Camelot is not located on any authentic early map. However, 'cam' and 'camel' do occur as elements in British place-names of pre-Saxon origin.
According to romances, Camelot was named after a pagan king called Camaalis. At the time Joseph of Arimathea arrived in Britain, it was the most important city of the country. In Joseph's time, King Agrestes ruled it.
The hero of a famous cycle of legends and romances, Arthur was said to have been born at Tintagel in Cornwall. He became King of Britain and held court at Camelot as the leader of a band of noble warriors, the Knights of the Round Table.
The knights rode out to seek adventure and great deeds, notably in the quest of the Grail in Christian legend the holy cup used by Christ at the Last Supper. Arthur was betrayed by his wife Guinevere and his nephew, or son, Mordred. Wounded in battle against Mordred, he was carried away by three fairy queens to Avalon, the land of immortal heroes, from which he will return to lead his countrymen in the time of their greatest peril.
The oldest known stories of Arthur never refer to Camelot, as such. The King first holds court there explicitly in the romance 'Lancelot,' written by Chretien de Troyes between 1160 and 1180. Three centuries later Sir Thomas Mallory makes it the chief city of the realm, where the Round Table is housed. He sometimes equates it with Winchester, yet in one passage of his work it seems to be north of Carlisle. Baron Alfred Tennyson never attempts to localize Camelot: in the 'Idylls of the King,' it is symbolic, in the poet's own words 'of the gradual growth of human beliefs and institutions, and of the spiritual development of man.' The name in fact has tended to become evocative rather than geographical. Thus the conversion of T. H. White's Arthur cycle into a musical involved an almost inevitable change of title from 'The Once and Future King' to 'Camelot.'
Local legends and antiquarian guesswork have proposed several sites for this elusive city. One is Colchester, the RomanCamulodunum. Another theory places it near Tintagel, Arthur's reputed Cornish birthplace, in a district which contains the River Camel and Camelford. However, the candidate with the strongest claim to a genuine underlying tradition is Cadbury Castle in Somerset. The 'Castle' is an earthwork fort of the pre-Roman Iron Age on an isolated hill 500 feet high, which looks over the Vale of Avalon to Glastonbury Tor in the distance. The ramparts surround an enclosure of 18 acres on top of the hill. The village of Queen Camel once simply Camel is fairly close, as is the River Cam. The antiquary John Leland, in the reign of Henry VIII, speaks of local people referring to the hill-fort as 'Camalat' and as the home of Arthur. Folklore of immemorial age has clustered round it. A well inside the ramparts is called King Arthur's Well, and the summit plateau King Arthur's Palace. The King is said to lie asleep in a cave and at midsummer the ghostly hoof-beats of his knights can be heard.
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