Tintagel Castle Cornwall

Tintagel Castle, Cornwall

Tintagel Castle that you see today dates from around 1233, when Richard, Earl of Cornwall, acquired Tintagel and built a castle on the headland. It was England's earliest linear castle (that is it had lower, middle and upper wards in a row). Tintagel Castle is on an isthmus just outside the Cornish village of Tintagel. It was abandoned in in ruins by 1483, probably because of its remoteness.

The 1233 Tintagel Castle appears to have been built on an earlier castle which was constructed by Earl Reginald around 1141. This Reginald, Earl of Cornwall, was brother to Geoffrey of Monmouth's patron, Prince Robert, Earl of Gloucester.

When Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his History of the Kings of Britain in 1136, so it is before the present castle. but refers to an earlier fortress. 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.

It appears from archeology that there was a Roman settlement and military outpost. It was then a trading settlement of Celtic kings during the 5th and 6th centuries

The site is a good defensive position outside the village. There is a ditch defending a Lower and Upper Ward before reaching the Inner Ward over on the isthmus. The Great Hall was originally over 80 feet long and 36 feet wide, and was divided later into smaller buildings.

A path descending to the landing at sea level. It was protected by an Iron Gate defended through arrow slits. There is still a walled area which was used as a garden in the medieval period, and there are rock-cut wells or basins for water.

The Chapel's west end is the oldest part of the building and there was a porch added in the thirteenth century. There is a rock-cut grave is just outside the Chapel. It is dedicated to St.Juliot.

Archeology at the site

Radford made excavations on Tintagel Island in the 1930s which showed some twenty rectangular stone buildings along terraces on the eastern slopes of the promontory. Quantities of 5th and 6th century Mediterranean pottery were discovered. Items like huge Tunisian oil jars, Carthaginian dishes, Aegean amphorae and distinctive Byzantine jars. The sheer amount of expensive pottery imported from the Eastern Mediterranean indicate it was under the control of an important chief with access to large amounts of tradable commodities, probably Cornish Tin.

In 1985 an extensive fire swept the island during a long hot dry summer. It exposed pottery fragments, heaths and post-holes. It showed around fifty more buildings, now buried. Further keyhole excavations on the eastern terraces indicate that less substantial stone buildings do exist on a lower level to Radford's structures. Other buildings may have been of turf.

In June 1998, excavations by Professor Chris Morris of the University of Glasgow, on a site on the eastern side of the island (which had been first excavated in the 1930s). His team found pottery from the 5th and 6th centuries, plus fine glass fragments believed to be from 6th- or 7th-century Málaga.

Particularly remarkable was a 1,500-year-old piece of slate on which remained two Latin inscriptions. The second inscription reads: 'Artognou, father of a descendant of Coll, has had [this] made.' Who exactly Artognou was continues to be a subject for speculation. Was this the Arthurian connection? It is on a broken piece of Cornish slate (8" by 14") . Professor Morris believes that this "Arthur Stone,"was placed in the wall of a 6th century stone building which later collapsed soon after it was built. And that the slate was reused as drain cover a century later. The professor is skeptical about this being an "Arthur stone".

In 2004 an Extreme Archeology team for Channel 4 Television carried out a limited amount of work. their conclusions were

" Supporting evidence discovered for intensive period of settlement and trade during 5- 7th century AD. Finds continue to support the idea that Tintagel has a place of some significance locally and even internationally. We cannot tell whether imported wares were brought by boat to the site or overland, but we may assume, based on comparative evidence, that Tintagel retained its importance and association with high status by maintaining and even strengthening links with the Mediterranean. From a CHM (cultural heritage management) point of view, the fragile nature of the archaeological resource at Tintagel is emphasised and further data collected to support the need for consolidation work on the North side of the headland. Survey work on the South Terrace has revealed a number of previously unknown structures. These require full survey and excavation before more solid conclusions as to their form and function can be drawn."

Tintagel Castle information in English Heritage


Cornwall Castles Map