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Welcome to Le Morte Darthur Online.  This project was begun with the intent of providing access to diplomatic transcriptions of the three contemporary witnesses of Sir Thomas Malory’s fifteenth-century story, Le Morte Darthur, that of the Winchester Manuscript, Caxton’s 1485 printed edition, and Wynkyn de Worde’s 1529 printed edition.


 As you explore the site, you will find a biography/chronology of Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel (the purported author of the Morte Darthur), histories and descriptions of the three texts, a page of useful and helpful links concerning the transcriptions and the study of the legend of King Arthur, and of course the fully-searchable texts of the three transcriptions. One important thing to note, before you begin your exploration is that this transcription has been designed to accommodate all visitors, both scholars, students, and the merely curious. For some the information included here will already be familiar with in-depth explanation unnecessary. For others, this may be their first introduction to this type of information. The idea of education is that it should be available to all, and that is the purpose of this website. I hope everyone finds the website useful, whether for research purposes or merely to learn a bit more about the period, or simply to read the most famous legend of King Arthur. Thank you for visiting and feel free to come back any time!


Navigating through the Site:


(I include detailed instructions here on navigating the website which may be overly basic for some users. If so, skip this section and continue right to the transcription, or to read more about the editing decisions made for the transcription keep scrolling down. For those less experienced, I hope these instructions make the website more user-friendly and the information more accessible.) 


As you explore the website, you may encounter several different ways of navigating through it, all designed to make it as user-friendly as possible. First of all, the home page, transcriptions (indicated by the word “The Texts”), a link to contact us with questions or concerns, Malory’s biography, information on the Morte in general, and a link to the Bibliography are available by use of a navigation bar at the top of every page (excluding the home page). If at any time you feel lost you can use this bar to navigate back to the home page or use your browser’s back button to return to the desired page.


A note for those seeking to ‘search’ the text, you may easily search any part of the text in your current section page by hitting ctrl + F and typing in your search word in the “Find” box that appears. However, some may find it hard to locate particular words or phrases because the spelling is that of the original Middle English/Early Modern English and lacks regularized spelling. However, to proceed directly to a particular page simply type in that ‘f. [page number]’ to reach that page. 


I hope you find exploring the website easy, educational, and enjoyable. Most of it is fairly self-explanatory, but if you have a problem simply refer back to this page or email me at kb755779@aol.com


A Note on Editing the Text:


The transcriptions you will find on this website could be described as ‘diplomatic,’ meaning that they attempt to recreate the text and the textual experience of the three texts as closely as possible in an electronic medium.


The original text, (or exemplum for you medieval scholars) used to create this transcription of the Winchester Manuscript was the 1976 facsimile of The Winchester Malory published by the Early English Text Society at Oxford University Press.  The text was then rubricated using Stephen H. A. Shepherd’s 2004 edition which reproduces the original red-lettering.  A page from the actual manuscript would appear something like this . . .



This same page in the transcription appears like this . . .


f. 233v (X.4-5)


a go sytthen I smote you downe to the erthe at your owre

a go sytthyn I smote you downe desyre and I wolde haue

ryddyn by you & ye wolde haue suffyrd me but now me

semyth ye wolde do more batayle with me That is trowthe

seyde sir Sagramour and sir Dodynas for we woll be re//

vengyd of Þe dyspyte Þat ye haue done to vs · Fayre knyghtes

seyde sir Trystram that shall lytyll nede you for all that

I ded to you ye caused hit where fore I requyre you of your

knyghthode leve me as at this tyme for I am sure and

I do batayle with you I shall nat ascape with oute grete hurtes

And as I suppose ye shall nat ascape all lotles and this

is Þe cause why that I am so loth to haue a do wyth you

for I muste fyght with in this ·iij· dayes with a good knyght

and a valyaunte as ony now is lyvynge and yf I be

hurte I shall nat be able to do batayle with hym · what

knyght is Þat seyde sir Sagramoure that ye shall fyght

wyth all Sir hit is a good knyght callyd sir Palomydes

Be my hede seyde sir Sagramour and sir Dodynas ye

haue a cause to drede hym for ye shall fynde hym a

passynge good knyght and a valyaunte And by cause

ye shall haue a do wyth hym we woll for beare you

as at this tyme and ellys ye sholde nat ascape vs

lyghtly But fayre knyght sayde sir Sagramoure

telle vs your name Syrrys my name is sir Trystram

A sayde sir Sagramoure and sir Dodynas well be

ye founde for muche worshyp haue we harde of

you And than aythir toke leve of oÞer & departed on there

way And sir Trystram rode streyte to Camelot to Þe

perowne that Merlyon had made to fore where

sir Launceor Þat was Þe kynges son of Irelonde that was

slayne by the hondys of sir Balyn And in Þe same 


As for the transcription from the Caxton.  I have used the base transcription originally completed by H. Oskar Sommer’s in the 1890s and corrected the errors it contains, including adding line endings (such as are also represented in the Winchester transcription).  There is no distinct rubrication in the text of Caxton.  An image of this text would appear as such:




The same text transcribed would appear as such:




The Wynkyn de Worde transcription has been completed from facsimile images of the text available on Early English Books Online (eebo.chadwyck.com).  The original text is held by the British Library and is missing a few pages from the beginning, namely those in the Table of Contents.  The Wynkyn de Worde, unlike the Caxton or Winchester, also possesses a number of woodcut illustrations, space has been left for these.  A page of this text would appear like this:




The transcription would appear like this:





Some of the first major items to note about the these texts and their transmission before examining the transcriptions are to understand the major differences between a manuscript experience and a modern day website. Of course the first major difference between a manuscript and a modern website is the actual typeface or font. A manuscript is hand written (manu –Latin for hand, script –Latin for writing) while this transcription (trans –Latin root means cross or move) appears in modern typeface.  Also, as can be seen even the two printed texts, in order to copy the look of the more expensive manuscripts, have typefaces that are not familiar. 


And as far as the Winchester itself is concerned, this manuscript originally had two scribes, referred to as Scribe A and Scribe B, whose handwriting differs quite a bit. These differences have been kept by using different fonts. The sections written by Scribe A appear in Times New Roman (the font you see here); those written by Scribe B appear in Garamond (the font you see here).

The next most obvious difference between these transcriptions and the actual texts is that a manuscript and incunabula (early printed books, especially before 1500) exist in a printed medium within an actual book, while this transcription exists merely on the screen in front of you. To read a book you must flip the pages; to read this transcription you click the button on a mouse and scroll down. 


Less obvious differences may be how the two are read. Very likely, you are reading this now quietly to yourself. The experience of reading has changed much since the time of early books and manuscripts. Most likely, these early texts would have been read aloud to an audience of listeners. Manuscripts and early books were expensive to produce since they were made of vellum and parchment which originally comes from cattle and sheep (vellum – veal – calves, parchment—sheep), and this manuscript originally had 484 pages, the Caxton 433, and the de Worde 324. I am sure you can try to imagine how many animals that would involve and the expense. 


Besides, someone still had to write the text out by hand, and most manuscripts also have at least some decoration. Needless to say, in order for medieval readers to really get the most value out of a book, a person would be selected read one to a number of people. In addition, many less people were literate in the 1400s than are today, though literacy, especially in the vulgar tongue (a vulgar tongue was any language besides Latin) was increasing. 


While you may find these transcriptions considerably easier to read than trying to puzzle your way through medieval handwriting, you will still note some major differences in this text compared to a more modern one. For the first thing, at this point, punctuation as we understand it was in its infancy. Throughout this transcription you will see the medieval punctuation used and not any modern punctuation. One main punctuation mark you will see frequently resembles a back slash (/) or double back slash (//), and these were referred to as virgules. Another punctuation mark looks much like a floating period (·) and was called a punctus. These marks are used to separate thoughts and sometimes speech. Also some words are capitalized, but not in a very predictable manner. One predictable capitalization occurs with the first letter in proper names but not even all of these have been capitalized. While, the 1400s did have some methods of organizing their writing, they did not possess the regular, rule-governed behavior that our modern punctuation and capitalization has. 


Another difference you will note between modern texts and the transcriptions is the spelling of words. In the 1400s, standardized spelling and spelling tests did not exist. The same word or name may be spelled in four different ways. Sometimes, most of the time our modern Lancelot is ‘Launcelot’ in these texts, but sometimes he is ‘Launcelotte’ or ‘Launclot.’ In addition, the language you see is not exactly the same form of Modern English that we speak and read today. Some may argue that the language of the late 1400s still fits into Middle English, or the language that Chaucer used in the late 1300s, a hundred years earlier. However, many of the sounds and spellings of Malory’s English also resemble Early Modern English or Shakespeare’s English, who began to write about a hundred years later in the late 1500s. Malory’s English stands at a stage of transition between Chaucer and Shakespeare but more of the sounds of Malory’s English resemble Shakespeare than Chaucer. 


Within these different spellings, you will also note unfamiliar alphabetic characters, not found in our normal twenty-six letters. These would be a thorn (Þ) which stands for the ‘th’ sound, and a yogh (ȝ) which often replaces a ‘y’ alphabetically or a ‘gh’ and represents a guttural sound which comes from the back of the throat and comes out almost like you were spitting. Try saying knight by pronouncing all the letters and you may come out with a sound that resembles the yogh. Also, u’s and v’s were interchangeable to medieval scribes and typesetters and so sometimes words like ‘have’ may look more like ‘haue.’ Also, u’s and n’s appear in the same way in the manuscript so sometimes where you will see ‘un,’ some may read that as a double n (nn). 


One thing that medieval scribes liked to do as much as we do today is abbreviate, but they used different abbreviations and different ways of doing so than do we. One of the scribes’ favorite abbreviations is to get rid of the ‘er’ or ‘ur’ or ‘ar’ in a word by making a hook at the end of a word or drawing a line through the bottom of the letter prior to where these letters fit. I did not include these symbols in the transcription. Instead, you will find many italicized letters representing these abbreviation symbols. The one exception are underlined n’s and m’s (n & m) which also represent an abbreviation which appears as a line over the top of a the word or another m or n. ‘Writing out’ these abbreviations should make it a little easier to read for you. Also, like all of us, medieval scribes and typesetters made mistakes and corrected these by marking through them. You may see this done in the transcriptions by seeing words in strikethrough just as the scribes did.


Another important difference to note is the appearance of the text in blocks. In a manuscript, the scribe would have taken a pencil and carefully measured and ‘ruled’ the area where the text would fit (similar to our modern-day notebook paper). As we’ve already mentioned, scribes had to be careful because manuscripts were expensive things. Thus you will see the blocks of text appear exactly as they do on the manuscript page with line endings and page breaks preserved. One thing that has not yet been included in these electronic transcription are the notes and images which appear in the margins outside the actual text (called marginalia). These marginalia have been represented in a version of the text being prepared for print but not yet online. 


You will also note that the pages are numbered differently. The ‘f.’s before the page numbers represent the word folio and the ‘v’ after some page numbers represents the word verso. Basically, the manuscript is a ‘bifoliated’ edition, meaning that a single sheet of vellum or parchment was taken and folded in half to form four pages, front and back, or two leaves. The folio numbers are the sequential order of these leaves. The numbers missing a ‘v’ represent the recto side of the page or the front side. The numbers with a ‘v’ represent the verso side, or the back side of a page (think re ‘verso’). 


Also, only a small section of these transcription have yet been completely edited and rubricated.  The remaining uncorrected transcriptions of the Caxton and Winchester are available, but visitors should note that they are UNCORRECTED.  This project is still in its early stages and longer versions of the text along with textual notes will be come available as the project progresses.  If you note any thing that needs to be corrected, please contact me at kb755779@aol.com, and I will address the issue as quickly as possible. 


I believe this covers most of the differences you will see in these transcriptions, both from the modern angle and the medieval one. My final note is simply to have fun!


A Note on the Images


The images you find in this website come from other sources and have their own copyright regulations and permissions. Permission was obtained before using them. They have been included in this educational website as a means for increasing your enjoyment. Please refrain from using these images without gaining permission from their original sources yourself. The original sources of these images can often be found in a link or note at the bottom of each page by request of the source. 




 Images used with permission from the British Library and John Ryland Library.