As some of you may know I am taking part in the annual April A-Z Challenge again this year. Last year my theme was Castles and, where possible, haunted ones. This year I had intended to cover the legendary King Arthur and places associated with him. I abandoned that theme as my draft posts were far too long and the A-Z sequence makes the stories about him too disjointed. However I’m pleased to say that I have adapted some for this week’s Sepia post.
There are many sites associated with Arthurian legends. Tintagel in Cornwall is the king’s traditional birthplace.
|Tintagel Castle 2002|
Arthur’s father was King Uther Pendragon. Arthur was conceived at Tintagel when Uther had Merlin smuggle him, in disguise, into the Castle to enable him to lie with Igraine, the wife of Duke Gorlois of Cornwall. Uther had besieged the Duke in another castle shortly before.
The ruined castle of today was built long after the Arthur lived. The medieval castle built in 1141 by Reginald of Cornwall, the illegitimate son of Henry I, had little strategic importance and the site proved a difficult building place. At one time owned by the Black Prince, by 1540 it was a ruin, In the echoing chamber of Merlin’s Cave the wizard’s ghost is said to wander, It’s also said that Arthur lives on in the form of the Cornish chough, a bird to be seen perched on the storm lashed ledges of the cliffs.
Pendragon Castle in Cumbria is said to be built on the site of a fifth-century fortress constructed by King Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon. He supposedly settled there after killing a dragon-serpent that was terrorising the region. He also tried unsuccessfully to divert the River Eden to make a moat. A local rhyme goes, “Let Uther Pendragon do what he can, Eden will run where Eden ran.” In his old age he took up arms against the Angles; and was to die at the castle from a water supply poisoned by his enemies.
The castle ruins we see are those of a later castle built in 1173 by Hugh de Morville, one of Thomas Becket’s murderers, in the 12th century. It was destroyed by fire twice, but eventually rebuilt by in the 17th century by Lady Anne Clifford. After her death it was left to fall into ruins. With Arthurian links and stories of Merlin living there and visiting Castlerigg Stone Circle there are many accounts of supernatural phenomena. When the moon cloaks the ruins in an eerie glow a ghostly horseman gallops soundlessly towards the castle. We will never know whether the horseman is the mortally sick Uther Pendragon returning from battle, or a messenger or a warrior of the Clifford Clan.
Stories abound about King Arthur and his knights. One of these is associated with a castle within 30 miles of where I live.
Built by the Normans the Castle overlooks the River Swale in Yorkshire. Richmond Castle shares a similar folk tale with other places. King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table slumber in a cave below the castle, waiting to be called to England’s aid. There are many such legends that he and his knights are not dead but merely sleeping somewhere.
Potter Thompson was a man married to a harridan of a wife. To escape her constant carping he took a walk and eventually finished up below the castle. When pausing for a rest he noticed a gap in the rocky escarpment which appeared to be the entrance to a cave. He looked in and saw a faint light glowing at one end of a long passage. Following the light Peter Thompson found himself in a large cavern where, fast asleep, were a king and knights in full armour.
He recognised King Arthur because on a table in the centre of the cavern were a horn and famous sword Excalibur. Excited that he had found King Arthur’s resting place, Peter decide to take Excalibur to prove his story was true. When he started to take the sword from its scabbard, the knights stirred. Terrified, Thompson ran but not before a sorrowful voice had intoned:
Peter Thompson, Peter Thompson,
If thou hadst either drawn
The sword, or blown the horn,
Thou wouldst have been the luckiest man
That ever yet was born.
Thompson began to feel better and braver once he was outside. If he went back for the sword or the horn all his troubles would be over. He turned back but the entrance to the cave had gone. Despite a frantic search all over the rocky banks of the castle the secret tunnel was never revealed to him again.
Finally we come to the castle that ultimately led to Arthur’s death.
(By David MacGibbon & Thomas Ross)
Dover is associated with the conflict towards the end of Arthur’s life between the King and his son (or nephew) Mordred. During Arthur’s absence in a French war Mordred seized the crown and garrisoned an army at Dover to prevent his father’s return. Fierce fighting ensued before Mordred was driven back. At the end of the battle Sir Gawaine was discovered badly wounded. Before he died Sir Gawaine wrote to Sir Lancelot who was overseas, calling him back to Arthurs’s aid.
Sir Lancelot assembled a huge army and landed at Dover – too late to help Arthur who had been slain at the Battle of Camlann.
For more on castles and monuments cross over to the links at Sepia-Saturday-171.
- Tintagel - Alan Simkins - CC BY-SA 2.0 - Geograph Project Collection
- Pndragon - David Medcalf - CC BY-SA 2.0 - Geograph Project Collection
- Richmond - David Dunford - CC BY-SA 2.0 - Geograph Project Collection