Sir Thomas Malory (c1416?-1471) was the author of the classic English version of the "Matter of Britain", that is to say, the tales of the legendary King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table.
In 1485 William Caxton published Le Morte Darthur presenting it as a single work written by Sir Thomas Malory, who at the end of the text describes himself as a knight-prisoner. This was almost certainly the Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel in Warwickshire, who was born between 1415 and 1418, served in several military campaigns, and was convicted or accused of various crimes of violence and robbery. He may not have committed all these crimes. The period of the Wars of the Roses was one of complex and changing loyalties, and a person like Malory who played an active part was liable to false accusations and rigged trials. He was imprisoned at different times for different reasons, and escaped twice, once by swimming a moat, once, it was said, by using swords, daggers and halberds. On both occasions he was recaptured. His works were written in prison, as the end-pieces to the tales which he wrote make clear. He died in 1471.
Malory wrote eight tales of Arthur and his knights, mostly adapted and translated from the French. At the end of the last one he wrote, "Here is the end of the whole book of King Arthur and of his noble knights of the Round Table". Caxton, when he published the work, omitted those passages at the end of each tale which showed that a coherent story had now come to an end, so disguising the shape of the collection.
Malory had a simple and compelling prose style, with its own rhythms and cadences. It has been argued that Malory preferred short sentences, with at most three elements. The style was basically geared to narration, but enabled the author to make his own comments in a natural way. Such a style went out of fashion within a century, as a liking for elaboration and "conceits" came in. Later, Bunyan and Defoe helped to restore simplicity, but it was not till the 19th century that Malory was recognised as a great writer of narrative prose.
In 1934 a manuscript nearer to Malory's original work than Caxton's edition was discovered at Winchester, which was collated by Vinaver with Caxton's edition to produce his own edition.
Malory's work, in the form produced by Caxton, was a primary source for Tennyson's Idylls of the King.
- Eugene Vinaver in his Oxford University Press editions of the Works. These editions are punctuated accordingly.