Tintagel stands atop a soaring headland at the westernmost point of
Cornwall, surrounded on three sides by
the Atlantic. It is a mystical place complete with castle and ancient cave, a lonely remote spot filled with beauty
except for the tourists. The image above right is of Tintagel from the air. You can partly identify the castle
and bridges where the peninsula joins the headland.
There are differing legends concerning Arthur's birth. From the earliest period, Tintagel has
been associated with the rulers of Cornwall. Present archaeological evidence and data indicates that a monastery
stood on the spot from around 500CE until 850CE. There is no clear evidence of a fortification prior to that period.
After Uther Pendragon's first victory against the Saxons at Mount
Damen, when he returned to London, he held an assembly of his nobles at Easter.
Gorlois, a close supporter and Duke of Cornwall arrived with his wife,
Ygerne. Uther became obsessed with the lady, enraging Gorlois who withdrew from the celebration
without leave. Uther demanded his return and failing that Uther pursues him into Cronwall with a great army. Gorlois
placed Ygerne in his castle at Tintagel and fortified his army at his castle of
Dimilioc. Dimilioc is a great encampment of three fortified concentric ramparts and ditches about 5.5 miles southwest of
The legend usually has Gorlois on the battle field while Merlin uses a glamour to magic Uther into
Tintagel. In many of the fanciful stories, Merlin uses the seaward entrance as part of the magic of bringing
Uther to Ygerne's side during the siege.
The spell on Uther convinces Ygerne that she is receiving her husband into her bed. She conceives Arthur that night.
During the visit, Uther's army attacks Dimilioc and Gorlois is slain. When he hears of the news, Uther
still in disguise denies the
rumor and returns to the battle. When he learns the full truth, he mourns Gorlois but in joy takes Ygerne as
his wife and equal.
In the Historia, there is no problem with Arthur's legitimacy. After Uther's death and
with the blessing of St
Dubricius, Arthur is crowned king at the assembly in Silchester. However, in many of the later stories,
Arthur's rise to the throne is more difficult. After Gorlois' death, Uther marries Ygerne-- but not soon
enough. This brings the question of Arthur's legitimacy into question when he is born before a full term, and
Merlin spirits the baby away soon after its birth to protect it.
When the conquering Normans reached the westernmost land of England they heard that the
ancient seat of Cornwall's kings had stood at Tintagel. For political reasons, Earl Richard of Cornwall,
younger brother of Henry III, built a castle on the spot where his legendary predecessors had held court. There
was no strategic reason for the choice, as there had been for the other Norman castles in Cornwall, Launceston and Restormel;
and Earl Richard rarely stayed there.
Tintagel as a small fortified site, perhaps even then given over to the Christian monks or later
converted when Ygerne retires to a nunnery, is possible. As Arthur of the legends' birthsite, perhaps.
For myself, I still picture Merlin in my mind, descending the stairwell of Tintagel with Arthur in his arms,
a grief-stricken Ygerne held fast by an angry but determined Uther.