The Legend of Lyonesse
The Lyonesse Guest House is named after Cornwall’s very own "Legend of Atlantis".
Legend has it that the Isles of Scilly (about 30 miles West of Lands End) are all that remain of the fabled land of Lyonesse.
However, the name was not attached to Cornish legends of lost coastal lands until about the reign of Elizabeth I.
The Scilly Isles were recorded as one single island during the reign of Maximus in the 4th Century, and it would appear that as far back as the Roman times the Isles of Scilly were still a single island known as Siluram Insulam (or Sylina Insula). There are old maps from the period, and before, which substantiate this.
Lyonesse is said to have contained one hundred and forty villages and churches, so it must have been a considerable size!
According to The Saxon Chronicle, Lyonesse was obliterated on the 11th November 1099. The chronicle tells of the sea flooding the land and drowning villages, people, and animals. There are other historical references to a date of 1089 (or even sometime during the 6th century) but whatever the date, the myth of the lost land of Lyonesse continues. Geological evidence shows that sea levels have been different within human memory and were certainly lower in the past, so it is perfectly feasible that there was a large land mass in the general area of the Scilly Isles at one time.
The Seven Stone Rocks are held to be the remains of a city that local fishermen call The Town, while in Mount’s Bay in Penzance the remains of a sunken forest can be seen at low tide. Lending weight to the legends is the fact that St. Michael’s Mount, in Mount’s Bay itself, has the Cornish name of Carrack Looz en Cooz - literally the grey rock in the wood. Cornishmen around Penzance still believe strongly in a sunken forest in Mount's Bay, and archaeological evidence of the forest is visible at very low tides, where petrified tree stumps become visible.
Local fishermen still claim to have found parts of old buildings in their trawling nets. Some even say they've heard the church bells ring when the sea has been stormy, and as recently as the 1930s, a News Chronicle journalist claimed to have been woken by the sound of muffled bells ringing one night - the bells of Lyonesse!
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.
Tennyson's Arthurian epic Idylls of the King, describes Lyonesse as the site of the final battle between Arthur and Mordred, and the final resting place of King Arthur himself. Tennyson’s Lyonesse was ruled by Tristram Fawr, who may have been an actual historical Cornish character. Though records are scarce and potentially inaccurate by their very nature there is evidence that Lyonesse was ruled by:-
Ffelig (fl. circa 445)
All that is known of Ffelig, recorded as Felix, comes from the Prose Tristan and later Italian romances. In the latter stories, he was the father of Meliodas.
Meliodas ap Ffelig (fl. circa 475)
Son of Ffelig. Married Isabelle, daughter of King Meirchion of Cornwall.
Tristram Fawr, the Elder (fl. circa 510)
Son of Meliodias. The famous Tristram of Arthurian legend, he was sent by his maternal uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, to fetch the latter's intended bride Iseult from Ireland. Tristram fell in love with Iseult, but ended up marrying a different woman of the same name, Iseult of the White Hands, whom he did not love. He eventually died of a broken heart, having been tricked by his jealous wife into thinking his true love had forsaken him.
Tristram Fychan, the Younger (died 537)
Son of Tristram Fawr. Only appears in the very late Italian I Due Tristani. Following the Battle of Camlann, supposedly in 537, King Arthur's men fled west across Lyonesse, pursued by Mordred and his men. Arthur's men survived by reaching what are now the Isles of Scilly, but Mordred's men perished in the flood.
Whether Lyonesse was, in fact, a kingdom in it's own right or just an amalgam of various Celtic myths and legends is still a matter of debate.
Whatever the truth, it makes a good story.