Guy of Warwick feared punishment for loving Felice in medieval romance

Not only have men been disproportionately gender-burdened with soliciting amorous relationships and enduring rejection, punishment for adultery historically has been gender-biased against men. In the medieval romance Guy of Warwick {Gui de Warewic}, composed about 1200, Guy of Warwick feared mortal punishment merely for loving the noble Felice. She herself threatened to have him drawn and quartered just because he told her of his ardent love for her. Women must show more compassion for men’s oppressive gender position.

Guy of Warwick actually had been authorized to serve Felice. She was the daughter of Rualt, the wealthy and powerful count of Warwick. At a feast to celebrate Pentecost, Count Rualt saw Guy, the son of his seneschal Sequart:

So he called Guy to himself,
and said and commanded him
that he go to the room
of his daughter Felice to greet her,
and that he should properly serve her
so as to bring her well to pleasure.

{ A sei l’ad donques apelé,
Si lui ad dit e comandé
Qu’il en la chambre alast,
Sa fille Felice saluast,
E qu’il la deust le jur servir
Ke ben lui vienge a pleisir. }

Courtly love constructs men as feudal servants to women. The handsome, well-dressed Guy went to Felice in her room. He knelt before her and declared that her father ordered him to serve her according to her wishes. He thus was in the servant position of a man as a courtly lover.

face within heart: marginalia in fifteenth-century prose manuscript of Guy of Warwick

Guy sought to serve Felice even beyond her wishes. He did all that she desired:

Guy exerted himself to serve her well.
The young woman had much pleasure
in the good service to which he put himself.

{ Gui se pena de bel servir
La pucele ben a pleisir,
en bel servir mist s’entente. }

Many men will do anything to serve beautiful, young women. Guy yearned to serve Felice, a name derived from “bliss {felicité},” in sexual love:

Felice the beautiful with her radiant face
had so seized Guy in love
that he didn’t know what to do at any time,
so much by love was he ravished.
From then on he often sighed and thought.

{ Felice la bele od le cler vis,
En s’amur est Gui si suspris
Que il ne set que faire a nul jur,
Tant par est suppris d’amur,
Desore suspire e pense sovent }

Men are romantically simple. What Guy was thinking cannot be doubted. He didn’t dare show his loving arousal. He asked for leave and, distressed and sorrowful, left Felice’s room.

face with disturbed heart: marginalia in fifteenth-century prose manuscript of Guy of Warwick

Guy languished in love for Felice. He would speak to himself in sorrow:

What shall I do, alas, such a wretch am I!
Such evil fate that I saw Felice with the radiant face!
And to her I don’t dare show my pain
that I have both night and day because of her.
I will never show it to her,
since this I wouldn’t dare to do.
Isn’t she the daughter of my lord,
to whom I should bear great reverence?
If I were to love her and he knew of it,
then he would be able to punish me.
He would have me burned or beheaded,
hung on high or drowned in the sea.
And I, alas, what then shall I do?
I love one whom I will never have.

{ Que frai jo, las, tant sui chaitifs!
Tant mar vi Felice od le cler vis!
A lui n’os mustrer ma dolur,
Que pur lui ai e nuit e jur,
Ne jamés ne li musterai;
Iço coment faire ne l’oserai.
Dune est ele fille mun seignur,
A qui dei porter grant honur?
Si jo l’amasse e il le seust,
Et il puis ateindre me peust,
Arder me freit u decoler,
Pendre en halt u en mer noier;
E jo, las, dunc que frai?
Cele aim que jamés n’averai. }

Men shouldn’t be punished for loving women. Men’s lives should matter. The goodness of men’s love for women must be vigorously affirmed. These are planks in a grass-roots platform for a progressive future. Guy suffered alone in medieval Warwick. Like many men, he refrained from voicing his anguish.

Guy ultimately resolved to throw himself at the mercy of his beloved woman Felice. He accepted the social reality of grotesque devaluation of men’s lives amid public celebration of divine and demonic women:

My pain is nothing to her.
Little she cares now for my life.
Not for anything shall I allow myself,
whether it brings evil or good,
now indeed not to go to her.
I will put myself entirely at her mercy.
She will be able to kill me well,
if she would be pleased to do that to me.
Indeed it’s much better if she kills me
than that I long endure this life.

{ De ma dolur ne li est mie,
Poi li chaud ore de ma vie;
Ne larrai mes pur nule rien,
Avenge n’en u mal u ben,
Que ne voise ore certes a li;
Del tut me mettrai en sa merci,
Oscire ben me purra,
Ço que li pleist de mei fera;
Mielz voil certes qu’ele me oscie
Ke lunges me dure ceste vie. }

Elite men’s life expectancy in medieval England was about nine years less than elite women’s. Under historically entrenched gynocentrism and gyno-idolatry, men’s lives have been terribly devalued. Guy of Warwick narrates that social injustice.

Guy of Warwick declares his love to Countess Felice

Wretched and distressed, Guy went to Felice and declared his ardent love for her. The extent of medieval men’s passionate love for women is scarcely conceivable today:

There is nothing that I desire more than you —
my heart from you cannot leave.
Above all else I have love for you.
For fear of death I will not allow
that I not love you every day,
as long as I am a living man.
Under Heaven there is nothing,
whether that be bad or good,
which for your love I wouldn’t do,
and for fear of death nothing would I refuse.
You are my life and my death —
without you I have no solace,
and I love you much more than I love myself.
I will die in extreme distress for you.
If you won’t take pity on me,
my life will be in extreme peril.
If you knew the extreme despair
that I have for your love,
and the complete grief and the pain
that for you I suffer both night and day,
I know well in faith
that you would have mercy on me.

{ La rien estes que plus desir,
De vus ne pot mis quer partir;
Sur tote rien amé vus ai.
Pur la mort pas ne larrai
Que ne vus aim a tut dis,
Tant cum serrai home vifs.
Suz ciel n’est icele rien,
Fust ço mal u fust ço bien,
Que pur vostre amur ne feisse,
Pur la mort nel desdeisse.
Vus estes ma vie e ma mort,
Sanz vus n’avrai jo confort;
Asez vus aim plus de mei,
Murrai pur vus a grant desrei;
Se vus ne prenge de mei pité,
A grant peril serrai livré.
Se saviez la grant tristur
Que ai pur la vostre amur,
E la grief peine e la dolur
Que pur vus soffre e nuit e jur,
Tresbien savereie de fi
Que vus avriez de mei merci. }

To Guy’s passionate, desperate proclamation of love, Felice responded matter-of-factly and dismissively:

Are you not that Guy,
the son of the seneschal Sequart?
Much now you take me for a fool,
when you have asked me for love.
You are indeed too bold.

{ Dune estes vus iço Gui?
Fiz estes al senescal Sequart;
Mult vus tienc ore a musart,
Quant d’amur m’avez requis;
Trop estes certes hardis. }

She could have begun by praising Guy’s passionate and lively heart. Why was Felice instead so hard-hearted and cruel? Guy’s father the seneschal was the steward for Felice’s father. That doesn’t rank Guy with a duke, a marquis, or a count, but he had social status far above a mere peasant. Men today aren’t permitted to reject a woman because she’s slutty, fat, or domineering. Felice rejected Guy because he was merely a seneschal’s son.

Guy of Warwick, hat in hand, before Felice

Loving women can easily condemn men to the penal system. In this medieval romance, Felice went so far as to threaten Guy with penal punishment merely for verbally expressing his love for her:

Too extreme a folly, Guy, you imagined
when you spoke to me about love,
because by the faith that I owe my mother,
if I go to speak to my father,
he will cut off your members
and have you pulled apart by horses,
by which would be warning
enough to many of the folly
of doing such a dishonor
to the daughter of their lord.
Get up quickly and get out of here.
Take care that you never return!

{ Trop grant folie, Gui, pensastes,
Quant vus de amur a mei parlastes;
Car par la fei que dei ma mere,
Se jol vois dire a mun pere,
Des menbres te freit desfaire,
E a chevals trestuit detraire,
Par quei serreient chastiez
De la folie plusurs assez,
De faire itel deshonur
A la fille lur seignur;
Alez d’ici, tost levez,
Gardez que mes n’i repairez! }

This daughter owes faith to her mother and apparently gives orders to her father. Cutting off a man’s members includes his penis. Guy risked being castrated and killed merely for expressing his love to Felice. Literary scholars have largely ignored or rationalize this outrage. Such a grotesque system of penal punishment regrettably remains with us to this day.

The medieval romance Guy of Warwick indicates the harsh regulation of men’s sexuality throughout history. The past need not define the future. Contempt for men dying of lovesickness need not continue. Progress toward a more humane future could start with women appreciating men’s distinctive lived experiences.

faces in manuscript marginalia

* * * * *

Read more:


The incidents above are from the medieval Anglo-Norman verse romance Guy of Warwick {Gui de Warewic}. Weiss dates this anonymous romance to (shortly) “before 1204.” Weiss (2008) p. 14. The Anglo-Norman version is commonly called Gui of Warwick. For simplicity I’ve used above the English name “Guy.” Warwick is a city in England. This romance thus became part of the “matter of England.” Guy of Warwick became a hero in England second only to King Arthur.

Across both French and English versions, Gui de Warewic survives in sixteen medieval manuscripts. That’s more than any other romance with an English hero or heroine. In addition to the c. 1200 Anglo-Norman version, Gui de Warewic also exists in a fifteenth-century French prose version and various adaptations into German and English. An English adaptation is attested to have been composed no later than the early fourteenth century through its presence in the Auchinleck manuscript (Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, Advocates, 19.2.1). Stories of Guy of Warwick circulated widely in England through to the nineteenth century.

Felice’s hard-hearted and mortally threatening response to Guy’s proclamation of his love for her was eventually tempered in an English version, but also made more gynocentric. Consider, for example, Felice and Guy’s interaction in G.L. (1706). Guy declares his love to Felice (Phaelice):

Fairest of all the curious works of nature, whose equal never breathed in common air, more wonderful than any earth can yield, the bright idea of celestial beauty. Eternal honor wait upon thy name. The suit I have to thee is much like that which once Leander came to Hero with, hoping thereby to reap more lovely fruit than ever Mars gained from the queen of Love, when he outwitted Vulcan. The present which I bring, is a heart filled with love, and love can only satisfy my soul. Incline then, madam, to my humble motion: compassionate the griefs that I endure, and let that life that rests at your devotion be regarded. With pity take my dying heart in cure, and let it not expire in groaning torments, nor burst with griefs, because too well it loves thee. I know, dear Phaelice, that great princes love thee and deeds of honour for thy sake have done. But neither king nor prince can love thee more, no, nor so much as I, though but the son of thy great father’s steward, for so inestimable is my love, that whatsoever all others shall pretend, can never countervail it.

Phaelice responds with similar, lofty tone:

O gentle youth, speak not of love, I pray thee, for that is a thing I have no mind to hear of: virginity with me shall live and die. Love is composed of play and idleness, and leadeth only unto vain delight. Besides, it is in thee too great a boldness, for thou art far inferior to my degree: and should thy love be to my father told, I know it would procure thee a reproof. And therefore learn instruction from the proverb, ‘That princely eagles scorn to catch at flies.’ Then, if thou in thy suit wouldst have success, let thy desires be equal to thy fortune, and aim not at those things that are above it. Thou ownest, thyself, princes have courted me; then why should I, that have refused their courtship, stoop down so low as to my father’s steward; nay, lower yet unto his steward’s son? My youth and beauty is but in its bloom, and I have no mind to throw it away on one that is so much inferior to me.

G.L. (1706) pp. 14-5.

The quotes in the main section above are from the medieval Anglo-Norman Gui de Warewic, with the Old French (Anglo-Norman) edition of Ewert (1933) and my English translation, benefiting from that of Weiss (2008). Those quotes are vv. 179-84 (So he called Guy to himself…), 209-11 (Guy exerted himself to serve her well…), 217-21 (Felice the beautiful with her radiant face…), 251-64 (What shall I do, alas, such a wretch am I…), 289-98 (My pain is nothing to her…), 311-32 (There is nothing that I desire more than you…), 334-8 (Are you not that Guy…), 361-74 (Too extreme a folly, Guy, you imagined…).

[images] (1) Face within a heart. Marginialia (top margin) in fifteenth-century manuscript of a Middle English prose instance of Guy of Warwick. On folio 257v of British Library, Royal MS 15 E VI (Talbot Shrewsbury Book). This manuscript, containing poems and romances, was written in 1444-1445. (2) Face within disturbed heart. Marginialia (top margin) on folio 257r of British Library, Royal MS 15 E VI. Many heart-shaped top marginalia exist in this instance of Guy of Warwick. (3) Guy of Warwick entreats Countess Felice. Cover-page woodblock print (color-enhanced) from instance of L’hystoire de Guy de Waruich chevalier d’Angleterre {The History of Guy of Warwick, Knight of England}, published in Paris for Jean Bonfons in 1550. From instance offered for sale. (4) Guy of Warwick, hat in hand, before Felice. Illustration on page 12 of the sixteenth edition (dated 1800) of G.L (1706). (5) Faces in marginalia at the end of Guy of Warwick. From folio 266r of British Library, Royal MS 15 E VI


Ewert, Alfred,ed. 1933. Gui de Warewic, Roman du XIIIe Siècle. 2 vols. Les classiques français du Moyen Âge, 74-75. Paris: Champion.

G.L. (1706). The noble and renowned history of Guy, Earl of Warwick : containing a full and true account of his many famous and valiant actions … Extracted from authentick records; and the whole illustrated with cuts suitable to the history. Printed by W.O. for E.B. and sold by A. Bettesworth, London. Here’s an 1829 edition.

Weiss, Judith, trans. 2008. Boeve de Haumtone and Gui de Warewic: Two Anglo-Norman Romances. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 332; The French of England Translation Series, 3. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

5 thoughts on “Guy of Warwick feared punishment for loving Felice in medieval romance”

      1. You seem to have very little education, Douglas, if you’re mistaking fiction for fact. I advise you to go back to college, or better yet, learn to develop some common sense.

  1. Are you just being obtuse or commenting in bad faith? It reads more like the later. To start, anyone who actually read this knows Guy of Warwick is a fictional character. Its bizarre that Douglas had to even clarify that with you.

    Many people find truths through fiction all the time. Intellectuals have gain all sorts of insight from it, like Shakespeare and speculative fictions. What make medieval romances off limits? Perhaps a little more common sense would do you some good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Current month ye@r day *