linked with Tintagel is King Arthur. There is minimal historical evidence for Arthur, and nothing to associate him with Tintagel until the 12th  century. The earliest surviving mention of his name is in the Historia knight nineBrittonum (History of the Britons), a manuscript assembled from a mixture of historical sources and folk-tales in north Wales about 829-30, attributed to a scholar  called Nennius.

The text presents two different versions of Arthur, one apparently based on historical fact–a Christians war leader who commanded the forces of ‘the kings of the Britons’ against the Saxons; and one more obviously mythical–a magical figure whose dog paws made permanent impressions in stone, and whose son’s tomb varied mysteriously: ‘men come to measure the grave and find it sometimes six feet in length, sometimes nine, sometimes twelve, sometimes fifteen. At whatever length you might measure it at one time, a second time you will not find it to have the same length.’  [My question here is: what were they on? Charlie Hebdo’s Asterix’s Getafix’s magical Druid potion?]

Arthur was probably included in the Historia Brittonum to please Merfyn Frych. king of Gwynedd in north Wales. the first of a new dynasty of kings. Merfyn may have wanted to knight 5associate himself with a war hero believed to have repeatedly defeated the forebears of the English kings who harassed Wales in the early ninth century.

There is evidence that at about the same time Arthur, often linked with features in the landscape, was the subject of popular legend in Cornwall, southern Scotland, and Brittany. (Batey, Tintagel Castle, p.p. 28-9)

In the English Heritage Guidebooks edition of Tintagel Castle,  Batey’s next section is entitled The Tales of Geoffrey Monmouth, and is as follows:

Arthur’s enormous international popularity was largely owing to one author, a scholar called Geoffrey of Monmouth (d. 1154/5). It was he who first linked Arthur with Tintagel, describing it as the island fortress where Arthur was conceived thanks to the magic of Merlin.

In about 1138, Geoffrey drastically embellished previous accounts of Arthur in his Historia regum Brittaniae (History of the Kings of Britain). By this time, stories of Arthur were already known on the Continent.

Geoffrey described Arthur as a ‘youth of unparalleled courage and generosity, joined with that sweetness of temper and innate goodness, as gained him universal love’ and turned him, as an knight 7adult, from a victorious battle leader into the greatest of a line of kings of Britain, and conqueror of most of western and northern Europe, whose renown had attracted the bravest of knights of the Continent to his court. Geoffrey also included elements of legend that depicted Arthur defeating a giant St Michael’s Mount.

Despite these more obvious fantasies, Geoffrey placed Arthur in an apparently historical sixth-century Britain, expressed in detail relevant to his 12th-century audience, and so provided the court of the Norman kings of England with a credible heroic role model. (Batey, Tintagel Castle, p. 29)

Batey follows this section with another on Arthur and Tintagel:

Tintagel enters the story of Arthur when Geoffrey tells how Uther Pendragon, king of Britain, fell in love with Igerna (Ygraine), wife of Gorlois, duke of Cornwall.  Tintagel is presented as Gorlois’s strongest fortress, where he placed Igerna to protect her from Uther’s advances. While Uther’s forces besiege Gorlois elsewhere in Cornwall, Uther’s advisor, the wizard Merlin, transforms Uther into the likeness of Gorlois. Uther and his companion ‘set forward on their way to Tintagel, at which they arrived in the evening twilight’ and are admitted knight 2by the porter to the castle and to Igerna on the strength of their disguises. ‘The same night therefore she conceived of the most renowned Arthur, whose heroic and wonderful actions have justly rendered his name famous’.  Gorlois is then killed in battle and Uther marries Igerna.

The river Camblan, the site of Arthur’s last battle, was also placed by Geoffrey in Cornwall. It is highly likely, judging from Geoffrey’s description of Tintagel, that he visited Tintagel (or got a description from someone who had), and so knew of the great ditch, the ramparts, and the ruins of the buildings that had stood nearby when the site was heavily populated before the seventh century. (Batey, Tintagel Castle, p. 29)

Back in May 2015 when I had sat down at King Arthur’s Round Table in Camelot Castle to write my letter to Merlin, I of course knew that the table at which I was sitting was not the real deal, but a comparatively modern replica of the “real.”   Nevertheless, I did not know who had made it, and I still do not know.  In the English Heritage Guidebook Tintagel Castle, by Batey, and which I did not purchase until later that day in May, and when Bob and I visited the Tintagel Castle ruins, Batey discusses King Arthur’s round table in a section titled Knights, Chivalry, and Romance:

Stories of Arthur’s court flourished in late 12th-century France, when the Plantagenet monarchs of England, Henry II (r.1154-89), his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their son, the future Richard I, controlled an arc of territory from Normandy to the Pyrenees.

In 1151, about 20 years after Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia, Wace, an Anglo-Saxon poet and courtier to Henry II, translated Geoffrey’s work into Norman French. He added details of his own, such as the Round Table, where no knight had precedence over another. (Batey, Tintagel Castle, p. 30)

Colleen Batey also reveals that the “original” piece, “the earliest known Arthurian Round Table, dating from about 1290 (the painting on the surface of the table top is 16th century)”… now hanArthur's round tablegs in the Great Hall  of the Winchester Castle” (Batey, Tintagel Castle, p. 30).

Meanwhile, according to one blogger, Sean McLachlan, on the  ‘Black Gate’ blog site, the “original” Arthurian Round Table that hangs in the Great Hall in Winchester Castle  is really not quite all that it seems to be: “For centuries it was reputed to have been the genuine article, until archaeologists took it down in 1976 and using radiocarbon and tree ring dating found that it had been made in the 13th or early 14th century, long after King Arthur and his merry knights were supposed to have lived” (Black Gate, accessed 11 Jan 2016).

Back now to the English Heritage Guidebook on Tintagel Castle, and Colleen Batey’s words:

The tales of the Knights of the Round Table became the pattern for a new order, a code of chivalry–the good conduct expected of a knight towards his enemies, his liege lord, his fellow knights, the lower orders, and women. It was the age, too, of the ‘romance’, a story in verse or prose placing a great emphasis on a knight’s courtly and unfulfilled love for a lady, often the wife of his feudal superior or another lord….

English kings used the legend of King Arthur as the associated order of obedience and loyalty to promote their own political knight 4
standing and ambitions. In the 12th century Henry II was said to have been involved in the discovery of a grave at Glastonbury thought to hold the remains of Arthur and Guinevere. His son Richard I presented a sword believed to be Excalibur to a foreign ruler.

It is thought by many that Richard of Cornwall’s building of Tintagel Castle in the 1230s and the 1240s was a realization of Arthurian fantasy. His brother Henry III wrote in 1232 of a type of tournament known as a ’round table’ and his nephew Edward I (r.1272-1307) was said to have taken a book of Arthurian knight nineromance with him on crusade. During the rising opposition of the Welsh in 1278 Edward attended the reinterment of the supposed bones of Arthur and Genevieve at Glastonbury. It is possible he wanted to put to rest the myth cherished by the Welsh that Arthur would return to rule them.

In the 14th century the chivalric virtues, embodied by the legendary knights of Arthur’s court,  were adopted as the standards of conduct in institutions founded by the king. King Edward III (r.1326/7-77), in 1344  proposed an Order of the Round Table, which, according to the English historian Adam Murimuth (d.1347), was to be established ‘in the same manner and conditions as Arthur, formerly king of England, established it’. The king’s teenage son, the Black Prince (1330-76), who had been made earl of Cornwall in 1336 and duke of Cornwall the following year, and with the titles held Tintagel Castle, was present on the occasion. A building was begun at Windsor castle to house the Round Table, but the Order did not last.

Instead Edward, with the involvement of the Black Prince, knight 5founded another, similar chivalric order, to consist of the king, the prince of Wales and 24 knights: the Order of the Garter, which remains today. (Batey, Tintagel Castle, p. 30)


knight 4



Works cited

Batey, Colleen E. English Heritage: Tintagel Castle. English Heritage Guidebooks. London: English Heritage, 1st ed. 2010, 2nd ed. 2012, rev. reprint 2014.

Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Round Table at Winchester …


McLachlan, Sean. “The Round table at Winchester castle: A Genuine Arthurian Fake.” Posted by Sean McLachlan, 23 Sept., Wed., 2015.

Tintagel Castle – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



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