Don’t let it be forgot,
that once there was a spot,
for one brief, shining moment
that was known as Camelot.– Alan Jay Lerner
Two entries with the name Camelot.
Caamalot, Camaalot, Camaaloth, Camaelot, Camahaloth, Camalahot, Camalat, Camallate, Camalot, Cameloth, Camelotto, Camilot, Chamaalot, Chamalot, Damolot, Kaamelot, Kamaalot, Kamaaloth, Kamaelot, Kamahalot, Kamahaloth, Kamelot, Kameloth, Schamilot
The famous court and capital of King Arthur, common in the vernacular due to the Lerner and Lowe play bearing its name, appears first (but only once) in Chrétien de Troyes. In most Arthurian tales, it competes with Caerleon, Carlisle, Cardueil, and Logres for the position of Arthur’s chief city.
From the Vulgate Estoire del Saint Graal, we learn that an evil pagan king named Agrestes ruled the city in the time of Joseph of Arimathea. He slaughtered many of Joseph’s followers at the Black Cross before God drove him mad. The Post-Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal provides us with different biblical era king named Camalis, after whom Camelot was named. Following these examples, Tennyson agrees that the city was ancient and was not established by Arthur, in contrast to popular tradition.
In Arthur’s time, Camelot served as the location for many tournaments, one of Gawain’s battles against the Saxons, and many other adventures. Its main church, St. Stephen’s, held the remains of Arthur’s greatest warriors. According to the Post-Vulgate Mort Artu, King Mark of Cornwall besieged Camelot during the Grail Quest and, after Arthur’s death, returned to destroy it completely. In La Tavola Ritonda, it falls to ruin after Arthur’s death.
Camelot may be a variation of Camulodunum, the Roman name for Colchester. The castle also may have taken its name from any number of rivers with the root cam, meaning “crooked”, which was probably the source of Camlann. Descriptions of its location vary. Palamedes places it on the Humber River, and Malory identifies it with Winchester, while writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries began to associate Camelot with an old Roman hill fort south of Cadbury. Camelford in Cornwall and Camelon in Scotland have also been suggested. In recent years, archaeological investigations into the Cadbury fort have shown that it was occupied by Britons in the late fifth century. Given that Camelot is a place of romance and fantasy, however, any investigation into the location of the “real” Camelot is probably futile.
The suggested location for Camelot are many, and here are a few of them:
- Caerleon, South Wales
- Cadbury Castle, Somerset
- Tintagel Castle, Tintagil, Cornwall
- Winchster, Hampshire
- Castle of Dinerth
- Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh
- Camboglanna, Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall, Cumbria
- Camulodunum (Colchester), Essex
- Viroconium, outside Shrewsbury, Wroxeter
- Roxburgh Castle, Scottish Borders
- Camelon, near Falkirk, Scotland
- Llanmelin, near Caerwent, South Wales
- Graig Llwyn, near Cardiff, South Wales
Cadbury-Camelot | The Legend of King Arthur
Cadbury Castle | The Legend of King Arthur
Tintagil Castle | The Legend of King Arthur
Caerleon Castle | The Legend of King Arthur
Winchester | The Legend of King Arthur
Topography and Local Legends | The Legend of King Arthur
Lancelot, or Le Chevalier de la Charrete | Chrétien de Troyes, late 12th century
Parzival | Wolfram von Eschenbach, 1200–1210
Perlesvaus | Early 13th century
Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal | 1215-1230
Vulgate Lancelot | 1215-1230
Vulgate Estoire del Saint Graal | 1220-1235
Post-Vulgate Suite du Merlin | 1230-1240
Post-Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal | 1230-1240
Post-Vulgate Mort Artu | 1230-1240
La Tavola Ritonda | 1325–1350
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470
Britannia | William Camden, 1586
Poly-Olbion | Michael Drayton, 1612
Idylls of the King | Lord Alfred Tennyson, 1859-1886
A valley and castle ruled by Perceval’s father, Alain le Gros, in Perlesvaus. The author of Perlesvaus clearly makes a distinction between Perceval’s Camelot and Arthur’s Camelot.
Perlesvaus | Early 13th century