Camelot is the castle connected to the famous King Arthur. Camelot’s first appearance was in the early 12th century French Romances.
In French Arthurian romances, its spelling had been changed a lot because the origin of the name is unknown. Its different spellings include Camalot, Camaalloth, Camahaloth, Kamaalot, Camaalot, Kamelot, Kaamelot, Cameloth, Camelot, Gamalot and Kamaelot.
Most authors believe that Camelot is an imaginary kingdom. It has no specified location which made it the best setting used by male romance writers. However, there have been arguments about the location of the realistic Camelot in the 15th-century and the belief was continued in Modern works.
Camelot was widely known as a mythical castle, located in Great Britain, where King Arthur held court. It was known to be the center of the Kingdom of Logres and in Arthurian romances was the location of the round table and accommodated about 150 knights.
French Origins of Camelot
King Arthur’s stories are widely known from as early as the ninth century. One of the most popular early writers was Geoffrey Monmouth. Geoffrey lived during the 1st-6th century. In his book History of the King of Britain, Monmouth wrote a lot of stories about King Arthur and his favorite magician Merlin, mentioning that Arthur was born at Tintagel.
Nevertheless, Monmouth and other Arthurian writers never mentioned the existence of Camelot.
Its First Mention
The first mention of Camelot was in the late 12th-century poem, written by Troyes. The earliest descriptive account of Camelot was in the 13th century, in a series of French romances known as the Vulgate Cycle and Post-Vulgate Cycle.
In the Vulgate Cycle, Camelot was made the Major City of Arthur’s habitation and even after death, his body was laid there.
Norris Lacy wrote that the Vulgate Cycle was composed between 1215-1235 by an unknown Author or Unknown Authors. She writes that the romances run to several thousand pages of text and they offer many characters and displayed lots of adventures that were interlaced with one another intricately. She also highlighted that the Post-Vulgate Cycle was written shortly afterward by an anonymous author. In the mentioned cycles Camelot was described vividly “….was the city most full of adventures that ever was…” though Camelot was in Great Britain, its world was described to be a world of magicians, giants, dragons, and many notable knights.
In MS V (Vatican, Bibiloteca Vaticana, Regina 1725) In the story, the court is mentioned only in passing and is not described. It says,
A un jor d’une Ascension/ Fu venuz de vers carlion/ Li rois
Artus et tenu ot/ cort molt
Riche a Camaalot,/ Si riche com ar jur estut.
King Arthur, one Ascension day, had left Caerleon and
Held a most magnificent court at Camelot with all the
Splendor appropriate to the day.
Early Days of Camelot
From the Vulgate Estoire del Saint Graal, we learned that an evil pagan king ruled the city in the time of Joseph the Arimethea.
The tale about Camelot began with Joseph of Arimethea. According to the Bible, Joseph donated his tomb for the burial of the Christian Messiah, Jesus. According to Vulgate story, he journeyed to Great Britain and then to Camelot, making the assumption that Camelot was an Islamic city.
According to his recorded words, he said: “it was the richest of the Saracen cities in Great Britain, and it was so important that the pagan kings were crowned there, and its mosque was Larger and taller than in any other city”.
Joseph of Arimethea converted more than a thousand natives of Camelot into Christians. King Agrestes the ruler then who was described as the most wicked man in the world was successfully but falsely converted. After Joseph left Camelot, King Agrestes persecuted all Christians but eventually became crazy and threw himself into the fire.
When Joseph came back to Camelot he saw that Camelot had converted fully to Christianity. The text reads “in the middle of the city he had the Church of St. Stephen the martyr built”. This building remained Camelot’s largest church throughout the Vulgate Cycles with other extra other smaller churches that followed.
Why the unknown authors of the Vulgate Cycle claimed that Camelot was originally an Islamic city is unclear because, in the first century, Islam never existed.
The Post-Vulgate Questeldel Saint Graal provides us with a different biblical era King named Camalis, after whom the name Camelot was given.
Following these examples, Tennyson agrees that the city was ancient and wasn’t established by Arthur.
Camelot in the Days of Arthur
In Geoffery’s grand description of Caerleon, Camelot during Arthur’s era had very impressive architecture, many churches, chivalry, and inhabitants. Geoffery’s description of Camelot was drawn from an already established religion in the Welsh oral tradition of the grandeur of Arthur’s court.
In Chretien’s poem, nothing suggested the degree of significance Camelot would have in modern works. For in his work, Arthur’s chief court was in Caerleon wales, this was the king’s primary base.
According to Lancelot-Grail Cycle, In King Arthur’s time, Camelot was known as a Kingdom or city enclosed by forests and savannahs with a very open space to conduct tournaments for its Knights. One of the many tournaments includes Sir Gawain’s battles against the Saxons and many other adventures. Its main churches St Stephen’s held the remains of Arthur’s greatest warriors.
Camelot maybe a variation of Camulodunum, the Roman name Colchester. The castle was likely to have taken its name from many numbers of rivers with the root word ‘Cam’ which means ‘crooked’ which was definitely the source of Camlann.
Arthur’s time descriptions of Camelot varied. Palamades placed its location on the Humber River while Mallory identified it with Winchester, while writers of the sixteenth century began to associate Camelot with an Old Roman hill fort south of Cadbury.
In recent years, archaeological researches into the Cadbury fort have shown that it was occupied by Britons in the late fifth century. Given that Camelot is a city romanticized, any investigation into the real Camelot is probably futile.
The city was described as a city that stood on the forest hill out of a great plain. It is near to the highway and river leading to the Isle of Shalott. The river banks are covered with willows and aspens that quivers in the breeze and on each side of the fields, rye and barley are stretched to the horizon. The castle is so close to the water that in one of the stories Arthur could see a boat coming into Camelot carrying what seemed to be a dead lady (The Lady of Shalott)
The text mentioned that the city Camelot was wealthy and a well-provided town, but small enough that during a lavish court that so many barons, nobles and knights could not fully be accommodated.
As mentioned in the text, Arthur often held court in the castle. The castle/tower is furnished with the main courtyard, bedrooms places for celebrations and the Round Table.
Though tournaments were held frequently the indigenous of Camelot also enjoyed other less-fatal games. In one story, Lancelot gifted King Arthur with fine chess because he knew that Guinevere his lover is a good player.
There is a rough date for King Arthur’s rule in Camelot because it was mentioned in one of the stories that, an Inscription was found saying the Holy Grail must begin 453 years after the resurrection of Christ ( The Vulgate Cycle discussed the quest for the Holy Grail at length).
Most Popular Aspect of Camelot
The Round Table is the most famous aspect of Camelot, ever noted. Vulgate Cycle in detail discussed how King Arthur came to be the ruler of Camelot.
As stated in the text, King Leo Dagan of Carmelide, Guinevere’s father gifted Arthur Camelot as a wedding gift. At that time there were more than a hundred knights that were already members of the Round Table. This made Arthur ask his favorite magician, Merlin to choose the remaining members of the Round Table in order to bring it to its full glory.
When Merlin had assembled the Knights, Merlin told them to care for each other and to love one another like brothers. As they had left the comforts of their wives and children to be a member of the Court. He further engraved the names of each knight in their seats.
As the story transcends, there are many deaths and the members of the Round Table kept being replaced when each of one them died. After the death of King Arthur, most Knights of the Round Table are dead.
The Last Stands of Camelot
According to the Post-Vulgate Cycle, A ruler named King Mark of Cornwall, whom Arthur had once defeated in a duel, took revenge by invading the Kingdom of Logres knowing that Camelot had no protection by the Knights of the Round Table.
King Mark penetrated the city and destroyed most of it. The people of Camelot who were fully aware that they were outnumbered still marched, to fight King Mark’s men but they got themselves all killed.
This was the end of Camelot and the Round Table.
Camelot’s Modern Appearances
Sir Thomas Mallory in the 15TH Century published the Arthurian Legend, Camelot Included, in his book titled “Morte d’ Arthur”. He referenced heavily from the French Vulgate Cycles in addition to other Arthurian sources.
Though not much is known about Mallory, his work has influenced a lot of modern writers. Such writers include Lord Alfred Tennyson (In The Lady of Shalott), T.H White, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, and countless other writers. These writers had written their own interpretation of the story but they all based on Mallory’s work. For instance in Lord Alfred Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott composed in 1933, it was seen as one of the most beautiful Post-Medieval written works about Camelot. The beginning of the poem reads;
On either side, the river lie
Long fields of barley and rye
That clothe the world and meet the sky
And thro’ the field the road runs by
To many-tower’d Camelot
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an Island there below
The Island of Shalott.
Willows whiten, aspens quiver
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro’ the wave that runs for ever
By the Island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot…..
From the above lines of poetry, a vivid description is given about Camelot. Tennyson gives us the overall scenery, which depicts a beautiful Land.
In modern stories, Camelot typically retains its lack in a specific location and its status as a symbol of the Arthurian world, though they usually change the castle itself in a romantic view of a High Middle Ages Palace.
In the 20th century America, the concept of Camelot was so powerful that it was attributed to President John F Kennedy’s era after his assassination. In an interview with his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, she made reference to a line in the musical Camelot “Don’t let it be forgotten, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was Camelot”
She mentioned that her husband loved that line so much then she added: “there will be great Presidents again, but there will never be another Camelot again.”
Camelot in Merlin
The 2008 Tv series Arthurian-legend based story has the most contradictory view of Camelot.
Based on the series, Camelot is located in Albion which was discovered by King Bruta, from the time of the great purge. Magic was all most wiped in the land after the death of Ygraine Pendragon. It had been ruled by the Pendragon Family after conquered by Uther Pendragon. In modern times, Camelot has been turned into a myth.
The City’s Appearance
According to the tale the prominent feature of Camelot is its Citadel. The higher quarter of the city is the side closest to the castle where artisans like Guinevere and her father lived. A tavern called the Rising Sun is located near the citadel and was often visited by the Knights of Camelot. The lower quarter is closer to the edge of the city where the poor masses inhabited. When Nimueh poisoned the water supply with the Afanc, the lower quarter was sealed off as this was where most the victims were (The Mark of Nimueh).
Every year Camelot hosts the Tournament of Camelot. Competitors from across the five kingdoms would journey to the city to partake in the games that had a prize of 1000 gold pieces.
In the middle city is the castle where the royal family and the noble men and women occupied. (King Uther, Arthur, and Morgana) The castle is wide and constructed of white brick. It had several towers and standard architecture and considered Camelot’s greatest asset especially in wars as it is considered impenetrable. Inside the castle grounds, are the quarters of the court physician, where Gaius and Merlin live. The citadel homes a garrison at least 12,000 men and before Morgause’s invasion by her immortal army, had never been under siege. It is currently the home of Guinevere Pendragon, the queen of Camelot.
Uther Pendragon was the ultimate monarchs that ruled Camelot. He made all the decisions until he was disposed of, by his evil and treacherous daughter Morgana and her half-sister Morgause. Morgana was later overthrown by Merlin, Arthur and his band of Knights. She later conquered the Kingdom with the assistance of Southern warlords Helios. However, Arthur Later took back the kingdom once more.
Camelot is shown as a very wealthy Kingdom, as it offers a prize of 1000 gold pieces to the winner of the tournament. Agravaine stated that any knights desired the wealth, power and riches of the kingdom/city, this is true as the reason Cenred wished to conquer Camelot was for its riches.
Arthur Pendragon took over the kingdom as the Prince Regent when it was undeniable that Uther’s soul has been broken by Morgana’s betrayal. Arthur formally succeeded Uther as King of Camelot when Uther died as a result of fatal wounds he sustained when an assassin sent by King Odin infiltrated the castle (The Wicked).
Camelot is popularly known for its laws banning all forms of magic and enchantments on the penalty of death, mainly by burning or by beheading. Such laws have been upheld for more than two centuries. These laws made Camelot, and Arthur specifically, the target of several attacks from rogue warlocks and Witches, such as Nimueh, Morgause, and Morgana Pendragon who seek to avenge their Murdered Kin.
Camelot is depicted to have a very powerful military led by the Knights of Camelot. There symbol and identification is a golden dragon on a fiery red background. Knights and high ranking officers wear red cloaks over their armor and archers seemed to be armed with crossbows. As said by Cenred “…they have a reputation as a fearsome fighting force”
According to Morgana “Knights of Camelot are….famed as the greatest knights in five kingdoms” (The sword Stone, Part 1). Even Helios a great warrior himself stated “without the siege tunnel plans the attack on Camelot would be Suicidal. The Knights of the Kingdom did not fall to Cenred’s army despite them being outnumbered two to one. Nevertheless, this would be attributed to the fact that the knights are professionally trained.
Camelot in Merlin is surrounded by forests and fields. There are lower settlements all over the city protected by Camelot. Examples are the village of Lancelot (The Griffin) and the small village attacked.
A retired Professor claims he has found the location of King Arthur’s Camelot. The UK based professor by name Field, who taught at Bangor University in the UK from 1964 to 2004 told the BBC;
“It was quite by chance. I was looking at some maps, and suddenly all the ducks lined up”
“I believe I may have solved a 1400-year-old mystery”
Field presented his findings during the official launch of Bangor University’s Stephen Colclough center for the history and culture of the book last week
His Hypothesis is yet to be peer-reviewed, so to be clear, a whole lot more research needs to be done before we can read too much meaning into it”
Because of the doubt, scholars have in the existence of Camelot, Field did additional research based on the historical forts of time and compared them to the Legend of King Arthur. He says the site that best fits Camelot was the modern day village of Slack.
Looking at Slack today, you would be determined to find the purpose why someone would want to build a stronghold in what looks to be mere clearing, but Field says the location was of great military importance.
Back in 500 AD, Celtic-speaking Britons held back Anglo-Saxon invaders who flooded into the country from the north and west coasts.
It turned out that Slack, which seems to be nowhere, could have been the Ideal spot to set up camp to quickly funnel troops to either coast to defend the nation. Its middle of no-where-ness, as it turns out, was important.
Field further states “If there was a real King Arthur, he will have lived around 500 AD, although the first mention of him in Camelot is in a French poem from the Champagne region of France from 1180 AD”
Without any form of Physical proof in the form of archaeological remains, we won’t be able to confirm If Field is onto something here. But he’s not the only researcher seeking out the legendary artifacts.
Hopefully, his hypothesis will prompt further archaeological study at this site or others like it, so we can finally get some real clues into the enduring m The word ‘Triad” is derived from “Tri” meaning three.
Jason is the editor-in-chief of ArthurLegends.com and the primary author of the Arthurian Shared Universe. He has a deep love of British history and mythology, especially relating to Celtic and Arthurian traditions (obviously). He spends most of his days in made-up worlds.