Guy of Warwick (DNB00)

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GUY of Warwick, hero of romance, is almost wholly a creature of fiction. Dugdale and other historians of Warwickshire literally accepted as historical the series of legends respecting him, to which literary shape seems to have been first given by an Anglo-Norman poet of the twelfth century. Omitting the obviously romantic details in which the story abounds, the legends are to the following effect. Guy, the son of Siward or Seguard of Wallingford, was educated by Harald or Heraud of Arden. He became page to Roalt or Rohand, earl of Warwick, Rockingham, and Oxford, and fell in love with Rohand's daughter Felice, who declined to marry him until he had proved his valour. His first expedition to the continent failed to satisfy Felice, and he was sent forth again on another foreign tour, in the course of which he fought against the Saracens at Constantinople. Once more in England, he was welcomed by Athelstan at York, and slew a savage dragon which was devastating Northumberland. Thereupon Felice consented to marry him, but he soon left her at Warwick to journey as a palmer to the Holy Land. Coming back for a third time to England, he found Athelstan besieged in Winchester by the Danes under Anlaf. The Danes boasted among their forces a giant named Colbrand. A duel to decide the war was arranged between Guy and Colbrand, and Guy killed the Danish champion. He then returned to Warwick, and lived as a holy man in a hermit's cell, practising the severest asceticism. Felice long lived in ignorance of his presence in the town, but finally identified him by a ring which he sent her by a herdsman, and she attended his deathbed. She survived her husband only a fortnight. Their son Rembrun or Raynbrun is credited in continuations of the romance with much the same career as his father.

These legends seem to embody incoherently several Anglo-Saxon traditions of the tenth and eleventh centuries. The central feature is the fight of Guy and the Danish giant, Anlaf's champion, before Winchester in the reign of Athelstan. It has been suggested that this episode is a tradition of the great battle of Brunanburh, fought by Athelstan against Anlaf of Denmark in 937. There are difficulties in the identification. The site of Brunanburh is not positively known, but it certainly was not at or near Winchester, where Guy is said in the romance to have slain Colbrand, and where the scene of the alleged combat has been identified in local tradition. We know, indeed, from authentic history that the Danes under Anlaf never besieged Athelstan in that city. But Olaf (Tryggvason) of Denmark—Olaf and Anlaf are practically identical names—undoubtedly threatened Winchester in the reign of Ethelred in 993, and it is possible that the tradition embodied in the romance may spring from a popular confusion between the two Danish invasions. According to the Danish 'Egilssage' (of the eleventh or twelfth century) Athelstan was aided at the battle of Brunanburh by two brothers, northern vikings of repute, named respectively Egil and Thorolf; but the attempt made by George Ellis [q. v.] to identify Guy with Egil is philologically absurd.

The name Guy is probably of Teutonic origin. It may possibly be a Norman reproduction of the Anglo-Saxon name 'Wigod,' or some other combination of the Anglo-Saxon 'wig,' i.e. war. Guy's father, Siward, is described in the romance as lord of Wallingford. An historical Wigod of Wallingford was cupbearer to Edward the Confessor, and was in favour with William the Conqueror, while his daughter and granddaughter (Matilda, wife (1) of Miles Crespin, and (2) Brian Fitzcount) held the lordship of Wallingford till the reign of Henry II.

Another shadowy historical confirmation of the romance may lie in the fact that an historical Siward, a grandson of Alwin, who was sheriff of Warwickshire shortly before the Norman conquest, had, according to documents quoted by Dugdale, a daughter of the unusual name of Felicia (Guy's mistress in the romance is Felice). The historical Siward's family seems, moreover, to have at some time alienated land to Wigod of Wallingford.

It is clear, nevertheless, that the mass of details in the romance is pure fiction. It was during the thirteenth century that the story in the original Norman-French verse became generally familiar in both France and England, and was translated into English. The oldest manuscript of the French poem is in the library at Wolfenbüttel (cf. G. A. Herbing's description of this manuscript, Wismar, 1848), and may be as early as the end of the thirteenth century. The oldest English version—the Auchinleck MS. in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh—is of little later date. (This manuscript was first printed by the Abbotsford Club in 1840, and has been reprinted by Professor Zupitza for the Early English Text Society.) 'Sir Gye of Warwike' is referred to as a knight 'of grete renowne' in Hampole's prologue to 'Speculum Vitæ' (c. 1350), and Chaucer mentions the romance about him in his 'Rime of Sir Thopas' (c. 1380). In 1430 reference was made to Guy in the Spanish romance 'Tirante el blanco.'

It was in the fourteenth century that the story was first adopted as authentic history by the chroniclers. Peter Langtoft, in his rhyming chronicle (1308?), which Robert Mannyng or de Brunne translated about 1338, describes Guy of Warwick as slaying 'Colbrant' the Dane. Walter of Exeter [see Exeter, Walter of,fl. 1301] is said to have written a life of Guy while living at St. Caroc in Cornwall, and some fifty years later Girardus Cornubiensis [see Girardus] produced his 'DeGestis Regum West-Saxonum,' which contained in serious prose a very full account of Guy's heroic exploits. Walter of Exeter's biography is known only through a mention of it by Bale. The suggestion that this work was the original Norman-French poem has nothing to support it. Girardus's work only survives in quotations imbedded in the 'Liber de Hyda,' or Rudborne's 'Chronicle,' both completed in the fifteenth century. The 'Liber de Hyda' preserves Girardus's version of the fight between Guy and the giant Colbrand, which is stated to be cap. xi. of the original chronicle. This is quoted again at the end of a manuscript of Higden's 'Polychronicon' (Magdalen College, Oxford, 147), and was printed by Hearne in an appendix to the 'Annals of Dunstable,' ii. 825-30. It has been suggested that Walter of Exeter and Girardus Cornubiensis are one and the same person. At any rate it seems probable that the lives of Guy which went under their two names were at most points identical. Girardus identifies the scene of Guy's duel with Colbrand as 'The Hyde's Mede,' afterwards the site of Hyde Abbey, near Winchester. Henry Knighton (fl. 1366), another chronicler who treats Guy as historical, locates his battles in the vale of Chilcombe, which belonged to the cathedral priory of St. Swithun's, or Old Minster, a monastic establishment in Winchester, in perpetual rivalry with Hyde Abbey. That the story, as Girard and Knighton prove, was well known in Winchester in the fourteenth century is further shown by the fact that the bishop, Adam de Orleton, on visiting the priory of St. Swithun's about 1338, was entertained by a 'canticum Colbrandi.' Lydgate versified Girard's story about 1450. There are manuscripts of Lydgate's version in the Bodleian Library (Laud Misc. 683) and the British Museum (Harl. MS. 7333, f. 35b). Revised by John Lane, it was licensed for the press in 1617 (cf. Harl. MS. 5243), but it was never printed.

Whatever place Guy held in Winchester tradition, it was at Warwick that his traditional history received its final development. In 1268 William de Beauchamp succeeded his uncle William Mauduit as Earl of Warwick, and was the first of the many powerful earls of Warwick of the Beauchamp line. William named his son Guy because (it has been suggested) he claimed descent from the legendary Guy. This Guy de Beauchamp [q. v.] died in 1315. It was doubtless in his honour rather than in that of the Guy of the legend that a descendant, Thomas, earl of Warwick [see Beauchamp, Thomas de], built Guy's Tower at Warwick Castle at the end of the fourteenth century. Thomas's son, Earl Richard [see Beauchamp, Richard de, 1382-1439], a chivalric warrior, who was the hero of almost as many adventures as the legendary Guy, asserted unmistakably his descent from that hero. Two miles from Warwick is a rock overlooking the Avon, which was until the fifteenth century known as 'Kibbecliue' or 'Gibbeclyve.' This spot Earl Richard seems to have identified, in accord with some vague local tradition, with the hermitage where Guy in the legend died, although the romance describes the cell as in the woods of Arden. The place, 'Kibbecliue,' has long been known as Guy's Cliffe. There Earl Richard erected a chantry or chapel for the repose of the souls of the legendary Guy and others of his ancestors, and provided endowment for the maintenance of two priests (1422-3). In the chapel was placed a stone statue said to represent the legendary Guy. One of the first priests of the chantry was John Rous, who adopted all the legends of the hero Guy of Warwick. He assumed without hesitation that the Beauchamp earls of Warwick were Guy's lineal descendants, and asserted that when Earl Richard was travelling in Palestine in 1410 the Soldan's lieutenant, having read the story of his ancestor in books of his own language, invited the earl to his palace and feasted him royally. Rous's manuscript account of Guy's life is among the Ashmolean MSS. at Oxford, and was literally followed by Dugdale in his 'History of Warwickshire.' Since Leland's time visitors to Warwick and its neighbourhood have been shown reputed relics of the hero in Warwick Castle and elsewhere. John Caius in 1552 describes at length the rib of a gigantic cow said to have been slain by Guy, and exhibited at Warwick Castle (see De Canibus, &c.) This is still on view there, together with a large vessel made of bell-metal (said to contain 120 gallons, and called Guy's Porridge Pot), and several enormous pieces of armour said to have been worn by Guy. The pot is obviously a garrison crock of the sixteenth century, and the armour is horse-armour of the same date.

The French romance was first printed at Paris in 1525, and again in 1550. The English poem was first printed by William Copland (without date) about the middle of the sixteenth century, and was soon reprinted by John Cawood. A tradition that it was first printed by Wynkyn de Worde is not corroborated. According to Puttenham (Arte of English Poesie, 1589, ed. Arber, p. 57) the story was commonly sung to the harp in places of assembly in the sixteenth century. Portions of the story were converted into short ballads (cf. 'Guy and Colbrande' in Percy Folio MS., ii. 527-39). It formed the subject of a poem by Samuel Rowlands, 'The Famous History of Guy, Earle of Warwick,' which seems to have been first issued in 1607, and was reissued in 1649 and in 1654. An extract entitled 'Guy and Amarant' figures as a separate poem in Percy's 'Reliques.' Probably Rowlands's verse suggested 'A Play called the Life and Death of Guy of Warwicke, written by John Day and Thomas Decker,' which was entered on the Stationers' Register on 15 Jan. 1618-19, but is not now extant; it may be identical with 'Guy, Earl of Warwick: a Tragical History, by B. J.,' London, 1661, 4to. The romance seems to have been first reduced to prose by Martin Parker, who issued prose versions of the history of King Arthur and similar heroes, but all that is known of Parker's 'Guy, Earl of Warwick' is an entry licensing the publication in the Stationers' Registers for 1640. A ballad in the Roxburghe collection by Humphrey Crouch [q. v.] was first printed in 1655. A chapbook, apparently first issued in London in 1684 in 4to, was republished in the next century at Newcastle, Derby, Nottingham, and Leamington. Another chapbook (London, 1706, 12mo) was repeatedly reissued down to 1821. Pegge in his 'Dissertation' in Nichols's 'Topographica Britannica' (1781) was the first to critically examine the story as credulously told by Dugdale, and to show that it is at almost all points fictitious. Pegge supplies an engraving of the statue placed by Earl Richard at Guy's Cliffe.

[Pegge's Dissertation in Nichols's Top. Brit. vol. iv.; Ward's Cat. of Romances in the British Museum, i. 470 et seq. (an exhaustive criticism of the legend and an account of the manuscripts in the Brit. Mus.); Die Sage von Guy von Warwick, Untersuchung über ihr Alter und ihre Geschichte von A. Tanner, Bonn, 1877; Zur Literatur-Geschichte des Guy von Warwick von Julius Zupitza, Vienna, 1873; Guy of Warwick, ed. Zupitza for Early English Text Soc.; Percy Reliques (Folio MS., ed. Hales and Furnivall), ii. 509 et seq.; Collier's Bibliographical Catalogue, i. xxxviii, ii. 104, 298; Halliwell's Dict. of Old English Plays, p. 113; Cox and Jones's Popular Romances of the Middle Ages (1871), pp. 63-4, 297-319; Dunlop's Hist. of Fiction, ed. Wilson ; Ten Brink's Early English Literature, transl. by Kennedy, pp. 150, 245-7.]

S. L. L.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.143
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
386 ii 39-40 Guy of Warwick: omit daughter of Siward of Wallingford
387 ii 4  for Early in Edward I's reign read In 1268