Percy's Reliques - The Legend of Sir Guy.

The Legend of Sir Guy.

            This ballad contains a short summary of the exploits of this famous champion, as recorded in the old story books; and is commonly intitled, "A pleasant song of the valiant deeds of chivalry atchieved by that noble knight Sir Guy of Warwick, who, for the love of fair Phelis, became a hermit, and dyed in a cave of craggy rocke, a mile distant from Warwick."

            The history of Sir Guy, though now very properly resigned to children, was once admired by all readers of wit and taste: for taste and wit had once their childhood. Although of English growth, it was early a favourite with other nations. It appeared in French in 1525; and is alluded to in the old Spanish romance Tirante el blanco, which, it is believed, was written not long after the year 1430.-- See advertisement to the French translation, 2 vols. 12mo.

            The original whence all these stories are extracted is a very ancient romance in old English verse, which is quoted by Chaucer as a celebrated piece even in his time (viz.,

"Men speken of romances of price,
Of Horne childe and Ippotis,
Of Bevis, and Sir Guy," &c.-- R. of Thop.)

and was usually sung to the harp at Christmas dinners and bride-ales, as we learn from Puttenham's Art of Poetry, 4to. 1589.

            This ancient romance is not wholly lost. An imperfect copy in black-letter, "Imprynted at London -- for Wylliam Copland," in 34 sheets 4to. without date, is still preserved among Mr. Garrick's collection of old plays. As a specimen of the poetry of this antique rhymer, take his description of the dragon mentioned in ver. 105 of the following ballad:

"A messenger came to the king.
Syr king, he sayd, lysten me now,
For bad tydinges I bring you,
In Northumberlande there is no man,
But that they be slain everychone
For there dare no man route,
By twenty myle rounde about;
For doubt of a fowle dragon,
That sleath men and beastes downe.
He is blacke as any cole,
Rugged as a rough fole;
His bodye from the navill upwarde
No man may it pierce it is so harde;
His neck is great as any summere;
He renneth as swifte as any distrere;
Pawes he hath as a lyon:
All that he toucheth he sleath dead downe.
Great winges he hath to flight,
That is no man that bear him might.
There may no man fight him agayne,
But that be sleath him certayne:
For a fowler beast then is he,
Ywis of none never heard ye."

            Sir William Dugdale is of opinion that the story of Guy is not wholly apocryphal, though he acknowledges the monks have sounded out his praises too hyperbolically. In particular, he gives the duel fought with the Danish champion as a real historical truth, and fixes the date of it in the year 926, ętat. Guy 67.-- See his Warwickshire.

            The following is written upon the same plan as Ballad v., Book vii., but which is the original, and which the copy, cannot be decided. This song is ancient, as may be inferred from the idiom preserved in the margin, ver. 94, 102, and was once popular, as appears from Fletcher's Knight of the Burning Pestle; Act ii. sc. ult.

            It is here published from an ancient manuscript in the Editor's old folio volume, collated with two printed ones, one of which is in blackletter in the Pepys Collection.

WAS ever knight for ladyes sake
Soe tost in love, as I Sir Guy
For Phelis fayre, that lady bright
As ever man beheld with eye?

She gave me leave myself to try,
The valiant knight with sheeld and speare,
Ere that her love shee wold grant me;
Which made mee venture far and neare.

Then proved I a baron bold,
In deeds of armes the doughtyest knight
That in those days in England was,
With sworde and speare in feild to fight.

An English-man I was by birthe:
In faith of Christ a Christyan true:
The wicked lawes of infidells
I sought by prowesse to subdue.

Nine hundred twenty yeere and odde
After our Saviour Christ his birth,
When king Athčlstone wore the crowne,
I lived heere upon the earth.

Sometime I was of Warwicke Erle,
And, as I sayd, of very truth
A ladyes love did me constraine
To seeke strange ventures in my youth.

To win me fame by feates of armes
In strange and sundry heathen lands;
Where I atchieved for her sake
Right dangerous conquests with my hands.

For first I sayled to Normandye,
And there I stoutlye wan in fight
The emperours daughter of Almaine,
From manye a vallyant worthye knight.

Then passed I the seas to Greece
To helpe the emperour in his right;
Against the mightye souldans hoaste
Of puissant Persians for to fight.

Where I did slay of Sarazens,
And heathen pagans, manye a man;
And slew the souldans cozen deere,
Who had to name doughtye Coldrąn.

Eskeldered a famous knight
To death likewise I did pursue:
And Elmayne king of Tyre alsoe,
Most terrible in fight to viewe.

I went into the souldans hoast,
Being thither on embassage sent,
And brought his head away with mee;
I having slaine him in his tent.

There was a dragon in that land
Most fiercelye mett me by the waye
As hee a lyon did pursue,
Which I myself did alsoe slay.

Then soon I past the seas from Greece,
And came to Pavye land aright:
Where I the duke of Pavye killed,
His hainous treason to requite.

To England then I came with speede,
To wedd faire Phelis lady bright:
For love of whome I travelled farr
To try my manhood and my might.

But when I had espoused her,
I stayd with her but fortye dayes,
Ere that I left this ladye faire,
And went from her beyond the seas.

All cladd in gray, in pilgrim sort,
My voyage from her I did take
Unto the blessed Holy Land,
For Jesus Christ my Saviours sake.

Where I Erle Jonas did redeeme,
And all his sonnes, which were fifteene,
Who with the cruell Sarazens
In prison for long time had beene.

I slew the gyant Amarant
In battel fiercelye hand to hand:
And doughty Barknard killed I,
A treacherous knight of Pavye land.

Then I to England came againe,
And here with Colbronde fell I fought:
An ugly gyant, which the Danes
Had for their champion hither brought.

I overcame him in the feild,
And slewe him soone right valliantlye;
Wherebye this land I did redeeme
From Danish tribute utterlye.

And afterwards I offered upp
The use of weapons solemnlye
At Winchester, whereas I fought,
In sight of manye farr and nye.

But first, neare Winsor, I did slaye
A bore of passing might and strength;
Whose like in England never was
For hugenesse both in bredth and length.

Some of his bones in Warwicke yett
Within the castle there doe lye:
One of his sheeld-bones to this day
Hangs in the citye of Coventrye.

On Dunsmore heath I alsoe slewe
A monstrous wyld and cruell beast,
Call'd the Dun-cow of Dunsmore heath;
Which manye people had opprest.

Some of her bones in Warwicke yett
Still for a monument doe lye;
And there exposed to lookers viewe
As wonderous strange, they may espye.

A dragon in Northumberland
I alsoe did in fight destroye,
Which did both man and beast oppresse,
And all the countrye sore annoye.

At length to Warwicke I did come,
Like pilgrim poore, and was not knowne;
And there I lived a hermitts life
A mile and more out of the towne.

Where with my hands I hewed a house
Out of a craggy rocke of stone;
And lived like a palmer poore
Within that cave myself alone

And daylye came to begg my bread
Of Phelis att my castle gate;
Not knowne unto my loved wiffe,
Who dailye mourned for her mate.

Till att the last I fell sore sicke,
Yea sicke soe sore that I must dye;
I sent to her a ring of golde,
By which she knew me presentlye.

Then shee repairing to the cave
Before that I gave up the ghost;
Herself clos'd up my dying eyes:
My Phelis faire, whom I lovd most.

Thus dreadful death did me arrest,
To bring my corpes unto the grave;
And like a palmer dyed I,
Wherby I sought my soule to save.

My body that endured this toyle,
Though now it be consumed to mold;
My statue faire engraven in stone,
In Warwicke still you may behold.

 

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