The courtyard wall and gate on Tintagel Island

Tintagel Castle: History and Legend

Built half on the mainland and half on a jagged headland projecting into the Cornish sea, Tintagel Castle is one of the most spectacular historic sites in Britain. Its association with King Arthur makes it also one of the most famous.

But the history of this enigmatic place stretches back centuries before the first tales of the legendary king shrouded it in the mists of romance. Find out more about Tintagel’s history and legends below.

History Meets Legend

Aerial view of Tintagel

History and legend are inseparable at Tintagel. During the so-called Dark Ages (about the 5th to the 7th centuries 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. 

  • Arrival of Uther Pendragon and Merlin at Tintagel (© Bibliothèque nationale de France)

    Earl Richard of Cornwall, King Arthur and Tintagel Castle

    Discover why the legend of King Arthur led one of the richest men in 13th-century England to build a castle at Tintagel.

  • Dark Age Tintagel

    Explore Dark Age Tintagel

    Use the hotspots on this reconstruction of Tintagel in about AD 700 to find out what the Dark Age settlement may have looked like.

  • Medieval Tintagel

    Explore Medieval Tintagel

    Use this reconstruction of Tintagel in about 1240 to discover how the medieval castle may have appeared soon after it was built.

  • Tintagel painted by JMW Turner

    History of Tintagel Castle

    Read an in-depth history of the castle from its origins in the Roman period to the present day, and find out why Tintagel’s history and legends are so intertwined.

  • The Artognou slate, discovered at Tintagel

    Tintagel Castle collection

    Explore in detail ten key Dark Age and medieval objects found at Tintagel and find out what they tell us about the castle.

  • the Dark Age remains at Tintagel

    Why Does Tintagel Matter?

    Discover Tintagel’s importance in the Dark Ages, how this inspired its literary fame, and how this in turn led to the building of the medieval castle.

Explore Tintagel Castle

Use our interactive tour, description and plan of the castle to explore the Dark Age and medieval remains on the island and mainland.

  • Tintagel Castle aerial view

    Interactive Tour

    Use the hotspots on this aerial view of Tintagel Castle to discover key features of the castle.

  • Detail of plan of Tintagel Castle

    Download a plan

    Download this PDF plan of Tintagel to explore the castle and see how it has developed over time.

  • Looking down on the medieval castle on the island at Tintagel

    Description of Tintagel Castle

    Read a description of the Dark Age and medieval remains on the island and mainland at Tintagel.

More Resources

  • Excavations at Tintagel in summer 2016

    2016 Discoveries and Excavations

    This blog post reveals some of the fascinating evidence of the early medieval settlement at Tintagel that has come to light during an excavation this summer.

  • The archaeologist Ralegh Radford at Tintagel Castle in the 1930s

    Research on Tintagel Castle

    Find out how archaeology has transformed our understanding of Tintagel over the last century, and what remains to be discovered by further research.

  • Engraving of Tintagel Castle by Samuel Buck, 1732

    Sources for Tintagel Castle

    Use this list of visual and written sources, published and unpublished, to learn more about Tintagel Castle and its history.

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