What’s in a name: Tintagel

Firstly, the name Tintagel is evidently Cornish British in origin, glossed as ‘fort by the neck of land’, *din + *tagell. If that is correct, it would have referred originally to the headland/’island’ itself rather than the settlement on the mainland now called Tintagel.

The Domesday Book lists nearby Bossiney [Botcinnii] and Treknow [Tretdene], but not Tintagel, nor Trevenna which it was sometimes called. This would suggest that there may have been a fort on the headland with no permanent inhabitants, nor any nearby (taxable) settlement, until some time after 1086.

The name Triggshire which appeared in Alfred’s Will in the 9th c. seems to have been an earlier administrative area than in Domesday. Triggshire and its three subdivisions of Stratton, Lesnewth and Trigg were later combined into the single hundred of Stratton at the time of Domesday.

The Tintagel headland itself would have been located within the subdivision, or ‘old hundred’, of Lesnewth, and just about 5 miles from the settlement at Lesnewth – ‘the ‘new court’.

The interest in this is that it was Lesnewth parish church which according to early records was dedicated to St Knett, identified by Professor Orme as the early British saint Conet. For him, St Knett would have been the earlier patron saint while the earliest surviving record from the 15th c. names St Michael: the well-known saint replacing the obscure one.

Thesaurus Ecton 2However, John Ecton’s Thesaurus Rerum Ecclesiasticarum, published in the first half of the 18th c. (first edition 1711), lists Lesnewth church as being dedicated to St Knet (picture).

Frances Arnold-Forster’s systematic Studies in Church Dedications, 1899, gives Lesnewth’s dedication as ‘S. Kuet or St Knuet’, though Kuet could be just a mistake for Knet. In JC Cox’s Cornwall, in the County Churches series, he refers to ‘Lesnewth. Church of St Knuet (mentioned as St Michael in the 15th century) …’. That was published in 1912, but the same name had seemingly been recorded in the census return for 1911. So where did the form Knuet come from?

Given that the initial K would not have been silent, the pronunciation of Knuet seems hardly to differ from Cynuit. Why would Lesnewth,  the Cornish Lysnowyth – or new court, have been associated with this obscure saint? And might he have similarly  been associated with the sea-girt Tintagel peninsula?

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