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Sir Thomas Malory (d. 1471). The Holy Grail.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Introductory Note

THE EARLIEST extant form of the story of the Holy Grail is the French metrical romance of “Perceval” or “Le Conte du Graal” of Chrétien de Troies, written about 1175. Chrétien died leaving the poem unfinished, and it was continued by three other authors till it reached the vast size of 63,000 lines. The religious signification of the Grail is supposed to have been attached to it early in the thirteenth century by Robert de Boron, and, perhaps a little later, in the French prose “Quest of the Holy Grail,” Galahad takes the place of Perceval as the hero of the story. The later history of the various versions of the legend is highly intricate, and in many points uncertain. It was from a form of it embodied in the French prose “Lancelot” that Sir Thomas Malory drew the chapters of his “Morte d’Arthur” which are here reprinted, and which, more than the earlier versions, are the source from which the legend has passed into modern English poetry.

Until a few years ago Malory himself was little more than a name, our information about him being limited to the statement in Caxton’s edition of the “Morte d’Arthur” that he was the author. It now appears probable, however, that Sir Thomas Malory was an English knight born about 1400, of an old Warwickshire family. He served in the French wars under Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, “whom all Europe recognized as embodying the knightly ideal of the age,” and may well have owed his enthusiasm for chivalry to his association with this distinguished nobleman. He died in 1471.

Malory’s book is a compilation from French and English sources. These are chosen without much discrimination, and put together without great skill in arrangement. But the author’s wholehearted enthusiasm for chivalrous ideals and the noble simplicity and fine rhythm of his prose have combined to give his work a unique place in English literature. In it the age of chivalry is summed up and closed. It is not without reason that the date of its publication by Caxton, 1485, should be conventionally accepted as the end of the Middle Ages in England. Romance had passed under the printing press, and a new age had begun.