This article delves into the rich and complex history of Corbenic, the legendary castle in Arthurian mythology.
We’ll unravel the castle’s origins, its role in the Grail Quest, and the various enchantments that surround it.
So let’s dive right in!
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What is Castle Corbenic?
Castle Corbenic is a legendary castle in Arthurian legend, known as the Grail Castle, where the Holy Grail is said to be kept.
It is the home of the Grail King, who is also known as the Fisher King or the Wounded King. The castle is described as a magical and mysterious place, filled with enchantments and wonders, and it first appeared (by name) in the Lancelot-Grail cycle, also known as the Vulgate Cycle.
Alternate names for Castle Corbenic include Carbonek, Corbinec, and Corbin. These variations in the name likely arose from the different retellings and adaptations of the Arthurian legends over time.
Where Is Corbenic Located?
The exact location of Corbenic remains uncertain, but P.A. Karr suggested the Lake District as a possibility, with Keswick being a strong candidate.
To accommodate Lancelot’s midnight arrival by boat, a miraculous temporary canal from the sea could be imagined.
Alternatively, Whitehaven or Ravenglass might be identified as Corbenic, moving Bliant Castle or Joyous Isle to one of the lakes.
Etymology of “Corbenic”
There are a few different theories on the etymology of the name.
The Vulgate Estoire del Saint Graal suggests that the name Corbenic means ‘holy vessel’ in Chaldean. R.S. Loomis, however, believed that the authors confused ‘cor benoit’ (blessed horn) for ‘cors benoit’ (blessed body) and proposed that the name originated from Bran the Blessed’s magical horn in Welsh literature.
J.D. Bruce mentioned the existence of a town called Corbeni in Picardy, near where the author of the Vulgate Queste might have lived.
The Welsh Cornucopia Theory
Helaine Newstead and Roger Sherman Loomis have presented a compelling argument for the origins of the name Corbenic, linking it to a myth concerning a type of Welsh cornucopia, specifically the horn of plenty of Brân the Blessed, a magical talisman that provides food.
The theory is based on the confusion arising from two possible meanings of the Old French phrase “li cors,” which can mean both “the body” (Modern French “le corps”) and “the horn” (Modern French “la corne”).
This confusion led Christian authors to mistranslate “li cors beneit” as the blessed body, which could be interpreted as a reference to either the body of Christ or the body of a saint preserved as a holy relic.
A common scribal error, misreading the letter “t” as a “c,” resulted in the second element, “-ben(e)ic.” The original name of Castle Corbenic can therefore be reconstructed as “Chastiaus del Cor Beneit” or the Castle of the Blessed Horn (of Brân), which was later misunderstood to mean the Castle of the Blessed Body (of Christ).
This theory connects the origins of the maimed Fisher King, master of the Grail Castle of Corbenic, to the maimed King Brân the Blessed, whose story is told in Branwen ferch Llŷr, the second of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi.
Description of Castle Corbenic
Castle Corbenic, known as the castle of the Grail, is a mystical place filled with marvels and challenges. Referred to as the Castle Adventurous by Sir Bors in “Le Morte d’Arthur,” it is the setting for many strange adventures. Although the castle sometimes appears ordinary, as experienced by Sir Bors in the Lancelot-Grail, it is often associated with supernatural events.
In T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” Corbenic is divided into two separate locations: Corbin, the mundane home of King Pelles, and Corbenic, the mystical castle where the climax of the Grail Quest occurs.
Corbenic features a town and a bridge, which Sir Bromell la Pleche defends for a year out of love for King Pelles’ daughter, Elaine.
The castle is either situated on the coast or mystically moved there during the Grail Quest.
Lancelot reaches Corbenic by sea during his personal quest. Its seaward gate is protected by two lions and either a dwarf or a flaming hand, depending on the version of the story.
The true identity of Corbenic remains uncertain; it may be the same castle destroyed by Sir Balin in the Dolorous Stroke and later rebuilt. The Lancelot-Grail refers to the kingdom where Corbenic resides as the ‘Foreign Country.’
Sources Mentioning Castle Corbenic
Castle Corbenic is mentioned in the following literary works:
- “Perceval, the Story of the Grail” by Chrétien de Troyes – A 12th-century Old French poem that is one of the earliest accounts of the Arthurian legend and the quest for the Holy Grail. It features the story of the young knight Perceval, who encounters the Grail Castle and the Fisher King.
- “Lancelot-Grail” or “Vulgate Cycle” – A series of Old French prose works written in the early 13th century that provide a comprehensive account of the Arthurian legend, including the adventures of the knights in their quest for the Holy Grail. This is also the first time that the castle is named Corbenic.
- “Le Morte d’Arthur” by Sir Thomas Malory – A 15th-century compilation of Arthurian legends in Middle English, which features the quest for the Holy Grail and the adventures of various knights at Castle Corbenic.
- “Parzival” by Wolfram von Eschenbach – A 13th-century German epic poem that tells the story of Parzival, a knight who embarks on a quest for the Holy Grail. The castle is referred to as Munsalvaesche in this work.
- “Perlesvaus” or “The High History of the Holy Grail” – A 13th-century Old French Arthurian romance that recounts the adventures of the knights in search of the Holy Grail, including their encounters with Castle Corbenic.
These literary works feature Castle Corbenic and have contributed to the development and evolution of the Arthurian legend and the Holy Grail mythos.
The Fictional History of Castle Corbenic
Castle Corbenic, located in Listenois or the Strange Land, is central to the Arthurian legend, particularly the Holy Grail. Constructed by Alan and Joshua, followers of Joseph of Arimathea, and King Calafes, who they converted to Christianity, the castle housed the Holy Grail in the Palace of Adventures.
The castle’s name could be found inscribed on one of its doors.
The First King of Corbenic
Joshua became the first king of Corbenic, followed by a succession of rulers, with King Pelles reigning during King Arthur’s time. Pelles lived in Corbenic along with his son Eliezier, and Elaine, his daughter who was also the mother of Galahad.
The castle was also home to Sir Ulphyne and the Maimed King.
The Spell Hiding Corbenic
At some point in history, Tanabos the Enchanter cast a spell on Corbenic, making it impossible to find unless stumbled upon by chance.
The castle hosted infrequent visitors who would dine with King Pelles and witness the Grail Procession.
Knights such as Lancelot, Gawaine, Lamorat, Hector, Gaheris, and Palamedes visited the castle but often failed to recognize the Grail’s significance.
The Grail Quest
During his own Grail quest, Lancelot spent seven months at sea before arriving at Corbenic. He found the castle’s back gate guarded by two lions and a dwarf, who struck him as he attempted to pass.
Ultimately, Galahad, Perceval, and Bors completed the Grail Quest at Corbenic and attended a holy mass held by Joseph of Arimathea or his son, Josephus.
Other knights, including Helain the White and Arthur the Less, were allowed to witness the event.
After the Grail was taken to Sarras by Galahad, the Grail Castle lost its enchantments but remained standing until Charlemagne’s invasion of England, during which it was razed.
In the third continuation of Chrétien’s Perceval, Corbenic was named the Fisher King’s kingdom and fell to Perceval upon the Fisher King’s death. Perceval later bestowed the kingdom upon the King of Maronne when he retired to a hermitage.
I invite you to delve deeper into this captivating world by visiting our “Arthurian Locations” page, where you’ll discover more enthralling stories and destinations inspired by the legends of King Arthur and his knights.
- Norris Lacy, Geoffrey Ashe, Debra Mancoff – The Arthurian Handbook (Second Edition)
- Alan Lupack – The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend
- Ronan Coghlan – The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Arthurian Legends
- Anonymous – Lancelot-Grail, the French Vulgate
- Sir Thomas Malory – Le Morte d’Arthur
See also my ever-expanding list of primary and secondary sources.