Lyonesse is a country in Arthurian legend, particularly in the story of Tristan and Iseult
Tristan and Iseult
The legend of Tristan and Iseult is an influential romance and tragedy, retold in numerous sources with as many variations. The tragic story is of the adulterous love between the Cornish knight Tristan and the Irish princess Iseult...

. Said to border Cornwall
Cornwall is a unitary authority and ceremonial county of England, within the United Kingdom. It is bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by the county of Devon, over the River Tamar. Cornwall has a population of , and covers an area of...

, it is most notable as the home of the hero Tristan
Tristan is one of the main characters of the Tristan and Iseult story, a Cornish hero and one of the Knights of the Round Table featuring in the Matter of Britain...

, whose father was king. In later traditions Lyonesse is said to have sunk beneath the waves some time after the Tristan stories take place, making it similar to Ys
Ys , also spelled Is or Kêr-Is in Breton, and Ker-Ys in French , is a mythical city that was built on the coast of Brittany and later swallowed by the ocean...

 and other lost lands
Lost lands
Lost lands can be continents, islands or other regions supposedly existing during prehistory, having since disappeared as a result of catastrophic geological phenomena or slowly rising sea levels since the end of the last Ice Age. Lost lands, where they existed, are supposed to have subsided into...

 in medieval Celtic
Celtic mythology
Celtic mythology is the mythology of Celtic polytheism, apparently the religion of the Iron Age Celts. Like other Iron Age Europeans, the early Celts maintained a polytheistic mythology and religious structure...

 tales, and perhaps connecting it with the Isles of Scilly
Isles of Scilly
The Isles of Scilly form an archipelago off the southwestern tip of the Cornish peninsula of Great Britain. The islands have had a unitary authority council since 1890, and are separate from the Cornwall unitary authority, but some services are combined with Cornwall and the islands are still part...


Lyonesse in Arthurian legend

In medieval Arthurian legend, there are no references to the sinking of Lyonesse, for the simple reason that the name originally referred to a still-existing place. Lyonesse is an English alteration of French Léoneis or Léonois (earlier Loönois), a development of Lodonesia, the Latin name for Lothian
Lothian forms a traditional region of Scotland, lying between the southern shore of the Firth of Forth and the Lammermuir Hills....

 in Scotland. Continental writers of Arthurian romances were often puzzled by the internal geography of Great Britain; thus it is that the author French Prose Tristan appears to place Léonois contiguous, by land, to Cornwall. In English adaptations of the French tales, Léonois, now "Lyonesse", becomes a kingdom wholly distinct from Lothian, and closely associated with the Cornish region, though its exact geographical location remained unspecified. The name was not attached to Cornish legends of lost coastal lands until the reign of Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

, however.. However, the legendary lost land between Land's End and Scilly has a distinct Cornish name: Lethesow (sometimes rendered Lethowsow). This derives from the Cornish name for the Seven Stones reef, on the reputed site of the lost land's capital and the site of the famous wreck of the "Torrey Canyon". The name translates into English as "the milky ones", from the constant white water surrounding the reef.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Arthurian epic Idylls of the King
Idylls of the King
Idylls of the King, published between 1856 and 1885, is a cycle of twelve narrative poems by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson which retells the legend of King Arthur, his knights, his love for Guinevere and her tragic betrayal of him, and the rise and fall of Arthur's kingdom...

, describes Lyonesse as the site of the final battle between Arthur and Mordred
Mordred or Modred is a character in the Arthurian legend, known as a notorious traitor who fought King Arthur at the Battle of Camlann, where he was killed and Arthur fatally wounded. Tradition varies on his relationship to Arthur, but he is best known today as Arthur's illegitimate son by his...

. One passage in particular references legends of Lyonesse as a land fated to sink beneath the ocean:
Then rose the King and moved his host by night
And ever pushed Sir Mordred, league by league,
Back to the sunset bound of Lyonesse--
A land of old upheaven from the abyss
By fire, to sink into the abyss again;
Where fragments of forgotten peoples dwelt,
And the long mountains ended in a coast
Of ever-shifting sand, and far away
The phantom circle of a moaning sea.

Deriving from a false etymology of Lyonesse, the 'City of Lions' was said in some later traditions to be the capital of the legendary kingdom, situated on what is today the Seven Stones reef
Seven Stones reef
Seven Stones reef is a rocky reef at 50° 03' North, 6° 04' West to the west of Land's End and the north east of the Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, UK.The reef is a navigational hazard for shipping which has caused many shipwrecks including the Torrey Canyon...

, some eighteen miles west of Land's End and eight miles north-east of the Isles of Scilly.

Analogues in Celtic mythology

The legend of a sunken kingdom appears in both Cornish and Breton mythology. In Christian times it came to be viewed as a sort of Cornish Sodom and Gomorrah
Sodom and Gomorrah
Sodom and Gomorrah were cities mentioned in the Book of Genesis and later expounded upon throughout the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and Deuterocanonical sources....

, an example of divine wrath provoked by unvirtuous living, although the parallels were limited in that Lyonesse remained in Cornish thought very much a mystical and mythical land, comparable to the role of Tir na nÓg
Tír na nÓg
Tír na nÓg is the most popular of the Otherworlds in Irish mythology. It is perhaps best known from the story of Oisín, one of the few mortals who lived there, who was said to have been brought there by Niamh of the Golden Hair. It was where the Tuatha Dé Danann settled when they left Ireland's...

 in Irish mythology
Irish mythology
The mythology of pre-Christian Ireland did not entirely survive the conversion to Christianity, but much of it was preserved, shorn of its religious meanings, in medieval Irish literature, which represents the most extensive and best preserved of all the branch and the Historical Cycle. There are...


There is a Breton
Brittany is a cultural and administrative region in the north-west of France. Previously a kingdom and then a duchy, Brittany was united to the Kingdom of France in 1532 as a province. Brittany has also been referred to as Less, Lesser or Little Britain...

 parallel in the tale of the Cité d'Ys
Ys , also spelled Is or Kêr-Is in Breton, and Ker-Ys in French , is a mythical city that was built on the coast of Brittany and later swallowed by the ocean...

, similarly drowned as a result of its debauchery with a single virtuous survivor escaping on a horse, in this case King Gradlon
Gradlon the Great was a semi-legendary 5th century "king" of Cornouaille who became the hero of many Breton folk stories. The most famous of these legends is the story of the sunken city of Ys. He is supposed to have been the son of Conan Meriadoc.-Gradlon and Malgven :According to some legends,...

. The Welsh
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

 equivalent to Lyonesse and Ker Ys
Ys , also spelled Is or Kêr-Is in Breton, and Ker-Ys in French , is a mythical city that was built on the coast of Brittany and later swallowed by the ocean...

 is Cantre'r Gwaelod, a legendary drowned kingdom in Cardigan Bay
Cardigan Bay
Cardigan Bay is a large inlet of the Irish Sea, indenting the west coast of Wales between Bardsey Island, Gwynedd in the north, and Strumble Head, Pembrokeshire at its southern end. It is the largest bay in Wales....


It is often suggested that the tale of Lyonesse represents an extraordinary survival of folk memory of the flooding of the Isles of Scilly and Mount's Bay
Mount's Bay
Mount's Bay is a large, sweeping bay on the English Channel coast of Cornwall in the United Kingdom, stretching from the Lizard Point to Gwennap Head on the eastern side of the Land's End peninsula. Towards the middle of the bay is St Michael's Mount...

 near Penzance. For example, the Cornish
Cornish language
Cornish is a Brythonic Celtic language and a recognised minority language of the United Kingdom. Along with Welsh and Breton, it is directly descended from the ancient British language spoken throughout much of Britain before the English language came to dominate...

 name of St Michael's Mount
St Michael's Mount
St Michael's Mount is a tidal island located off the Mount's Bay coast of Cornwall, United Kingdom. It is a civil parish and is united with the town of Marazion by a man-made causeway of granite setts, passable between mid-tide and low water....

 is Karrek Loos y'n Koos - literally, "the grey rock in the wood". Cornish people
Cornish people
The Cornish are a people associated with Cornwall, a county and Duchy in the south-west of the United Kingdom that is seen in some respects as distinct from England, having more in common with the other Celtic parts of the United Kingdom such as Wales, as well as with other Celtic nations in Europe...

 around Penzance still get occasional glimpses at extreme low water of a sunken forest in Mount's Bay, where petrified tree stumps become visible. The importance of the maintenance of this memory can be seen in that it came to be associated with the legendary British
The Britons were the Celtic people culturally dominating Great Britain from the Iron Age through the Early Middle Ages. They spoke the Insular Celtic language known as British or Brythonic...

 hero Arthur, although the date of its inundation is actually c.2500 BC.

Lyonesse in modern English literature

Walter de la Mare
Walter de la Mare
Walter John de la Mare , OM CH was an English poet, short story writer and novelist, probably best remembered for his works for children and the poem "The Listeners"....

's "Sunk Lyonesse" (1922) evokes it as a lost world:

In sea-cold Lyonesse,/
When the Sabbath eve shafts down/
On the roofs, walls, belfries/
Of the foundered town,/
The Nereids pluck their lyres/
Where the green translucency beats,/
And with motionless eyes at gaze/
Make ministrely in the streets./ /
And the ocean water stirs/
In salt-worn casement and porch/
Plies the blunt-nosed fish/
With fire in his skull for torch./
And the ringing wires resound;/
And the unearthly lovely weep,/
In lament of the music they make/
In the sullen courts of sleep:/
Whose marble flowers bloom for aye:/
And - lapped by the moon-guiled tide -/
Mock their carver with heart of stone,/
Caged in his stone-ribbed side.

Lyonesse has been used as a setting for many modern fantasy
Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plot, theme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic is common...

 stories, including:
  • Jack Vance
    Jack Vance
    John Holbrook Vance is an American mystery, fantasy and science fiction author. Most of his work has been published under the name Jack Vance. Vance has published 11 mysteries as John Holbrook Vance and 3 as Ellery Queen...

    's Lyonesse trilogy
    Lyonesse Trilogy
    The Lyonesse Trilogy is a group of three fantasy novels by Jack Vance, set in the European Dark Ages, in the mythical Elder Isles west of France and southwest of Britain, a generation or two before the birth of King Arthur...

  • Gordon R. Dickson
    Gordon R. Dickson
    Gordon Rupert Dickson was an American science fiction author.- Biography :Dickson was born in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1923. After the death of his father, he moved with his mother to Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1937...

    's The Dragon in Lyonesse, the eighth book in the Dragon Knight
    Dragon Knight
    The Dragon Knight is a series of fantasy novels by Gordon R. Dickson . The first book informed the 1982 animated movie The Flight of Dragons by Rankin/Bass, but was previously published as a short story, St. Dragon and the George...

  • In Stephen R. Lawhead
    Stephen R. Lawhead
    Stephen R. Lawhead, born , is a best-selling American writer known for his works of fantasy, science fiction, and more recently, historical fiction, particularly Celtic historical fiction...

    's Pendragon Cycle
    Pendragon Cycle
    The Pendragon Cycle is a series of fantasy or semi-historical books based on the Arthurian legend, written by Stephen R. Lawhead. They are:*Taliesin *Merlin *Arthur *Pendragon *Grail...

    , Lyonesse is where refugees from Atlantis
    Atlantis is a legendary island first mentioned in Plato's dialogues Timaeus and Critias, written about 360 BC....

     (the "Fair Folk
    A fairy is a type of mythical being or legendary creature, a form of spirit, often described as metaphysical, supernatural or preternatural.Fairies resemble various beings of other mythologies, though even folklore that uses the term...

    ") settle, the word Lyonesse being derived from the Celtic
    Celtic languages
    The Celtic languages are descended from Proto-Celtic, or "Common Celtic"; a branch of the greater Indo-European language family...

     corruption of the word Atlantis.
  • In the film First Knight
    First Knight
    First Knight is a 1995 American medieval film based on Arthurian legend, directed by Jerry Zucker. It stars Richard Gere as Lancelot, Julia Ormond as Guinevere, Sean Connery as King Arthur and Ben Cross as Malagant....

    , Lyonnesse is the home of Guinevere
    Guinevere was the legendary queen consort of King Arthur. In tales and folklore, she was said to have had a love affair with Arthur's chief knight Sir Lancelot...

    , a small land situated between Camelot
    Camelot is a castle and court associated with the legendary King Arthur. Absent in the early Arthurian material, Camelot first appeared in 12th-century French romances and eventually came to be described as the fantastic capital of Arthur's realm and a symbol of the Arthurian world...

     and Malagant
    Maleagant is a villain from Arthurian legend. In a number of versions of a popular episode, Maleagant abducts Guinevere, necessitating her rescue by King Arthur and his knights. The earliest surviving version of this episode names the abductor Melwas...

    's territory. Lyonesse was ruled by Guinevere's father until his death, after which Guinevere became the "Lady of Lyonesse."
  • The Trevelyan
    Trevelyan is a Cornish surname derived from a Cornish place meaning "Village of Elian".-People:* Sir John Trevelyan, 2nd Baronet, English MP* Sir John Trevelyan, 4th Baronet, British MP* Sir Charles Trevelyan, 1st Baronet, British civil servant...

     family of Cornwall takes its coat of arms from a local legend, in which a man named Trevelyan escaped the innundation by riding a white horse. To this day the family's shield bears a white horse rising from the waves.. Based on the above, in Cornish author Craig Weatherhill
    Craig Weatherhill
    Craig Weatherhill is a Cornish author both of fiction and non-fiction works about Cornwall.-Biography:Raised in St Just in Penwith and then in Falmouth, after serving in the forces he developed a career in conservation and architecture. In his younger days, the 6' 3" Weatherhill was a goalkeeper,...

    's The Lyonesse Stone trilogy (The Lyonesse Stone, Seat of Storms, The Tinners' Way), the Trevelyan family, drawn into the worlds of ancient Cornish legend, are direct descendants of the Lyonesse flood survivor.
  • Both Thomas Hardy
    Thomas Hardy
    Thomas Hardy, OM was an English novelist and poet. While his works typically belong to the Naturalism movement, several poems display elements of the previous Romantic and Enlightenment periods of literature, such as his fascination with the supernatural.While he regarded himself primarily as a...

     and Sylvia Plath
    Sylvia Plath
    Sylvia Plath was an American poet, novelist and short story writer. Born in Massachusetts, she studied at Smith College and Newnham College, Cambridge before receiving acclaim as a professional poet and writer...

     published poems referring to Lyonnesse, the latter taking the mythical land's name as its title.
  • Sam Llewellyn
    Sam Llewellyn
    Sam Llewellyn, born in 1948, is a British author of literature for children and adults.-Biography:Sam Llewellyn was born on Tresco, Isles of Scilly, where his ancestors lived for many years. He grew up in Norfolk. He attended Eton College and later St. Catherine's College, Oxford...

     wrote two children's books set in the sinking Lyonesse, with original Celtic names for the cast of Arthurian legend: Lyonesse: The Well Between The Worlds (2009) and Lyonesse: Dark Solstice (2010).
  • "Lyonesse" is a song, by Cornish folk composer Richard Gendall
    Richard Gendall
    Richard Gendall is a British expert on the Cornish language, born in 1924. He is the founder of "Modern Cornish"/Curnoack Nowedga, which split off during the 1980s. Whereas Ken George mainly went to Medieval Cornish as the inspiration for his revival, Gendall went to the last surviving records of...

    , which appears as the title track of the 1982 album by Brenda Wootton
    Brenda Wootton
    Brenda Wootton was a Cornish poetess and folk singer and was seen as an ambassador for Cornish tradition and culture in all the Celtic nations and as far away as Australia and Canada....

  • In Evelyn Waugh
    Evelyn Waugh
    Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh , known as Evelyn Waugh, was an English writer of novels, travel books and biographies. He was also a prolific journalist and reviewer...

    's Brideshead Revisited
    Brideshead Revisited
    Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder is a novel by English writer Evelyn Waugh, first published in 1945. Waugh wrote that the novel "deals with what is theologically termed 'the operation of Grace', that is to say, the unmerited and unilateral act of love by...

    , the narrator describes the Oxford
    The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

     of his youth as being "submerged now and obliterated, irrecoverable as Lyonnesse, so quickly have the waters come flooding in..."

Other uses of Lyonesse

The name Lyonesse has often been applied to transport subjects:
  • Lyonesse - West Cornwall Steam Ship Company
    West Cornwall Steam Ship Company
    The West Cornwall Steam Ship Company was established in 1870 to operate ferry services between Penzance, Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly.-History:The company was formed on 5 February 1870, principally by the shareholders in the West Cornwall Railway...

     steam ferry
  • Lyonesse - Great Western Railway
    Great Western Railway
    The Great Western Railway was a British railway company that linked London with the south-west and west of England and most of Wales. It was founded in 1833, received its enabling Act of Parliament in 1835 and ran its first trains in 1838...

     Bulldog Class
    GWR 3300 Class
    The Bulldog and Bird were classes of 4-4-0 steam locomotives used for passenger services on the Great Western Railway. These two classes were broadly similar, so are treated together here. Twenty locomotives were rebuilt from Duke Class locomotives; the rest were built new...

     steam locomotive no. 3361
  • Lyonnesse - Southern Railway (Great Britain)
    Southern Railway (Great Britain)
    The Southern Railway was a British railway company established in the 1923 Grouping. It linked London with the Channel ports, South West England, South coast resorts and Kent...

     King Arthur Class steam locomotive no. 743
  • Lyonnesse - British Railways Standard Class 5
    BR standard class 5
    The British Railways Standard Class 5MT 4-6-0 was one of the standard classes of steam locomotives built by British Railways in the 1950s. 172 were built, essentially being a development of the LMS Stanier Class 5 4-6-0 .- Background :...

     steam locomotive no. 73113

See also

  • Cornish culture
  • Gallia Lugdunensis
    Gallia Lugdunensis
    Gallia Lugdunensis was a province of the Roman Empire in what is now the modern country of France, part of the Celtic territory of Gaul. It is named after its capital Lugdunum , possibly Roman Europe's major city west of Italy, and a major imperial mint...

  • Matter of Britain
    Matter of Britain
    The Matter of Britain is a name given collectively to the body of literature and legendary material associated with Great Britain and its legendary kings, particularly King Arthur...

  • St Michael's Mount
    St Michael's Mount
    St Michael's Mount is a tidal island located off the Mount's Bay coast of Cornwall, United Kingdom. It is a civil parish and is united with the town of Marazion by a man-made causeway of granite setts, passable between mid-tide and low water....

  • Ys
    Ys , also spelled Is or Kêr-Is in Breton, and Ker-Ys in French , is a mythical city that was built on the coast of Brittany and later swallowed by the ocean...

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.