CHRISTINA HARDYMENT, Malory: The Life and Times of King Arthur's Chronicler. London: HarperCollins, 2005. Pp. xx, 634. ISBN: 0-00-711489-3. £25.
Christina Hardyment's acknowledgement that Malory: The Life and Times of King Arthur's Chronicler is 'as much an imagined life as a true biography' (2) makes its evaluation as a work of scholarship difficult. On the one hand, Hardyment is a good writer who has read widely; and her book includes, along with beautiful illustrations, much of interest concerning the history, culture, and daily life of the period. She offers some good criticism of Malory's work, and some of her speculations, such as her suggestion that Malory, probably a Lancastrian, may have hoped to placate the Yorkist Edward IV with his book (439), are plausible. However, she offers little to support many statements, some of which are, to put it mildly, dubious and made without consideration of evidence to the contrary.
She maintains, for example, that Malory was born ca. 1399 (43), and while objecting to Peter Field's point that such an early birth date would make Malory rather old when he completed his book (13), she ignores Field's arguably stronger objection that the early date is based upon questionable evidence in Dugdale's History and Antiquities of Warwickshire (1656). She prefers 1399 because that would have made it possible for Malory to have learned about chivalry from Richard Beauchamp. This early date permits the suggestion that Malory was present when Joan of Arc was captured and that Malory's much later attempt to ambush the Duke of Buckingham had its origin in an earlier (totally imagined) instance in which Malory, 'an idealistic young squire,' had seen the 'loutish' Buckingham threaten Joan of Arc with a weapon (163). She also suggests, with no evidence, that Malory had a 'pure courtly love' affair with Anne Neville, Duchess of Buckingham, his 'own personal Guinevere-or Belle Isolde' (373).
Some of Hardyment's attempts to find Lancastrian allusions seem extreme. She believes, for example, that the explicit to Malory's Tale VI, in which he describes the Grail story as 'a tale cronycled for one of the trewyst and of the holyest that ys in the world,' refers to Henry VI: the king 'would be a prime candidate in any Lancastrian loyalist's eyes for being "one of the trewest and of the holiest that is in the world [sic]." If that is indeed the explicit's coded meaning, its final prayer for help could refer just as easily to the imprisoned King as to Malory himself (419). She further argues that Malory, after 1465, was part of 'a Lancastrian conspiracy,' and although she knows Anne Sutton's recent discovery that Malory was imprisoned not in the Tower but in Newgate (437), she believes that during this period 'Malory acted as a trusted go-between for Henry VI in the Tower of London and Queen Margaret's court in exile' (419). She suggests that Malory, initially inspired by Henry V's interest in the Arthurian legends (145), began to write for Henry VI and then 'revised all he had written for Henry's son Prince Edward' (20), but later says that Malory had 'originally intended' the book for the prince (439). …