Steps & Castle Ruins, Tintagel, England

Tingtagel. King Arthur’s Castle.
Postmarked 1936
Publisher: Photochrom Co.

History and legend are inseparable at Tintagel. From about the 5th to the 7th century AD it was an important stronghold, and probably a residence of rulers of Cornwall. Many fragments of luxury pottery imported from the Mediterranean were left behind by those who lived here. It was probably memories of this seat of Cornish kings that inspired the 12th-century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth to name it in his History of the Kings of Britain as the place where King Arthur was conceived, with the help of Merlin. At the same time, Cornish and Breton writers linked the love story of Tristan and Iseult with Tintagel. In turn, these associations with legend led the hugely rich and ambitious Richard, Earl of Cornwall, to build a castle here in the 1230s. The site was of no military value – legend alone seems to have inspired him to build here. And long after the castle had fallen into decay, its mythical associations kept interest in Tintagel alive.
English Heritage

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. 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, 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.

The Steps. King Arthur’s Castle. TINTAGEL.
Publisher: Frith

Google Street View.

It consisted of an outer court on the mainland, enclosed by a curtain wall, defended on the E. and N. outwardly by a ditch. Norden’s sketch in 1626 [see below] shows on the land side a gate leading to a large square gatehouse, with a corner watch-turret, from whence steps descended into a second ward, where a very strong semi-circular wall, 7 feet thick, extended along a steep crag to the edge of the cliff at the E. Toward the W. the wall rises to an eminence surrounded by an embattled parapet, which is continued on that side to the cliff” edge. Beyond this comes the island or peninsula on which the keep and main part of the fortress is said to have stood. . . . The ruins, as we see them, may have been of Plantagenet origin. In 133 (temp. Edward 111.) the buildings were in a ruinous state, a part of them joining the work on the mainland to that on the island having fallen into the sea : the drawbridge fell in the sixteenth century. The chasm which forms so picturesque a feature in the scenery is now about 200 feet across, and is gradually widening. For some time after the drawbridge went, the opening was crossed by a timber structure.

Leland wrote in 1538 regarding Tintagel : “This Castelle hath bene a marvelous strong and notable forteres, and almost situ loci inexpugnabile, especially for the dungeon that is on a great high terrible cragge, environed with the se, but having a drawbridge from the residew or the Castelle unto it. There is yet a chapel standing within this dungeon of St. Ulette alias Ulianne. Shepe now fede within the dungeon. The residew of buildings of the Castelle be sore wether-beten and yn ruine, but it hath bene a large thinge. The Castelle had belykhod 3 wardes, whereof 2 be woren away with gufying in of the se : without the isle renneth alonly a gate house, a walle, and a fals braye dyged and walled. On the isle remayne old walles, and on the E. part of the same, the ground beyng lower, remayneth a walle embatelcd, and men alive saw ther, yn a postern, a dore of yren. There is in the isle a prety chapel, with a tumbe on the left syde.”

The inner ward on the island contained the keep and the chief buildings, including the great hall, the timber of which was taken away by John of Eltham, then Earl of Cornwall, “when the hall was ruinous and its walls of no value.” Adjoining the N. wall are still the ruins of six apartments where lived the Constable and the chaplain. The chapel, of the thirteenth century, measuring 54 feet by 12, has been unroofed and in ruins for several centuries ; part of its altar with a granite slab was unearthed in 1855. it had some mouldings of Transition Norman style. Mr. Wilkinson {Journal R. Inst. Corn.) is of opinion that Richard, Earl of Cornwall (created 1225), built Tintagel, since he was active in repairing and enlarging other castles in the duchy, as Restormel, Liskeard, and other places, and it is likely that he added to any fortress he found there. . . . After his death in 1300 all Cornish castles, except Launceston, ceased to be kept up, and so in 1337 there was no chaplain, and the castle was described as in a very dilapidated state ; it was then that the great hall was destroyed by John of Eltham.
“The castles of England, their story and structure”, James MacKenzie, 1896

Postmark: 1925
Publiser: Wakefield & Songs, Camelford

Between 1 & 2, a Draw bridge decay’d. Between 1 & 3, ye Descent. Between 3 & 2, ye Ascent. 3, ye Istmos. 4, Buildings fallen into ye Sea. 5, the Old Chapel. 6, a Spring of fresh water. 7, the Iron Gate. 8, a Vault thorow the Rock. 9, a Gate guarded with Iron, at ye entrance in ye first Building, on ye Land side. 10, ye Main Building on the Land side. 11, the ruin’d Building on the Island. (Nordend d. 1626); “Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall”, Royal Institution of Cornwall, 1864

The principall buylding seemeth to be on the mayne lande from whence a Draw-bridge was lett downe to pass to the Ilande to the other buyldinges but of late yeares within mans memorie it is depryued of that benefíte of a bridge and the passage to the Ilande is nowe farr more irksome and trowblesome by a litle Isthmos or neck of lande which lyeth at the foote of the rock of Ilande. . . . Upon the hill are the reliques of a chappell the moste parte of the Iland buyldinges are ruyned but where they stoode in the Castles pryde ir doth appeare at the loweste parte of the hill and wher greateste possibilitie was of landinge was placed a countermure a very stronge butteled or garretted wall yet in parte remayninge wherin was a gate of Iron which gate is now remoueed And at the veter gate of the buyldinge upon the continent was a gate ftrongIye guarded with plates of iron
“Speculi Britanniae Pars: A Topographical and Historical Description of Cornwall”, John Norden, 1728 [1626], p.39

Castle Arch, Tintagel
“Webber’s Series”

Google Street View (from other direction).

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