Posts Tagged ‘uther pendragon’

postheadericon Where was King Arthur Born?


According to tradition, King Arthur was born in Tintagel Castle, in Southwestern Britain. This story comes to us from Geoffrey of Monmouth, writing in 1136 A.D.

Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon, who was the rightful king of Britain, lusted after Ygraine, wedded to Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall. Uther pursued her relentlessly, to the outrage of her husband. A bitter war broke out between the two men. While he went to war to defend his wife, Duke Gorlois locked Ygraine up in his castle at Tintagel for safety. In desperation, Uther turned to the wizard Merlin for help. Merlin used his secret arts to transform Uther into the likeness of the Duke. Now fully disguised, Uther was able to enter Tintagel Castle and impregnate Ygraine. Afterwards, his forces killed the Duke and took Tintagel. This was where Ygraine would have stayed, and where baby Arthur would have been born nine months later.

Prior to Geoffrey’s recording of this tale in the twelfth century, Arthur was referred to frequently as a war hero, but no other record exists of his birth. The tale may have been invented by Geoffrey in order to give a magical birth to a king of great importance. About the time Geoffrey’s work was published, a new castle was built on the site of Tintagel. Remains of it still stand on the location today, and modern excavations have uncovered the remains of an earlier, Celtic monastery.

The remains of Tintagel Castle are located on a peninsula connected to the mainland only by a narrow valley. Along the peninsula, steep cliffs fall sharply to the sea. As one enters through the valley, a large, earthen bank almost completely bars passage to the main body of the peninsula. Opposite is a massive mound of rock which has been artificially cut, leaving only a narrow, ten-foot passage for entry. Excavations have found that a palisade once stood atop the earthen bank, with a man-made ditch in front.

Tintagel in Geoffrey’s time would have been a highly-defensible position for any ruler who occupied it. The recent rebuilding which had been taking place in Geoffrey’s time, coupled with the region’s historical significance, may have been what inspired Geoffrey to choose it as the setting for Arthur’s birth. The difficulty of gaining access to the castle would  have reflected Duke Gorlois’ deep desire to protect his wife in the most difficult of locations to penetrate; similarly, Uther Pendragon’s feat in gaining entry to the castle and gaining Ygraine would have represented his deep desire for her. Ygraine, in essence, was an impregnable woman locked away in an impregnable fortress, which only Uther’s determination was able to overcome.

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