Born in Bombay, White was educated at Cheltenham College and Queen's College, Cambridge. From 1930 to 1936 he taught at Stowe School, where his collection of unusual pets marked him out from the ordinary run of schoolmasters. His first book to be published was the verse collection Loved Helen (1926), but it was not until ten years later that he won recognition with the autobiographical England Have My Bones (1936). The Sword and the Stone (1938) was the first volume in White's highly original reworking of the Arthurian legend.
During World War II White lived in seclusion in Ireland and in 1945 moved to the Channel Island of Alderney. Besides the further volumes in the Arthurian series, he wrote Mistress Masham's Repose (1946), The Elephant and the Kangaroo (1947), and a social history entitled The Age of Scandal (1950). The Goshawk (1951) is an account of his experiences as a falconer. In 1958 White's Arthurian novels appeared in a one-volume revised version under the title The Once and Future King. This formed the basis of the musical Camelot (1960) and brought White fame and considerable wealth. He died while on a Mediterranean cruise.