Sir Thomas Malory

There is no doubt that Sir Thomas Malory (1405-1471) wrote Morte Darthur, which is obviously an anglicised title of La Mort d'Arthur.

He must have spent a great deal of time going though the long drawn out French romances in order to succeed in writing what is considered to be 'the best and most complete' compilation of the stories. Malory's adapatation of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is also affirmed to be one of the greatest works of English prose.

In fact Malory is held to be the pioneer of succinct, simple prose, as was Chaucer reputed to be with his poetry.
Morte Darthur was printed and edited in 1485 by William Caxton, the first English printers.

Malory probably wrote most of Morte Darthur in prison. It seems that he spent more time incarcerated than free. He was 46 years old when he began to have trouble with the law, and by all accounts the trouble lasted for the rest of his life.
In 1451 he was arrested on a charge of criminal intentions regarding the Lincolnshire priory. He escaped prison only to be arrested again, charged with plundering the Abbey of Coome (twice). He was also accused of extortion, and even of rape.
During the Wars of the Roses however, if you were in opposition to whoever were governing, you would be subject to persecution, and perhaps even trumped up charges, although it's probable that Malory was less innocent than he claimed to be.

Perhaps he identified himself with Lancelot, the greatest of the knight heros, who spent his life righting wrongs in the lawless lands of ancient times. Indeed Malory idealised Lancelot to such an extent that he seems to suggest that the noble knight's love for Queen Guinevere was pure and innocent, even in the privacy of her own rooms.

It is the love between the famous knight and King Arthur's Queen that incites the jealousy of fellow knights enough for them to plot in order to reveal Lancelot as a traitor to the king. The result of this conspiracy causes war between Arthur and Lancelot, the end of the Knights' confederacy of the Round Table, and all the tragic, irrevocable consequences.

These stories, as with the legend of Robin Hood, or those of the heros of the far west, (now especially those who defend the Indians), similarly to more recent works such as The Lord of the Rings, or films like the Gladiator and Avatar, have always had, and perhaps will always have, a considerable influence.
The timeless struggle of the heroic individual, no matter how great the odds, to conquer evil, and evil's many nuances that the devil is reputed to exploit so shrewdly. While God, like Nature herself in reality, seems determined to look on and allow such comedies, tragedies and histories to play themselves out as fate will have it, without ever trying to influence the unwinding of events, as so often did the gods of Greek mythology.

Here is an extract and epilogue from the chapter of Malory's Morte Darthur when the king, mortally wounded by Sir Mordred, asks Sir Bedivere to throw the famous royal sword, Excalibur, into the lake.

Then Sir Bedivere returned again and took the sword in his hand. And yet him thought° sin and shame to throw away that noble sword. And so eft¹ he hid the sword and returned again and told the King that he had been at the water and done his commandment.
"What sawest thou there?" said the King.
"Sir, he said, "I saw nothing but waters wap and waves wan." ²
"Ah, traitor unto me and untrue," said King Arthur, "now hast thou betrayed me twice. Who would have weened that thou that has been to me so lief and dear, and thou art named a noble knight, and would betray me for the riches of this sword. But go now again lightly, for thy long tarrying putteth me in great jeopardy of my life, for I have taken cold. And but if thou do now as I bid thee, if ever I may see thee I shall slay thee mine³ own hands, for thou wouldest for my rich sword see me dead."
Then Sir Bedivere departed and went to the sword and lightly took it up, and so he went to the water's side; and there he bound the girdle° about the hilts, and threw the sword as far into the water as he might. And there came an arm and an hand above the water and took it and clutched it, and shook it thrice and brandished; and then vanished away the hand with the sword into the water. So Sir Bedivere came again to the King and told him what he saw.
"Alas," said the King, "help me hence, for I dread me I have tarried over-long."
The Sir Bedivere took the King upon his back and went with him to the water's side. And when they were at the water's side, even fast¹ by the bank hoved² a little barge with many fair ladies in it; and among them all was a queen; and all they had black hoods, and all wept and shrieked when they saw King Arthur.
"Now put me into that barge," said the King; and so he did softly. And there received him three ladies with great mourning, and so they set them³ down. And in one of their laps King Arthur laid his head, and then the queen said, "Ah, my dear brother,
why have ye tarried so long from me? Alas, this wound on your head hath caught overmuch cold." And anon they rowed fromward the land, and Sir Bedivere beheld all tho ladies go froward him.
Then Sir Bedivere cried and said, "Ah, my lord Arthur, what shall become of me, now ye go from me and leave me here alone among mine enemies?"
"Comfort thyself," said the King, "and do as well as thou mayest, for in me is no trust for to trust in. For I must into the vale of Avilion° to heal me of my grievous wound. And if thou hear nevermore of me, pray for my soul."
But ever the queen and ladies wept and shrieked that it was pity to hear. And as soon as Sir Bedivere had lost the sight of the barge he wept and wailed and so took the forest, and went¹ all that night. And in the morning he was ware betwixt two holts hoar² of a chapel and an hermitage.³
* * *

Thus of Arthur I find no more written in books that been authorised,° neither more of the very certainty of his death heard I never read,¹ but thus was he led away in a ship wherein were three queens: that one was King Arthur's sister, Queen Morgan la Fée, the t'other² was the Queen of North Wales, and the third was the Queen of the Waste Lands.

* * *

Now more of the death of King Arthur could I never find but that these ladies brought him to his burials,³ and such one was buried there that the hermit bore witness that sometimes was Bishop of Canterbury.° But yet the hermit knew not in certain that he was verily the body of King Arthur, for this tale Sir Bedivere, a Knight of the Table Round, made it to be written. Yet some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead, but had by the will of our Lord Jesu into another place. And men say that he shall come again and he shall win the Holy Cross. Yet I will not say that it shall be so, but rather I will say, Here in this world he changed his life. And many men say that there is written upon his tomb this verse: Hic iacet Arthurus, rex quondam, rexque futurus.¹ (...)'     1469-70 
° it seemed to him
¹ again
² lapping water and dark waves
³ with my
° sword belt
¹ near
² waited
³ they sat themselves down
° Legendary island of 'earthly paradise'
¹ walked through the forest
² old copses or thickets
³ Sir Bedivere meets the hermit formerly bishop of Canterbury, who tells the knight of the arrival of ladies the previous night who brought with them a corpse and asked that it be buried. Sir Bedivere cries out that the corpse is that of King Arthur and solemnly vows to spend the rest of his life as a hermit in the chapel to be near the King. (This passage was omitted in the NA).
° trustworthy
¹ never heard tell
²  the second
³ grave
° the hermit, formerly Bishop of Canterbury, bore witness
¹ Here lies Arthur, who was once king and will be king again.

Text intro © Mirino. Illustrations by Aubrey Bearsley (1872-1898) from La Mort d'Arthur, by Sir Thomas Malory. Exerpt of Morte Darthur and biography source- The Norton Anthology, English Literature, volume one, with thanks. September, 2012.

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