Places: Le Morte d’Arthur

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1485

First transcribed: c. 1469

Type of work: Chronicle

Type of plot: Arthurian romance

Time of work: Age of chivalry

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedCamelot

Camelot. Morte d’Arthur, LeKing Arthur’s primary residence and most important seat of power, home of the Round Table. Malory identifies Camelot as Winchester, though his sources had offered a range of other locations, mostly in southern England. William Caxton, for example, Malory’s first editor and publisher, writes an important preface to the work in which he concedes that the Round Table is indeed kept at Winchester but claims that Camelot itself is in Wales. Descriptions of the city and of the castle are as vague as those of its geographical location, and the image of Camelot seems to have been a rather fluid one, which each generation of writers and readers would visualize in terms of the cities and castles most familiar to them, whether from observation or from reading other romances.

Forest

Forest. Generic setting for many of the adventures of Arthur’s knights. The forest functions as the site of conflict and disorder in opposition to the civilized order and decorum represented by Camelot. By the end of the epic, Camelot itself has declined into a state of chaos and hostility. These forests function both as empty stages upon which the errant knights encounter perils (frequently in the form of other wandering knights) and as enchanted worlds in which the supernatural emerges more readily than in the comparatively realistic world of the court. Characters like Lancelot and Tristram go to the forest when they are driven temporarily mad. Although the forests are depicted as wildernesses where the laws of society are suspended, they are somewhat paradoxically well provided with abbeys, hermitages, and priories at which the knights can obtain food and lodging and hear mass. The forest also contains numerous massive castles built literally in the middle of nowhere.

*Glastonbury

*Glastonbury. Small English town that is the site of one of the most ancient British Christian communities and a major Benedictine abbey. Glastonbury is cited in a number of Arthurian contexts. By the early twelfth century it became the place to which Guenevere is taken when she is kidnapped. In 1190 to 1191, the monks of the monastery announced that they had found the remains of King Arthur and Queen Guenevere in their cemetery under a cross bearing an inscription that conveniently identified them. Caxton’s preface to his edition of Malory also locates his sepulchre there. A legend was soon popularized that the religious site had been founded by Joseph of Arimathea, who is supposed to have brought the Holy Grail to the Isle of Avalon, putatively located near Glastonbury. At the end of Malory’s work, Sir Bedivere, the only survivor of the final battle between Arthur and Mordred, becomes a hermit in a chapel beside Glastonbury. Lancelot and seven other knights join him as hermits, and Lancelot dies there.

*Salisbury

*Salisbury. Town in southern England that is the site of the climactic battle between the forces of Arthur and his nephew/son Mordred, in which the Knights of the Round Table are virtually all killed. Arthur himself is mortally wounded and sent off in a mysterious barge to the vale of Avalon to be healed.

Avalon

Avalon. In most versions of the legend, the magical valley or island to which Arthur is taken after his final battle to be healed, and from which he shall one day return to lead the English people again. Malory himself does not support this part of the story.

*Rome

*Rome. Arthur’s military campaign against the Roman emperor Lucius, which results in Arthur’s being named emperor of Rome, makes up one of the few sustained military operations in the work and one of the few in which Arthur himself is a primary participant. Notable among the battles along the way is Arthur’s combat with a giant at La Mont-Saint-Michel. Popular legend claimed that Britain had been founded by (and named after) Brutus, great-grandson of Aeneas, who had paved the way for the founding of Rome after fleeing Troy. This cultural myth of the translatio imperium saw the history of the world as a progress west from Troy to Rome to England, the third great world power after the empires of Greece and Rome.

Joyous Gard

Joyous Gard. Lancelot’s castle in England, usually located in the northern part of the country, perhaps in Northumberland. He brings Guenevere here for protection after rescuing her from Arthur’s knights when she is about to be executed for treason. Arthur and Gawain besiege the castle to recover her, but even though the pope intervenes to impose peace, the alliance of Lancelot with Arthur’s court is effectively ended. Lancelot renames the castle Dolorous Gard after his split with Arthur. Lancelot is taken there for burial after his death at Glastonbury. Malory locates the castle and the associated town in Alnwick or Bamburgh.

*Tintagel Castle

*Tintagel Castle. Castle in which Arthur is conceived by his father, Uther, and his mother, Ygerna, at that time the wife of Duke Gorlois of Cornwall. Tintagel is also the primary castle of King Mark in the legend of Tristram. Ruins in the area have suggested to some that there may have been a historical basis for the location of a stronghold there.

Logres

Logres. One of the names for Arthur’s realm. A near-synonym for England for Malory and other English writers, much less precisely located for most French writers. Depending upon the context, Logres may comprise large expanses of Europe, up to and including the Roman Empire, to which Arthur lays claim and then conquers. It also covers such imaginary countries as Lyonesse, the home kingdom of Tristram, who typifies the internationalism of Arthurian legend: He is born in Lyonesse, raised in Cornwall, educated in France, married in Brittany, and serves in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, besides being one of Arthur’s knights in Camelot.

BibliographyAdderley, C. M. “Malory’s Portrayal of Sir Lancelot.” Language Quarterly 29, nos. 1-2 (Winter/Spring, 1991): 47-65. Charts the progress of the love between Lancelot and Guinevere and argues that, although the Round Table fails collectively, there remain individuals who excel in virtue and prowess.Field, P. J. C. The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Malory. Cambridge, England: D. S. Brewer, 1993. A convincing biography of Sir Thomas Malory that illustrates his political career during the Wars of the Roses and his several imprisonments.Lumiansky, R. M., ed. Malory’s Originality: A Critical Study of “Le Morte D’Arthur.” Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1964. Consists of eight chapters, each of which deals with a different one of Malory’s “tales.” The object of the book is to show that the tales are interdependent and the work is therefore single and unified.Moorman, Charles. The Book of Kyng Arthur: The Unity of Malory’s “Morte Darthur.” Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1965. Moorman argues that the success of the Round Table depends on the integration of love, chivalry, and religion. It fails as a result of adultery, feuding, and the failure to find the Holy Grail.Vinaver, Eugène. “Sir Thomas Malory.” In Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, edited by Roger Sherman Loomis. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1959. An ideal starting point for understanding Malory scholarship. Vinaver sets forth clearly his idea that Le Morte d’Arthur is not one book but a series of eight separate tales.
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