Friday, March 1, 2013
Sir Thomas Malory, author of Morte d'Arthur
Image: How Arthur drew his sword Excalibur for the first time (Arthur Rackham)
Sir Thomas Malory (c1416 - c1470) is the author of Le Morte d'Arthur, said to have been completed in 1469 (or 1470) then revised and printed by William Caxton in 1485. There are two versions as to who Sir Thomas Malory actually was. Malory was either a Warwickshire knight, who was imprisoned for thuggery, and wrote Morte d'Arthur while in his prison cell. Or Malory could have been a different and law-abiding Yorkshire Knight with the same name.
The most commonly accepted historical identity is Sir Thomas Malory was the Warwickshire knight. An American scholar, George Lyman Kittredge (1860-1941), published a monograph 'Who Was Sir Thomas Malory?' in 1897 which details his research and conclusion that it was this Warkwickshire knight..
According Kittredge, Thomas Malory, born circa 1416, lived at Newbold Revell in Warwickshire, England. He fought in France under the Earl of Warwick and later on the Lancastrian side during the Wars of the Roses. Malory was knighted in 1442 and entered Parliament representing Warwickshire in 1445 (remember, being a member of parliament then was not the result of a democratic election)
Then his life appears to have changed around 1450 when Malory was accused of armed assault and rape. Malory was gaoled for most of the 1450s in London's Newgate Prison), and the so called "knyght presoner" wrote the Arthurian legend which he named 'The noble and joyous historye of the grete conquerour and excellent kyng, Kyng Arthur' and died shortly after its completion around 1470..
The writer and scholar William Matthews, however believes that this is a case of mistaken identity and that Malory, the author of Mort d'Arthur, was in fact a different and law-abiding Yorkshire Knight from Studley and Hutton.
According to a detailed bibliographical note on Malory written by the 20th Century literary historian A.W. Pollard:
"The name of a Sir Thomas Malorie occurred among ... Lancastrians excluded from a general pardon granted by Edward IV. in 1468. In September 1897 ... the finding of the will of a Thomas Malory of Papworth ... This will was made on September 16, 1469, and as it was proved the 27th of the next month the testator must have been in immediate expectation of death. It contains the most careful provision for ... a family of three daughters and seven sons. We cannot say with certainty that this Thomas Malory, whose last thoughts were so busy for his children, was our author, or that the Lancastrian knight discovered by Mr. Williams was identical with either or both, but ... the Morte Darthur offers ... such a belief ... most naturally from an author who was a Lancastrian knight."
Sir Thomas Malory originally wrote his story as 8 books, and first published by William Caxton as 21 books in the year 1485. There is a modern Penguin Classics version of Malory written in Middle English but converted to modern spelling.