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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Caroline Maun


I argue that Sir Thomas Malory (c.1415-1471) and Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) both used chivalry as a tool for critiquing the contemporary governance of England. Employing Mieke Bal's notion of the "travelling concept", I employ a generally interdisciplinary approach to chart the changes and developments in political and literary chivalry in England from Richard I until the end of the nineteenth century.

I demonstrate that both Malory and Tennyson believed their own versions of chivalry were practicable systems for governance. I argue that Malory's Le Morte Darthur uses his concept of chivalry to critique present governance in England, stemming from Malory's conception of chivalry as a static, historic object, operating in conflict with a newer evolution of chivalry that Malory does not recognise as being true chivalry. That position leads Malory to fault the new system of chivalry and governance as inherently flawed and unchivalric. I also argue that Tennyson was influenced by both the Victorian medieval revival and the philosophy of Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), and that those influences led him to conceive of the Carlylean "Able-man" in chivalric terms: to imagine Arthur as the "Able-man". Consequently, in Tennyson's Idylls of the King, failures of chivalric virtue are the result of individual insufficiency, and not as a result of the complex and sometimes contradictory demands of the system of governance that Tennyson and Carlyle espoused.

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