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Morte Arthur

A Medieval Ballad

Edited by George Ellis


new material in this book copyright © 2022


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An Earlier Morte Arthur

This book is not the famous Morte D’Arthur of Thomas Malory, printed by William Caxton in 1485.

It is an earlier work translated into English from a medieval French ballad, which survived only in manuscript form until 1805, when George Ellis published it as part of his book Specimens of Early English Metrical Romances.

Unlike Malory’s book, which (despite its title) tells the entire story of king Arthur, this book deals only with the events leading up to Arthur’s death, including Lancelot’s affair with Guenevere, Arthur’s leading an army to Brittany to attack Lancelot, leaving Mordred to rule in his place, and Mordred’s treachery, which leads to the battle where both he and Arthur are killed.

Ellis’ Specimens is a unique work. It is an anthology of medieval ballads that Ellis retells in a very complete paraphrase, which is almost a lose prose translation, with selections from the original verse ballad interspersed in the modern retelling. There is no word describing what Ellis did to these works, so this edition simply calls Ellis the editor.

Ellis was much admired by other writers of his time, including Sir Walter Scott, for making these ancient ballads accessible to a modern audience.
This book is a must for scholars who want to study the history of the Arthurian legend. And for those who read it because they love the Arthurian legend, it is as enjoyable today as it was in Scott’s time.