Tristan and Iseult

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Tristan and Isolde
Tristan and Isolde

One of the greatest legends of Cornwall is the tragic tale of Tristram and Iseult – also known as Tristan and Isolde. The story is that Tristram, the nephew of King Mark of Cornwall, was mortally wounded in a fight where he killed the brother of the Queen of Ireland. As he was expected to die, he was sent out to sea in a boat without sails. By chance, the boat reached the shores of Ireland, where he was nursed back to health by the beautiful Iseult, daughter of the King of Ireland.

To cut a long story short, Tristram could not stay in Ireland as he was responsible for the death of the Queen’s brother, so he returned to Cornwall. A little later, King Mark sent him back to Ireland to bring back Iseult who was to be his queen. On the way back, the couple accidentally drank a love potion intended for Mark and Iseult on their wedding night.

The young couple fell deeply in love and carried on an illicit affair even after she married. King Mark became suspicious and although Iseult managed to allay these suspicions, Tristram left the country. He married a Breton girl, who was also called Iseult, but he never stopped loving the Queen of Cornwall. When he was wounded in battle, he sent for her to heal his wounds and asked that a white sail be flown from the ship if she was on board when it returned.

Tristram’s jealous wife told him that the returning ship flew only a black sail and he died of grief. When Iseult heard of his death, she died of a broken heart. A cross at Castle Dor is said to mark the grave of Tristram.