'The Tale of the Noble King Arthur that was Emperor Himself through Dignity of his Hands' is the second work in Vinaver's Works of Sir Thomas Malory. In this project, the shorter name of the section, 'The Roman War' episode, is used. The most substantial textual difference between the Winchester Manuscript and Caxton's printed book is found in the Roman War episode: the Winchester version is twice as long as that of Caxton.

The whole of the Roman War episode was copied by Scribe B.

More about the Roman War

Textual authenticity: Since the re-discovery of the Winchester manuscript in 1934, the Roman War episode has been a focus of scholarly debates. Vinaver suggested in his Introduction to his edition (1947) that it was Caxton who drastically edited the 'Roman War' episode. Then, William Matthews’s controversial view -- Malory himself edited the 'Roman War' episode into a form as it is now in Caxton -- was posthumously presented at the Exeter International Arthurian Congress (1975), and his work was published in the special issue of Arthuriana (1997). Matthews’s view (see particularly 'A Question of Texts') made the textual criticism of the Morte Darthur exciting and contentious place to be: scholarship of the past 20 years has sufficiently proved that it was Caxton who edited 'most' of the 'Roman War' episode (See essays in The Malory Debate), and not Malory as Matthews argued. In contrast to Matthews’s view, other critics have thrown light on a new possibility that Winchester was also an edited version (Field, 'Choice of Texts', 'Caxton's "Roman War"'; Kato, 'Corrected Mistakes'). The question of authenticity hence remains still unresolved regarding individual variants.

Two separate artifacts: The two versions are also significant as two separate material and literary artifacts. They were produced by two different agents, i.e., professional scribes and a printing house, intended for different audiences, and had different functions. There has been a scholarly tendency to discuss the Morte Darthur in the context of the fifteenth-century literary culture. Recently published collections of essays on Malory, for example, often have the word 'context' in their titles or section titles: 'Malory in Context' in A Companion to Malory; The Social and Literary Contexts of Malory's 'Morte Darthur'; Re-Viewing 'Le Morte Darthur': Texts and Contexts, Characters and Themes.

The Roman War is also interesting when we consider William Caxton, England’s first publisher, and his customers. How did Malory’s book fit into Caxton’s publishing policy (Goodman; Blake, 'Caxton Prepares His Edition')? Why did he edit the Roman War so substantially? Some scholars have suggested that Caxton edited the Roman War by referring to the Chronicles of England, which he published in 1480 and 1482, a view which is worth examining further (Withrington, 'Caxton, Malory, and the Roman War'; Nakao, 'Musings on the Reviser of Book V; Takagi and Takamiya, 'Caxton Edits the Roman War').


The major source of this tale is the Alliterative Morte Arthure.

Minor sources are:

It has been suggested that Caxton when he edited his version of the Roman War used the Chronicles of England as his source.

Previous editions of the Roman War episode

Scholars have edited the Roman War episode in various ways:

  • Vinaver; revised by Field (1947; 1990): this was the first critical edition of Malory based on Winchester. It reproduces Caxton's Roman War in the apparatus in smaller print.
  • Shepherd (2004): a Norton Critical Edition based on Winchester. he gives detailed explanation of textual variants in the first footnote of this episode, and then chooses not to record the readings in Caxton unless it contributed to the reconstruction of Malory’s text.
  • Spisak and Matthews (1983): this edition is an attempt to reconstruct Malory’s text using Caxton's version as a base text. It reproduces Winchester's Roman War in the appendix.
  • Roland (2002): a parallel edition created as part of her PhD dissertation. It has two diplomatic transcriptions side by side.
Current edition and the Comparison Tool

The differences between the two versions are so substantial that locating the relevant place in the two versions can be a complicated and daunting task. In the current edition, the two versions of the Roman War are linked to each other via reference points. 'Textual Options' in Winchester provide reference points to the relevant places in Caxton, and vice versa.

We have also created a comparison tool specifically designed for the Roman War. The texts were first divided according to the Large Initial Letters in Winchester and Caxton's Chapter divisions. They were then further divided into small, understandable and manageable units. We used XML to mark up these textual divisions, and we gave descriptive summaries of these units as 'milestones' so that the users can navigate through the texts. We also tagged the names, key words and key phrases in both versions so that these can be highlighted in colour. The two versions will thus be clearly displayed in side-by-side alignment, and readily available to all users for further textual analysis. When comparing two texts closely within one window, a user can choose either of two versions to be the base text; hence there is no sense of an editorially imposed hierarchy between the two texts.

We also use the 'milestones' in the two texts of Malory in order to create hyperlinks to the corresponding passages in the sources. 'Textual Options' provide the links to the sources, and users can click a link in Malory's text, and will then be either given a reference to a relevant passage in a source, or will be directed to a corresponding passage within the transcriptions of sources.

Go to the Comparison Tool.