Tintagel Castle, Cornwall

Tintagel castle, Cornwall

Tintagel is on the north coast of Cornwall, set high on cliffs overlooking the sea, and Tintagel is the legendary site of King Arthur's conception and birth. The name Tintagel, literally translated, means "fort of the constriction" (a combination of "din" and "tagell"). Historically it would appear that Tintagel was an important trading post from late Roman times until it was abandoned at the end of the 7th century. Around 1230, a castle was built at Tintagel by Richard, Earl of Cornwall and son of King Henry III. The ruins of this Tintagel castle are what one sees on the island today.

When Geoffrey of Monmouth was writing in the 1100s, the 1230 Tintagel Castle would not have been there and legend would have been his main source of what had happened on the island stronghold. Geoffrey of Monmouth tells that near the end of Roman occupation in Britain, the Archbishop of London offered the throne of Briton to Constantine, as the country was suffering from Pict invasions. Constantine ruled for ten years and had three sons - Constans, Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther. Constantine was murdered by a Pict and the throne should have been handed down to Constans, the eldest son. Vortigern, an English noble, manipulated Constans and gained control of Britain. However eventually Aurelius Ambrosius, and Uther Pendragon after him, reclaimed their rightful throne. King Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon was born soon after, according to Geoffrey's account.

Geoffrey of Monmouth's account makes Tintagel the fortress of Gorlois, husband of Ygerna, the object of Uther Pendragon's desires. Merlin transformed Uther, so that he looked like Gorlois, and hence tricked Ygerna into making love to him. King Arthur was the result of this subterfuge. Though this is the first reference that link's Arthur with Tintagel, Geoffrey may have been using earlier legends. Some scholars believe that Tintagel was Camelot itself. And there are also legends that name Tintagel as one of King Mark's strongholds, which further supports the site as having a history as a Cornish stronghold.

Excavations at Tintagel in the 1930s unearthed a wealth about pottery of Mediterranean origin, which contained wine, oil, or was simply used for show. The presence of so much of this pottery, known now as "Tintagel Pottery" as it is the largest concentration of such pottery in Britain, and indicates the prosperity of Tintagel in the 5th and 6th centuries, the time of Arthur. It is assumed that Cornish Tin was used for bartering. Such pottery has also been found elsewhere, notably at Cadbury Castle.

In the summer of 1983, a series of bush fires swept across Tintagel island, uncovering buildings which were rectangular, not circular. The ruins showed the site to have been occupied ranging from Roman times in the third century, to the eventual fall of the castle to the Anglo-Saxon invasion. Each period can be separated due to the unique artifacts associated with them.

Within the Roman period. Around 100 sherds of local Romano-British pottery dated between the 3rd to 4th centuries have been found at Tintagel. No other Roman site is present anywhere in this area with similar architecture or Roman pottery. The conjecture is that Tintagel was a trading post, and this is further pointed to by the presence of many Mediterranean and Gaulish imports from a slightly later period. They are mostly pottery of an age that suggests Tintagel was abandoned before the end of the seventh century.

So Tintagel was a fairly significant site in the British Isles, with unusual trade with Roman and Mediterranean merchants. Whether King Arthur was born there or not is impossible to tell, but archaeological evidence does make Tintagel a plausible site for such a kingdom at the supposed time of King Arthur. The unique artifacts at Tintagel emphasize its dominance as a royal citadel and Mediterranean contact during the 5th and 6th centuries.

A further archeological find was made in July 1998 at Tintagel when a team from Glasgow University uncovered a sixth-century slab with this inscription: PATER COLI AVI FECIT ARTOGNOV. This has been translated to mean "Artognou, father of a descendant of Coll, has had this [building] made". The name "Artognou" was probably pronounced "Arthnou." Art and Arth were fairly common prefixes to the names of Dark Age rulers. In truth, the stone is probably just another piece of evidence that Tintagel was a wealthy Dark Age stronghold. It confirms that there was a relatively well-educated and wealthy person there in the sixth century with a name that may have sounded like Arthur. It does not prove that King Arthur himself lived at Tintagel;

It had been believed that Tintagel was originally used as a Celtic Monastery. A cluster of burials was found near the chapel, and it was thought that these were the graves of saints that pilgrims came to visit. But of late this idea has been rejected as the site has none of the usual characteristics of Dark-Age monastic settlements in Wales and Cornwall, such as an enclosed curvilinear cemetery, or even a place-name suggesting ecclesiastical associations with Tintagel.

Some see Tintagel as Camelot


Cornwall sites with King Arthur connections