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3.2 The Romance of Guy of Warwick


The first written account of the legend is the early thirteenth century Anglo-Norman romance Gui de Warewic by an unknown author. It may have been composed in Oseney Abbey to flatter the d’Oilly family who had founded this important Augustinian house in 1129. It is an ancestral romance, an Anglo-Norman narrative “that tried to provide a sense of belonging.” It is a genre not dissimilar from the twelfth-century “genealogical literature” usually written by a secular clerk or chaplain to present the lineage and remarkable deeds of their patron family. It was not concerned with the contemporary events but with the past of the family, which was represented as glorious (Richmond 39). The legend of Guy of Warwick later appears in many adaptations, for instance the fourteenth-century Middle English verse romance (included in the Auchinleck Manuscript) destined primarily for a lower or lower-middle class (Richmond 53) or its second fifteenth-century version which I will use as the source of my analysis. However, as Susan Crane argues, these Middle English romances differ from the original Anglo-Norman romance in the same sense as Sir Beues of Hamtoun differs from its antecedent: “Sir Beues of Hamtoun undertakes an important development, whose beginnings are barely discernible in Boeve, from the perception of the baronial family as a political unit owing personal allegiance to rulers on the basis of reciprocal support, to a wider perception of national identity and the importance of national interests” (Crane 59). The romance is preserved in the Cambridge Univ. Lib. MS. Ff. 2. 38. It consists of 11,976 lines and it is set in tenth- century England, precisely during the reign of King Athelstan. In this chapter, I analyze the nineteenth-century reprint of the romance published under the name The Romance of Guy of Warwick. However, I refer to this work only as Guy of Warwick.

At the beginning of the romance, we are introduced to Sir Roholde, an English earl who holds Warwick and is also lord of Oxford and Buckingham. He is so rich and powerful that no one dares to oppose him. He has a daughter, Felice la Belle, who is so beautiful and accomplished that no other maiden can be compared to her. Earls and dukes court her but in vain. Sir Roholde also has a brave steward named Segwarde, lord of Wallingford, who takes excellent care of his lord’s property. Segwarde‘s son, Guy of Warwick, a courteous, well educated, handsome and strong squire, is loved by all people. He falls in love with Felice but she will not grant him her love before he is a proven knight. Guy therefore persuades the earl to bestow knighthood on him and leaves England with money and three knights, Harrawde, Toralde and Urry.

They arrive at a town in Normandy where a tournament in honour of the German Emperor’s daughter takes place. Guy and his companions do very well at the tournament; Guy defeats the emperor’s son Gayere, Otoun, Duke of Pavia, and two other dukes. On the third day, he is declared the winner. Guy sends the prize to Earl Roholde who is very pleased at it. Guy then wins praise in many countries. When they have travelled as far as Rome, his companions express a desire to return to England. They are all heartily welcomed back home. Guy goes to see Felice and reminds her of her promise. However, she replies that she will not marry him until he becomes the best knight in Christendom.

Woeful Guy therefore leaves again for foreign countries. After achieving many valiant exploits, he is wounded at a tournament in Benevento in Italy and is subsequently ambushed by Duke Otoun. Guy loses all his men except for Harrawde but manages to escape and is cured by a hermit. He thereafter reconciles the Emperor Raynere to Segwin, Duke of Louvain. Guy and Harrawde follow the Emperor to Germany where they learn about the Emperor of Constantinople being besieged by the sultan. Guy not only manages to kill the sultan, but also escapes the traps set by Morgadowre, the envious steward of the Emperor. He is about to marry the Emperor’s daughter when, at seeing the wedding rings, he is reminded of Felice. Under the pretext that he cannot stay at a court where he is exposed to so many plots he leaves the Emperor. He then rescues Tyrry, son to Earl Aubry of Gormoyse, and Ozelle, daughter to the Duke of Lorraine, whom Duke Otoun wanted to marry, kills Otoun and all are reconciled.

Subsequently, Guy returns to England. Here, he slays a dragon at King Athelstan’s request. Then he finally arrives home and marries Felice. Nevertheless, their happiness does not last long. One day after a hunt, Guy contemplates the beauty of the landscape and realizes that until now, he has done everything for Felice’s sake but nothing for the glory of God. He therefore decides to devote the rest of his life to penance and serving God. He parts with Felice expecting a baby and leaves for Jerusalem and Antioch. Here, Guy defeats the giant Ameraunt and saves the sons of a pilgrim, Earl Jonas, imprisoned by the Saracen king Triamour. He then refuses all wealth and honours offered to him, visits all the saints’ shrines in the country and leaves for Constantinople. In the meantime, Felice devotes herself to charitable works and gives birth to their son Reynbrown. When he grows up, he fulfils Guy’s wish of being educated by Harrawde. However, one day, Reynbrown is kidnapped by Russian merchants and given to a king in Africa. Harrawde sets off to find him but he is captured by the Saracens in Africa and thrown into prison. Guy, travelling home through Germany, meets Tyrry and slays Barrarde, Otoun’s cousin, in order to obtain freedom for Tyrry.

Guy then returns to England. Meanwhile, the Danish king has brought a giant called Collebrande to England, giving Athelstan the choice either to find a knight who could defeat the giant, or become a Danish liegeman. Though Guy is afraid as never before when he sees the giant, he finally overcomes him. He reveals his identity only to Athelstan.

Guy then makes his way to Warwick but pretends to be a pilgrim. He settles in a hermitage where he remains until his death. After a dream foretells his death, Guy sends a messenger for Felice. She arrives just before he dies and they only have time to embrace each other before Guy’s spirit is taken to heaven. Felice dies by Guy‘s side forty days later. Harrawde and Reynbrown meet as adversaries in a battle but eventually recognize each other. On their way home, Reynbrun accomplishes many valiant deeds. Finally, Harrawde and Reynbrown are reunited with Harrawde’s son Asslake and return together to England, Harrawde taking up Wallingford again which he received from Guy and Reynbrown becoming Earl of Warwick.

As Thorlac Turville-Petre argues, the romance of Guy of Warwick, as well as that of Beues of Hamtoun, is deeply concerned with the construction of Englishness (Rouse 73) and the space in which it is constructed is the Anglo-Saxon past (Rouse 74). However, English national identity is not the sole identity demonstrated in the romance of Guy of Warwick and similar Middle English romances. In fact, a whole hierarchy of identities, which sometimes compete with each other, are present there: the identity of the region or city, national identity, the identity of the whole Christendom (Rouse 74-75). In the romance of Guy of Warwick, the dominant identity is that of a Christian knight and the Other is represented by the Saracens. It is in contrast to the Saracens that the identity of Guy of Warwick is represented.

Travelling to the East, Guy encounters a racial, cultural and religious Other (Rouse 76). The first of these Others, as Robert Allen Rouse argues, is admiral Coldran, a cousin of the sultan (77). In reality, he shares some characteristics with Guy – he is also very strong and stout, but his envenomed weapons distinguish him from Christian knights who do not know and use such weapons (Rouse 77). After another unsuccessful battle, the sultan realizes the uselessness of the Saracen gods and destroys them (3425– 3442). The Christian God is represented here as more powerful than the heathen gods. Similarly, the difference in religion is manifested in Guy’s speech when he comes to the sultan’s pavilion as a messenger:

That ylke kynge, þat syttyþ in heuyn,

That made þe erthe and þe planettys seuyn

And in the see the sturgone,

Yeue the, syr sowdan, hys malysone,

And all, that y hereynne see,

That beleue in Mahowndys poste. (3653–3658)

As Rouse concludes, “Guy’s first encounter with the Saracen Other constructs a cultural opposition that leaves no room for compromise or co-existence. His speech to the sultan is notable for the uncompromising attitude of religious intolerance towards the Saracens, an attitude that is characteristic of the whole romance” (80).

Guy encounters the Saracen Other for the second time in the form of the giant Ameraunt. As Rouse argues, “this judicial combat, fought against the sultan’s giant champion Amoraunt, highlights two important elements of the Saracen Other: Gigantism and Honour (or the lack thereof)” (81). Indeed, Guy is astonished at the giant’s appearance:

Brynge forthe,’ he seyde, ‘the gyawnt,’

A paynym, that hyght Amerawnt.

He was armed nobullye:

Euery man of hym had farlye.

Hys body was boþe grete and longe:

He semed to be owtrageus stronge.

But, when Gye sye that sarsyn,

That was so myghty and so kene,

‘Be Cryste,’ he seyde vnto þe kynge þan,

‘ʒondur ys þe deuell and no man. (7951–7960)

Ameraunt is also contrasted with Guy, a Christian knight, in terms of honour. When, on that hot day, the giant becomes thirsty, he asks Guy to allow him to drink some water. He promises to grant Guy the same favour if the latter needs it. Guy agrees and the fight resumes. Then Guy is wounded and he demands the giant to keep his promise and let him drink. However, Ameraunt replies that he will let him drink only if Guy reveals his true identity to him. When he learns that his opponent is the famous Guy of Warwick, he claims that he would not let him drink even for the whole Hungary. Guy therefore leaps into the river without Ameraunt’s permission and renews his forces. However, the Saracen’s lack of honour, contrasted with Guy’s mercifulness, becomes obvious in this passage. He becomes a “traytoure” (8280).

As we have seen, and as Rouse points out, the opposition between the Christian hero and a Saracen is constructed here on three levels: in terms of religion, appearance and honour (76). “The English are all that the Saracens are not: Christian, honourable, trustworthy, moderate, and human” (Rouse 83).

Though Guy has the qualities of a supranational chivalrous knight, he remains an English knight. However, while during the Hundred Years War English identity was often constructed in opposition to the continental enemies, especially the French (Rouse 84), we do not find much evidence of the sentiments of hatred between the English and the nationals of Continental states in the romance of Guy of Warwick. As Rouse asserts, “when Guy does encounter villains, it is his superlative ability as a knight that is the root of the problem, not his national identity” (85).

On the other hand, by surpassing the qualities of all other knights in the whole of Christendom, Guy as an Englishman becomes the ideal Christian knight. In this, we may perceive an attempt to commend England above other countries. Patriotism is also suggested in the following passage, where the need to save England from the Danish is expressed:

Byschoppes, archedekyns and abbottys,

Wyse men of the churche and no sottys,

At Wynchestur be euerychone,

The moost parte of the reygyown.

They haue sende thorow Ynglande

To yonge and olde, y vnderstande,

That þey schulde faste dayes thre

And nyght and day in preyers bee,

That God them sende soche a man,

That wyll and may, dar and can

Thorow helpe of God almyght

For Ynglondes sake in batell fyght

Wyth the gyawnt Collebrande

And hym to stroye wyth hys hande. (9925–9938)

We can therefore conclude that in this work, the Anglo-Saxon past is depicted as heroic and glorious and thus serves the interests of the late Middle Ages when a proper English culture and the sense of being English were being born and therefore needed to be promoted.


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