Now we reach what has become the most elusive and controversial part of the Arthurian story. A veil of mystery and romantic strangeness has spread itself over the circumstances of Arthur’s death.
To many commentators the story of Arthur’s last battle, fought against his treacherous, black-hearted nephew Modred, his fatal wounding in single combat, his surrender of the sword Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake, and his final journey across water to Avalon and death seems the stuff of pure myth. The heavy tone of tragedy and the strong supernatural element imply that none of it is literally true. Nevertheless, some truth may lie behind it. If Arthur was a real historical figure, a war-leader, king and overking, then at some stage he must have reached the end of his career; if he lived, he must also have died, and the circumstances of his death must have been noted at the time. Only the obscure die in obscurity.