Lyonesse (Isles of Scilly)
The land of Lyonesse was one that had been engulfed by the ocean. Although
the name and familiar trappings of Lyonesse are almost entirely legendary,
or indeed mythical, the kingdom is traditionally linked to the Isles of
Scilly. These islands, lying to the west of the Land's End promontory in
Cornubia (modern Cornwall)
do exist and were inhabited for many thousands of years. They form part of
a low-lying region that encompasses the territory between the islands and
There remains some doubt as to where Lyonesse was located. Early romancers
who mention Tristan of the Tristan & Iseult story may be thinking of
Lothian of the Gododdin
in modern Scotland, which
they called Loenois in Old French, or
Leon (Leonais) in
Brittany. If the Leon of Brittany
is not one and the same as Lyonesse, then the two may still be connected, with the
Lyonesse perhaps being responsible for creating the Armorican principality.
Today Lyonesse is firmly rooted to Cornwall's traditions, so linking it to
the Isles of Scilly seems the most logical step.
Neolithic people lived on Scilly, at which time the chain of islands were linked
together. They constructed tombs, such as the one on St Mary's, and walls and huts
that now lie below the present high-water mark. The Romans termed them Scillonia
insulae, suggesting a single island. During the fifth and sixth centuries, the
islands were becoming isolated but were still less submerged by water than today,
and so would have presented enough land on which to warrant founding a small kingdom.
The inundation by water continues to this day, with water levels around the Isles of
Scilly having risen five metres (sixteen and-a-half feet) in the last two thousand
years. At exceptionally low tides, it is still possible to walk between the islands.
Folk memories of the islands' past habitation went into the gradual build-up
of the legend of Lyonesse. Fisherman used to claim that the Seven Stones reef
off Land's End marked the site of one of Lyonesse's vanished towns, the City
of Lions (note the similarity to 'Lyonesse', or even the Armorican 'Leon'),
and the lost land between Scilly and the mainland was called Lethesow, or
Lethowsow. The fisherman used to haul up fragments of masonry in their nets,
and church bells are allegedly heard under water when the sea is stormy. Around
the mainland, in the bay of St Michael's Mount which was part of the Scilly region,
are the fossilised remains of a sunken forest, with beech trees still bearing nuts.
Although at least some of the traditional kings of Lyonesse are known to have
existed as historical, or at least likely historical, figures, elements of this
list are slightly dubious and unlikely ever to be confirmed fully. The kingdom
seems to have been created around the time of Merchion ab Custennyn, king of
Cornubia, probably as a vassal state, but it survived in this form for less than
a century before it was reintegrated into Cornubia.
(Additional information from The Landscape of King Arthur,
According to tradition, the territory of the Isles of Scilly is granted to
the son-in-law of Meirchion ab Custennyn of
Merchion's natural son, Cyn-March ap Meirchion, inherits Cornubia itself.
Meliodas probably marries Cyn-March's sister before the death of Merchion to
be in a position to receive this grant of territory. However, it is also
claimed that Felec is the first king of Lyonesse, making the marriage
between Meliodas and Isabelle a dynastic match.
A courtyard house at Halangy Down on Scilly, an
Iron Age and Romano-British village
Tristan, son of Meirchion, is one of the main characters of the story of
Tristan & Iseult. While bringing Iseult, daughter of the
Irish king, to
where she would marry King Mark, the two people fall in love. They have
a secret affair which is belatedly discovered by Mark. Tristan manages to
escape, but the couple are later forgiven. Unlike some later works,
Tristan & Iseult portrays Mark in a sympathetic fashion. Later
works paint him in increasingly darker tones, making him more and more evil
and less of a sympathetic figure.
The sixth century Tristan Stone, near Fowey in Cornubia (close to Castle Dore)
bears an inscription which marks the grave of Drustanus, son of Cunomorus. The
monument is subsequently moved several times so the grave itself is lost, but
its original site is closer to Castle Dore than today. The idea that Cunomorus
is the same person as Mark is a persistent one, but it would mean that Tristan
(a form of the extremely variable Drustanus) is his son, making the Tristan
& Iseult story considerably less of a romance. Alternatively, this Mark
is the slightly earlier Marcus Conomari of