Tintagel Castle

Tintagel Castle is a castle currently in ruins found on Tintagel Head, located near the village of Tintagel in Cornwall, England, UK. The site was originally a Roman settlement, though the remains of the castle that stand today date from the 13th century. The castle is traditionally linked to the legend of King Arthur and as such it is currently a popular tourist site run by English Heritage.


Roman settlement

Cornwall, the territory of the Dumnones, was relatively untouched during the Roman occupation of Britain, however coins and pottery fragments found at the site indicate that the site, typical of a cliff-fort, was occupied in the third or fourth century. Two Roman milestones nearby indicate that a road led to the settlement.

Early medieval settlement

After the Romans left Britain, Celtic peoples did build a fortress on the site. It is often speculated that it was a summer residence for the rulers of Dumnonia. The Ravenna Cosmography, of around 700, makes reference to Purocoronavis, (almost certainly a corruption of Durocornovium), 'a fort or walled settlement of the Cornovii, (unidentified, but possibly referring to Tintagel Castle or Carn Brea castle). Later legends claimed that this was the site where the Cornish kings held court at this time.

Richard, Earl of Cornwall

A castle was built on the site by Richard, Earl of Cornwall in 1233, to build on 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 help to gain the Cornish people's trust, who were suspicious of outsiders. The castle itself held no real strategic value.

Fall into ruins

After Richard, the following Earls of Cornwall were not interested in the castle, and it was left to the county sheriff. The castle became more dilapidated, and in the 1330s the roof of the Great Hall was removed. From there, the castle became ruins.

Victorian era

During the Victorian era, there was a fascination with the Arthurian legends, and the ruins of the castle became a tourist destination. The modern day village of Tintagel was known as Trevena until the 1850s, when it was renamed to promote tourism on the strength of the King Arthur and Camelot legends. Strictly speaking, Tintagel is only the name of the headland.

Arthurian legend

It was claimed by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century that the castle at Tintagel Head was where King Uther Pendragon seduced Queen Igraine of Cornwall, while her husband, Gorlois, was under siege at Dimilioc. King Arthur was thus conceived and Tennyson made the castle his birthplace. In later Arthurian legend the castle's main role is as the chief castle of King Mark of Cornwall, who was the uncle of Sir Tristan and husband of Iseult. They famously engage in a secret affair behind his back. A nearby cave is known as 'Merlin's cave' after the Arthurian wizard Merlin.

Archaeological discoveries

A Medieval Celtic fortress did exist there. North-African red-slip bowls and amphora fragments from the Eastern Mediterranean reveal a considerable trade in the Dark Ages, in exchange for which Charles Thomas (Thomas 1993) argues tin could have been the only feasible export. The first excavations, which were undertaken by Ralegh Radford in the 1930s, have come under modern criticism, partly because the site documentation was slight by modern standards. Radford led a considerable interpretative shift when he suggested that Tintagel was in fact a Celtic monastery and not an "Arthurian" site; more recent work identifies the supposed monastery as footings for thirteenth-century workmen's huts.

In the mid-1980s a fire on Tintagel headland led to considerable erosion of the topsoil, and many more building foundations than were recorded by Radford could be seen. In 1998 the mis-called "Arthur stone" was discovered there that raised hopes for some basis for the legend. The present-day ruins of the castle are situated on a rocky headland that overlooks the Cornish coast. Tintagel Castle is one of the landholdings of the Duchy of Cornwall/Prince Charles who refuse to reveal the date or circumstances under which the castle was transferred to the care of English Heritage. It has proved not possible to obtain this information, as there is a Parliamentary injunction preventing MP’s from raising questions about, or even attempting to discuss, Duchy related matters. On 16th July 1997 the Liberal Democrat Andrew George MP attempted to raise a Duchy-related question but he was prevented by an injunction that disallows MPs raising any questions in Parliament that are in any way related to the Duchy.

Recent controversy

In 1999 there was some controversy regarding this site and others under the care of the English Heritage organisation. Members of a pressure group, the Revived Cornish Stannary Parliament, removed several signs bearing the English Heritage name. Three men later paid criminal fines in connection with these actions.


External links

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