We’ve all heard tragic historical love stories. Lovers torn apart by warring families a la Romeo and Juliet, the dramatic tale of Cleopatra and Marc Antony and the royal love story of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and the painful sorrow she endured when he died. But not forgetting Guy of Warwick and the beautiful Lady Felice! Not familiar with that one? Neither was I until I visited Guys Cliffe near Warwick.
The ruins of Guys Cliffe, near Warwick.
Guys Cliffe itself is a stunning Grade II listed ruin. It has a long, tumultuous past. It has been a country pad for aristocrats and business men, a home for Waifs and Strays and even a hospital during the World Wars. It has been bought by hoteliers but strangely never became a hotel. More recently the house was set on fire for 1990’s TV show, Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately in filming ‘The Last Vampyre’ the controlled stunt got out of hand and the fire gutted what remained of this home.
But let’s go back to the very beginning and the mid 13th century legend of Guy …
Guy of Warwick came from humble origins. It is said that when he was a baby, a wise woman told his mother: “Thy son will be a great man. He will do many wonderful deeds, and his name will be remembered for hundreds and hundreds of years.” Guy grew up to be strong and brave. They say he was as strong as any knight and yet he was merely the son of a steward.
Guy’s great prowess was noted and he was invited to dine at Warwick Castle with the Earl. It was here that he saw and immediately fell in love with the beautiful Lady Felice; daughter of Roalt, Earl of Warwick. Felice, the most beautiful woman in all the land, received many marriage proposals from many fine men but she reused them all. She too had fallen for Guy, but, being of higher social rank, was unable to break tradition and marry him. So Guy set off on a mission to prove himself worthy and become a knight. He travelled the world slaying dragons, beasts, boars and even giants!
Good old Guy!
Guy returned to Warwick to woo and wed Felice. She was overjoyed but he was full of remorse for his violent past. To overcome this he left Felice once more to undertake a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and redeem himself.
Whilst Guy was absent Felice missed Guy terribly. She is said to have done what all heartbroken women do, keep busy. But in the quiet evenings when she felt lonely she would sob whilst pace along a path she had walked regularly with Guy. Today it is still known as ‘Felice’s walk’.
He was gone for many years. When he returned to England he was an old man, and the land he had known had also changed. It was a country at war with the invading Viking kings. Athelstan, King of England, had agreed to a single duel to end this warring. He needed his best warrior to face the giant, Colbrand. Luckily for him, Guy of Warwick had just arrived back on the English shores. The rest, they say, is history. Guy won the duel at Winchester and peace was restored.
Guy wished for anonymity and a quiet life after this and returned to Warwick. Straight into the arms of his wife you’d have thought… Not quite. Guy made his home in a cave at Guys Cliffe. He was unrecognisable from the young fearless knight he had once been and lived as a hermit. He did see his dear wife. Each morning he would go to the castle to get food which she gave to the poor. She only saw a poor man kneeling before her taking bread and water. She did not see her husband and he could not bring himself to tell her.
Seeing death approaching, Guy sent a message to the Castle and his wife, finally revealing his identity to her. She rushed to the cave to see him where he died in her arms.
When the news spread, there was much sorrow but no one was as heartbroken as Felice. She is said to have thrown herself down the rocky cliff at the end of ‘Felice’s walk’. They were buried together.
The wise old woman who looked at Guy as a babe, was right. He was remembered for many years. Unfortunately today few people would be able to recount his tale. But his huge statue remains at Guys Cliffe, standing proud, if a little tired, in the chapel. Guys Cliffe is under the care of the Freemasons and along with the Friends of Guys Cliffe they run special guided tours of the site. They are very proud of Guy and perhaps we all should take some time to pass on this wonderful folk lore love story.