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Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur (1469) is one of the most renown books in the world. Virtually all modern versions of the Arthurian legends are derived from its energetic, memorably phrased and remarkably individual telling of the stirring exploits of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Yet the identity of the fifteenth-century knight who wrote it has remained an enigma for centuries. The existing records of his life imply that he was a criminal-accused of rape, ambush, rustling and attacks on abbeys-and in prison for most of his life.
Using evidence from new historical research and deductions from the only known manuscript copy of Malory's masterpiece, Christina Hardyment resolves the contradictions in this brilliant story of a man who was marked by great achievement along with deep disgrace. She depicts Malory as an experienced soldier-who fought against the French with Henry V and was closely connected with the Knights Hospitallers' battles against the Turks in Rhodes-an expert on tournaments, a connoisseur of literature, a loyal subject who was deeply involved in the troubled politics of the Wars of the Roses, and a writer who intended his great work to inspire the princes and knights of his own time to high endeavors and noble acts.
Christina Hardyment has not only given Sir Thomas Malory a biography worthy of King Arthur's greatest chronicler, she has also set it against a fascinating background: an age that would see the high-water mark of medieval chivalry and would also come to be seen as a bridge between the Middle Ages and the modern world.
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Christina Hardyment read history at Newnham College, Cambridge, and has twice held the Alistair Horne Historians' Writing Fellowship at St. Antony's College, Oxford. She is a writer and broadcaster with wide interests, and lives in Oxford, England.From Publishers Weekly:
Thomas Malory (1405–1471), the great English compiler of the Arthurian legends, lived the chivalric values of his stories in the chaotic times of the Hundred Years' War and the War of the Roses. British historian Hardyment (The Future of the Family) devotes much time to political context, but her more interesting material, drawing on scholarship dating as far back as the 16th century, shows that though Malory's work was "distinctly idiosyncratic," there is evidence of the influence of French romances, early English histories and popular ballads. Most fascinating are the clues Hardyment finds to Malory's life in the unique additions he made to the known stories, including mentions of English and Welsh localities, references to contemporary events and an emphasis on ideals and religious faith rather than love. Malory, the author shows, was most original in his tales of Lancelot, suggesting an identification with his noble but flawed hero. Hardyment plausibly explains charges of assault and rape against Malory as politically motivated and argues that the writer spent his last years in jail because of his loyalty to Henry VI. Camelot echoes marvelously through Hardyment's biography, making palpable Malory's desire for valor and honor in his own time. 16 pages of color, 8 pages of b&w illus., maps. (Aug. 1)
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