Guy of Warwick

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The Poem

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1245

Love for a woman prompts Guy to inaugurate his long series of remarkable exploits. Guy, son of the steward to Rohaud, Earl of Warwick, is a very popular and handsome young squire. As the earl’s principal cupbearer, he is instructed, on one fateful occasion, to superintend the service of the ladies during dinner. Gazing on Felice la Belle, Rohaud’s beautiful and talented daughter, he falls desperately in love with the fair maiden. When he first declares himself to her, he is rejected because of his lowly birth and lack of attainments. Later, however, when from lovesickness he is close to death, Felice, following the advice of an angel, offers him some encouragement. If he becomes a knight and proves his valor, she will reward him with her hand in marriage.

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After receiving knighthood, Sir Guy sets out to prove his valor. Accompanied by his mentor, Herhaud of Ardern, he spends an entire year attending tournaments throughout Europe. Pitted against some of the most renowned knights of Christendom, Guy is indomitable; in every encounter he takes the prize. His reputation established, he returns to Warwick to claim his reward from Felice. This fair lady, however, has decided to raise her standards. After acknowledging his accomplishments, she notifies him that he must become the foremost knight in the world before she will marry him.

True to the laws of chivalric love, Guy returns to Europe to satisfy the fancy of his mistress. Again visiting the tournaments, again he is, without exception, victorious. Misfortune awaits him, however, in Italy. His high merit having excited their envy, seventeen knights, led by Otous, duke of Pavia, lay an ambush for the English champion. Before Guy wins the skirmish, two of his closest companions are dead, and his best friend, Herhaud, appears to be slain. As Guy, grievously wounded, begins his return journey to England, he is filled with remorse for having allowed the wishes of a haughty lady to lead him to this sad result. In Burgundy, where he is performing his customary deeds of valor, his spirits are considerably improved by his discovery of Herhaud, alive and disguised as a palmer.

As the two friends continue their journey homeward, they learn that Segyn, duke of Louvain, is being attacked by Reignier, emperor of Germany, who wrongfully claims the duke’s lands. Assembling a small army, Guy defeats two armies that are sent against Segyn. With a larger force, the emperor then encircles the city in which Guy, Segyn, and their followers are quartered. During this blockade Reignier, on a hunting trip, is surprised by Guy, who leads the unarmed emperor into the city. There, in the true spirit of chivalry, a rapprochement is brought about between the ruler, Reignier, and his vassal, Segyn.

Soon after rendering these good services to Segyn, Guy finds another occasion for the exercise of his talents. Learning that Ernis, emperor of Greece, is besieged by the mighty forces of the Saracen Soudan, Guy levies an army of a thousand German knights and marches to Constantinople. Received with joy, he is promised for his efforts the hand of Princess Loret, the emperor’s daughter. After repelling one Saracen attack, Guy takes the offensive and leaves on the field fifteen acres covered with the corpses of his enemies. His greatest threat, however, comes from one of his own knights, Morgadour, who has become enamored of Loret. Knowing that the Soudan has sworn to kill every Christian who should fall within his power, Morgadour dupes Guy into entering the enemy camp and challenging the Saracen monarch to single combat. Ordered to be executed, the resourceful Guy cuts off the Soudan’s head, repels his attackers, and makes his escape.

The emperor, because of his great admiration for the English knight, hastens arrangements for the wedding of Guy and Loret. Guy, somehow having forgotten Felice, is agreeable to the plan, until, seeing the wedding ring, he is suddenly reminded of his first love. A true knight, he resolves to be faithful to Felice and to find some excuse for breaking his engagement to Loret. Another altercation with Morgadour ends with Guy’s slaying of the treacherous German. Using the pretext that his continued presence in the court might lead to trouble between the Greeks and Germans, Guy takes his leave.

Guy plans an immediate return to England, but he is destined to perform further deeds of knight errantry before being reunited with his beloved Felice. While traveling through Lorraine, he meets an old friend, Sir Tirri, who is being persecuted by their mutual enemy, Duke Otous. The duke had abducted Tirri’s fiancé. Guy wastes no time in rescuing the woman, but Otous does not give up easily. After attempting and failing to defeat Guy on the battlefield, he resorts to foul means and succeeds in capturing both Tirri and his fiancé. Guy, combining trickery with valor, kills the felon duke and frees the lovers.

One more incident delays Guy’s return to England. Unintentionally entering the game preserve of the king of Flanders, he is confronted by the king’s son and finds himself compelled to kill the dissenting prince. In an ensuing encounter with the wrathful father, Guy is forced to slaughter fourteen knights before he can make his escape. Arriving in his native country, Guy, in accordance with chivalric practice, repairs to the court of King Athelstan. He is honorably received, and almost immediately the king enlists his services to kill a troublesome dragon. After a long and fierce battle, Guy in triumph carries the monster’s head to the king.

Guy’s homecoming is the less joyous upon his learning of the death of his parents, but this sorrow is compensated for by his immediate wedding to Felice. They are married only forty days, barely time to conceive a son, when Guy’s conscience, troubled over the mischief he did for the love of a lady, forces him on a penitential pilgrimage. His bereaved wife places on his finger a gold remembrance ring and sorrowfully watches him depart for the Holy Land.

So great a warrior, however, cannot escape his reputation or his duty. He interrupts his devotions to kill an Ethiopian giant and to assist Tirri again, this time by slaying a false accuser.

When the pious warrior returns to England he finds King Athelstan besieged by King Anlaf of Denmark. It has been agreed that the outcome of the war should be determined by single combat between Colbrand, a Danish giant, and an English champion. In a dream King Athelstan is advised to ask the help of the first pilgrim he meets at the entrance of the palace, and the aging Guy of Warwick is that pilgrim. In this last and most famous of his fights, Guy, shorn of his weapons, appears certain of defeat. In his extremity he snatches up a convenient ax, fiercely assails the giant, cuts him to pieces, and thereby saves the English kingdom.

Guy pays one last visit to his own castle, where he discovers Felice engaged in acts of devotion and charity. Without having revealed his identity to her, he goes off to the forests of Ardennes. When death is near, he dispatches the gold remembrance to his wife and begs her to supervise his burial. Arriving in time to receive his last breath, the faithful Felice survives him by only fifteen days. She is buried in the same grave as her warrior husband.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 334


*Warwick. City in north-central England in which Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great, first built a fortress and Normans began the present castle, which includes Guy’s Tower and still displays relics of the mythic hero. Nearby is Guy’s Cliffe, where the penitent Guy died as a hermit, just before identifying himself to his alms-giving wife Felice. Other places still to be seen that bear Guy’s name include a cave, a well, and a colossal statue in a late medieval chapel.


*York. City in northern England built and developed by ancient Britons, Roman, Saxons, Danes, and Normans, where Guy meets King Athelstan before slaying the Irish dragon that is ravaging Northumberland.


*Winchester. Capital of England’s early Anglo-Saxon kings and the place where Christianity was introduced in 634. Winchester’s Norman cathedral and nearby religious houses at Chilcombe and Hyde Meed recorded Guy’s most famous victory over the Saracen giant Colbrond, a literary transformation of King Athelstan’s triumph over the Danes at Brunanburh in 937.


*Constantinople. Capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, an entry point for Crusaders, and the start of the great Norman trade route along the Danube and Rhine to Lorraine. Guy’s first visit to Constantinople is to assist the Greek emperor Hernis against the Soldan’s siege. The steward Morgadour’s envious opposition to Guy reflects the uneasy relations between the Greeks and the Normans, just as the feud between Guy and Duke Otun of Pavia, leader of the Lombards and vassal of the emperor of Germany, shows Norman antagonism and superiority to the Holy Roman Empire.

*Holy Land

*Holy Land. Middle Eastern center of a long struggle for control of religious sites during the Middle Ages between Christians and Muslims. Guy goes to the Holy Land as a pilgrim and visits Jerusalem and Bethlehem. At the Norman capital of Antioch, he meets Earl Jonas, whom he champions by slaying the Saracen giant Amoraunt in an episode infused with religious symbolism and thrilling combat.


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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 222

Barron, W. R. J. English Medieval Romance. New York: Longman, 1987. Barron’s authorita-tive work on English romance of the medieval period contains a chapter titled “Ancestral Romances: Guy of Warwick,” which analyzes the adventures of Guy of Warwick in terms of their narrative structure.

Burton, Julie. “Narrative Patterning and Guy of Warwick.” Yearbook of English Studies 22 (1992): 105-116. This article analyzes the techniques used in composing Guy of Warwick in their relation to traditional techniques of English romances of the Middle Ages.

Dannenbaum, Susan C. “Guy of Warwick and the Question of Exemplary Romance.” Genre 17, no. 4 (Winter, 1984): 351-374. Deals with the notions of sainthood and piety in Guy of Warwick and explains how the complicated process by which biographies of venerated laymen and saints became an enduring genre and medium of romances during the Middle Ages.

Mehl, Dieter. The Middle English Romances of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1969. Clear and astute analysis of thirteenth and fourteenth century English romances. Devotes a chapter to a discussion of the social context and related aspects of Guy of Warwick.

Menocal, Maria R. Shards of Love: Exile and the Origins of the Lyric. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1994. An excellent treatment of the history and philosophy of romance writing in medieval Europe and its relation to the notion of exile.

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Critical Essays