From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Tintagel Castle

50° 40′ 4.7″ N 4° 45′ 35.74″ W


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Tintagel Castle is a medieval fortification located on the peninsula of Tintagel Island by the village of Tintagel, Cornwall.

Southern Britain was invaded and occupied by the Roman Empire in the 1st century AD, the territory of 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 until, during the 3rd century AD, the local tin-streaming industry became important to the empire. Five milestones or route-markers have been found in Cornwall and date to the Romano-British period. Two of these are in the vicinity of Tintagel, indicating that a road passed through the locality.

No structure excavated on Tintagel Island is of Roman-period settlement despite a quantity of Romano-British pottery and 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 being found.

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 is thought to have become 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.

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.

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. 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 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, dispelling notions that no one knew how to read and write in this era following the collapse of the Roman Empire.

In 1225, Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall traded with Gervase de Tintagel, swapping the land of Merthen for Tintagel Castle. 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 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.

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, 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, 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, he found that a makeshift bridge of tree trunks gave access to the Island. England was threatened with invasion from Spain in the 1580s, 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.

During the Victorian era, there was fascination with the Arthurian legend and the ruins of the castle became a tourist destination. The Rev. R. B. Kinsman was a honorary constable and built the courtyard wall, he employed a guide to conduct visitors into the castle. 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.

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 Charles, Prince of Wales as part of the landholdings of the Duchy of Cornwall, the site is managed by English Heritage.