Guy of Warwick Analysis

The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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.

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....

(The entire section is 1245 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*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.


(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

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.