Sir Thomas Malory

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Sir Thomas Malory, died 1471, was the author of Le Morte d’Arthur, that compilation of tales from French and other sources about the Arthurian legends that has had great popularity since the second half of the fifteenth century. It was edited and printed by Caxton in 1485 as The Noble Histories of King Arthur and Certain of His Knights - one of the first books printed in English.

There were a number of Thomas Malorys around at the time, however the most likely candidate is a certain Warwickshire knight, a follower of Richard Neville, who had represented his county in Parliament. If he is indeed the one, it is known that he took over his estates in 1433 or 1434, was a member of parliament in 1445, and that he spent much of his later life in prison for serious crimes including attempted murder, rape and extortion. From clues in his writings it is thought that he wrote Le Morte d'Arthur in prison between 1451 and his death.

The work itself was in 21 books and was a prose translation from the French of a selection of the mass of legends surrounding King Arthur. The main elements of the collection relate the life, reign and death of Arthur leading to the final destruction of the Round Table and the search for the Holy Grail. Malory's gift was to take these stories and put them into the vernacular English of his own time in beautiful but readable prose.

Malory's work is the basis for our modern conceptions of the chivalric ideal.

References

The Oxford Companion to British History 1997 p.612
A Dictionary of Chivalry Penguin 1977 p.188
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