King Arthur's Death

By Michael Smith

An epic poem of the fall of kings, vibrantly translated and stunningly illustrated with linocut prints by the author of Unbound’s Sir Gawain

Monday, 13 May 2019

Some contemporary secrets revealed by the Allliterative Morte Arthure (King Arthur's Death)

The Alliterative Morte Arthure (King Arthur's Death) is a fabulous poem - not just for its poetic magnificence, but also because of its wealth of contemporary detail. With this in mind, I wanted to embellish an earlier post about its coverage of King Arthur's siege of Metz. So I have produced a small film detailing how and why mediaeval sieges were fought and what the poet might have had in mind in adding this episode to his own King Arthur narrative.

As I have covered before in these updates, the poem is nominally an Arthurian romance but a significant part of its purpose lies buried beneath the narrative. This anonymous poet, like many of his contemporaries, was an exponent of the alliterative poetic style which blossomed in the fourteenth century. It is likely that he was - like the writer of the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (and other poets of the Revival) - using his art to critique the society in which he lived.

King Arthur's Death was written when England was at war with France. It is not known exactly when the poem was written but it is most likely to have been in the later fourteenth century; either during the final years of Edward III, the reign of Richard II, or possibly the early years of Henry IV. Its poet would have been familiar - perhaps intimately so - with England's triumphs and defeats in those wars.

Enjoy readings from the original manuscript.

The description of the siege of Metz may have in mind the Black Prince's devastating destruction of Limoges in 1370, although many sieges at this time were violent affairs. In the film, I provide a brief introduction to how sieges came about and why ideally they were avoided. I also read four brief passages from the original Middle English (with subtitles from my translation as it will appear in the book).

One last push! Book nearly fully funded! 

I hope you enjoy the film; do let me have your commments. Some really great news as I write is that the book (currently 93%) is nearly funded; indeed, if every pledger to date was to make a small additional donation (either via an upgrade or by a donation), the book could  be funded within days. We're that close!

But your generosity has already been considerable and I am truly grateful for your continued support. If, on the other hand, you know of others who would like to support the book, please do let them know.

I can't believe that we are now so close to the next step in this all-new illustrated translation of one of the fourteenth century's finest works in English.


Thank you once again for all your support,


Michael Smith

Author, Translator, Printmaker

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