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Malory's version

Sir Thomas Malory’s version of the Arthurian story, Le Morte D’Arthur, published by William Caxton in 1485, encompasses the whole of Arthur’s life, from his birth, the result of a liaison contrived by Merlin between King Uther Pendragon and Igraine, wife of the Duke of Cornwall, to his departure, mortally wounded in the battle at Camlan, to the sacred Isle of Avalion to be healed of his wounds

Between these two momentous events, Malory tells how Arthur drew the sword from the stone, and was chosen king; how he received the sword Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake; how he married Guinevere, daughter of Leodegrance, King of Camelerd, and began the fellowship of the Knights of the Round Table.

He tells of the treachery of Morgan le Fay and how Arthur survives her attempts on his life, of Arthur’s war with Rome, of his conquest and his crowning as Emperor, and of his return to Camelot.  He relates the further adventures of the King and the knights of the Round Table, tells of the tournaments and combats and great deeds of courage and chivalry, of how Sir Galahad is brought to Arthur’s court to take his place on the Seige Perilous at the Round Table, and of the quest for the Sangrail.

He tells of the love of Sir Launcelot and the Queen, how Sir Mordred and Sir Agravain plotted to prove it adulterous, how they caught Sir Launcelot and the Queen together in her chamber, and how Sir Launcelot slew Sir Agravain and escaped arrest.  He tells of Arthur’s judgement of the Queen, that she should die by fire, how Sir Launcelot saved her and fled with her to his castle, Joyous Gard, and how in saving her he unwittingly slew Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth, brothers of Sir Agravain and Sir Gawain.

He tells of how King Arthur and Sir Gawain laid siege to Joyous Gard, of the battles fought as the fellowship of the Round Table was split between those who remained loyal to the King and those who followed Sir Launcelot, and how the Pope intervened to end the conflict and arrange for the Queen to be brought back to the king. 

He tells of how Sir Launcelot brought the Queen to the King, then took his leave of them and returned to France with his followers, but how Sir Gawain, who could not forgive the killing of his brothers, persuaded the King to raise an army and  pursue Sir Launcelot to France, leaving Sir Mordred to rule until the King returned.

He tells of how the King and Sir Gawain laid seige to Sir Launcelot, how Sir Gawain and Sir Launcelot fought twice in single combat, how Sir Gawain was sorely wounded, and how news then came to King Arthur that Sir Mordred had spread word that the King had been killed in battle with Sir Launcelot, had declared himself the new king and intended to marry Queen Guinevere.

He tells of how King Arthur then ended the siege of Sir Launcelot and returned with his army to England to reclaim his throne and punish Sir Mordred, how Sir Mordred brought an army to Dover to repel the King, and how King Arthur won the battle and forced Sir Mordred to flee, but how Sir Gawain was sorely wounded again and died of his wounds, but before dying he repented of his quarrel with Sir Launcelot and wrote a letter to him beseeching him to return to England to help the King.

He tells of how King Arthur pursued Sir Mordred, how a fearsome battle followed in which Sir Mordred wounded the King badly, but was himself killed by the King, how Sir Bedevere carried the King to a shore and at his command threw Excalibur into the water where it was taken by a hand that arose from the water, and how the King was taken on to a small barge in which were three queens, and was taken to the Isle of Avilion to be healed.

He tells, too, of how Sir Launcelot received Sir Gawain’s letter and learned of Sir Mordred’s treachery, and of  Sir Gawain’s death, and returned to England to help the King, but how he is told on arrival of the battle in which the King and Sir Mordred were both slain, then how he searched for the Queen and found her in a nunnery at Almesbury, and how, in penance, he retired to an hermitage to spend the rest of his days in prayer and fasting.   

In his preface to Le Morte D’Arthur, William Caxton, Malory’s editor and publisher, recounts how        “...the excellent prince and king of noble memory, King Edward the Fourth.......required me to imprint the history of the said noble king and conqueror, King Arthur, and of his knights, with the history of the Sangrail, and of the death and ending of the said Arthur...  To whom I answered that divers men hold opinion that there was no such Arthur, and that all such books as be made of him be but feigned and fables, because that some chronicles make of him no mention nor remember him nothing, ne of his knights

Whereto they answered, and one in special said, that in him that should say or think that there was never such a king called Arthur might well be aretted (counted) great folly and blindness; for he said that there were many evidences of the contrary........And in divers places of England many remembrances be yet of him, and shall remain perpetually, and also of his knights.....Then all these things considered, there can be no man reasonably gainsay but there was a king of this land named Arthur.  

Wherefore....I have after the simple cunning that God hath sent to me ....enprised to imprint a book of the noble histories of the said King Arthur, and of certain of his knights, after a copy unto me delivered, which copy Sir Thomas Malory did take out of certain books of French and reduced it into English. .....For herein may be seen noble chivalry, courtesy, humanity, friendliness, hardiness, love, friendship, cowardice, murder, hate, virtue, and sin. .....but for to give faith and believe that all is true that is contained herein, ye be at your liberty.” 


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