Five hundred years after his death, King Henry the Second, having heard from an ancient British bard that Arthur’s body lay interred in the Abbey of Glastonbury, and that the spot was marked by some small pyramids erected near it, and that the body would be found in a rude coffin made of a hollowed oak, ordered search to be made. The ballads and tales which had been then, for several centuries, circulating throughout England, narrating and praising King Arthur’s exploits, had given him so wide a fame, that great interest was felt in the recovery and the identification of his remains. The searchers found the pyramids in the cemetery of the abbey. They dug between them, and came at length to a stone. Beneath this stone was a leaden cross, with the inscription in Latin, “Here lies buried the body of great king Arthur.” Going down still below this, they came at length, at the depth of sixteen feet from the surface, to a great coffin, made of the trunk of an oak tree, and within it was a human skeleton of unusual size. The skull was very large, and showed marks of ten wounds. Nine of them were closed by concretions of the bone, indicating that the wounds by which those contusions or fractures had been made had been healed while life continued. The tenth fracture remained in a condition which showed that that had been the mortal wound.
The bones of Arthur’s wife were found near those of her husband. The hair was apparently perfect when found, having all the freshness and beauty of life; but a monk of the abbey, who was present at the disinterment, touched it and it crumbled to dust.
Such are the tales which the old chronicles tell of the good King Arthur, the last and greatest representative of the power of the ancient British aborigines. It is a curious illustration of the uncertainty which attends all the early records of national history, that, notwithstanding all the above particularity respecting the life and death of Arthur, it is a serious matter of dispute among the learned in modern times whether any such person ever lived.
[Footnote 1: Spelled sometimes Gwenlyfar and Ginevra.]
The landing of Hengist and Horsa, the first of the Anglo-Saxons, took place in the year 449, according to the commonly received chronology. It was more than two hundred years after this before the Britons were entirely subdued, and the Saxon authority established throughout the island, unquestioned and supreme. One or two centuries more passed away, and then the Anglo-Saxons had, in their turn, to resist a new horde of invaders, who came, as they themselves had done, across the German Ocean. These new invaders were the Danes.
The Saxons were not united under one general government when they came finally to get settled in their civil polity. The English territory was divided, on the contrary, into seven or eight separate kingdoms. These kingdoms were ruled by as many separate dynasties, or lines of kings. They were connected with each other by friendly relations and alliances, more or less intimate, the whole system being known in history by the name of the Saxon Heptarchy.