One of the two surviving copies of the first edition of the Morte Darthur printed and published by William Caxton in Westminster on 31 July 1485. Imperfect. Missing leaves are supplied with 19th-century handwritten facsimiles.

The other surviving copy of Caxton is complete except the first leaf, which was probably blank; and it is now in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. There is a record of a fragment of Caxton's Malory which was used as binder's waste in Lincoln Cathedral (Needham, Introduction), which seems to have been missing since the beginning of the 20th century (Gaines, 1990, p. 6).

  1. Item (1): sig. π2r-π4r

      Title (standard): Preface to the Morte Darthur by William Caxton

      Incipit: (sig. π2r/1-4) AFter that I had accomplysshed and fynysshed dyuers | hystoryes as wel of contemplacyon as of other hysto | ryal and worldly actes of grete conquerours & pryn | ces /

      Explicit: (sig. π4r/17-21) The xxj book | treateth of his last departyng / and how syr Launcelot came | to reuenge his dethe and conteyneth xiij chapytres / The somme | is xxj bookes whyche conteyne the soome of v hondred & vij | chapytres / as more playnly shal folowe herafter /

  2. Item (2): sig. π4v-3π2v

      Title (standard): Caxton's Table of the Contents of the Morte Darthur

      Incipit: (sig. π4v/1-2) ¶ The table or rubrysshe of the contente of chapytres shortly | of the fyrst book of kynge Arthur /

      Explicit: (sig. 3π2v/30) ¶ Explicit the table

      Note: Wynkyn de Worde, in his second edition of the Morte Darthur (1489), used Caxton's table of contents as the headings for the individual chapters. This system developed by de Worde was employed in all the later editions to this day.

  3. Item (3): sig. a1r-ee6r

      Title (standard): The Morte Darthur

      Incipit: (sig. a1r/1-6) ¶ Capitulum primum | | HIt befel in the dayes of Vther pendragon when | he was kynge of all Englond / and so regned that there was a myȝty duke in Cornewaill | that helde warre ageynst hym long tyme/

      Explicit: (sig. ee4v/38) and therwyth al the felyshyp awoke and came to

      Other versions of the text:

      Comparison between two extant copies of Caxton's Morte Darthur has revealed that two sheets (N3-6 and Y3-6) were completely reset; and there are variants dispersed throughout the text. For the textual variants between Caxton's first edition and the unique surviving manuscript, Winchester, See: Textual Variants.

      Note: As Caxton himself says in his Preface, he divided the Morte Darthur in Books and Chapters. There are discrepancies between the textual divisions and the table of contents. It seems that Caxton or the compiler of the table of contents went through the text and 'corrected' errors found in the text (See Blake, 'Caxton Prepares', 1991).

      The text ends imperfectly. The final two leaves are hand-facsimiles by John Harris added in the 19th century. De Ricci thought that the facsimilist was Whittaker, but Gaines has identified the artist to be Harris Gaines, 'Forgotten Artist', 1969).


  4. Item (4): sig. eer5v/39-6r/24

      Title (standard): Caxton's colophon

      Note: Signatures ee5v-ee6r are missing in this copy, but supplied by a 19th century handwritten facsimile by John Harris.

Physical Description
Object Description:

Form: folio

Support: On paper. Paper stocks and watermarks of the Pierpont Morgan copy are discussed in Needham's 'Introduction' to the Facsimile.

Extent: All of the book

    c. 190 mm x c. 118 mm (dimensions of all - size of leaves)
    c. 120 mm x c. 190 mm (dimensions of all - size of type area)


    Quires: π-2π8, 3π2; a-z8; &8; A-Z8; aa-dd8; ee6. Imperfect, missing 12 leaves: the first leaf (π1), probably blank; and l1, r7-8, N2, N7, T4-5, ee3-6, which are all supplied with handwritten facsimile leaves by John Harris. T. F. Dibdin, librarian at Althorp, the Spncer seat, erroneously ascribed these facsimile leaves to Whittaker, and this error was often quoted by later scholars. Dibdin himself corrected his error 12 years later. See Gaines, 'A forgotten Artist'.
    Signatures: The preliminary three quires conventionally called 'quires π' are signed only with numbers. They are assumed to have been printed by Caxton after the main text was completed. See Blake, 'Caxton Prepares his Edition'. The first four leaves of each quire are signed with the quire number and i, ij, iij and iiij (or ii, iii and iiii), with the following exceptions: {{ Note to myself: check this again. }}
    • π2: 'ij'; π3: 'iij'; π4: 'iiij'.
    • 1: 'v'; 2π2: 'vj'; 2π3: 'vij'; 2π4: 'viij'.
    • 3π: there are no signatures.
    • d3: no signature (Rylands copy only).
    • o2: there is no signature.
    • r3: signed 'r ii (Rylands copy only)
    • A2: 'ij A'.
    • S3: 'R iij'.
    • T2: 'S ij.
    • aa3" signed 'a iii
    • ee: only the first three leaves are signed.


A clean copy in good condition. A few margins are repaired.

Layout description:
  1. Layout:
Hand/Type description:
    Number of hands/types: 1
    Summary: Caxton's Type 4*, a slightly enlarged version of type 4.
    Hand/Type: Solo
    • Scope: Major
    • Script: Blackletter
    • Description: For Caxton's Type 4*, see Blades. Number of compositors involved in printing the Morte Darthur is unknown, although it seems to be a common practice for several compositors to work on a single book simultaneously. Blake suggests that it was 'necessary' for at least two compositors to work on the same text at the same time for the matter of efficiency (Caxton: England's First Publisher, p. 57). For Caxton's compositors, see: Hellinga, 1982, Takamiya, 1993, Takamiya, 1996, and Kato, 2002.
    • Punctuation: Caxton used ¶, white space, / and capital letters. For the use of ¶ and white space as copy-fitting device, see: Kato, 2002.
    • Language: Caxton seems to have 'translated' texts in his own dialect at the time of printing, i.e., in Kentish; and 'interestingly, there is no need to suppose other linguistic layers belonging to his compositors' (Smith, 'Some Spellings in Caxton's Malory', p. 62).
Decoration Description:

    Caxton used 5-line woodcut initial letters at the beginning of all the Books, except for 6-line 'S' for Book IV and 3-line 'A' for Book XXI. Chapters begin with 2- or 3-line woodcut initials. For Caxton's woodcut letters, see Blake, Caxton: England's First Publisher, pp. 120-55. This copy is not decorated. For other Caxton copies decorated by later hands, see: Edwards, 'Decorated Caxton'.


    19th century: Facsimile by John Harris. See Collation above.

Binding Description:

    According to De Ricci, 'Olive mor. by C. Lewis (281 x 202 mm)'.


    Caxton says in his preface that he printed the Morte Darthur on demand of 'many noble and dyuers gentylmen of thys royame of Englond'. It has been suggested that Earl Rivers was the 'one in specyal' who convinced Caxton to print the Morte Darthur (Field, 'Caxton's "Roman War"').


    John Lloyd (1750-1815) of Hafodunos and Wigfair in Wales sold it to George John, second Early Spencer (Jan 1816, Catalogue no. 1888). See Gaines, 1990, pp. 4-5.


    The Spencer library was purchased by Mrs John Rylands in 1892, and now is at the John Rylands University Library.

Additional Information
    {{ I can either add the list of surrogates and the bibliography at the end, or you could make a link to the main bibliography page. Either way, I would like the link to be established between the item information and the references within the text. }}

    xxxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx


    HC 1864; Duff 283; DeR(C) 76; STC 801; Goff M103; ISTC im00103000

    , , xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx

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