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Was Bamburgh Castle the scene of a medieval love epic?

Bamburgh Castle
Bamburgh Castle could be the scene of an Arthurian Legend

As Bamburgh Castle opens to the public over the Valentine's weekend for the first time ever, we explore whether it could be the setting of a medieval love epic.

According to folklore, a knight of the round table - Sir Lancelot - encounters Dolorous Garde, a castle guarded by the Copper Knight.

Here, he must do battle with many knights to take the castle. Helped by the Lady of the Lake, Lancelot defeats more than 20 knights as well as the Copper Knight himself and Dolorous Garde becomes his.

Changing its name to Joyous Garde, Sir Lancelot makes the fortress his home.

But Sir Lancelot, said to be the greatest and worst of all King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table, falls in love with none other than the King's wife Queen Guinevere.

Bamburgh Castle
There's little evidence that Bamburgh Castle is Joyous Garde

Their affair is exposed and Guinevere is condemned to burn at the stake.

Arthurian References

But, true to his chivalric form, Sir Lancelot rides in and rescues the queen at the last moment. Together they flee to Joyous Garde.

This story originated in the late 15th Century in the text Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Malory.

It's in this work that he suggests Joyous Garde is Bamburgh Castle.

Dr Hermann Moisl, a senior lecturer in computational linguistics at Newcastle University and Arthurian legend expert, said the North East has strong links with King Arthur.

"It makes a lot of sense to locate Arthur here, if he indeed existed," he said.

"There's lots of evidence from place and personal names and Arthurian references - several battles were located in the border regions."

But there is virtually no hard evidence to support Malory's claim that Bamburgh Castle could be Joyous Garde.

When you have legends they get attached to important places
Dr. Hermann Moisl

Interesting history

Hermann explained: "It's just one man's opinion. Where Malory got his information from, no-one knows.

"But Malory's identification of Joyous Garde with Bamburgh is neither here nor there - Bamburgh stands on its own as an extremely important place.

"It was one of the first places to be settled by Anglo Saxons in the very early medieval period and it's had a very interesting history since then."

Hermann suggested that this may be why Malory associated Joyous Garde with Bamburgh Castle:

"When you have legends they get attached to important places."

So does he think Bamburgh Castle is the legendary Joyous Garde?

"Well Malory didn't know so we don't know. It might be interesting from a tourist's point of view - but there's so much more interesting stuff in the Arthurian legend."

Bamburgh Castle will be open to the public from the 13-21 February 2010.



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