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SIR THOMAS MALORY (1420-1471)

Sir Thomas Malory was the author of the most famous work of Arthurian literature, "Le Morte D'Arthur". This literary masterpiece was made all the more remarkable because it was written by a layman living in Medieval England. Clearly not a professional writer, Sir Thomas' composition grows in power throughout its length, while his style remains simple and informal, probably much like his own speech. He saw his romances as the chronicles of an historical Arthur perhaps with a moralistic slant. They certainly show off the religious and chivalric ideas of the age which Sir Thomas must surely have shared.

Little is known of the author of "Le Morte D'Arthur" and his specific identity has been much disputed. He was obviously an educated man who could read both English and French, the languages of his sources. His own writings reveal that he was a knight-prisoner around the year 1470 when he completed his literary tour de force. This points to him being the Sir Thomas Malory who was a probable Lancastrian conspirator in Cook's plot, excluded from the 1468 general pardon. Despite a notorious reputation for violent crime which conflicts considerably with the apparent chivalric values of the author of "Le Morte D'Arthur", this Sir Thomas was almost certainly also the one who lived at of Newbold Revel in Warwickshire.

Malory of Newbold Revel was born around 1400, the son of John Malory of that manor and his wife, Phillipa Chetwynd. He was a retainer of the Lord Lieutenant of France, Richard Beauchamp, the Earl of Warwick and was already campaigning with him during his reinforcement  of Calais in 1414. After his master's death in 1439, Malory returned to England; but his time in France made him critical of the loss of English possessions there, and this is revealed in "Le Morte D'Arthur".

Sir Thomas inherited a considerable estate in Warwickshire upon his father's death in 1433, and he seems to have quickly become drawn into the turmoil of local politics. In 1445, he became MP for his county: a rather unstable area during this time because the usually powerful Earl of Warwick, was only in his mid-teens. It appears to have been political affairs in Warwickshire which led Sir Thomas into his numerous clashes with the law. From 1444 onwards, he was caught up in raids on the Peto lands and attacks on the Duke of Buckingham and Combe Abbey, as well as a number of thefts in the county of Essex. Keen to blacken his name, Sir Thomas' enemies branded him "a rapist, church-robber, extortioner and would-be murderer". Unlucky or incompetent, Sir Thomas was certainly in prison almost continuously throughout the 1450s, though he did escape several times. His political affiliations on a national level are difficult to gauge, but his pardon in October 1462, followed by military service in Northumbria the following month is paralleled by former Lancastrians buying back favour. Later, he kept his head down, but may have become embroiled in Cook's Conspiracy of 1468, for which he was imprisoned. There, he turned to writing and earned eternal fame.

Sir Thomas died on 12th March 1471, probably in Newgate Prison (London). He was buried in the nearby Friary Church of St. Francis beneath a marble tomb inscribed: "Dominus Thomas Mallare Valens Miles Obitt 14 Mar 1470 De Parochia Monkenkyrby in Comitatu Warwici".

 

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