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Thomas Malory

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Thomas Malory

An Aubrey Beardsley illustration for Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, "How Sir Bedivere Cast the Sword Excalibur into the Water" (1894)

Sir Thomas Malory (died 14 March 1471) was an English writer, the author or compiler of Le Morte d'Arthur. Since the late nineteenth century he has generally been identified as Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel in Warwickshire,[1] a knight, land-owner and Member of Parliament.[2] Previously, it was suggested by the antiquary John Leland, as well as John Bale, that he was Welsh (identifying "Malory" with "Maelor"). Occasionally, other candidates are put forward for authorship of Le Morte d'Arthur, but the supporting evidence for their claim has been described as "no more than circumstantial".[3]


Most of what is known about Malory stems from the accounts describing him in the prayers found in the Winchester Manuscript. He is described as a "knight prisoner", distinguishing him from the other six individuals also bearing the name Thomas Malory in the 15th century when Le Morte d'Arthur was written.[4] At the end of the "Tale of King Arthur", being Books I-IV in the printing by William Caxton, is written:
For this was written by a knight prisoner Thomas Malleorre, that God send him good recovery.[5]
At the end of "The Tale of Sir Gareth," Caxton's Book VII:
And I pray you all that readeth this tale to pray for him that this wrote, that God send him good deliverance soon and hastily.[5]
At the conclusion of the "Tale of Sir Tristram," Caxton's VIII-XII:
Here endeth the second book of Sir Tristram de Lyones, which was drawn out of the French by Sir Thomas Malleorre, knight, as Jesu be his help.[5]
Finally, at the conclusion of the whole book:
The Most Piteous Tale of the Morte Arthure Sanz Gwerdon par le shyvalere Sir Thomas Malleorre, knight, Jesu aide ly pur votre bon mercy.[5]
However, all these are replaced by Caxton with a final colophon reading:
I pray you all gentlemen and gentlewomen that readeth this book of Arthur and his knights, from the beginning to the ending, pray for me while I am alive, that God send me good deliverance and when I am dead, I pray you all pray for my soul. For this book was ended the ninth year of the reign of King Edward the Fourth by Sir Thomas Maleore, knight, as Jesu help him for his great might, as he is the servant of Jesu both day and night.[5]

The author must have been from a rich enough family to ensure his education was sufficient to the point of being able to read French, and also to have been familiar with the Yorkshire dialect. A claimant's age must also fit the time of writing.[5]

Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel

By far the likeliest candidate for the authorship is Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel in Warwickshire. H. Oskar Sommer first proposed this identification in his edition of Le Morte d'Arthur published in 1890, and Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. However, a biography by Edward Hicks, published in 1928, revealed that Malory had been imprisoned as a thief, bandit, kidnapper and rapist, which hardly seemed in keeping with the high chivalric standards of his book.[6] Helen Cooper referred to his life as one that "reads more like an account of exemplary thuggery than chivalry".

Thomas Malory was born to Sir John Malory of Winwick, who had served as a Justice of the Peace in Warwickshire and as a member of Parliament, and Lady Phillipa Malory, heiress of Newbold. Judging by the fact that he attained his majority (at the age of 21) between 1434 and 1439, he was born after 1415 and before 1418.[7] He was knighted before 8 October 1441.[8] He became a professional soldier and served under the Duke of Warwick, but all dates are vague, and it is not known how he became distinguished. He acted as an elector in Northamptonshire, but in 1443 he was accused, along with an accomplice, Eustace Barnaby, of attacking, kidnapping and stealing 40 pounds' worth of goods from Thomas Smythe. Nothing came of this charge, and he soon married a woman named Elizabeth Walsh,[9] who bore him at least one son, Robert,[5] and possibly one or two other children.[10]

The same year Malory was elected to Parliament, serving as a knight of the shire for Warwickshire for the rest of 1443, and being appointed to a royal commission charged with the distribution of monies to impoverished towns in Warwickshire. Despite the charges against him, he seems to have remained in good standing with his peers.[5] In 1449 he was elected as member of Parliament for the Duke of Buckingham's safe seat of Great Bedwyn.

Malory's status changed abruptly when, in 1451, he was accused of having ambushed the Duke of Buckingham, Humphrey Stafford, a prominent Lancastrian in the Wars of the Roses, along with 26 other men, during 1450. The accusation was never proved. Later in 1451 he was accused of extorting 100 shillings from Margaret King and William Hales of Monks Kirby, and then of committing the same crime against John Mylner for 20 shillings.[5] He was also accused of having broken into the house of Hugh Smyth of Monks Kirby in 1450, stealing 40 pounds' worth of goods, and raping his wife, and with attacking the same woman in Coventry eight weeks later. At this period, however, a charge of rape could also apply to consensual sex with a married woman whose husband had not agreed to the liaison.[11] On 15 March 1451 Malory and 19 others were ordered to be arrested. Nothing came of this, and in the following months Malory and his followers allegedly committed a series of crimes, especially violent robberies, rising past 100. At one point he was arrested and imprisoned in Maxstoke Castle, but he escaped, swam the moat and returned to Newbold Revel.[5] Most of these crimes, if they occurred, seem to have been targeted at the property and followers of the Duke of Buckingham. As Malory was a supporter of the family of Buckingham's former rival, the Duke of Warwick, there may have been a political motive behind either Malory's attacks, assuming that he committed them, or Buckingham and others bringing charges against him. It is possible that Malory's enemies tried to slander him, and there is evidence that the Duke of Buckingham was Malory's long-time enemy.[12]

Malory finally came to trial on 23 August 1451, in Nuneaton, a town in the heartland of Buckingham's power and a place where Malory, as a supporter of the Beauchamps, found little support.[10] Those accused included Malory and several others, and there were numerous charges. The judgment went against Malory and he was sent to the Marshalsea Prison in London, where he remained for a year. He demanded a retrial with a jury of men from his own county. This never took place, but he was released. By March 1452 he was back in the Marshalsea, from which he escaped two months later, possibly by bribing the guards and gaolers. After a month he was back in prison yet again, and this time he was held until the following May, when he was released on bail of 200 pounds paid by a number of his fellow magnates from Warwickshire.[5][10]

Malory later ended up in custody in Colchester, accused of still more crimes, involving robbery and the stealing of horses. Once again he escaped and once again he was apprehended and returned to the Marshalsea.[5] He was pardoned at the accession of Edward IV in 1461. Except at Nuneaton in 1451 he was never actually tried on any of the charges brought against him.[10]

In 1462 Malory settled his estate on his son Robert and in 1466 or 1467 Robert fathered a son, Nicholas, who was Malory's ultimate heir.

Malory appears to have changed his allegiance by 1468. Having previously been a Yorkist, he now entered into a conspiracy with the new Earl of Warwick, Richard Neville, to overthrow King Edward IV. The plot was discovered and Malory was imprisoned in June 1468. Uniquely in English history, so far as is known, he was excluded by name from two general pardons, in July 1468 and February 1470.[11] In 1470 the collapse of the Yorkist regime and the temporary return of Henry VI to the throne was followed by Malory's final release from prison.[10]

Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel died on 14 March 1471 and was buried in [5] However, it was certified at the granting of probate that he owned little wealth of his own, having settled his estate on his son in 1462.[10]

The inscription on Malory's tomb read:
"Here lies Lord Thomas Mallere, Valiant Soldier. Died 14 March 1471, in the parish of Monkenkirby in the county of Warwick."[5]
The tomb was lost when Greyfriars was dissolved by Henry VIII.

Malory's grandson Nicholas eventually inherited his lands and was appointed High Sheriff of Warwickshire in 1502.[5]

Le Morte d'Arthur

While Malory was most probably confined at Newgate, his prison from 1460 until his release, he likely wrote William Caxton changed it to Morte d'Arthur before he printed it in 1485, as well as making several other editorial changes. Originally, the eight romances were intended to be separate, but Caxton altered them to be more unified.[16]

There has been some argument among critics that Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur was primarily intended as a political commentary of Malory's own era. Malory portrays an initially idyllic past under the strong leadership of King Arthur and his knights, but as intrigue and infighting develop, the utopic kingdom collapses, which may have been intended as a parallel and a warning against the infighting taking place during the [Wars of the Roses]. The seemingly contradictory changes in King Arthur's character throughout the work has been argued to support the theory that Arthur represents different eras and reigns throughout the tales.[17] This argument has also been used to attempt to reconcile Malory's doubtful reputation as a person who continually changed sides with the unexpected idealism of Le Morte d'Arthur. Whether this was a deliberate commentary or an imaginative fiction influenced by the political climate remains a matter of some debate.

Alternative identities

Although there has been a great deal of scholarly research on the subject, no candidate for authorship other than Malory of Newbold Revel has ever been found to command widespread support. No other Malory family contained a Thomas who was knighted or who spent many years in a prison with a good library (the Tower of London in the case of Malory of Newbold Revel).[18] In the entry on Malory in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography P.J.C. Field stresses that recent scholarship has focused firmly on Malory of Newbold Revel, especially because "he was the only knight of the right name alive at the right time".[10]

Over the centuries many alternative identities have been proposed for Malory, in part because of the perceived gap between the crimes charged against Malory of Newbold Revel and the chivalric ideals espoused in Le Morte d'Arthur. Some of the more popular alternatives are listed below.

Welsh Poet

The earliest identification was made by John Bale, a 16th-century antiquarian, who declared that Malory was Welsh, hailing from Maloria on the River Dee. This theory received further support from Sir John Rhys, who proclaimed in 1893 that the alternative spelling indicated an area straddling the border between England and North Wales border, Maleore in Flintshire and Maleor in Denbighshire. On this theory Malory may have been related to Edward Rhys Maelor, a 15th-century Welsh poet.[5]

Thomas Malory of Papworth

A second candidate was presented by A.T. Martin, another antiquarian, who proposed in an article in the Athenaeum in September 1897[19] that the author was Thomas Malory of Papworth St Agnes in Huntingdonshire. Martin's argument was based on a will made at Papworth on 16 September 1469 and proved at Lambeth on 27 October the same year. This identification was taken seriously for some time by editors of Malory, including Alfred W. Pollard, the noted bibliographer, who included it in his edition of Malory published in 1903.[20] This Thomas Malory was born on 6 December 1425 at Moreton Corbet Castle, Shropshire, the eldest son of Sir William Mallory, member of Parliament for Cambridgeshire, who had married Margaret, the widow of Robert Corbet (died 1420) of Moreton Corbet.[21] Thomas inherited his father's estates in 1425 and was placed in the wardship of the King, initially as a minor, but later, for reasons unknown, remaining there until within four months of his death in 1469. Nothing else is known of him, apart from one peculiar incident discovered by William Matthews. A collection of Chancery proceedings includes a case about a petition brought against Malory by Richard Kyd, parson of Papworth, claiming that Malory ambushed him on a November evening and took him from Papworth to Huntingdon, and then to Bedford and on to Northampton, all the while threatening his life and demanding that he either forfeit his church to Malory or give him 100 pounds. The outcome of this case is unknown, but it seems to indicate that this Malory was something other than an ordinary country gentleman.[5] However, there is no evidence that this Malory was ever actually knighted and the very specific use of the word "knight" in respect of the author Malory tells against him.[18]

Thomas Malory of Hutton Conyers

The third alternative contender is the little-known Thomas Malory of Hutton Conyers in Yorkshire. This claim was put forward in The Ill-Framed Knight: A Skeptical Inquiry Into the Identity of Sir Thomas Malory by William Matthews, a British professor who taught at UCLA (and also transcribed the Diary of Samuel Pepys).[22] Matthews's claim was met with little enthusiasm, despite evidence that the author spoke a regional dialect that matches the language of Le Morte d'Arthur. This Malory is not known to have been knighted.[5]

In fiction

A young Malory appears as a character at the end of T.H. White's book The Once and Future King, which was based on Le Morte d'Arthur. This cameo is included in the Broadway musical Camelot, and in the later film, where his name is given as "Tom of Warwick", thus supporting the claim of Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel.

In addition to T.H. White's treatment, many other modern versions of the Arthurian legend have their roots in Malory, including John Boorman's film Excalibur (1981).

The discovery of Malory's book and its acquisition by William Caxton form key elements in "The Load of Unicorn", a novel for children by Cynthia Harnett.


  1. ^ Whitteridge, Gweneth. "The Identity of Sir Thomas Malory, Knight-Prisoner." The Review of English Studies; 24.95 (1973): 257–265. JSTOR. Web. 30 November 2009.
  2. ^ Riddy, Felicity: Sir Thomas Malory. Leiden: E. J. Brill.
  3. ^ Cooper, Helen (1998). Le Morte Darthur: The Winchester Manuscript. Oxford University Press. pp. x–xi.  
  4. ^ Bryan, Elizabeth J. (1999/1994). "Sir Thomas Malory", Le Morte D'Arthur, p.v. Modern Library. New York. ISBN 0-679-60099-X.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Malory, Thomas (2000). Le Morte d'Arthur. London: Cassell & Co (John Matthews, ed.).  
  6. ^ Hicks, Edward (1928). Sir Thomas Malory: His Turbulent Career. Cambridge (Mass): Harvard University Press. 
  7. ^ Field, P. J. C. "Malory, Sir Thomas (x1415/18 - 1471)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 1 January 2013. 
  8. ^ ibid.
  9. ^ Field, P.J.C. The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Malory. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1993. Print
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Field ODNB
  11. ^ a b Cooper p. x
  12. ^ Aurner, Nellie Slayton (June 1933). "Sir Thomas Malory—Historian?". PMLA (Modern Language Association) 48 (2): 362. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  13. ^ Aurner, p. 363.
  14. ^ McShane, Kara L. (2010). "Malory's Morte d'Arthur: Exhibition Guide". The Camelot Project: A Robbins Library Digital Project. University of Rochester. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  15. ^ Aurner, p. 365.
  16. ^ Dichmann, Mary E. (September 1950). "Tale of Arthur and Lucius"Characterization in Malory's . PMLA (Modern Language Association) 65 (5): 877. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  17. ^ Aurner, p. 366.
  18. ^ a b Cooper p. xi
  19. ^ Athenaeum 11 September 1897, p.353 in the July-December omnibus edition, accessed at Internet Archive, 11 December 2013.
  20. ^ A.W. Pollard: Le morte Darthur,, Macmillan, 1903.
  21. ^ J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe, History of Parliament Online, Ref Volumes: 1386-1421, CORBET, Robert (1383-1420), of Moreton Corbet, Salop. - Author: L. S. Woodger. History of Parliament Trust, 1994, accessed 27 November 2013.
  22. ^ William Matthews Papers


  • Cooper, Helen, Le Morte Darthur: The Winchester Manuscript (OUP 1998) ISBN 0-19-282420-1
  • Malory, Thomas, Cowen, Janet & Lawlor, John. Le Morte D'Arthur. Volume II. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1969.googlebooks Retrieved 2 December 2007
  • Vinaver, Eugène, "Sir Thomas Malory" in Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, Loomis, Roger S. (ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959. ISBN 0-19-811588-1
  • Field, P. J. C., The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Malory, Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1993. ISBN 0261-9814
  • ——— "Malory, Sir Thomas (1415x18–1471)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2011 [1 Jan 2013] (requires login)
  • Smith, Sheila V. Mallory, A History of the Mallory Family, Phillimore, 1985, ISBN 0-85033-576-0
  • Hardyment, Christina, Malory: The Life and Times of King Arthur's Chronicler, Harper Collins, 2005, ISBN 0-06-620981-1
  • Hicks, Edward (1928). Sir Thomas Malory: His Turbulent Career. Cambridge (Mass): Harvard University Press. 
  • Riddy, Felicity. Sir Thomas Malory. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1987. Print.
  • Whitteridge, Gweneth. “The Identity of Sir Thomas Malory, Knight-Prisoner.” The Review of English Studies; 24.95 (1973): 257-265. JSTOR. Web. 30 November 2009.
  • Malory, Thomas & Matthews, John. Le Morte d'Arthur. London: Cassell & Co, 2000.

External links

  • Works by Thomas Malory at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Thomas Malory at Internet Archive
  • Arthuriana: The Journal of Arthurian Studies
  • Le Morte d'Arthur (Caxton edition, in Middle English) at the University of Michigan
  • Le Morte d'Arthur, from eBooks@Adelaide
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