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Biography of Sir Thomas Malory (1420?-1470?)

Considerable debate remains over the identity of Thomas Malory, author of Le Morte d’ Arthur. There were several individuals named Thomas Malory or Thomas Malleorre who may have been the original author, but scholars tend to agree upon Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revell in Warwickshire, England as the likeliest candidate. Notations within Le Morte d’Arthur indicate that Malory was a knight, and that he wrote some of the book while in prison, finishing it in 1469 or 1470. Historical documentation has suggested that these facts correspond to the life of Thomas Malory of Newbold Revell. Thus, this biography focuses on that individual.

Malory was a soldier who fought with Richard Beauchamp, the Earl of Warwick, in Calais, France. He was eventually elected to Parliament, but his prestigious career was ceded when he was later arrested and imprisoned multiple times. The charges included robbery, extortion, rape, and attempted murder. The idealized chivalry of the King Arthur legends did not appear to apply to his own life. Malory escaped from prison on several occasions, but was definitely incarcerated for a significant length of time in 1452.

While in prison, Malory wrote at least some of Le Morte d'Arthur, a belief validated by his own notation at the end of Book IV in the Caxton version, which reads “For this was written by a knight prisoner Thomas Malleorre, that God send him good recovery.” Malory may have been sick while he was in prison, considering his lament in Book IX over Sir Tristam's illness: “…that is the greatest pain a prisoner may have. For all the while a prisoner may have his health of body he may endure under the mercy of God and in hope of good deliverance; but when sickness toucheth a prisoner's body, then may a prisoner say all wealth is him bereft, and then he hath cause to wail and to weep (Malory, 419). The Thomas Malory of Newbold Revell died around 1470, ten years before the publication of Le Morte d’ Arthur.

Study Guides on Works by Sir Thomas Malory