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From: "George Pritchard" <>
Subject: Re: [CON] LYONESSE
Date: Fri, 19 Dec 2003 02:57:56 -0000
References: <000701c3c589$25ff8500$0202a8c0@Belkin>

> Just wondering - sorry to be serious and pedantic and all that, but - does
> anyone know if there are any if there are any bona fide historical
> indications that this place ever existed?
> Gail

Gail, Well once again we are into part of the Arthurian legend, According to
medieval writings The Land of Lyonesse was the birthplace of Tristan and was
the bolt hole for Mordred. One thing is for sure the legend of Lyonesse has
been around a long time and is probably one of Cornwall's most loved ones.

Just when it sunk beneath the waves is debatable however a archaeological
model for the submergence of Scilly has been published by Professor Charles
Thomas (Thomas 1985). In the absence of radio carbon dates for the
inter-tidal zone to calculate sea level change since 3,000 B.C., he used the
vertical positions of submerged archaeological sites, which could be broadly
dated from artifactual evidence or by analogy with sites elsewhere. In his
book he says:"While the Islands have been separated from mainland Britain
for many thousands of years, the depth of water between them is so shallow
that Bryher, Tresco and Samson are still joined at low astronomical tides
(LAT) and a fall of only 10 metres would unite them all, except St. Agnes
and the Western Rocks. Scilly, therefore, represents a drowned landscape
illustrated by the existence of causeways linking the Islands, submerged
stone field boundaries and other archaeological sites within the inter-tidal
zone of shallow interior sea."

According to Professor Thomas, his model represents "an average yearly rise
in sea level of 2.1-2.6 millimetres, which means 21-26 centimetres every
hundred years and 2.10-2.60 metres every thousand years." I had
correspondence with Dr. Benjamin P. Horton Head of the Durham University
Department that studies sea levels. He wrote that: "We don' really know much
about late holocene (last 4000 yrs) sea-level changes. what we do know comes
from models and interpolation of earlier records. generally RSL were lower
3000BP than 2000BP for cornwall but with sea-level about 3m below present at
3000BP and 2m at 2000BP." So he put the figure at nearer 1 meter per
thousand years. Which would make the sea levels around the Cornish Coast and
Scilly some one meters lower at the time that the report of flooding
appeared in the Saxon Chronicle's in 1099.A meter difference in the tides
would make a great difference to the size of the Islands and if Professor
Thomas is right then 2.5 meters would make them even bigger. However, I do
not think this would have been enough to join the Islands to the mainland.

The fact that Lyonesse has such a strong tradition as a folk tale means that
like Noah's Ark it may date back an awful long time. The Lands End
peninsular contains many interesting archeological sites dating back many
millennium. I was recently carrying out some research into Trevilly in
Sennen and trying to date the first fields to have been farmed. I studied
the field names and found one which was called "Erredinna" Fort Acre in
English which led me to believe I had found the place where the first
stronghold was sited. The two adjoining fields were called Gew meaning first
enclosure. The farmer checked my findings with the Cornwall Archeology Unit
and having studied aerial photographs they confirmed that there was indeed a
round on the site which probably dates back to the Iron age. Looking at
other farms we are starting to find even more sites of these early

The origin of the legend of Lyonesse must, to a certain extent, stem from
ancient folk-memories of the Neolithic inundations of areas around the
Cornish coast, particularly Mount's Bay, but more especially from the
history of the Isles of Scilly themselves.Medieval Arthurian writers tell us
that Lyonesse was said to have been a fertile land with 140 churches. The
land was supposedly drowned in a single cataclysmic night, with one survivor
escaping on a white horse. Three Cornish families claim the survivor has
there ancestor these are the Vyvyan who say that the ancester settled in St
Buryan. So strong was the families believe in the legend that it is said
that even after removing to Trelowarren on the Lizard they still kept a
horse saddled in the stables just in case of an emergency. The second was
the Trevelyan family whose coat of arms features a white horse emerging from
the sea. The third claimant was the descendents of a Lord Goonhilly who it
is said built Chapel Idne at Sennen Cove as a thanks for his deliverence.

Once more we see a link to a similar story in Breton folk lore in the story
of the drowning of Caer Ys, where King Gradlon escapes the flood on
horseback, though losing his daughter to the sea on the way. The Bretons
also claim that Tristan hailed from Leonois in Brittany. So many times we
come across this Cornish / Breton link in the tales of Arthur.

The Reverend H. J. Whitfeld in his book "Scilly and its Legends" in 1852,
wrote about the destruction of Lyonesse claiming that Mordred survived the
fateful Battle of Camlann in which Arthur was killed and that he pursued the
few survivors of Arthur's men through Cornwall and into the Lyonesse itself.
The tale tells how when they reached the middle of Lyonesse, a strange cloud
that had travelled ahead of Mordred's army transformed itself into the ghost
of Merlin, who immediately uttered the terrible spell which plunged the
doomed land and the traitor beneath the sea forever. The pitiful remainder
of Arthur's men, safe on the hilltops which from that moment became the
Isles of Scilly, founded a religious house on what is now Tresco in thanks
for their deliverance.

Criag Wetherhill in his book Myths & Legends of Cornwall says the following

Lord of Goonhilly, who owned a substantial piece of Lyonesse, and who
escaped the final flood, landing at Sennen Cove and founding a chapel.
Goonhilly ("hunting downs") is a tract of heathland on the Lizard peninsula
and almost certainly unconnected with this legend, but it is very similar to
the name Goonhily ("salt-water downs") which was apparently once applied to
the area of Ennor now occupied by the Eastern Isles, one of which is still
called Ganilly. To complete the jigsaw, the old name of Sennen Cove was
Porth Goonhilly ("harbour for Goonbily"), indicating that it was the
principal mainland harbour serving the old Sillina in ancient times.The
final insurgence of the sea which divided the islands probably occurred in
the post-Roman centuries (and the waters of Crow Sound, the original central
valley, have only been navigable by vessels of any size since Tudor times),
which ties in quite well with the Arthurian link. This link in turn, was
strengthened by historically suite feasible legends


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