Gui de Warewic is one of the latest of the Anglo-Norman romances; Guy of Warwick is a comparatively early Middle English romance – the one responds to the foundational texts of insular romance and the other has an ongoing influence on later texts (as this volume demonstrates). Between them they form one of the most popular legends created by English romance writers, and the essential question remains that asked by M. Domenica Legge: ‘What, then, could be the cause of the strange fascination this story [Gui] has exerted?’ This chapter will re-examine the relationship between these two versions, arguing that the close resemblances are more significant to our understanding of the development of insular romance than the differences – the most obvious of which is the change in language.
The story of Guy of Warwick indeed provides one of the most popular romances of the English middle ages, sufficiently popular to give rise to numerous versions across several centuries. Popularity is itself a slippery concept; it can be measured variously: by evident success, by subjective assessment of literary quality, or by assumptions about audience. By the first measure, Gui is evidently as popular, if not more so, than Guy, in that more manuscripts survive or are recorded. By the second measure, the legend of Guy is recognized as a benchmark – ‘an epitome of what was most popular’ – but in response to the apparent register of literature in French, subjective readings of the two linguistic versions have tended to find ‘popular’ attitudes and styles in the Middle English rather than the Anglo-Norman versions. This relates to the third, more problematic, measure. Gui, written in the socially superior vernacular of the thirteenth century, is associated with baronial patrons and audiences, seen as distinct from the ‘popular’ or populist audiences posited for Guy. I would suggest, however, that the popularity, however assessed, of the English-language versions of the story of Guy owes its existence to that of Gui, or to be more precise, it is the author of Gui de Warewic who can be given the double-edged compliment of being recognized as the first writer of popular fiction amongst insular romance writers.