Tintagel Castle

Tintagel Castle

Tintagel Castle (Cornish: Dintagel) is a medieval fortification located on the peninsula of Tintagel Island adjacent to the village of Tintagel (Trevena), North Cornwall in the United Kingdom. The site was possibly occupied in the Romano-British period, as an array of artefacts dating from this period have been found on the peninsula, but as yet no Roman-era structure has been proven to have existed there. It was settled during the early medieval period, when it was probably one of the seasonal residences of the regional king of Dumnonia. A castle was built on the site by Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall in the 13th century, during the High Middle Ages. It later fell into disrepair and ruin.

Archaeological investigation into the site began in the 19th century as it became a tourist attraction, with visitors coming to see the ruins of Richard's castle. In the 1930s, excavations revealed significant traces...Read more

Tintagel Castle (Cornish: Dintagel) is a medieval fortification located on the peninsula of Tintagel Island adjacent to the village of Tintagel (Trevena), North Cornwall in the United Kingdom. The site was possibly occupied in the Romano-British period, as an array of artefacts dating from this period have been found on the peninsula, but as yet no Roman-era structure has been proven to have existed there. It was settled during the early medieval period, when it was probably one of the seasonal residences of the regional king of Dumnonia. A castle was built on the site by Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall in the 13th century, during the High Middle Ages. It later fell into disrepair and ruin.

Archaeological investigation into the site began in the 19th century as it became a tourist attraction, with visitors coming to see the ruins of Richard's castle. In the 1930s, excavations revealed significant traces of a much earlier high status settlement, which had trading links with the Mediterranean world during the Late Roman period. Two digs in 2016 and 2017 at Tintagel Castle uncovered the outlines of a palace from the 5th or early 6th century (the early medieval period), with evidence of writing and of articles brought in from Spain and from the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. The Cornwall Archaeological Unit has a five-year project at this site, with a final report expected in 2021. The items found in the digs have spurred interest before this final report, with two television programmes initially aired in 2018 or 2019, one in the UK by the BBC and another in the US by PBS.

The castle has a long association with legends related to King Arthur. This was first recorded in the 12th century when Geoffrey of Monmouth described Tintagel as the place of Arthur's conception in his mythological account of British history, Historia Regum Britanniae. Geoffrey told the story that Arthur's father, King Uther Pendragon, was disguised by Merlin's sorcery to look like Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, the husband of Igraine, Arthur's mother.

Tintagel Castle has been a tourist destination since the mid-19th century. Owned by William, Prince of Wales as part of the landholdings of the Duchy of Cornwall, the site is managed by English Heritage.

Romano-British period

In the 1st century AD, southern Britain was invaded and occupied by the Roman Empire. The territory of modern Cornwall was assigned to the Roman administrative region of civitas Dumnoniorum, named after the local British tribal group whom the Romans called the Dumnonii. At the time, this south-westerly point of Britain was "remote, under-populated ... and therefore also unimportant [to the Roman authorities] until, during the 3rd century AD, the local tin-streaming industry attracted attention."[1] Archaeologists know of five milestones or route-markers in Cornwall erected in the Romano-British period. Two of these are in the vicinity of Tintagel, indicating that a road passed through the locality.[1]

Cornish historian and archaeologist Charles Thomas noted in 1993: "So far, no structure excavated on Tintagel Island... can be put forward as a Roman-period settlement, native-peasant or otherwise."[2] Despite this, a quantity of apparently Romano-British pottery has been unearthed on the site, as has a Roman-style drawstring leather purse containing ten low denomination Roman coins dating between the reigns of Tetricus I (270–272) and Constantius II (337–361). This suggests that "at face-value ... either the Island or the landward area of the later Castle (or both...) formed the scene of third-fourth century habitation" even if no evidence has been found of any buildings dating from this period.[3] Thomas also noted that some of the post-Roman finds in the excavations of 1933–38 were close to the wall known as the Iron Gate which guards access to the plateau from the adjacent cove. He suggests that the vessels bringing such goods might have come to unload at this cove rather than on the dangerous beach of Tintagel Haven.[4]

Early medieval period

Roman control collapsed in southern Britain following the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the early 5th century and it split into various different kingdoms, each with its own respective chief or king. The former Roman district of civitas Dumnoniorum apparently became the Kingdom of Dumnonia, which would have been ruled over by its own monarchy during this early medieval period between the 5th and 8th centuries. It was in this regional background that settlement continued at Tintagel Castle, with the creation of what is known by archaeologists as Period II of the site.[5] However, there has been some dispute amongst archaeologists as to what the site of Tintagel Island was used for in this period. In the mid-20th century, it was typically thought that there was a Celtic Christian monastery on the site, but "since about 1980... [this] thesis... has... had to be abandoned", with archaeologists now believing that it was instead an elite settlement inhabited by a powerful local warlord or even Dumnonian royalty.[6]

The Devon archaeologist Ralegh Radford excavated at the site from 1933 through to 1938, and he pioneered the hypothesis that Tintagel Castle had been a monastery during Period II. He came to this conclusion based upon some similarities in the structures of the early medieval elements of Tintagel Castle and the 7th-century monastery at the site of Whitby Abbey in Yorkshire.[7]

Archaeologists no longer accept this viewpoint, however. Instead, they now believe that this was an elite settlement in the early medieval period that was inhabited by Dumnonian royalty and their entourage. Archaeologist and historian Charles Thomas believed that they did not stay at Tintagel year-round but that they moved around: "A typical king with his family, relatives, dependants, resident hostages, officials and court-followers, and a private militia or war-band—in all, probably between a hundred and three hundred souls at least—moved around with his cumbersome entourage; at least, when not busy with inter-tribal campaigning or in repelling invaders and raiders."[5] The site was also made more defensible during this period with a large ditch at the entrance to the peninsula, leaving only a narrow trackway that had to be traversed by anyone approaching the peninsula.[8]

Various luxury items dating from this period have been found at the site, namely African and Phocaean red slip, which had been traded all the way from the Mediterranean.[9] Examining this pottery, Charles Thomas remarked that "the quantity of imported pottery from Tintagel [was]... dramatically greater than that from any other single site dated to about 450–600 in either Britain or Ireland". Carrying on from this, he noted that the quantity of imported pottery from Tintagel was "larger than the combined total of all such pottery from all known sites [of this period in Britain and Ireland]; and, given that only about 5 per cent of the Island's accessible surface has been excavated or examined, the original total of imports may well have been on a scale of one or more complete shiploads, with individual ships perhaps carrying a cargo of six or seven hundred amphorae."[10] This evidence led him to believe that Tintagel was a site where ships docked to deposit their cargo from southern Europe in the early medieval period.

Archaeological digs by the Cornwall Archaeological Unit[11] funded by English Heritage in 2016 and 2017 at Tintagel Castle uncovered the outlines of a palace from the 5th or 6th century, more amphora shards, and slate with writing on it,[12][13] dispelling notions that no one knew how to read and write in this era following the collapse of the Roman Empire. The five-year project expects to finish and publish a report in 2021.[12] One find is described briefly in an article;[14] it has been put on display at the site by English Heritage.[13] The findings have stirred much interest for their implications about the Dark Ages in Cornwall after the Roman Empire collapsed. The dig site is described in a television programme with new theories about Early medieval Britain that first aired in the US in 2019.[15][16] A list of the programme's episodes from 2019 is found in Secrets of the Dead#Season 17 (2017-19). BBC Two aired a documentary in 2018 about the findings at this dig site.[17]

Late medieval period and early modern periods
Ruins of the castle in 2005
Remains of the 13th-century Tintagel Castle in 2016

In 1225, Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall traded with Gervase de Tintagel, swapping the land of Merthen (originally part of the manor of Winnianton) for Tintagel Castle.[18] A castle was built on the site by Earl Richard in 1233 to establish a connection with the Arthurian legends that were associated by Geoffrey of Monmouth with the area[19] 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. However, the dating to the period of Earl Richard has superseded Ralegh Radford's interpretation which attributed the earliest elements of the castle to Earl Reginald de Dunstanville and later elements to Earl Richard.[20] Sidney Toy suggests an earlier period of construction in Castles: a short history of fortifications from 1600 B.C. to A. D. 1600 (London: Heinemann, 1939).

John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter was appointed constable of Tintagel Castle in 1389. After Richard, the following Earls of Cornwall were not interested in the castle, and it was left to the High Sheriff of Cornwall. Parts of the accommodation were used as a prison and the land was let as pasture. The castle became more dilapidated, and the roof was removed from the Great Hall in the 1330s. Thereafter, the castle became more and more ruinous and there was progressive damage from the erosion of the isthmus that joined the castle to the mainland. John Leland visited in the early 1540s and found that a makeshift bridge of tree trunks gave access to the Island. England was threatened with invasion from Spain in the 1580s, and the defences were strengthened at the Iron Gate. The manor of Tintagel was among those seized by the Commonwealth government of the 1650s as Duchy of Cornwall property, returning to the Duchy upon the Restoration of 1660. The letting for sheep pasture continued until the 19th century.[21]

19th and 20th centuries
The Victorian courtyard wall

There was a fascination with the Arthurian legends during the Victorian era, 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. Tintagel is only the name of the headland; Tintagel Head itself is the extreme southwest point of Castle Island and the castle ruins are partly on the 'island' and partly on the adjoining mainland. The head of the island pointing out to sea is Pen Diu (Cornish: Penn Du "Black Head").[22]

Footbridge to the Island in 2008

The Rev. R. B. Kinsman (d. 1894) was honorary constable and built the courtyard wall and a guide was employed to conduct visitors into the castle. Until his time, the steps were unsafe on either side of the isthmus, 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.[23]

In the late 19th and early 20th century, nothing had been excavated except the chapel, and so ideas were given currency such as the garden being a cemetery and King Arthur's Footprint being a place for King Arthur to leap to the mainland.[24][25] "King Arthur's Footprint" is a hollow in the rock at the highest point of Tintagel Island's southern side. It is not entirely natural, having been shaped by human hands at some stage.[26] It may have been used for the inauguration of kings or chieftains, as the site has a long history stretching back to the Dark Ages.[27][28]

In 1999 there was some controversy regarding Tintagel Castle and other sites in Cornwall under the management of English Heritage. Members of the pressure group Revived Cornish Stannary Parliament removed several signs because they objected to the use of the name "English Heritage", stating that Cornwall is rightfully a nation on its own.[29][30] Three men involved in removing the signs were bound over for a year for £500 each and to pay English Heritage £4,500 compensation.[30]

21st century
Panoramic view from Tintagel Castle, looking north-east; the prominent building is a hotel, built in 1899, now called the Camelot Castle Hotel; the headland below is Barras Head
Tintagel Castle Footbridge, designed by Ney & Partners – William Matthews Associates, photgraphed by Hufton & Crow Photography 
Footbridge to the Island in 2019

Over three months in 2015–16, artist Peter Graham carved a foot-high bearded face representing Merlin into a rock near a cave known as Merlin's Cave (after its mention in Tennyson's Idylls of the King). This was done as part of a project by English Heritage to "reimagine Tintagel's history and legends across the island site".[31] The project also includes a compass sculpture referencing the Round Table and a larger-than-life statue called Gallos, by Rubin Eynon. Gallos is Cornish for power and its meaning is deliberately ambiguous as the statue could represent King Arthur or Tintagel's older royal past.[32] A local councillor accused English Heritage of degrading the site's archaeology and landscape, although many local people are content with the image.[33] Plans for a cantilevered steel footbridge to link Tintagel Island and the mainland, designed (by Ney & Partners and William Matthews Associates) to evoke Arthur's sword, were approved in 2017,[34] and the bridge was opened to the public on 11 August 2019.[35] Tintagel Castle Footbridge received an RIBA South West Award 2021,[36] and was an RIBA Stirling Prize 2021 finalist.[37]

Tintagel is one of English Heritage's top five attractions, with around 200,000 visitors a year and up to 3000 a day in the peak summer season.[38] According to figures released by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, 154,996 people visited Tintagel Castle in 2019.[39]

Tintagel Castle was one of six identified by English Heritage in September 2022 as being at risk of destruction due to coastal erosion, the rate of which they said had worsened in the last few years due to rising sea levels and frequent storms.[40] Portions of the Tintagel Castle complex have historically fallen into the sea but by 2022, erosion had reached the front of the visitor centre, and parts of a coastal footpath and a viewing area had fallen into the sea.[40]

In September 2022, English Heritage launched a fundraising campaign to protect and strengthen Tintagel Castle (and the five other at-risk sites).[40]

^ a b Thomas 1993. p. 82. ^ Thomas 1993. p. 84. ^ Thomas 1993. pp. 84–85. ^ Thomas (1993), p. 43 ^ a b Thomas 1993. p. 88. ^ Thomas 1993. p. 53. ^ Thomas 1993. pp. 53–55. ^ Thomas 1993. pp. 58–59. ^ Thomas 1993. p. 62. ^ Thomas 1993. p. 71. ^ "Local expertise with a national reputation". Cornwall Archaeological Unit. 16 October 2020. Retrieved 20 January 2021. ^ a b Archaeology Newsroom (13 July 2017). "A feast of finds from Cornwall's First Golden Age: Excavations at Tintagel Castle". Archaeology. Athens. Retrieved 20 January 2021. The excavation also uncovered a selection of stone-walled structures on the southern terrace of Tintagel Castle's island area, with substantial stone walls and slate floors, accessed by a flight of slate steps. Significant finds in the area excavated included a section of a fine Phocaean Red Slipped Ware bowl from Turkey, imported wares and amphorae thought to be from southern Turkey or Cyprus and fine glassware from Spain. ^ a b "Ancient Writing Discovered at Tintagel Castle". News. English Heritage. 15 June 2018. Retrieved 20 January 2021. ^ Krakowka, Kathryn (27 July 2018). "Second inscribed stone found at Tintagel". Current Archaeology. Retrieved 19 January 2021. ^ "Secrets of the Dead: King Arthur's Lost Kingdom". PBS. 27 March 2019. Retrieved 19 January 2021. A five-week excavation at Tintagel, Western Britain fortification believed to be the location where King Arthur was conceived, unearths high-valued pottery and pieces of glassware. When considered along with the agricultural discoveries in the east, evidence suggests 5th-century Britain may have been divided, but by class and culture, not warfare. ^ Robinson, Jennifer (17 December 2020). "Secrets of the Dead: King Arthur's Lost Kingdom". KPBS. Retrieved 19 January 2021. See list of Notable Contributors. ^ Cite error: The named reference BBCTwo2018 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ Historic England. "Merthen (1142128)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 16 January 2012. ^ Tintagel does not appear in the Domesday Book (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 mention of Tintagel dates from the 13th century, Ditmas notes, after the Arthurian romances had been in circulation ^ Radford, C. A. Ralegh (1939) Tintagel Castle, Cornwall; 2nd ed. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office; p. 12 ^ Canner, A. C. (1982) The Parish of Tintagel. Camelford; chap. 3–6 ^ John MacLean, Parochial History of the Deanery of Trigg Minor (1879) vol. 3 ^ Post & Weekly News; 13 December 1975 ^ Dyer, Peter; p. 288 ^ Cotton, Ellen (1961) "King Arthur's Castle, Tintagel", in: Cornish Magazine; Vol. 3, pp. 367–68, April 1961 ^ Ralls-MacLeod, Karen & Robertson, Ian (2003) The Quest for the Celtic Key. Luath Press. ISBN 1-84282-031-1; p. 116 ^ "ARCHAEOLOGISTS UNEARTH THE SECRETS OF TINTAGEL THIS SUMMER". English-heritage.org.uk. English Heritage. 28 July 2016. Retrieved 3 August 2016. ^ Keys, David (3 August 2016). "Dark Ages royal palace discovered in Cornwall – in area closely linked to the legend of King Arthur". The Independent. Archived from the original on 21 June 2022. Retrieved 3 August 2016. ^ "The Cornish Stannary Parliament". The Cornish Stannary Parliament. Retrieved 18 February 2016. ^ a b "ENGLAND | Historic signs case trio bound over". BBC News. 18 January 2002. Retrieved 18 February 2016. ^ "Face of Merlin on the rocks at Tintagel". Cornish Guardian. 10 February 2016. Retrieved 18 February 2016.[permanent dead link] ^ Morris, Steven (24 April 2016). "Kingly statue plunges sword into Tintagel's Arthurian row". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 August 2021. ^ Morris, Steven (18 March 2016). "'This is not Disneyland, it's Cornwall': the battle of Tintagel Castle". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 October 2017. ^ Becquart, Charlotte (26 October 2017). "Tintagel Bridge decision after claims of exploiting Cornwall to make money". Cornwalllive.com. Retrieved 27 October 2017. ^ "Tintagel Castle footbridge launched as site reopens to public". English Heritage. Retrieved 11 August 2019. ^ "Tintagel Castle Footbridge – Award RIBA South West Award 2021". Architecture. Retrieved 12 March 2022. ^ "Tintagel Castle Footbridge – RIBA Sterling Prize 2021 shortlist". Architecture. Retrieved 12 March 2022. ^ "Tintagel Castle – English Heritage". English-heritage.org.uk. Retrieved 27 October 2017. ^ "ALVA – Association of Leading Visitor Attractions". alva.org.uk. Retrieved 12 November 2020. ^ a b c Morris, Steven (23 September 2022). "Tintagel among castles at risk unless England can hold back the tide". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 28 September 2022. Retrieved 1 October 2022.
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