Introduction by William Caxton. The most famous English-language compilation of Arthurian legends ever issued. First published in 1485, it was one of the last major books to be published in Britain before the introduction of the printing press by William Caxton.
Le Morte d’Arthur was also one of the first books to be published by Caxton, who also acted as editor for the work.
The storyline, drawn partly from older Latin, Welsh, French, German, Norse and even Dutch epics, takes place in Britain and France during the fall of the Western Roman Empire. King Arthur, a legendary Celtic warrior-king, serves as a symbol for the final defeat of Rome, and also the emergence of the Medieval Courtly culture. Other events in the narrative take place in Rome and the Tigris-Euphrates river basin.
Originally titled The hoole booke of kyng Arthur & of his noble knyghtes of the rounde table, the author divided the text into eight books, each dealing with a particular theme. Caxton broke these up further into twenty-one books. The themes and books are:
Book I: The birth and rise of Arthur: “From the Marriage of King Uther unto King Arthur that Reigned after Him and Did Many Battles” (Caxton I–IV).
Book II: King Arthur’s war against the Romans: “The Noble Tale Between King Arthur and Lucius the Emperor of Rome” (Caxton V).
Book III: The book of Lancelot: “The Tale of Sir Launcelot du Lac” (Caxton VI).
Book IV: The book of Gareth (brother of Gawain): “The Tale of Sir Gareth” (Caxton VII).
Book V: Tristan and Isolde: “The First and Second Book of Sir Tristrams de Lyons” (Caxton VIII-XII).
Book VI: The Quest for the Holy Grail: “The Noble Tale of the Sangreal” (Caxton XIII-XVII).
Book VII: The affair between Lancelot and Guinevere: “Sir Launcelot and Queen Gwynevere” (Caxton XVIII-XIX).
Book VIII: The breaking of the Knights of the Round Table and the death of Arthur: “Le Morte D’Arthur” (Caxton XX-XXI).
This Volume I of Le Morte d’Arthur contains Caxton’s original introduction to the work, in which he explains how he came into possession of the manuscript and his reasons for editing the work.
Caxton’s Books I-IX are contained in Volume I.
Volume II contains Books X-XXI.
About the author: Although there is dispute as to the exact identity of the author, it is most commonly agreed that it was Sir Thomas Malory (died 1471) from Newbold Revel in Warwickshire. He was a knight, land-owner, and Member of Parliament—and also allegedly involved in several clashes with the law, all of which were apparently forgiven when he was buried with honor in Christ Church Greyfriars, opposite St Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London. It is claimed that Malory started work on Le Morte d’Arthur to pass the time in prison, and completed it by 1470.
William Caxton (1415–1492) was an English merchant, diplomat, writer and printer. He was the first English person to work as a printer and the first to introduce a printing press into England in 1476.