Glossy brown binding with gilt title and design on the spine and front board.All edges gilt.
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A great leatherette edition by Canterbury Classics
Central figures in “The Matter of Britain,” King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table still inspire many books and films today. Drawing on the legends of Camelot from French and English sources, Sir Thomas Malory compiled the drama of illicit love, the magic of sorcery, and the quest for the Holy Grail into a sordid and chivalrous tale that’s been recounted for centuries. This beautiful leather-bound volume, with gilded edges and a ribbon bookmark so you never lose your place, will be a treasured edition of classic Arthurian folklore in any home library.
Le Morte d’Arthur (originally written as le morte Darthur; Anglo-Norman French for “The Death of Arthur”) is a 15th-century Middle English prose reworking by Sir Thomas Malory of tales about the legendary King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table, along with their respective folklore. In order to tell a “complete” story of Arthur from his conception to his death, Malory compiled, rearranged, interpreted and modified material from various French and English sources. Today, this is one of the best-known works of Arthurian literature. Many authors since the 19th-century revival of the legend have used Malory as their principal source.
Apparently written in prison at the end of the medieval English era, Le Morte d’Arthur was completed by Malory around 1470 and was first published in a printed edition in 1485 by William Caxton. Until the discovery of the Winchester Manuscript in 1934, the 1485 edition was considered the earliest known text of Le Morte d’Arthur and that closest to Malory’s original version. Modern editions under myriad titles are inevitably variable, changing spelling, grammar and pronouns for the convenience of readers of modern English, as well as often abridging or revising the material.
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 or a prisoner-of-war. Malory’s identity has never been confirmed. However, 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.
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.
Since the late 19th century there has been a great deal of scholarly research into the identity of Sir Thomas Malory, author of Le Morte d’Arthur. As detailed below, the earliest modern investigations suggested that Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel was the only Thomas Malory living in 15th-century England who was a knight. However, the apparently great age of this candidate at the time of the work’s completion has always been a source of contention. In the early 20th century, scholarly revelations of this candidate’s extensive criminal record and multiple imprisonments threw further doubt on the matter because of a perceived discordance with the chivalric ideals espoused in Le Morte d’Arthur. The discovery of the Winchester Manuscript in 1934 revealed that the author was in prison at the time of writing; this has generally been taken to support the candidate from Newbold Revel, though the support is ambiguous because that candidate’s extensive prison record does not actually include the time of writing.
These tensions have inspired scholars to propose alternative identities; most notably, Thomas Malory of Papworth St. Agnes and Moreton Corbet and Thomas Malory of Hutton Conyers and Studley Royal. Both are much less attested in the documentary record than the candidate from Newbold Revel. As described in detail below: neither is clearly recorded as having been a knight, but both come from knightly families and could plausibly have been knighted. Both seem to have been of a more appropriate age at the time of writing, but neither is known to have been imprisoned at any time.
To date, no candidate for authorship has ever consistently commanded widespread support other than Malory of Newbold Revel. However, despite the evidence for other candidates being “no more than circumstantial”, eminent scholars suggest that the question of the author’s identity is both critically important and yet unresolved.
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