Tristan and Iseult, in a painting by Edmund Blair Leighton (1853–1922). Iseult’s husband, King Mark (far right) looks on with...Read More >>Tristan and Iseult, in a painting by Edmund Blair Leighton (1853–1922). Iseult’s husband, King Mark (far right) looks on with suspicion while Tristan and Iseult, the secret lovers, share time together. The legend of Tristan and Iseult is the tale of two lovers who are fated to share a forbidden love. A popular poem from 12th-century France, it was probably based on a Celtic legend, originating in Brittany, northwestern France. It may have come from an even older Persian myth, called Vis and Ramin. Over time, the tale became part of the Arthurian legends, with Tristan one of the knights of the Round Table. The story may have influenced the later story about the romance between Lancelot and Guinevere. The legend of Tristan and Iseult and its idea of romantic love has inspired poets, artists, playwrights and composers ever since medieval times.
The duel with Morholt
The King of Ireland sent his champion knight Morholt to demand tribute (a payment made by a weaker country to a more powerful one) from the Kingdom of Cornwall. Tristan (also known as Tristram) the nephew of King Mark of Cornwall, a chivalrous knight, fought and killed Morholt in a duel, leaving a broken piece of his sword in the fatal wound. There the fragment remained even after Morholt's body had been returned to Ireland. Tristan’s own wound from the bloody duel failed to heal, so he travelled to Ireland in disguise to seek help from Princess Iseult (also known as Isolde), known to be a skilled healer.
Back in Cornwall, Tristan was so full of admiration for Iseult that his uncle, King Mark, decided to marry her. The loyal Tristan returned to Ireland to convey the king’s proposal.
Tristan and Iseult were buried in Cornwall. According to legend, a rose tree grew over Iseult’s grave, while a vine grew over Tristan’s—and wrapped itself around the tree. Every time the vine was cut, it grew back again, a sign that the two lovers could not be parted, even in death.
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