Where is Camelot?

According to D.D.R. Owen, when Chrétien de Troyes begins his romance Lancelot with Arthur's court at Camelot on Ascension Day, it is the earliest known mention of this city. Chrétien remarks that Arthur had just left Caerleon, another of his famous court cities, which suggests that the two lie in geographical proximity. The way in which Chrétien simply drops the name in, without elaboration, seeming to make nothing special of it, suggests to me either that he had some specific place in mind and may not have gotten its name quite right, or that "Camelot" was in fact already established in whatever source - now lost - he may have used. Neither of these possibilites precludes the other.

The debate as to where Camelot really was may never be decided. Malory, however, twice clearly idenfies it as Winchester. The major church of Camelot is Saint Stephen's, where Arthur and Guenevere were married. Though today the word "Camelot" has become virtually synonomous with "King Arthur", I cannot perceive that in the medieval material it is more than just another one of Arthur's many court cities. It looks to me as if the puzzle over its actual identity has enhanced its mystique for beyond its medieval importance.

Some say there are two Camelot castles, one in Glastonbury, where the king and his men according to the legend still rides horses with silver shoes, and one, according to Shakespear's King Lear. Arcaeologists of today is looking for it at Cadbury Hill in Somerset.

Camelot, also known as Caerleon (Welsh legend), Caerleon-on-Usk, Winchester, (an association is suggested of the location of Camelot has been made with 'The Three Kings of Cologne' & 'The Three Wise Men of the East' in medieval legend telling that their remains were entombed as Cologne Cathedral and perhaps that of the location of Arthur's court but there is little evidence to support this). According to romancers, Camelot was named after a pagan king called Camaalis.

We are first introduced to Camelot as the central location of Arthurian legend in the work of Lancelot (line 34) by Chrétien de Troyes, as mentioned, although the name does not appear in manuscripts of that poem. In the thirteenth-century Vulgate Cycle it was mentioned by name as Camelot and home of King Arthur. In the nineteenth-century the associations with Winchester began to be popular. Tennyson described a "many-tower'd Camelot" in the Lady of Shallot constructed to the sound of music.

The castle-city of Camelot, capital of Britian and headquarters of Arthur the warrior-king, was built by a fairy king and fairy queens. Harps in hand, they created the city to the sound of music and their harps may still be heard sometimes between the shadows of one day and the next. Others say Merlin was believed to have built Camelot, an idyllic ideal city, in one night in some of the medieval Arthurian romances, it being the capital of Logres the location of Arthur's court, believed be about three miles north-east of Newport, South Wales. This was also the location of the Isca Silurum (Roman).

There is nothing surprising about Camelot, at least in terms of its physical presentation: it is a beautiful city and an extraordinary castle, but it could not have been significantly different from many another city or castle. Only two facts set it apart from others: first, it eventually takes on religious as well as ideological overtones (certain knights even being baptized there); second, it is not clear where it is. Malory identified Camelot with Winchester, but other writers are far less specific. In certain texts, it appears to be located in southern England, but few works will permit us to be any more precise than that.

Scholars continue to look for Camelot, and some believe they have found it (or its prototype) at Cadbury-Camelot. But while a good deal of energy has been expended on the search for the "actual" Camelot, it is clear that Camelot's geographical imprecision, whether conscious or not, is a stroke of genius on the part of romance authors: for Camelot, located nowhere in particular, can be anywhere; in the world of Arthurian romance, it is less a specific place than a state of mind, a source of inspiration, an idea.

Modern versions of the legend have generally maintained this lack of precision. Camelot, in effect, is the center of the Arthurian universe, and no more geographical detail is needed. On the other hand, authors almost universally update the castle itself, transforming it into a typical (ir unusually opulent) castle of the High Middle Ages, complete with drawbridges, portcullises, and crenelated towers. Such a transformation is carried very nearly to its logical conclusion in the film version of Camelot.