Gorlois may have been a governor of Cornwall under King Erbin. The Welsh version of his name is Gwrlais and place names such as Carhurles (Caer-Wrlais) and Treworlas (Tre-Wrlais) seem to suggest his actual existence. However, it is widely accepted that he is a figure of legend.
According to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “Historia Regum Britanniae”, Gorlois was Duke of Cornwall in the middle of the 5th century. He was the owner of Tintagel Castle and husband of the beautiful Igraine. Together they were said to have had several children, including Elaine, Morgause and Morgan le Fay.
Igraine’s charms captivated King Uther Pendragon, who went to war with Gorlais as a result of this infatuation. Gorlais barricaded his wife in Tintagel Castle before going to war, but Uther arrived, disguised as the Duke and slept with Igraine. King Arthur was said to have been conceived on this occasion. Gorlois was said to have been slain the same night in combat at St. Dennis, overwhelmed by Uther’s forces.
There are slightly different accounts of the story in later versions such as Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur”, but all tell essentially the same tale. The present Tintagel castle is much more recent than that of the legend, although there are said to be signs of an earlier settlement.