Home          Transcriptions     Contact Us                                        Malory                Morte           Bibliography

 

Sir Thomas Malory (1415-1471)

Life:

(Most of the following information can be found in the The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Malory by P.J.C. Field, and those looking for a more complete, detailed biography will find this resource very helpful. For anyone looking for a detailed list of all the records regarding Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel, P.J.C. Field’s article on “The Malory Life-Records” can be found in the 1996 book, A Companion to Malory.)

 

Before beginning this biography of the life of Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel, it must be noted that the identity of the Thomas Malory who wrote or may have written the Morte Darthur still cannot be absolutely certain. The only clues we have to the identity of the author lie in the text itself, mostly at the end in the final explicit where the author identifies himself as a knight and a prisoner, asks for prayers, and announces that the text was finished “in the ix yere of the reygne of kyng edward the fourth” or between March 3, 1469 and March 4, 1470. Other explicits in the text confirm these details, as the author repeatedly identifies himself as a knight and prisoner and asks for prayers. There also two sections in the text considered to have a highly autobiographical tone, one describing the condition of being sick in prison and another commenting on the art of hunting as performed by Tristram. In addition, there has been some speculation that Thomas Malory may also have written a poem called The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell based on similarities between its style and the Morte and a final note identifying the author as a prisoner who asks for God’s help in gaining his freedom. 

 

Yet no more definitive evidence in literature exists as to the actual identity of Sir Thomas Malory, author, knight, and prisoner. Indeed there have been nine different Thomas Malorys proposed to be the author of the Morte Darthur: Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel, Sir Thomas Malory of Fenny Newbold (who turns out to be the same as Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel), a Thomas Malory who was M.P. for Bedwin and Wareham, Sir Thomas Malory of Maelor in Flintshire, Thomas Malory who was rector of Holcot in Northhamptonshire, Thomas Malory esquire of Papworth St. Agnes in Cambridgeshire, Thomas Malory of Long Whatton in Leicestershire, and Thomas Malory of Hutton Conyers in Yorkshire. There are issues with any of these candidates, some of which were not knights or were never in prison. For others, there simply are not enough records still in existence to know enough about the candidate. However, to make a long story short, scholars believe Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel to be the most viable candidate for authorship because numerous records show that he meets the three most important criteria. He was a knight, a prisoner, and alive during the reign of King Edward IV. 

 

Some scholars have had a hard time accepting Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel as the author of the most prominent work in English literature on chivalry and knighthood because of his rather colored history while others revel in it. The beginning of the interesting life of this rather prominent and sordid character was actually quite mundane. Thomas Malory was born the son of a well-respected man named John Malory and his wife Philippa Chetwynd between 1415 -1417. By 1441, he had become a knight. By 1443, his rather interesting criminal history, a history which contains charges ranging from theft, assault, attempted murder, rape, extortion, poaching, and even robbery of an abbey, had begun. In 1448, he married Elizabeth Walsh of Wanlip in Leicestershire and fathered a son and heir, Robert Malory. Then from 1452 until 1460, Malory remained imprisoned with numerous attempts to try him in court. He never appears to actually have had a trial despite these numerous attempts. At various times he was released on bail, during which he was charged with further crimes. He was pardoned in a general pardon issued in 1462 by Edward IV but actually ended up back in prison by 1468. Sometime from 1469 to 1470, Malory completed the Morte Darthur. And on March 14, 1471, Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel died, likely still a prisoner, and was buried at Greyfriars church where his epitaph once read:

 

Dominus Thomas Mallere valens miles obiit 14 Mar 1470 de parochia Mokenkyrby in comitatu Warwici (Sir Thomas Malory, a valiant knight of the parish of Monks Kirby in Warwickshire, died 14 March 1471). 

  

It is also incredibly important to remember when considering the extraordinary life of this man that Sir Thomas Malory lived during one of the periods of the greatest political upheaval in the history of Britain. The Wars of the Roses occurred during his lifetime, and Malory's political involvement both as an M.P. and in confirmed battles demonstrates his involvement with this struggle. In addition, he had regional and personal acquaintance with many of the high ranking men involved in the war. Needless, to say, the most likely author of this extraordinary work lived an extraordinary life in an extraordinary period of history.

 

Bibliography

 

Field, P.J.C. The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Malory. Cambridge, UK: D.S. Brewer, 1993. 218 pp.

 

---. “The Malory Life-Records.” A Companion to Malory. Eds. Elizabeth Archibald & A.S.G Edwards. 115-130.

 

Shepherd, Stephen H.A. “Chronologies.” Le Morte Darthur. New York, NY: Norton & Co., 2004. xvii-xxxiv.

 

Vinaver, Eugene. “The Knight-Prisoner.” The Works of Sir Thomas Malory. Ed. P.J.C. Field. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1990. xix-xxxiv. 

 

This chronology has been taken from the 2004 edition of Le Morte Darthur edited by Stephen H.A. Shepherd.

 

Chronology of Malory’s Life:

 

1415-1417                                             Thomas is born into a Warwickshire gentry family, the son of Philippa Chetwynd and John Malory (who died 1433/4 and was at various times sheriff, Member of Parliament [M.P.], and justice of the peace for Warwickshire.

 

Oct. 8, 1441                                         First record describing Thomas as a knight.

 

Oct. 10, 1443                                       Malory accused of having insulted, wounded, and imprisoned Thomas Smythe of Spratton, Northamptonshire, and stealing £40’s worth of his goods (the matter apparently did not go to trial).

 

Feb. 5, 1448                                        Married to Elizabeth Walsh of Wanlip, Leicestershire

 

Jan. 1445-Apr. 1446                           M.P. for Warwickshire

 

1447-8                                                 Birth of son Robert.

 

Aug. 23, 1451                                      Malory is charged at Nuneaton, Warwickshire, in the presence of Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, with the following crimes:

 

                                                            attempted murder of the Duke of Buckingham, by ambush with twenty-six other men, in the Abbot’s woods at Combe, Warwickshire, Jan. 4, 1450.

 

                                                            “Rape” (raptus) of Joan Smith, at Coventry, May 23, 1450

 

                                                            Extortion of money from two monks of Monks Kirby, Warwickshire, May 31, 1450

 

                                                            Second “rape” of Joan Smith, and theft of £40’s of goods from her husband, Aug. 6, 1450.

 

                                                            Extortion of money from another monk of Monks Kirby, Aug. 31, 1450

 

                                                            Theft of seven cows, two calves, 335 sheep, and a cart worth £2 at Cosford, Warwickshire, June 4, 1451.

 

                                                            Theft of six does and infliction of £500’s worth of damage in the duke of Buckingham’s deer park at Cauldon, Warwickshire, July 20, 1451.

 

                                                            Escaping imprisonment at the house of Sheriff Sir William Montford at Coleshill, Warwickshire (Malory swims the moat at night), July 27, 1451.

 

                                                            Robbery, with ten accomplices, of £46 in money and £40’s worth of ornaments from Combe Abbey, July 28, 1451.

 

                                                            Further robbery at Combe Abbey, with one hundred accomplices, of £40 in money and five rings, a small psalter, two silverbells, three rosaries, and two bows, and three sheaves of arrows.

 

Jan. 27, 1452 – July 1460                    Held at various prisons in London (Ludgate, King’s Bench, the Tower of London, and Newgate) awaiting a trial that never happened. During this period Malory is released on bail several times; during two of these periods of temporary freedom he is implicated in further crimes:

 

                                                            Theft of four oxen from Lady Katherine Peyto at Sibbertoft, Northamptonshire.

 

                                                            Harboring another alleged criminal, his servant John, and attempting with him to steal horses in the environs of Great Easton, Essex.

 

                                                            For the latter, he is jailed at Colchester, Essex, from whence he escapes, Oct. 30, 1454. He is recaptured and returned to prison in London. Not long after the seizure of London by Yorkist forces in July 1460, Malory is probably freed from prison.

 

Oct. 24, 1462                                       Issued a general pardon (i.e., amnesty) by the new king, Edward IV.

 

Autumn 1462                                     Probable marriage of son Robert to Elizabeth Pulteney of Misterton, Leicestershire.

 

Oct. 1462 – Jan. 1463                         Malory participates in the military expedition of Edward IV and Richard, Earl of Warwick against Lancastrian strongholds in the Northumbrian castles of Alnwick, Bamburgh, and Dunstanborough.

 

Aug. 2, 1466 – July 26, 1467             Birth of grandson Nicholas

 

July 14, 1468                                       Malory is explicitly excluded from a general pardon of Edward IV for any crimes committed; the exclusion generally names Lancastrian sympathizers. Presumably Malory is back in prison at this time, even though no charges against him are recorded, and there is no record of his having been brought to trial.

 

Apr. 20, 1469                                     Twenty-one men, including Malory, are recorded as witnesses to a deathbed declaration of Thomas Mynton, inmate of Newgate Prison; presumably Malory is also an inmate there—a prison less likely to hold political prisoners than the Tower of London.

 

Mar. 4, 1469 – Mar. 3, 1450               Le Morte Darthur completed; to judge from Malory’s references throughout to being in prison, he may well have written most, if not all, of the work while incarcerated.

 

Feb. 22, 1470                                      Malory is explicitly excluded from another general pardon of Edward IV

 

Mar. 14, 1471                                       Malory dies, possibly still a prisoner, as he is buried at Greyfriars Church in the immediate vicinity of Newgate. If he was still a prisoner, then his imprisonment on political grounds seems less likely, as the throne had reverted to Henry VI in the previous year. According to a sixteenth-century transcription, his epitaph read as follows (the actual tombstone is lost, probably sold in 1545, with many others from the churchyard, to raise money for Henry VIII): Dominus Thomas Malleré valens miles obiit 14 Mar 1470 de parochia Mokenkyrby in comitatu Warwici (Sir Thomas Malory, a valiant knight of the parish of Monks Kirby in Warwickshire, died 14 March 1471).