Romances of Arthur: Arthurian Legends

1 Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales," by James O. Halliwll.
2 See "Thomas of the Thumb, or Tómas na h'ordaig," Tale 1xix. "Popular Tales of the West Highlands," by J.F. Campbell.
3 Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales," by James O. Halliwll.
4 Camden's "Britannica," by Gough, vol. i., p. 139. From this author we do not learn much. Indeed he says—"As to that Constantine, whom Gildas calls 'that tyrannical whelp of the impure Danmonian lioness,' and of the disforesting of the whole country under King John, before whose time it was all forest, let historians tell—it is not to my purpose."—Vol. i. p. 8.
5 Milton's "History of Britain," edit. 1678, p. 155.
6 Vellan (mill), druchar (wheel).
7 Carew says, 'a promontory (by Pomp. Mela, called Bolerium; by Diodorus, Velerium; by Volaterane, Helenium; by the Cornish, Pedn an laaz; and by the English, the Land's-End)."—Survey of Cornwall.
8 Pen[?]ið[?]teo[?]t.—The name of the Land's-End in the Saxon map; in the text, Camden prints Pen[?]iht[?]teo[?]t.
9 "CASTLE-AN-DINAS.—In the parish of [Colomb] Major stands a castle of this name. Near the castle, by the highway, stands the Coyt, a stony tumulus so called, of which sort there are many in Wales and Wiltshire, as is mentioned in the 'Additions to Camden's Britannia,' in these places, commonly called the Devil's Coyts. It consists of four long stones of great bigness, perpendicularly pitched in the earth contiguous with each other, leaving only a small vacancy downwards, but meeting together at the top; over all which is laid a flat stone of prodigious bulk and magnitude, bending towards the east in way of adoration (as Mr Lhuyd concludes of all those Coyts elsewhere), as the person therein under it interred did when in the land of the living; but how or by what art this prodigious flat stone should be placed on top of the others, amazeth the wisest mathematicians, engineers, or architects to tell or conjecture. Colt, in Belgic-British, is a cave, vault, or cott-house, of which coyt might possibly be a corruption."—Gilbert's Parochial History.
10 In the Manor of Lambourn is an ancient barrow, called Creeg Mear, the Great Barrow, which was cut open by a labourer in search of stones to build a hedge. He came upon a small hollow, in which he found nine urns filled with ashes; the man broke them, supposing they were only old pitchers, good for nothing; but Tonkin, who saw them believes them to have been Danish, containing the ashes of some chief commanders slain in battle; and, says he, on a small hill just under this barrow is a Danish encampment, called Castle Caer Dane, vulgo Castle Caer Don,—i.e., the Danes' Camp,—consisting of three entrenchments finished, and another begun, with an intent to surround the inner three, but not completed; and opposite to this, about a bowshot, the river only running between, on another hill is another camp or castle, called Castle Kaerkief, castrum simile, from Kyfel similis, alike alluding to Castle Caer Dane. But this is but just begun, and not finished in any part, from which I guess there were two different parties, the one attacking the other before the entrenchments were finished.
11 C.S. Gilbert's Historical Survey.
12 See Popular Tales from the Norse. By George Webbe Dasent, D.C.L. Legends of Iceland, collected by Jón Arnason. Translated by George E. J. Powell and Eirékur Magnússo
13 Notes and Queries, vol. viii. p. 618.
14 "I shall offer 1 conjecture touching the name of this place, which I will not say is right, but only probable. Tin is the same as Din, Dinas, and Dixeth, deceit; so that Tindixel, turned, for easier pronunciation, to Tintagel, Dindagel, or Daundagel, signifies Castle of Deceit, which name might be aptly given to it from the famous deceit practised here by Uter Pendragon by the help of Merlin's enchantment."—Tonkin.
"Mr Hals says this place is called Donecheniv in 'Domesday Survey.' Dunechine would mean the fortress of the chasm, corresponding precisely with the situation."—Davies Gilbert.
15 Gilbert, vol. ii. p. 402, et seg.
16 Gruter's Collection of Ancient Inscriptions, quoted by J.C Pritchard.

Romances of Arthur: Arthurian Legends



"For there was no man knew from whence he came;
But after tempest, when the long wave broke
All down the thundering shores of Bude and Boss,
There came a day as still as heaven, and then
They found a naked child upon the sands
Of wild Dundagil by the Cornish sea;
And that was Arthur."

     Idylls of the King—TENNYSON.

The scarcity of traditions connected with King Arthur is not a little remarkable in Cornwall, where he is said to have been born, and where we believe him to have been killed. In the autumn of last year (1863) I visited Tintagel and Camelford. I sought with anxiety for some stories of the British king, but not one could be obtained. The man who has charge of the ruins of the castle was very sorry that he had lent a book which he once had, and which contained many curious stories, but he had no story to tell me.

We hear of Prince Arthur at the Land's-End, and of his fights with the Danes in two or three other places. Merlin, who may be considered as especially associated with Arthur, has left indications of his presence here and there, in prophetic rhymes not always fulfilled; but of Arthur's chieftains we have no folk-lore. All the rock markings, or rock peculiarities, which would in West Cornwall have been given to the giants, are referred to King Arthur in the eastern districts.

Jack the Giant Killer and Thomas Thumb—the former having been tutor, in his own especial calling, to King Arthur's only son (1), and the latter the king's favourite dwarf (2)—are, except in storybooks, unknown. Jack Hornby (3),—if he ever lived near the Land's End, unless he is the same with "Little Jack Horner,"—has been so long a stranger, that his name is forgotten.

The continuance of a fixed belief in the existence of Arthur is easily explained. The poets and the romance writers have made the achievements of a British chieftain familiar to all the people; and Arthur has not only a name, but a local habitation, given to him equally in Scotland, England, Wales, and Ireland.

Mr Campbell, in his "West Highland Tales," gives a "Genealogy Abridgement of the very ancient and noble family of Argyle, 1779." The writer says that this family began with Constantine, grandfather to King Arthur; and he informs us that Sir Moroie Mor, a son of King Arthur, of whom great and strange things are told in the Irish Traditions—who was born at Dumbarton Castle, and who was usually known as "The Fool of the Forest"—was the real progenitor of "Mac Callen Mor." From this Moroie Mor was derived the mighty Diarmaid, celebrated in many a Gaelic lay—"to whom all popular traditions trace the Campbell clan."

"Arthur and Diarmaid," writes Mr Campbell, "primeval Celtic worthies, whose very existence the historian ignores, are thus brought together by a family genealogist."

Was the Constantine grandfather to Arthur one of the five tyrants named by Gildas?"—I quote from Camden (4) and Milton (5).
     Constantinus, son of Cador, Duke of Cornwall, Arthur's half-brother by the mother's side, "a tyrannical and bloody king."
     Aurelius Conanus, who "wallowed in murder and adultery."
     Vortipore, "tyrant of the Dimeta."
     Cuneglas, "the yellow butcher."
     Maglocunes, "the island dragon."

It is curious to find a Scotch genealogist uniting in one bond the Arthur of Dundagel and the ancestors of the Argyles of Dumbarton.

May we not after this venture to suggest that, in all probability, the parish of Constantine (pronounced, however, Cus-ten-ton), between Helstone and Penryn, may derive its name from this Constantinus, rather than from the first Christian emperor?

Again, the family of Cossentine has been often said to be offsets from Constantine, the descendant of the Greek emperors, who was buried in Landulph Church. Seeing that the name has been known for so long a period in Cornwall, may not this family rather trace their origin up to this Constantine the Tyrant?


The Sea Kings, in their predatory wanderings, landed in Genvor Cove, and, as they had frequently done on previous occasions, they proceeded to pillage the little hamlet of Escols. On one occasion they landed in unusually large numbers, being resolved, as it appeared, to spoil many of the large and wealthy towns of Western Cornwall, which they were led to believe were unprotected. It fortunately happened that the heavy surf on the beach retarded their landing, so that the inhabitants had notice of their threatened invasion.

That night the beacon-fire was lit on the chapel hill, another was soon blazing on Castle-an-Dinas, and on Trecrobben. Carn Brea promptly replied, and continued the signal-light, which also blazed lustrously that night on St Agnes Beacon. Presently the fires were seen on Belovely Beacon, and rapidly they appeared on the Great Stone, on St Bellarmine's Tor, and Cadbarrow, and then the fires blazed out on Roughtor and Brownwilly, thus rapidly conveying the intelligence of war to Prince Arthur and his brave knights, who were happily assembled in full force at Tintagel to do honour to several native Princes who were at that time on a visit to the King of Cornwall. Arthur, and nine other kings, by forced marches, reached the neighbourhood of the Land's-End at the end of two days. The Danes crossed the land down through the bottoms to the sea on the northern side of the promontory, spreading destruction in their paths. Arthur met them on their return, and gave them battle near Vellan-Druchar. So terrible was the slaughter, that the mill was worked with blood that day. Not a single Dane of the vast army that had landed escaped. A few had been left in charge of the ships, and as soon as they learned the fate of their brethren, they hastened to escape, hoping to return to their own northern land. A holy woman, whose name has not been preserved to us, "brought home a west wind" by emptying the Holy Well against the hill, and sweeping the church from the door to the altar. Thus they were prevented from escaping, and were all thrown by the force of a storm and the currents either on the rocky shore, or on the sands, where they were left high and dry. It happened on the occasion of an extraordinary spring-tide, which was yet increased by the wind, so that the ships lay high up on the rocks, or on the sands; and for years the birds built their nests in the masts and rigging.

Thus perished the last army of Danes who dared to land upon our western shores.

King Arthur and the nine kings pledged each other in the holy water from St Sennen's Well, they returned thanks for their victory in St Sennen's Chapel, and dined that day on the Table-men.

Merlin, the prophet, was amongst the host, and the feast being ended, he was seized with the prophetic afflatus, and in the hearing of all the host proclaimed —

     "The northmen wild once more shall land,
     And leave their bones on Escol's sand.
     The soil of Vellan-Druchar's plain
     Again shall take a sanguine stain;
     And o'er the mill-wheel roll a flood
     Of Danish mix'd with Cornish blood.
     When thus the vanquish'd find no tomb,
     Expect the dreadful day of doom.


Bolerium, or Bellerium, is the name given by the ancients to the Land's-End. Diodorus writes Belerium; Ptolemy, Bolerium. Milton adopts this name in his "Lycidas," and leads his readers to infer that it was derived from the Giant Bellerus. It is quite possible that in Milton's time the name of one of the numerous giants who appear to have made the Land's-End district their dwelling-place, might have still lived in the memories of men. Certain it is no such giant is remembered now (7).

In a map of Saxon England we find the Land's-End called [PLEASE HELP], and in some early English books this promontory is named Penrhin-guard , and Penrlien-gard, said to signify the "Headland of Blood"(8). The old Cornish people called this promontory "Pen-von-las," the "End of the Earth," hence we derive the name of the Land's-End. May not this sanguinary name have been derived from a fact, and that actually several battles were fought by the Britons under the command of Arthur, with the Saxons or the Danes, in this neighbourhood? We have not far off the Field of Slaughter, "Bollait," where the ancient people of Cornwall made their final stand against the Saxons. On this field flint arrow-heads have frequently been found. The tradition of Vellan-Druchar, which is but one of several I have heard of a similar character, points to the same idea. Arthur, according to one story, held possession of Trereen Castle for some time. Another castle on the north coast is said to have been occupied by him. An old man living in the Pendean once told me that the land at one time "swarmed with giants, until Arthur, the good king, vanished them all with his cross-sword."


The Danes are said to have landed in several places around the coast, and have made permanent settlements in some parts. We have already spoken of the battle of Vellan-Druchar. In Sennen Cove there was for a long period a colony of red-haired people,—indeed, I am informed some of them still live on the spot,—with whom the other inhabitants of the district refused to marry. Up to a very recent period, in several of the outlying villages, a red-haired family was "looked down" upon. "Oh, he or she is a red-haired Daäne," was a common expression of contempt.

There are several hills which bear the names of Danes' Castles—as Castle-an-Dinas, near Penzance, and another in St Columb (9). Another very remarkable earthwork in Perran-Zabula (Caer-Dane) is described by Hals (10).

Eventually the Danes are said to have made permanent settlements in Cornwall, and to have lived on friendly terms with the Britons.

The Danes and the Cornish are reported to have concentrated their forces to oppose Egbert the Saxon. In 835 the combined body are reported to have met, and fought a pitched battle on Hengistendane (now Hengistondown), near Callington. The Cornish were so totally routed, that Egbert obliged the Danes to retire to their ships, and passed a law "that no Briton should in future cross the Tamar, or set foot on English ground, on pain of death" (11).

In 997 the Danes, sailing about Penwrith-steort, landed in several places, foraged the country, burnt the towns, and destroyed the people.

Many of the traditions which are given in different parts of these volumes have much of the Danish element in them (12).


I quote the following as it stands:—(13)

"In Jarvis's translation of 'Don Quixote,' book ii. chap. v., the following passage occurs: —

"'Have you not read, sir,' answered Don Quixote, 'the annals and histories of England, wherein are recorded the famous exploits of King Arthur, whom, in our Castilian tongue, we always call King Artus; of whom there goes an old tradition, and a common one, all over that kingdom of Great Britain, that this king did not die, but that, by magic art, he was turned into a raven; and that, in process of time, he shall reign again and recover his kingdom and sceptre, for which reason it cannot be proved that, from that time to this, any Englishmen has killed a raven?'

"My reason for transcribing this passage is to record the curious fact that the legend of King Arthur's existence in the form of a raven was still repeated as a piece of folk-lore in Cornwall about sixty years ago. My father, who died about two years since, at the age of eighty, spent a few years of his youth in the neighbourhood of Penzance. One day he was walking along Marazion Green with his fowling-piece on his shoulder, he saw a raven at a distance, and fired at it. An old man who was near immediately rebuked him, telling him that he ought on no account to have shot at a raven, for that King Arthur was still alive in the form of that bird. My father was much interested when I drew his attention to the passage which I have quoted above.

"Perhaps some of your Cornish or Welsh correspondents may be able to say whether the legend is still known among the people of Cornwall or Wales.


I have been most desirous of discovering if any such legend as the above exists. I have questioned people in every part of Cornwall in which King Arthur has been reported to have dwelt or fought, and especially have I inquired in the neighbourhood of Tintagel, which is reported to have been Arthur's stronghold. Nowhere do I find the raven associated with him, but I have been told that bad luck would follow the man who killed a Chough, for Arthur was transformed into one of these birds.


The tradition relative to King Arthur and his transformation into a raven, is fixed very decidedly on the Cornish Chough, from the colour of its beak and talons. The—

"Talons and beak all red with blood"

are said to mark the violent end to which this celebrated chieftain came.


Historians and poets have made the world familiar with King Arthur. We know how Merlin deceived, by his magic, the beautiful Igerna, so that she received King Uter as her husband. We know also that Uter Pendragon died, and that his son, by Igerna, reigned King of Britain. How Arthur ruled, and how he slaughtered all the enemies of Britain, is told in the chronicles. But even at Tintagel (14) all is silent respecting the king or his celebrated Round Table.

"In the days of King Arthur the Mount of Cornwall was kept by a monstrous giant," is familiar to us all; and it is curious to find a tradition that the extirpation of these Titans was due to Arthur and Christianity, as already related. At Slaughter Bridge I heard the story, but it did not sound like a tradition; the true native character was not in the narrative,—That in 824 the Cornish and Saxons fought so bloody a battle that the river ran red with blood. On Slaughter Bridge Arthur is said to have killed his nephew, Modred, but that, previously to this last fight, Modred wounded his uncle with a poisoned sword, nearly in front of Worthyvale House. A single stone laid over a stream, having some letters cut on its lower surface, is believed to mark the exact spot where Arthur received his death-wound.


At the head of this river Alan is seated Camelford, otherwise written Galleford, a small town. It was formerly called Kambton, according to Leland, who tells us that "Arthur, the British Hector," was slain here, or in the valley near it. He adds, in support of this, that "pieces of armour, rings, and brass furniture for horses are sometimes digged up here by the countrymen; and after so many ages, the tradition of a bloody victory in this place is still preserved." There are also extant some verses of a Middle Age poet about "Camels" running with blood after the battle of Arthur against Modred (15).

"Camulus is another name of the god of war, occurring in two of Gruter's inscriptions" (16).

Seeing that Arthur's great battles were fought near this town, and on the banks of the river, may not the names given to the town and river be derived from Camulus?

O'er Cornwall's cliffs the tempest roar'd,
High the screaming sea-mew soar'd;
On Tintagel's topmost tower
Darksome fell the sleety shower;
Round the rough castle shrilly sung
The whirling blast, and wildly flung
On each tall rampart's thundering side
The surges of the tumbling tide:
When Arthur ranged his red cross ranks
On conscious Camlan's crimson'd banks."

The Grave of King Arthur—WHARTON.

In a Welsh poem it is recited that Arthur, after the battle of Camlan in Cornwall, was interred in the Abbey of Glastonbury, before the high altar, without any external mark. Henry II. is said to have visited the abbey, and to have ordered that the spot described by the bard should be opened. We are told that at twenty feet deep they found the body deposited under a large stone, with Arthur's name inscribed thereon.

Glastonbury Abbey is said to have been founded by Joseph of Arimathea, in a spot anciently called the island or valley of Avolmia or Avolon.

Bale, in his "Acts of English Votaries," attests to the finding of the remains of Arthur:—

"In Avallon, anno 1191, there found they the flesh bothe of Arthur and of his wyfe Guenever turned all into duste, wythin theyr coffines of strong oke, the bones only remaynynge. A monke of the same abbeye, standyng and behouldyng the fine broydinges of the womannis heare as yellow as golde there still to remayne. As a man ravyshed, or more than halfe from his wyttes, he leaped into the graffe, xv fote depe, to have caugte them sodenlye. But he fayled of his purpose. For so soon as they were touched they fell all to powder."


This ancient British castle once stood in savage grandeur a rival to Tintagel. Its ruins, which can scarcely be traced, are in the parish of St Tudy. Here Gothlois of the Purple Spear, Earl of Cornwall, fortified himself against Uter Pendragon's soldiery, and here he was slain. Gothlois, or Gothlouis, was the husband of Igerna, who was so cruelly deceived by Uter, and who became the mother of Arthur.


One of the most celebrated of Arthur's knights, Sir Tristram, is said to have been born in this parish. A tradition of this is preserved in the parish, but it is probably derived from the verses of Thomas of Erceldoune, better known as Thomas the Rhymer.