There were at least six different men named Thomas Malory alive at the time that Le Morte d'Arthur was written, The only clues as to who the author was are contained in the text of Le Morte d'Arthur itself, in sentences such as "For this was written by a knight prisoner Thomas Malleore". The author seems to have been familiar with the Yorkshire dialect of English and obviously knew French, from which most of the Arthurian tales in the book were translated. His knowledge of French means that the author must have come from a family that was wealthy enough to pay for an education.
Most modern scholars believe that the author was Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel in Warwickshire, known to have been a violent criminal, thief, kidnapper and rapist who behaved very differently from the chivalrous knights described in his tales.
Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel
Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel, Warwickshire was born some time between 1393 and 1416 and grew up to become a professional soldier. In 1443, he was accused of attacking and kidnapping one Thomas Smyth and stealing forty pounds worth of goods from him. He was not charged with the offense. In the same year he married Elizabeth Walsh and was elected to parliament.
As a member of parliament, Malory was charged with distributing money to the poor of Warwickshire and appears to have lived respectably for a while.
In 1450, Malory was accused of being part of a gang that attacked the Duke of Buckingham. In June 1450, he broke into the home of one Hugh Smyth, robbed him and raped his wife. He attacked the same woman again in Coventry two months later. Malory and his gang went on to commit over a hundred violent crimes. He was briefly imprisoned in the castle in the Warwickshire town of Maxstoke but managed to escape, swim the moat and rejoin his gang.
Malory was put on trial for his numerous crimes on August 23, 1451 and sent to London's Marshalsea Prison. Malory would spend most of the next decade as a prisoner in the Marshalsea and Newgate prisons in London and in Colchester. He would have had plenty of time to write Le Morte d'Arthur during that decade.
In 1461 Malory was pardoned by the newly crowned King Edward IV. He died in 1470 and was buried in an elaborate tomb in Greyfriar's Chapel near London's Newgate Prison. The tomb was destroyed a few decades later during the religious reforms of King Henry VIII.
Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel is known to have had one son, Robert, and one grandson, Nicholas.
Thomas Malory in fiction
A young Thomas Malory appears as a character in the Arthurian novel The Once and Future King by T.H. White. The character also appears briefly in Camelot, the Broadway musical adptation of The Once and Future King.