Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

Gorloïs of Tintagil

Gorlais, Gorlas, Gorlens, Gorlodubnus, Gorloys, Gothlois

The duke of Tintagil (Cornwall) and the husband of Igerne (Igraine). He became a vassal of Ambrosius when the latter invaded Britain. He proved his prowess at the battle of Conisbrough against Hengist and his Saxons, and at Mount Damen against Octa and Eosa.

Gorloïs long warred against Uther Pendragon. When Uther ascended to the throne after his brother’s death, he called a feast of all his nobles at which he first laid eyes upon Gorloïs’s wife. He immediately fell in love with her. Igerne, sensing Uther’s attentions (he tried to seduce her), convinced her husband to take her back to Cornwall, where Gorloïs prepared his strong castles. Uther, enraged at Gorlois’s departure, laid siege to the duke’s two castles: Tintagel, in which Gorloïs had placed Igerne, and Dimiloc (or Terrabil), which housed Gorloïs. Uther convinced Merlin to disguise him as Gorloïs, so he could enter Tintagil and spend the night with Igerne. As Uther enjoyed Gorloïs’s wife, Gorloïs was slain in a battle against Uther’s soldiers at Terrabil. Igerne later gave birth to Arthur.

Tradition gives Gorloïs three daughters named Morgause (Margawse), Elaine of Garlot, and Morgan le Fay. A Welsh adaptation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia makes him the father of Cador of Cornwall, whose relation to Gorloïs is uncertain in other texts.

Later legend has extended what was obviously a local legend to the point where this story relates the magical conception of King Arthur. Phyllis Ann Karr’s edition of Malory does not give Igraine’s husband the name Gorloïs (or any other name), but Tennyson uses it, and Brewer credits to Malory a quotation in which it appears.

In Culhwch and Olwen, his counterpart as Igerne’s first husband is Rica. Gorloïs may be identical to Gwryon found in the Welsh Geraint. The Vulgate Merlin calls his character Hoel, and Arthour and Merlin calls him Tintagel.

Thomas Hughes’ The Misfortunes of Arthur has the ghost of Gorlois condemn Arthur for Uther’s sin. Arthur’s fatal conflict with Mordred seems to be the instrument of Gorlois’ revenge. Gorlois says,

Mordred shall be the hammer of my hate.

A building called Carhules near Castle Dore in Cornwall may have been called after a person named Gourles, perhaps the original Gorloïs.

Historia Brittonum | Probably Nennius, early 9th century
Culhwch and Olwen | Late 11th century
Historia Regum Britanniae | Geoffrey of Monmouth, c. 1138
Roman de Brut | Wace, c. 1155
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470
The Misfortunes of Arthur | Thomas Hughes, 1587
Idylls of the King | Lord Alfred Tennyson, 1859-1886