Le Morte D'Arthur Book summary

Sir Thomas Mallory

Overview

About

 

Le Morte D'Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory can be seen as a compilation of the legends of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. It is believed to have been written by the author while he had been serving a prison sentence between the years 1469 and 1470. However, the book was published in 1485 after the death of the author by Willaim Caxton who also chose its title. King Arthur is a mythical King of England who is said to have led a mighty host of knights that called themselves the Knights of the Round Table. The earliest references to King Arthur can be found in Welsh poetry, and some history books about the old kings of Britain also mention his name. It is impossible to conclude whether or not King Arthur and his Knights of Round Table ever existed due to a lack of historical evidence for the period between 450 - 550 BC.

Tales of King Arthur and his knights have served as inspiration for authors all across Europe since that time. However, most of these tales were found recorded in verse, and Mallory breaks that tradition by compiling all of these stories in prose. He wrote the book at a time when there was a resurgence of the culture of chivalry, and knights. The King of England, Edward III, created the Order of the Garter, which was modeled around the Knights of the Round Table, in 1348. This is perhaps another reason why Le Morte D'Arthur gained the prominence that is presently associated with it.

BOOK COVER

Plot Summary

 

Le Morte D'Arthur describes the birth, rise, and eventually fall of the mythical King of England, Arthur Pendragon. Arthur was born to King Uther Pendragon, and Queen Igraine, whom Uther had married after slaying her previous husband, the Duke of Cornwall. Uther agrees to give up his son at birth to the care of the Wizard Merlin, who places the infant in the care of Sir Ector. Eventually, Uther passes away without an heir, and Merlin orchestrates Arthur's ascension to the throne through Excalibur, which is a magical sword that can only be pulled from stone by King Arthur. Arthur rises to the throne of England through this ritual, but many neighboring kings believe him to be unworthy of the title given his young age, and untested reputation. Merlin assists Arthur in establishing his kingdom through might as Arthur wins one war after the other. In the process of waging war, and fighting tournaments, Arthur accidentally sleeps with his half-sister, Margawase. The lady gives birth to Arthur's son, Mordred, who is prophesied to be the downfall of King Arthur. Merlin attempts to thwart fate, but he becomes entrapped due to his love for the lady of the lake, Nimue.

King Arthur continues to win accolades even without the aid of Merlin, and he goes on to marry Guenever. Arthur and Guenever then establish the order of the Knights of the Round Table, all of whom swear an oath of chivalry, and honor.

The merrymaking is short-lived as Arthur is suddenly invited into a conflict with the Roman Emperor Lucius, who demands that England pay Rome a tribute. Arthur leads a great host to Europe and meets Emperor Lucius in battle. His armies make short work of the Roman forces as Arthur himself severs the emperor's head with Excalibur to end the battle. Arthur advances to the capital of Rome, and he is made the Emperor. He appoints his Governors and leads a host of seasoned knights back home. Among his knights is Sir Launcelot, the son of King Ban of Benwick, an old ally of King Arthur. Sir Launcelot wins significant renown in the tournaments of the kingdom, where he and Queen Guenever fall in love with one another. The book then turns to explore the adventures of the other renowned knights of the round table like Sir Tristram, Sir Gareth, Sir Bors, and Sir Percivale.

Several years later, Launcelot has a son with a noblewoman called Elaine, who is related to Joseph of Arimathea. She gives birth to a boy named Galahad who is prophesied to achieve the Holy Grail. Just as the boy Galahad grows up to become a knight in Arthur's court, the knights of the round table become enamored with the quest for the Holy Grail. Arthur is saddened to see so many of his knights depart since he knows that many of them will not be able to return. Nearly all of the knights, including Sir Launcelot, are told in one way or another that they cannot achieve the Holy Grail, due to their sins. In the end, three knights of the round table are able to achieve the Holy Grail including Launcelot's son, Galahad, Sir Percival, and Sir Bors. Several other knights lose their life in the quest, and even of the two that do achieve the Seige Perilous, only one knight, Sir Bors, is able to return. Sir Galahad is revealed to be the last relative of King Solomon and so he is carried up to heaven after he has completed the quest for the Holy Grail.

Launcelot tries to stop having an affair with the queen, but his control slackens, and he eventually returns to her arms. Mordred and Agravaine plot against Launcelot as they inform Arthur about Launcelot and Guenever's affair. Arthur is reluctant to believe them, but the matter soon proves to be true as Mordred and Agravaine trap an unarmed Launcelot in Guenever's rooms. Launcelot breaks free but he kills several knights in the process which leads to civil war. Launcelot kills Gawaine's brothers while he rescues Guenever from being burnt at the stake as a traitor. Gawaine and Arthur unleash an unending barrage of attacks that aren't dampened even when Launcelot brings back Guenever and begs Gawaine for forgiveness. Arthur's forces follow Launcelot to his homeland and lay siege to his castle, but Mordred seizes Arthur's throne in his absence. Arthur returns to face Mordred, but he is dealt a mortal blow just as he delivers a killing stroke to Mordred. Arthur is given to a barge of four women at the end of the tale, although some knights find the grave of a man that fits his description. Some legends claim that King Arthur never died and that he would one day return with his magical sword to claim back his throne.

  • Author(s)

    Sir Thomas Mallory
  • Publication date

    1485

  • Language

    English

  • Classification

    Arthurian Romance

  • Pages

    1008

Keywords

Chivalry, Romance

Publisher

William Caxton

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