Dusty Quotations


Many evils and many tragedies have been undertaken in the name of love, or caused by love of the wrong things.

Who is Thomas Malory?

Sir Thomas Malory was an English writer, the author of Le Morte d’Arthur, the classic English-language chronicle of the Arthurian legend, compiled and in most cases translated from French sources. The most popular version of Le Morte d’Arthur was published by the famed London printer William Caxton in 1485. Much of Malory’s life history is obscure, but he identified himself as a “knight prisoner”, apparently reflecting that he was either a criminal, a prisoner-of-war, or suffering some other type of confinement. Malory’s identity has never been confirmed. Since modern scholars began researching his identity the most widely accepted candidate has been Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel in Warwickshire, who was imprisoned at various times for criminal acts and possibly also for political reasons during the Wars of the Roses. Recent work by Cecelia Lampp Linton, however, presents new evidence in support of Thomas Malory of Hutton Conyers, Yorkshire.

Most of what is known about Malory stems from the accounts describing him in the prayers found in the Winchester Manuscript of Le Morte d’Arthur. He is described as a “knyght presoner”, distinguishing him from several other candidates also bearing the name Thomas Malory in the 15th century when Le Morte d’Arthur was written.

At the end of the “Tale of King Arthur” (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.” 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.” 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.” 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.”, a mix of English and French roughly meaning: “The most pitiable tale of the Death of [King] Arthur, without reward for/by the knight Sir Thomas Malory; Jesus aid him by your good mercy.”

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.”

With the exception of the first sentence of the final colophon, all the above references to Thomas Malory as a knight are, grammatically speaking, in the third person singular, which leaves open the possibility that they were added by a copyist, either in Caxton’s workshop or elsewhere. However, scholarly consensus is that these references to knighthood refer to a real person and that that person is the author of Le Morte d’Arthur.

The author was educated, as most of his material “was drawn out of the French,” which suggests a degree of French fluency indicating that he might have been from a wealthy family. A claimant’s age must also fit the time of writing; as described below, this has been a major point of contention among all modern scholars for determining the author’s identity.

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