date circa 1236
era Medieval |
category Castle |
Tintagel is England’s earliest linear castle and is dramatically situated on a narrow neck of land on the north Cornish coast between Boscastle and Port Isaac, overlooking a small headland. The name Tintagel may mean “fort of a throat” or “the devil’s stronghold” and is also the name of the nearby village, once known as Trevena.
Richard, Earl of Cornwall, brother of Henry III, obtained the site after an exchange of land with Gervase de Tintagel in 1236 and it is likely that construction began soon afterwards. However, Richard did not live in the castle very much and it wasn't particularly important strategically.
The castle consists of a series of wards, or defensive enclosures, in this case set out in a row, hence the designation 'linear'. The upper and lower wards are on the landward side of the site, defended by a ditch. The inner ward is on the isthmus. In the later Medievel period, the southeastern part of the inner and the causeway linking it with the other wards collapsed. Today visitors use a wooden bridge to access the headland.
The lower ward is approximately rectangular, 50m long and 20m wide. The north west and south west sides face sea cliffs. The other sides have straight curtain walls. The north east the wall is 1.2m thick and to the south east 1.5m. There are stairs up to the wall walk midway along the north east wall, and a gateway into the ward at its south east corner. Steps adjacent to the gateway lead to the upper ward. The walls are mid-13th century but the remains of two rectangular turrets at either end of the north east wall are probably mid-14th century.
The upper ward is above and to the south east of the lower ward. It is 50m long but not more than 10m wide, with a curved curtain wall up to 2m thick around its east and south sides. These walls are likely to be 13th century. The western corner is partitioned into latrines by thin walls, and the north end has chambers, both probably built in the 14th century after cliff falls had destroyed much of the ward.
What remains of the inner ward has a curtain wall some 1.1m thick on its northern side. There is no sign of a wall walk. The great hall would have been situated in this ward, and there was a hall 11m wide and more than 25m long on the north east side of the court. A survey of 1337 showed the castle in ruins but by 1345 a smaller hall with pantry, buttery and kitchen had been built on the site of the great hall. During the 14th century, other rooms were added to the inner ward.
Tintagel was used to detain political prisoners until the end of the 14th century but by 1483 it had been abandoned, and around 1540 John Leland described it as ruinous and deserted.
In fact the site has been inhabited at intervals since Roman times. Archaeologists have discovered the remains of 5th and 6th century pottery and 7th century glass, together with traces of some 50 buildings. St Juliot, a Celtic missionary, founded a monastery on the headland around 500 AD but by 1086 it had all but disappeared.
The link with the legendary King Arthur dates from 1136, when Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his History of the Kings of Britain and made Tintagel the fortress belonging to Gorlois, where Arthur was conceived. Other scholars believe that Tintagel was Camelot itself. However, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s patron was Prince Robert, Earl of Gloucester, and brother of Reginald, Earl of Cornwall, who fortified the site around 1141 — possibly with a castle.
Tintagel is administered by English Heritage. The site is open to the public, and owes much of its popularity to the Arthurian legends that have surrounded the area since the 12th century.
"The Castles of Devon and Cornwall" by Mike Salter
Folly Publications, Malvern, 1999
"Cornish Place Names & Language" by Craig Weatherhill
Sigma Leisure, Cheshire, 1995