Long before Romeo and Juliet, there was Tristan and Isolde – Cornwall’s tragic romance. Legend has it that Sir Tristan was one of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, he even participated in the Quest for the Holy Grail. Tristan was also the Prince of Lyonesse (a sunken land off the coast of Cornwall) and nephew of King Mark of Cornwall.
The tragic tale begins with Tristan battling the brother of the Queen of Ireland – Tristan eventually kills him but is mortally wounded during the fight. Thinking that he would surely die, Tistan’s body was sent out to sea in a boat. The boat sailed across the Celtic Sea until it landed in Ireland. Here Isolde, daughter of the Irish King, found Tristan and nursed him back to health. Having recently killed Isolde’s uncle, Tristan couldn’t stay in Ireland for long, and once his wounds had healed he returned to Cornwall.
Soon after this Tristan’s uncle, King Mark, set Tristan the task of escorting Isolde from Ireland, back to Castle Dore in Cornwall where she would become King Mark’s bride. Along the journey Tristan and Isolde were tricked into drinking a magic potion causing them to fall in love.
Mark and Isolde were married as planned but Isolde’s relationship with Tristan continued until it was discovered by King Mark, causing Tristan to flee. Tristan sailed to Brittany where he married another girl… also called Isolde. After being wounded in battle (again) Tristan sends for his original love Isolde, now Queen of Cornwall, to come to him and heal his wounds as she had done when they first met. He requested that a white flag be flown from the ship if she was on board.
Tristan’s jealous wife lied and said there was black flag at the mast instead. Hearing this, and thinking Isolde refused to help him, Tristan died from grief. When Isolde heard that her love was dead, she too passed away broken-hearted. The Tristan Stone, standing at Fowey in Cornwall, is said to mark the spot where Tristan’s body was buried.