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Sir Thomas  Malory
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關鍵字詞:Arthurian legends;Prose style;William Caxtons edition of Morte Darthur;English Literature I:the Medieval Period;English Literature and Culture From Medieval Period to the Eighteenth Century

Sir Thomas Malory

Sir Thomas Malory

Provider: 劉雪珍/ Cecilia Liu

Le Morte Darthur is undoubtedly the last definitive interpretation of the Arthurian myth before the dawn of the English Renaissance. Yet the identity of its author, Sir Thomas Malory, the knight prisoner, remains as elusive and as mysterious as the knights who inhabit his book. How can the extoller of knightly honor, courtly love and chivalric duty be himself accused of robbery, extortion, attempted murder and rape -- felonious acts which belie those noble sentiments expressed throughout the pages of the Morte? So the question arises -- who is the historical Sir Thomas Malory and how can we account for the massive discrepancy between the man and his work?

Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel in Warwickshire "was born into a gentry family that had lived for centuries in the English Midlands near the point where Warwickshire, Leicestershire, and Northamptonshire meet. His father, John Malory, was an esquire with land in all three counties, but was primarily a Warwickshire man, being twice sheriff, five times M.P. and for many years a justice of the peace for that county. John married Philippa Chetwynd... and they had at least three daughters, and one son, Thomas, who was probably born within a year either way of 1416" (Field 115).     

Of Sir Thomas Malory's early years, "almost nothing is known." As a young man of 23, records reveal that he was a "respectable country landowner with a growing interest in politics" (115). He "dealt in land, witnessed deeds for his neighbours, acted as a parliamentary elector, and by 1441 had become a knight" (115). As P.J.C.Field notes: "In late medieval England, taking up knighthood could be expensive, and doing so may imply political and social ambition" (115). Sir Thomas married Elizabeth Walsh of Wanlip in Leicestershire, who later bore him a son, Robert. Perhaps something of the mythically infamous rogue breaks through this concordant scene when in 1443, Malory was "charged with wounding and imprisoning Thomas Smith and stealing his goods, but the charge apparently fell through" (115). However, in 1445, he "was elected M.P. for Warwickshire" and served "on commissions to assess tax-exemptions in the county" (115).

The year 1449 "was a time of increasing division and unrest in the country, which was eventually to lead to civil war" (116). Up to this time, Malory's life seems to have all the markings of a traditional country gentleman, but then "with the new decade," observes Field, "Malory's life, for no known reason, underwent a startling change" (116). What this change entailed is obvious from the following account, but the impetus behind it remains enigmatic, although party politics, as usual, may have played a pivotal role.

On January 4, 1450, "[Malory] and 26 other armed men were said to have laid an ambush for [the Duke of] Buckingham in the Abbot of Combe's woods near Newbold Revel" (116).     

On May 23, 1450, Malory "allegedly rapes Joan Smith at Coventry. The charge is not of abduction but of rape in the modern sense: it says cum ea carnaliter concubit,'he carnally lay with her.'?It was, however, brought not by Joan under common law, but by her husband under a statute of Richard II intended to make elopement into rape even when the woman consented" (121).     

On May 31, 1450, Malory "allegedly extorts money by threats from two residents of Monks Kirby" (121).     

On August 6, 1450 Malory "allegedly rapes Joan Smith again and steals 40 pounds worth of goods from her husband in Coventry" (121).

On August 31, 1450, Malory "allegedly commits extortion from a third Monks Kirby resident"(121).     

On March 5, 1451, a warrant is issued for his arrest, and a few weeks later "he and various accomplices were alleged to have stolen cattle in Warwickshire -- 7 cows, 2 calves, 335 sheep, and a cart worth 22 pounds at Cosford, Warwickshire (116-22). Buckingham, taking with him 60 men from Warwickshire, attempts to apprehend Malory, but "in the meantime Malory apparently raided Buckingham's hunting lodge, killed his deer, and did an enormous amount of damage" -- 500 pounds worth (116-22).

Malory was finally "arrested and imprisoned at Coleshill, but after two days escaped by swimming the moat [at night]. He then reportedly twice raided Combe Abbey with a large band of [one hundred] men, breaking down doors, insulting the monks, and stealing a great deal of money" (116-22). By January 1452, Malory "was in prison in London, where he spent most of the next eight years waiting for a trial that never came" (116).

Yet Malory's adventures continued. He was "bailed out several times, and on one occasion seems to have joined an old crony on a horse-stealing expedition across East Anglia that ended in Colchester jail. He escaped from there too, 'using swords, daggers, and langues-de-boeuf' (a kind of halberd), but was recaptured and returned to prison in London. After this date he was shifted frequently from prison to prison, and the penalties put on his jailers for his secure keeping reached a record for medieval England" (116-7).

"During Henry VI's insanity, when the Duke of York was Lord Protector, Malory was given a royal pardon," which the court dismissed. Once the Yorkists invaded in 1460 and had expelled the Lancastrians, Malory was "freed and pardoned. He was never tried on any of the charges brought against him" (117).

Malory repaid his deliverers by taking "part in Edward IV and the Earl of Warwick's expedition against the castles of Alnwick, Bamburgh, and Dunstanborough..., which the Lancastrians had seized. The castles were taken, and Malory settled down to a more peaceful life" (117-26).

Yet, Malory seems to have "changed sides" once more. In 1468 and again in 1470, "he was named in lists of irreconcilable Lancastrians who were excluded from royal pardons for any crimes they might have committed. Most of those excluded were at liberty; but the Morte Darthur shows us that Malory was in prison, completing his work" (117).

In October 1470, when the Lancastrians returned to power, "among their first acts was freeing those of their party who were in London prisons. Six months later, Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel died and was buried under a marble tombstone in Greyfriars, Newgate, which, despite its proximity to one of the jails in which he had been imprisoned, was the most fashionable church in London. On the day of Malory's death, King Edward landed in Yorkshire, and two months later the Yorkists were back in power" (117).

Although "the original tombstone was destroyed, ... its inscription survives in this early sixteenth-century transcript, which calls [Malory] valens miles ('valient knight') of the parish of Monks Kirby in Warwickshire and says he died on 14 March 1470, which (since the year began on 25 March) is what is now called 1471" (126). And so, the ambiguity, contradiction, and paradox which surround the man remain.


Work Cited

Field, P.J.C. "Malory's Life Records." A Companion to Malory. Ed. Elizabeth Archibald and
A.S.G. Edwards. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1996. 115-30.

(Source: Sir Thomas Malory Society)

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