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Movable and Toy Books; Myths and Heroes. 0711: Anon., The History of the Renowned Guy of Warwick

Author: Anon. (but after Sir William Dugdale)
Title: The history of the renowned Guy of Warwick. To which is prefixed a short account of Kenilworth Castle. Extracted from Sir. Wm. Dugdale's 'Antiquities of Warwickshire' adapted to the entertainment of Youth. [And] The History of Richard Nevil, the stout Earl of Warwick also called the King Maker
Cat. Number: 0711
Date: 1808 (date of preface)
1st Edition: 1808?
Pub. Place: Coventry
Publisher: Pratt, Smith and Lesson
Pages: 1 vol., 47pp.
Size: 13.5 x 8.5 cm
Illustrations: Frontispiece plus ten further wood-cuts in the text

Images of all pages of this book

Page 002 of item 0711

Introductory essay

Guy of Warwick was a medieval romance, originally appearing in verse form and over 11,000 lines long. It was first printed by Wynkin de Worde in c.1500, but had certainly been circulating in manuscript long before. As is immediately apparent, the versions in the Hockliffe Collection are very different texts. They are both in prose, and are far shorter. The more traditional version is 0716, printed by J. Hollis of London sometime in the two decades on either side of 1800. The other edition, described here, probably dates from sometime around 1808 and was published in Coventry by Pratt, Smith and Lesson. Though it follows the standard version in most particulars, it is cast as an inset narrative within a tale told by Mr. Somers to his children. It is also somewhat Bowdlerised, though it was not any overt immorality or linguistic impropriety which was omitted, for the original romance had been both pious and polite. Rather, those episodes which the abridger thought most ridiculous had been left out. Many episodes in the original tale of Guy's adventures 'carry with them so much of the air of fable,' says Mr. Somers, 'that I shall content myself with relating only that part of his history which is generally believed to be true: and even this is so extraordinary that some historians will not give credit to it, and even question whether there ever lived such a person' (p.16).

The most notable episodes which are excised are Guy's encounters with the a fierce wild boar, the huge Dun Cow of Dunsmore Heath, and the dragon of Northumberland (but see 0716 for these). That the narrator cheerfully mentions these omissions, and that the reader is vouchsafed a picture of Guy fighting the dragon even if it is not described (p.15), suggests that the author was confident that most readers would have been familiar with Guy's story anyway, but that it was deemed inappropriate to include such fairy tale elements in a children's book. Such supernatural stories were thought to be the province of servants, and classed as unfit for the affluent children at whom this kind of book was aimed. Indeed, Mr. Somers' children come in one day and tell their father that their 'old nurse has been telling us to-day many of the wonderful things which he performed but which you say are not true.' (p.19) Presumably the absence of these exciting but undignified elements of the story was what the author was boasting about in the book's preface when it was recommended 'to parents and teachers, as a work perfectly free from those ideas and sentiments which too frequently render books of the kind so improper for children' (p.6).

In fact, as the author also admits in the preface, the source of this version of Guy of Warwick is William Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire, a topographical and historical gazetteer of Dugdale's home county, first published in 1656. Dugdale (1605-1686) was an antiquarian whose efforts to record the cultural and architectural topography of England (the Antiquities, the History of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, 1658) and heraldry and lineage (The Baronage of England, 1675-76) were to become the patterns for many later works. His account of Guy of Warwick in the Antiquities (Dugdale 1730: 374-76) was sceptical but not wholly incredulous. He sought to fix Guy in the pedigree of the Earls of Warwick, and arrived at the year 929 as the date of Guy's death. The version in the Hockliffe Collection follows Dugdale's text very closely, merely simplifying some of the language and adding the frame narrative. Mr. Somer's occasional interjections, however, illustrate how the author was trying to modify the text to suit the demands of the market for children's literature. Mr. Somer's insistence that he will tell the tale as a reward for his children's good behaviour is redolent of many moral tales. His attempt to include a few snippets of geographical information - telling his children a little about Kenilworth and Warwick castles - is also typical of early nineteenth century children's books. The division of the narrative into five 'nights' of story-telling, in the manner of the Arabian Nights, is another convention of the genre, employed most famously by Aikin and Barbauld's Evenings at Home (0052-0054).

Mr. Somer's story to his children starts with a description of the reception of Elizabeth I at Warwick Castle by the Earl of Leicester, presumably also straight from Dugdale's Antiquities. Only some twenty pages into the book does the tale of Guy itself begin. As Mr. Somers tells it (in accordance with Dugdale), Guy was the son of Siward, Baron of Wallingford, although most versions of the tale prefer him to have been the son of the steward of the Earl of Warwick. Mr. Somers then passes over the adventures of Guy in winning the hand in marriage of Felice, daughter of the Earl of Warwick, which filled the early part of the medieval romance, and has Guy become the Earl simply by marrying Felice and her father dying. The story continues with Guy going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, while in his absence, England is attacked and ravaged by the Danes. Athelstan, King of England, is forced to seek terms with the Danes, and offers a single combat between the Danish champion - Colbrand the giant - and an English champion as yet unnamed. If Colbrand wins, England will be ceded to Denmark; if English champion triumphs, then the Danes will immediately return to their own land.

Unable to find anyone brave enough to be the champion of England, King Athelstan undertakes a holy fast for three days. At the end of this he dreams that he will find his champion in the guise of a pilgrim coming into Winchester on the next morning. As was prophesied, a pilgrim appears - none other than Guy of Warwick, newly returned from pilgrimage and still in disguise. He fights Colbrand, and triumphs. Though he is pressed to reveal his true identity, he tells only the king, and returns to Warwick still dressed as a pilgrim. His wife does not recognise him, but she is charitable to him as she is to all pilgrims, and Guy lives out his days as a hermit, surviving on her bounty (hermits being mildly criticised by Mr. Somers: p.38). When he knows he is about to die, Guy reveals his identity and location to his wife, sending her the ring which she gave him at their parting.

Following 'The History of Guy of Warwick', the book contains 'The History of Richard Nevil, the Stout Earl of Warwick, Also called the King Maker' (begins p.42). Also extracted from Dugdale's Antiquities (Dugdale 1730: 415ff.), this recounts Neville's part in the Wars of the Roses. The version of 'The History of Richard Nevil' in the Hockliffe Collection is much abridged from that which appears in another edition of the same book in the British Library. The books have different pagination, but share the same wood-cuts and the same text of 'Guy of Warwick'. The prefaces to both books are signed 'Coventry, July, 1808'. Since this is the only place where either book is dated, and since they are manifestly different editions, doubtlessly published in different years, the standard dating of both texts as 1808 must be brought into question. The shortening of the 'The History of Richard Nevil' in the Hockliffe edition might be taken to suggest that the British Library edition was published earlier. If this was the case, the book went down in price, for the British Library edition's title-page announces a price of one shilling, while the Hockliffe book was on sale for sixpence (title-page). The other notable difference between the two versions is that the Hockliffe copy was published by Pratt, Smith and Lesson in Coventry, whereas Richard Pratt alone was responsible for the British Library edition. Other books published by Pratt in Coventry - generally on local history, or for children - are generally dated from the 1810s.

Dugdale, WilliamThe Antiquties of Warwickshire illustrated; From Records, Leiger-Books, Manuscripts, Charters, Evidences, Tombes, and Armes: Beautifeid With Maps, Prospects, and Portraitures, 2 vols., London: John Osborn and Thomas Longman, 1730; rpt. in facsimile, Didsbury, Manchester: E. J. Morten Ltd., c.1973

Dugdale, WilliamThe Antiquties of Warwickshire illustrated; From Records, Leiger-Books, Manuscripts, Charters, Evidences, Tombes, and Armes: Beautifeid With Maps, Prospects, and Portraitures, 2 vols., London: John Osborn and Thomas Longman, 1730; rpt. in facsimile, Didsbury, Manchester: E. J. Morten Ltd., c.1973