1416 – 1471
A knight, and member of the provincial English gentry, Sir Thomas Malory grew up in the bucolic downs of England. Like his father before him, Malory can be found in the ledgers and political documents of his times, witnessing land deeds and acting on Parliamentary commissions. He was knighted in 1441, and married with children within a few years.
Records indicate that Malory did not champion the Arthurian virtuosity that fills stories of Le Morte d’Arthur; Malory himself was a villain, and a scourge of the countryside. In the year following his armed ambush against the Duke of Buckingham (unknown motivation), he was charged twice with rape, as well as with extorting money from commoners and monks, and with theft of property. The charges against him in the following year include stealing cows, calves, sheep, and deer, and destruction of the Duke of Buckingham’s property. He was imprisoned in Buckingham, but escaped by swimming the moat; in the days following his escape, he successfully robbed the Coombe abbey, twice. Early the next year, he was recaptured and transferred to London’s Ludgate Prison.
Malory was bailed out multiple times by various lords (including by the Duke of Buckingham, who sought to make amends), but Malory continued to pursue his passion for crime, and he was imprisoned again. In 1454, following a second successful escape from prison, he was arrested and sent to the King’s Bench prison, from whence he was transferred to the infamous Tower of London. During the War of the Roses, King Henry VI was captured, and his prisoners, including Malory, were freed and pardoned en mass.
Malory returned to the gentry, and apparently, settled back into family life; arranging marriages, having more children, witnessing for neighbors. However, political instability continued to affect his freedom, and in 1468 and 1470, newly scribed pardons made sure to exclude Malory, by name.
Thomas Malory was likely returned to prison, and, if he is indeed the true author of Le Morte d’Arthur, it was during this period of his life that he’s likely to have completed his manuscript. Of the contenders for authorship, this Thomas Mallory is the candidate upon which most historians agree.
Le Morte d’Arthur, published by William Caxton in 1485, compiles seven books of King Arthur stories from French and English folklore. The series became the principal source for the continued legacy of the Knights of the Round Table.