A Short Note on Sir Thomas Malory and his Le Morte D’ Arthur

Sir Thomas Malory was born around 1415 into an English gentry family. His father was a landowner in Warwickshire’ Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, was twice sheriff, five times a Member of the British Parliament and a Justice of the Peace (Magistrate). Malory’s early years were spent in obscurity. By 1441, he became a knight and in 1445, he became MP for his country. He was leading a prestigious career before he was assailed by several charges. He was charged with assault and theft and in 1450, Malory allegedly tried to ambush and murder the Duke of Buckingham. Later he allegedly raped Joan Smith not once, but twice, stole goods from her husband, extorted money, pilfered cattle and destroyed the Duke of Buckingham’s hunting lodge.

He was arrested and imprisoned at Coleshill, but soon escaped (by swimming the moat), then reportedly raided Combe Abbey with a band of one hundred men, breaking down doors, insulting the monks and stealing money. By January 1452, he was in prison in London, where he spent most of the next 8 years waiting for trial.

He was bailed out several times and at one point joined a horse-stealing expedition across East Anglia, which ended in Colchester jail, from, which he escaped too, but was recaptured and taken back to prison in London. While in prison, Malory wrote at least some of Le Morte’s Arthur. He was set free when the Yorkists expelled the Lancastrians in 1460. He repaid his deliverers by taking part in King Edward IV and the Earl of Warwick’s recovery from the Lancastrians of various castles in Northumberland. In October 1470, when the Lancastrians returned to power, those of their party who were in London prisons, including Malory, were freed. He died a year later and was buried at Greyfriars, Newgate.

Le Morte D’Arthur:

  • Le Morte D’Arthur is a compilation of tales of romance about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table in English.
  • It is the first major work of prose fiction in English.
  • Le Morte d’Arthur was first published in 1485 by William Caxton.
  • It is divided into twenty-one books and follows the story from Uther Pendragon’s rape of Igraine of Cornwall to the deaths of Lancelot and Guenevere.
  • As his source, Malory took a body of legends, mostly French in origin and adapted them to English life, with an
    English perspective. Malory’s sources, dating from 1225-1230, are largely a selection of courtly romances about
    Launcelot. These stories purport to be historical accounts of King Arthur and his knights and their quest for the Holy Grail. In addition to the French sources, Malory added material from a 14th-century English alliterative poem, the Morte Arthur.
  • Malory’s text is much more than a translation and adaptation of the French sources. His selection of incident, his unique use of dialogue as a means of characterization and his good humor, all mark him as a literary genius.
  • In Le Morte d’Arthur, Malory gives a new personality to some of the most striking characters to be found in Arthurian legends: King Arthur himself, the tragic hero; Launcelot, the noblest knight in the world, torn by a conflict of loyalties, which must result in his destruction of all he loves best; Sir Gawain, vengeful and treacherous but steadfast in loyalty to his king: Queen Guinevere, emblem of courtly Courtesy. generous, but also fierce in jealousy, and many more characters.
  •  Malory’s book skilfully blends many genres and narrative styles into a larger whole.
  • Malory’s style is fresh and lively and he stands close to modern English.
  • Malory s book inspired writers such as Alfred Tennyson who used it for his Idylls of the King and TH White for his popular fantasy novel The Once and Future King.