Who killed King Arthur?
It was once believed that the 'once and future king' would one return from the beyond to save Briton, but how did he die – and who killed him?
How does King Arthur die?
The battle of Camlann is said to have been King Arthur's final battle. Weakened by the losses incurred during the quest for the grail, and then by the scandal of Lancelot and Guinevere, Arthur’s kingdom began to break apart.
War broke out after Lancelot staged an armed rescue of Guinevere, condemned to death for her treasonous love for the great knight. In the heat of battle Lancelot killed two of Arthur’s best men, Gareth and Gaheris, who had defended the queen.
Their brother, the famous knight Sir Gawain, thus became Lancelot’s most bitter foe, and as Arthur was forced to respond to Lancelot’s rescue of the queen, he reluctantly led an army to France to attack him.
While Arthur and Gawain were away attacking Lancelot, King Arthur’s son, Mordred, raised an army and declared himself king. With the hasty return of the true king to Britain, a final battle took place at Camlann.
Who killed King Arthur?
Arthur killed Mordred, but suffered a wound that seemed likely to kill him – though in the end he was taken to Avalon to be healed.
There follows one of the most famous scenes in the entire series of Arthurian stories: Arthur’s faithful follower, Sir Bedivere, throws the king’s mighty sword back into the lake from which it had come at the beginning of his reign (given to him by the Lady of the Lake). A mysterious hand rises from the water and seizes the sword, drawing it under.
A ship then appears, carrying three queens, who take the wounded Arthur away, across the sea to the fabled Isle of Avalon, where it is said he would be healed of his wounds and live on, awaiting recall by his country in time of need – the ‘once and future king’ indeed.
Where is King Arthur buried?
Belief in Arthur’s expected return to his country was kept alive in stories for many years by the people of Britain.
Arthur’s bones were supposedly found at Glastonbury Abbey in 1191, though this was nothing more than a fabrication designed to quell the belief that Arthur would return to expel the invading Normans.
Nevertheless, some bones were indeed interred in a black marble tomb in 1278 at the expense of Edward I.
John Matthews is a historian who has produced more than 100 books on myth, the Arthurian legends, and the history of the Grail, including The Complete King Arthur: Many Faces, One Hero (Inner Traditions, 2017)
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