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Unexpected Gifts: An Unlikely Troubadour

 

Thomas Mallare, of Newbold Revel in the County of Warwickshire, died 548 years ago on March 14, 1471. He was born fifty-six years before that, with a bit of a silver spoon in his mouth, to a Midlands Justice of the Peace and his heiress wife. Mallare had an uneventful childhood, was knighted in 1441 at the age of 26, and distinguished himself in his early career as a professional soldier.

“Well,” you might say, “he’s a made man.” You might think it was all settled, all done and dusted. Fast forward to wife, children, a retreat to an estate in the country after a successful military career, a bit of local politicking or a judicial appointment of his own, too much fine food and drink, and an early death from apoplexy or a “surfeit of eels.” That’s generally how it went, back in olden days, right?

Not so fast.

At some point in our hero’s life, things went sideways. The young man turned to a life of crime, and for the rest of that life, his dual interests in, the one hand, respectability and comfort, and on the other, low-life, venality, and misdeeds, did battle for his soul.

Thus, he married and sired two or three children. He was charged with kidnapping and theft. He became a knight of the shire and was elected to Parliament. There were questions about his handling of the money which he was supposed to distribute among poor and deprived areas of his district. He picked up some powerful political patrons, and in 1449 he was elected to the Duke of Buckingham’s parliamentary seat of Great Bedwyn. Two years later, he was arrested, accused of ambushing Buckingham and several dozen other men, in an act rooted in the political mess that was the Wars of the Roses (Mallare was a Yorkist). The case was not proven. For the rest of the year, Mallare seems to have carried out a vendetta against Buckingham’s supporters, turning to extortion, house-breaking, and rape. At one point, he was imprisoned, but escaped, swam the castle moat and returned home. He was re-arrested, tried, and immured in Marshalsea Prison for a year. This began a series of encounters similar to those of Captain Renault at Rick’s, in which “They put it on the bill. I tear up the bill.” Imprisonment: Escape. Imprisonment: Escape. Over and over. Robbery. Horse-stealing. Rape. Imprisonment: Escape. Throughout it all, Mallare, who must have been a charmer, remained on good terms with his friends, his allies, and his constituents. Imprisonment: Escape.

At some point during one of his bouts of liberty, and like many of his countrymen, Mallare sensed a change in the political and monarchical winds, switched allegiances, backed the Lancastrian horse, and was imprisoned yet again (1468) for his part in a plot to overthrow King Edward IV. He was released from prison for the final time when Henry VI was restored to the throne in 1470.

His burial was respectable, and the inscription on his tomb read, “Here lies Lord Thomas Mallare, Valiant Soldier,” along with the dates of his birth and death. His children seem to have eschewed a life of crime, and the family returned to its honest and honorable roots.

I know. I know. You think She’s finally lost the plot. You’re chomping at the bit, and wondering “What on earth does this have to do with ‘unexpected gifts,’ and this month’s group writing topic?” Some of you are probably urging, “For Pete’s sake, and for once, She, get to the stinking point!”

So, here it is: Out of nowhere that I can spot anywhere in his biography or in the stories of his life, our man must have had either an innate love of, or wide learning in, the French and English courtly love and chivalric literary traditions of his time. And somehow, during one or more later periods of imprisonment (with time on his hands, one assumes), he gathered, assembled, organized and wrote down what he knew. His very long manuscript, which was put into print in 1485 by William Caxton, was originally titled “The Hoole Book of Kyng Arthur and of His Noble Knyghtes of The Rounde Table.”

In its first printing, fourteen years after its author’s death, William Caxton reorganized the sections, and changed the title, encompassing the entire cycle under what was originally the name of Mallare’s ninth, and last, book.

We know the work today as Le Morte d’Arthur. And its author as Sir Thomas Mallory.

What a gift. And totally unexpected, from everything I can see.

“YET some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead, but had by the will of our Lord Jesu into another place; and men say that he shall come again, and he shall win the holy cross. I will not say it shall be so, but rather I will say: here in this world he changed his life. But many men say that there is written upon his tomb this verse: Hic jacet Arthurus, Rex quondam, Rexque futurus.

**It should be noted that, as with many cases of authorship and attribution of works during this period, there are some questions as to who exactly authored Le Morte d’Arthur. But Thomas Mallare of Newbold Revel is generally accepted as the person, and the facts of his life are pretty much as described above.

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There are 17 comments.

  1. Member

    Lovely post, She.

    One of my favorite classes in college was on Arthurian literature. 

    A nice book for young people (other than Mallory’s own) is Caxton’s Challenge, which tells about a young man who is the son of a scrivener who becomes an apprentice to Caxton and helps him to get both paper for his printing press and Mallory’s work to print.

    • #1
    • March 14, 2019 at 2:02 am
    • 5 likes
  2. Member

    OK, fantastic, stupendously entertaining post. I ask you, O Ricos, isn’t that enough for Main Feed? 

    I seem to recall that your former countryman Mick Jagger “laid tracks for the troubadours, who got killed before they reached Bombay”. 

    • #2
    • March 14, 2019 at 2:10 am
    • 6 likes
  3. Member

    I am so impressed with this witty and knowledgeable post that I keep thinking of things to keep it going, even though it’s a quarter past two here. But nothing I conjure up matches the quality of She’s post. 

    This could be a microaggression. 

    • #3
    • March 14, 2019 at 2:16 am
    • 6 likes
  4. Thatcher
    She Post author

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    I am so impressed with this witty and knowledgeable post that I keep thinking of things to keep it going, even though it’s a quarter past two here. But nothing I conjure up matches the quality of She’s post.

    Funny guy. But thanks.

    This could be a microaggression.

    I won’t hold it against you. Or, at least, if I decide to, I’ll wait 30-40 years before bringing it up. Deal?

     

    • #4
    • March 14, 2019 at 2:18 am
    • 4 likes
  5. Thatcher
    She Post author

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    Lovely post, She.

    Thank you.

    One of my favorite classes in college was on Arthurian literature.

    A nice book for young people (other than Mallory’s own) is Caxton’s Challenge, which tells about a young man who is the son of a scrivener who becomes an apprentice to Caxton and helps him to get both paper for his printing press and Mallory’s work to print.

    Thanks for the suggestion. Will investigate for granddaughter.

    • #5
    • March 14, 2019 at 2:19 am
    • 4 likes
  6. Thatcher

    He took Chrétien de Troyes poems and completely lost track of who the hero was.

    Galahad. Feh. Tin-plated Boy Scout. Couldn’t find “dark” at the bottom of a coal mine at midnight.

    (Never mind me, She. Excellent post.)

    • #6
    • March 14, 2019 at 4:11 am
    • 5 likes
  7. Thatcher
    She Post author

    Percival (View Comment):

    He took Chrétien de Troyes poems and completely lost track of who the hero was.

    Indeed. Perhaps French wasn’t his forte. Perhaps he didn’t like the name.

    Galahad. Feh. Tin-plated Boy Scout. Couldn’t find “dark” at the bottom of a coal mine at midnight.

    Missing @arahant, here, but let’s try this:

    (Never mind me, She. Excellent post.)

    Thanks!

    • #7
    • March 14, 2019 at 4:23 am
    • 2 likes
  8. Member

    John Steinbeck was a big fan of Mallory. Steinbeck wrote his own version of Arthurian legend. He died before it was finished, but it was published in the 1970s. I got the version which had Steinbeck’s correspondence with his editor. (I had put together a massive Arthurian role-playing campaign, and it was part of my background.)

    In it, Steinbeck speculated Mallory’s rape accusation was a fraud, done because it was easy to do. (He talked about avoiding parts of California on his book tour because he was afraid of being framed for rape in agricultural areas. (Arriving at his hotel room to find a woman there who would then claim he raped her.)

    • #8
    • March 14, 2019 at 5:28 am
    • 5 likes
  9. Thatcher
    She Post author

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    John Steinbeck was a big fan of Mallory. Steinbeck wrote his own version of Arthurian legend. He died before it was finished, but it was published in the 1970s. I got the version which had Steinbeck’s correspondence with his editor. (I had put together a massive Arthurian role-playing campaign, and it was part of my background.)

    In it, Steinbeck speculated Mallory’s rape accusation was a fraud, done because it was easy to do. (He talked about avoiding parts of California on his book tour because he was afraid of being framed for rape in agricultural areas. (Arriving at his hotel room to find a woman there who would then claim he raped her.)

    That’s interesting. I’ve read that many of Mallory’s troubles may have been politically motivated from one side or the other (depending on where he stood at the time), but not, specifically, anything about the rape accusations, of which there were a few. In some ways, Mallory reminds me a bit of Christopher Marlowe, only with less gore.

    • #9
    • March 14, 2019 at 5:37 am
    • 2 likes
  10. Contributor

    Another unexpected gift in an extended form of what Paul Harvey called “the rest of the story.”


    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under the March 2019 Group Writing Theme: Unexpected Gifts. There are plenty of dates still available. Tell us about anything from a hidden talent to a white elephant. Share a great surprise or memorable failure (oh, you shouldn’t have!). Our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    April’s theme will be posted after the Ides of March.

    • #10
    • March 14, 2019 at 6:38 am
    • 1 like
  11. Thatcher

    She,

    Way cool!

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #11
    • March 14, 2019 at 6:45 am
    • 1 like
  12. Member

    Crime and politics still go together, but nowadays the literary part is done by ghostwriters

    • #12
    • March 14, 2019 at 7:16 am
    • 4 likes
  13. Member

    Sigh. This Siren beckons me to another book. But I am old and wise, and know that her “one” book would require more than a whole new lifetime to read, starting with a new freshman year and a new major. I will never finish my bloodless Econ 101-2 syllabus anyway. So I’ll just dream about taking book-roads* not taken later. I am not sure there will even be any roads in that later. Roads are only meant to take you somewhere you aren’t, and I think I’ll be where we were meant to be.

     

    *Engineers and armchair economists aren’t not legally liable for mixing metaphors–the courts have held that we aren’t mentally competent.

    • #13
    • March 14, 2019 at 7:48 am
    • 3 likes
  14. Member

    I think it may be a tad unfair to say he “turned to a life of crime.” Having ambition, an unremarkable amount of avarice and a sword used nominally in support of one of the thugs claiming to be king is only criminal if yours is the losing side. Can we begrudge the civil warrior of the day the occasional rape and pillage? Not as if the other chaps aren’t doing the same, eh what?

    For most of the 600 years from the time of the Saxon invasion until the consolidation of the Tudor ascendancy England was a violent [expletive]hole many of whose residents probably would have happily emigrated to the most violent parts of the modern Third World.

    Of interest to me is how a guy from the upper midlands would know a legend that is thought to be of Welsh origin, a story of heroic native Briton resistance to the Germanic invaders.

    • #14
    • March 14, 2019 at 11:34 am
    • 2 likes
  15. Member

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    Of interest to me is how a guy from the upper midlands would know a legend that is thought to be of Welsh origin, a story of heroic native Briton resistance to the Germanic invaders.

    By that time of Mallory (15th Century) there were lots of French versions of the Arthur myth. Not just Chrétien de Troyes, but a 13th century cycle supposedly written by Walter Map, stories by Wolfram von Eschenbach, and lots more. They were to the Middle Ages what secret agent stories were to the 20th century.

    • #15
    • March 14, 2019 at 11:48 am
    • 5 likes
  16. Thatcher
    She Post author

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    Of interest to me is how a guy from the upper midlands would know a legend that is thought to be of Welsh origin, a story of heroic native Briton resistance to the Germanic invaders.

    By that time of Mallory (15th Century) there were lots of French versions of the Arthur myth. Not just Chrétien de Troyes, but a 13th century cycle supposedly written by Walter Map, stories by Wolfram von Eschenbach, and lots more. They were to the Middle Ages what secret agent stories were to the 20th century.

    Good way to put it. Mr. She and I stayed at the foot of Mt. Snowdon on a trip to the UK several years ago, in this cottage. Oh, my gosh it was beautiful. And mysterious. And the area was permeated with the legend of Arthur. You could feel it. (Actually, the Midlands are not that far from the Welsh borders, and thence Wales proper. Birmingham (Warwickshire) to Snowdon is only about 125 miles. A long way for the Medievals. But only a couple of hours for us.

    Still, if you want to be in Arthur country in the UK, you can go to Tintagel. Or Winchester. Or Somerset or Wiltshire. And many places in France (which claims the legend as its own). Here’s another interesting page.

    I make no representation as to the scholarship or accuracy of any of these theories. IMHO, it’s all in good fun. But, Lord, there are some archetypes and touchstones of our civilization in these stories, I think.

    • #16
    • March 14, 2019 at 12:14 pm
    • 3 likes
  17. Thatcher

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    Of interest to me is how a guy from the upper midlands would know a legend that is thought to be of Welsh origin, a story of heroic native Briton resistance to the Germanic invaders.

    By that time of Mallory (15th Century) there were lots of French versions of the Arthur myth. Not just Chrétien de Troyes, but a 13th century cycle supposedly written by Walter Map, stories by Wolfram von Eschenbach, and lots more. They were to the Middle Ages what secret agent stories were to the 20th century.

    That’s part of what makes them so much fun. Instead of a new cast of characters every time, it’s well-known ones. Every troubadour had his own version — maybe more than one.

    • #17
    • March 14, 2019 at 12:59 pm
    • 4 likes