Arthurian Romance and Political Language in Fifteenth-Century England
  • Ruth Lexton
Part of the Arthurian and Courtly Cultures book series (SACC)


Arthur, the ‘once and future king’ has a tenacious grasp on the political imagination ofEngland, supplying a figure representative of national identity from the Middle Ages to the present day. Malory’s Morte Darthur, which transformed the sprawling thirteenth-century French Vulgate Cycle romances for fifteenth-century English readers, is often seen as the culmination of the medieval Arthurian tradition and a consolidation of Arthur’s reputation as a perfect chivalric ruler. Yet Malory relies on a contested political language to create his Arthurian world. The fractured vocabulary he deploys is shared with contemporary authors and regis- ters the collective crisis of rule and national identity in England in the years c. 1399–1485. Recovering this contested language, I demonstrate that Malory’s Arthur, far from representing an ideal medieval monarch, manifests structural inconsistencies and political flaws. Malory’s work is not an escape from the turmoil of civil war into the mythical Arthurian past. Rather, in its interest in the problems of kingship articulated in a commonly held lexicon, it is an active participant in the tussle over politi- cal ideas during the Wars of the Roses. By investigating language under pressure, I attend to the shared experiences and concepts of fifteenth- century political life that Malory responds to, enacts, and alters as he colonizes the familiar genre of Arthurian romance.


National Identity Diffuse Meaning Round Table Common Term Political Thought 
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© Ruth Lexton 2014

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  • Ruth Lexton

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