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Tintagel Castle
Tintagel, Cornwall
Upper mainland courtyard of Tintagel Castle, 2007.jpg
The mainland courtyard the ruins of Tintagel Castle. Part of the village of Tintagel can be seen in the distance.
Tintagel Castle is located in Cornwall
Shown within Cornwall
Coordinates 50°40′01″N 4°45′34″W / 50.66706°N 4.75936°W / 50.66706; -4.75936Coordinates: 50°40′01″N 4°45′34″W / 50.66706°N 4.75936°W / 50.66706; -4.75936

Tintagel Castle (grid reference SX051889) is a castle currently in ruins found on Tintagel Island, located near the village of Tintagel in Cornwall, England, UK. The 'Island' is in fact a peninsula subject to erosion by the sea. The site was perhaps 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 (preserved in the museum at Truro) indicate that the site, typical of a cliff-fort, was occupied in the third or fourth century. Two Roman "milestones" nearby might indicate that a road led to the settlement though it is not obvious where such a road could lead: the trade route was probably not through Devon but via the Camel estuary and the valleys beyond.

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 one of the kingdoms of Dumnonia. The Ravenna Cosmography, of around 700 AD, 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. Tintagel has been proven to have been a highly important “high-status” ('royal stronghold') settlement between 400 and 700 AD. It may have been in seasonal and ceremonial use only, but more high class imported Mediterranean pottery has been found there than at all the other contemporary southern British sites put together. Legend connects kings such as Marc Cunomorus with Tintagel and the royal use of the site would actually support theories that the legend of Arthur being conceived at Tintagel.[1]

Richard, Earl of Cornwall

A castle was built on the site by Richard, Earl of Cornwall in 1233, to establish a connection with the Arthurian legends that were associated by Geoffrey of Monmouth with the area[2] 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.

Fall into ruins

After Richard, the following Earls of Cornwall were not interested in the castle, and it was left to the county sheriff. Parts of the accommodation were used as a prison and the land was let as pasture. The castle became more dilapidated, and in the 1330s the roof of the Great Hall was removed. From there, the castle became ruins and there was progressive damage from the erosion of the isthmus.[3]

Period since 1852

Window in Tintagel Castle

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 found convenient by the Post Office to use the name of the parish rather than the name of the village. Strictly speaking, Tintagel is only the name of the headland (Tintagel Head itself is the extreme south-west point of Castle Island and the castle ruins are partly on the 'island' and partly on the adjoining mainland). The Rev. R. B. Kinsman (d. 1894) was honorary constable and built the courtyard wall: a guide was employed to conduct the visitors into the castle. Until his time the steps either side of the isthmus were unsafe, though the plateau could be reached by those who grazed sheep there. From 1870 a lead mine was worked for a short time near Merlin's Cave. In the 20th century the site was maintained by the Office of Works and its successors (from 1929 onwards). In 1975 the access across the isthmus was improved by the installation of a wooden bridge.[4]

The guide from ca. 1869-1939 was Florence Nightingale Richards: at that time nothing had been excavated except the chapel and so ideas such as the garden being a cemetery and King Arthur's Footprint being a place for King Arthur to leap to the mainland were given currency.[5][6]

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.[7] 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. Algernon Charles Swinburne's Tristram of Lyonesse is one of the versions of the Tristan and Iseult legends where some of the events are set at Tintagel. Another version is Thomas Hardy's The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall at Tintagel in Lyonnesse, a one act play which was published in 1923 (the book included an imaginary drawing of the castle at the period).

There is now a footpath from the site to Cadbury Castle in Somerset called Arthur's Way,[8] A book has been produced in which the pupils of Tintagel C. P. School have collaborated with the artist Michael Fairfax, and the writer Amanda White. [9]

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.[10]

In the mid-1980s a fire on Tintagel Island led to considerable erosion of the topsoil, and many more building foundations than were recorded by Radford could be seen.[11] In 1998 the mis-called "Arthur stone" was discovered there that raised hopes for some basis for the legend.[12] The present-day ruins of the castle are situated on a rocky peninsula that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean sometimes called the Celtic Sea.

Panorama of Tintagel Castle

Heritage controversy

Tintagel Castle is one of the landholdings of the Duke of Cornwall, Prince Charles, who refuses to reveal the date or circumstances under which the castle was transferred to the care of English Heritage.

In 1999 there was some controversy regarding this site and others under the care of the English Heritage organisation in Cornwall. Members of a pressure group, the Revived Cornish Stannary Parliament, removed several signs bearing the English Heritage name, because they objected to the name "English", claiming that Cornwall is rightfully a nation on its own[13][14]. Three men later paid criminal fines in connection with these actions[15]. Since this action several of the smaller sites such as Dupath Well, The Hurlers (stone circles), Tregiffian Burial Chamber, St Breock Downs Monolith, King Doniert's Stone, Trethevy Quoit and Carn Euny have been transferred to the care of the Cornwall Heritage Trust.[16]

The Ship and Locomotive: 'Tintagel Castle'

Ruins of the Norman castle at Tintagel

The Union-Castle shipping line had the Tintagel Castle in their fleet from 1954-1971. The locomotive 'Tintagel Castle' was built for the Great Western Railway in the 4073 series and was in service 1927-1962. One of First Great Western's class 57 locomotives, 57603, carries this name.


  1. ^ "Tintagel Castle Cornwall". Retrieved 2009-07-18.  
  2. ^ Tintagel does not appear in the Domesday survey (the manor was then entered as Botcinii (Bossiney)); E. M. R. Ditmas ("A Reappraisal of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Allusions to Cornwall" Speculum 48, 3 [July 1973:510-524], p. 515) suggested that "Tintagel" was a name of Geoffrey's own invention; the first official mention of Tintagel dates to the thirteenth century, Ditmas notes, after the Arthurian romances had been in circulation
  3. ^ Canner, A. C. (1982) The Parish of Tintagel. Camelford, chap. 3-6
  4. ^ Post & Weekly News; 1975-12-13
  5. ^ Dyer, Peter; p. 288
  6. ^ Cotton, Ellen (1961) King Arthur's Castle, Tintagel. In: Cornish Magazine; Vol. 3, pp. 367-68, April 1961
  7. ^ The historical development of Arthuriana at Tintagel and revisions based on recent archaeology are recounted in Charles Thomas, Tintagel. Arthur and Archaeology (London: Batsford/English Heritage) 1993.
  8. ^ BBC. "Arthur's Way". Retrieved 2009-03-28.  
  9. ^ BBC. "Tintagel Giant". Retrieved 2009-03-28.  
  10. ^ Thomas (1993)
  11. ^ ""Early Medieval Tintagel: an Interview with Archaeologists Rachel Harry and Kevin Brady"".  
  12. ^ But see ""Early Medieval Tintagel: an Interview with Archaeologists Rachel Harry and Kevin Brady"".  .
  13. ^ Cornish Stannary Parliament tackles English cultural aggression in Cornwall.
  14. ^ BBC News: Historic signs case trio bound over
  15. ^ *BBC news - Historic signs case trio bound over
  16. ^ Sites Managed and Cared for by Cornwall Heritage Trust for English Heritage

Further reading

  • Davison, Brian (2009) [1999], Tintagel Castle, English Heritage, ISBN 978-1-85074-701-7  
  • Henderson, Charles, In: Cornish Church Guide (1925) Truro: Blackford; p. 203-205
  • Pearce, Susan M. (1978) The Kingdom of Dumnonia. Padstow: Lodenek Press; pp. 76–80, 151-155 (monastic site; Tristan, Mark and Isolt)
  • Thomas, Charles (1988) Tintagel Castle; in "'Antiquity article". Retrieved 2009-04-12.   A reassessment of the evidence proposing a Celtic royal history for the site.

External links

Coordinates: 50°40′01″N 4°45′34″W / 50.66706°N 4.75936°W / 50.66706; -4.75936

Simple English

Tintagel Castle is in Cornwall, a county in England.

Reginald, Earl of Cornwall built the castle on Tintagel Head (a piece of land by the sea) in about 1150. In Cornish legend, this is the place where the old Kings of Cornwall lived. Reginald built the castle for propaganda, not for military use; he wanted people to think of Camelot when they thought about him. Some people say King Arthur was born at the castle, because traditional stories say the King of Cornwall looked after him when he was a child.

The modern village of Tintagel was first called Trevena. Then, in the 1850s, it got a new name, to bring in tourism because of the King Arthur and Camelot legends. Really, Tintagel is only the name of land by the sea.


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