Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is celebrated by couples across the globe to honour their spouses, partners and sweethearts.
Here in Cornwall, we have our own medieval tragic romance story of Tristram and Iseult – also known as Tristan and Isolde, reiterated with numerous variations since the 12th century.
The tale is that Tristram (a Cornish Knight), 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 of the tide the boat reached the shores of Ireland where he was nursed back to health by the beautiful Princess Iseult, daughter of the King of Ireland.
Once healed, as Tristram was responsible for the death of the Queens brother, it was not safe for him to stay in Ireland, so he returned to Cornwall. A little later, King Mark sent Tristram back to Ireland to bring back Iseult, who was to become his wife and the Queen of Cornwall.
On the journey back, Tristan and Iseult accidentally ingested a love potion intended for the King, instigating a forbidden love affair between them.
The young couple fell deeply in love and carried on an illicit affair even after she married. King Mark became suspicious and Iseult managed to allay these suspicions. Tristram left and travelled to Brittany where 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 Dore an Iron Age hill fort near Fowey is said to mark the grave of Tristram.
Before Cupid’s arrow leaves you distracted, here are 5 things you might not know about Valentine’s Day:
If you visit one of our stores this weekend, look our for our special Valentine’s biscuits, available while stocks last!
Image: Tristan and Isolde by John Duncan (1912)