Guy of Gisbourne

"Robin Shoots with Sir Guy" by Louis Rhead. Illustration to Bold Robin Hood and His Outlaw Band: Their Famous Exploits in Sherwood Forest

Sir Guy of Gisbourne (also spelled Gisburne, Gisborne, Gysborne, or Gisborn) is a character from the Robin Hood legends of English folklore. He first appears in "Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne" (Child Ballad 118),[1] where he is a hired killer who attempts to kill Robin Hood but is killed by him. In later depictions, he has become a romantic rival to Robin Hood for Maid Marian's love.

Textual background

The Child ballad "Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne" dates from 1650 but is much older than that,[2] judging from the similarities with the 1475 play, a fragment of which is preserved in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge.[3]

Summary of the Child ballad

Robin Hood and Little John walk through the forest. Robin speaks of a bad dream he had, of two men attacking him. While talking, they spot a distant stranger leaning on a tree. Little John tells Robin to wait while he approaches the stranger, but Robin objects as if accused of cowardice, telling John he'd like to break his head. John marches off in a huff, and is promptly captured by the Sheriff of Nottingham and tied to a tree, to be hanged. Meanwhile, Robin goes up to the stranger, Guy of Gisborne, who is clad in a horsehide robe.

Guy's outfit is described thus:

A sword and a dagger he wore by his side,
Of manye a man the bane;
And he was clad in his capull-hyde [capull-hyde = horse-hide]
Topp and tayll and mayne
‘I dwell by dale and downe,’ quoth hee,
‘And Robin to take I’me sworne;
And when I am callèd by my right name
I am Guy of good Gisborne.’[4]

Guy is a hired killer seeking Robin Hood. They have a shooting contest, and Robin wins with ease. Robin identifies himself (as "Robin Hood of Barnsdale", in South Yorkshire) to the suspicious Guy, and the two fight. When Robin trips, Guy stabs him, but (after a brief prayer to Mary) Robin kills him with his sword. He dons the distinctive horsehide, cuts off Guy's head, sticks it on the tip of his bow and slashes the face, rendering it unrecognisable. He then blows Guy's horn to signal victory to the Sheriff. Disguised as Guy, and carrying what he passes off as Robin Hood's head, Robin goes to rescue Little John. He convinces the sheriff to be allowed to kill Little John, but instead cuts him loose with an "Irish knife".[5] John then takes a bow and shoots the Sheriff through the heart.[6]

Although he has made many appearances in 19th and 20th century variants of the Robin Hood legends, Guy's only constant is villainy, but a frequently occurring theme is the "love triangle story" involving Robin, Marian, and Guy, a theme adopted from 19th-century theatrical adaptations.[7]


In Howard Pyle's influential novel the Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (published in 1883), he is shown as a crude, coarse outlaw, known for his cruelty and murderous habits.[7]

In Simon Hawke's 1984 novel The Ivanhoe Gambit, Sir Guy is the Sheriff of Nottingham and married to Marian, who runs off to join the Merry Men after three failed attempts to murder him.

In Stephen R. Lawhead's 2006 novel Hood (King Raven Trilogy), Sir Guy, a knight-soldier, is the chief henchman of Abbott Hugo de Rainault.

In J Tullos Henning's 2014 "The Wode" series, Guy, born Gamelyn, was a childhood friend and eventual lover to Rob before becoming a Templar and returning as Guy de Gisbourne.


In the 1912 version of Robin Hood, he is determined to marry Marian and captures Robin Hood; he ties him to a tree, but by the end of the movie the roles are reversed.[7]

In the Douglas Fairbanks-dominated silent movie Robin Hood and the highly rated 1938 Errol Flynn film The Adventures of Robin Hood, he is a nobleman, played by Paul Dickey and Basil Rathbone, respectively. In these two versions, Guy is Prince John's chief supporter, and a far more prominent and dangerous man than the Sheriff of Nottingham. Prince John proposes Guy to Maid Marian as a prospective husband. Henceforth, Guy often appears as a bitter rival to Robin for Maid Marian's affections.[8] In the 1938 film, Robin engages Guy in a duel to the death, one of the most famous sword fights in cinema history, whilst in the 1922 film, Robin takes him on without a sword and kills him with his bare hands.

The role of Guy of Gisbourne has also been interpreted on film by Tom Baker (The Zany Adventures of Robin Hood, 1984), and Michael Wincott (in the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) where he is said to be the Sheriff's cousin.

In the 2010 movie Robin Hood directed by Ridley Scott, actor Mark Strong mentions in promotional interviews that his character, Sir Godfrey, is based upon Guy of Gisbourne.[9]


Gisbourne has been portrayed by Robert Addie (in the British television series Robin of Sherwood, 1984-6) and, in the 1991 TV movie, Jürgen Prochnow plays "Sir Miles Folcanet," a character with much in common with modern versions of Guy.

He was portrayed by Clive Revill in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Qpid in its fourth season. Q sends the crew of the USS Enterprise to a Robin Hood scenario of his creation where they must save the life of Captain Picard's occasional paramour, Vash, who must either marry Sir Guy or be executed.

In the 1990s CBBC comedy show Maid Marian and her Merry Men, Guy—played by Ramsay Gilderdale—is the nephew of King John, and is portrayed in the series as an overgrown mother's boy. He is foolish to the point of being delusional, believing himself to have a friend from outer space named "Plop Bop". He dresses occasionally as a sugar-plum fairy or more usually as a court jester, and is generally held in contempt by the heroes and villains alike.

In the BBC's 2006 Robin Hood, Guy of Gisborne is the third main character in series 1 and 2, and the second main character in series 3. He is portrayed much more seriously by Richard Armitage, and is the Sheriff of Nottingham's second-in-command. He is originally depicted as a dark character, and is shown as an active enforcer of the Sheriff's cruelty, but at the same time, he is in love with Marian, showing conflicted attempts to redeem himself in her eyes.


  1. Gray, Douglas (1999). "The Robin Hood Poems". In Stephen Thomas Knight. Robin Hood: An Anthology of Scholarship and Criticism. Boydell & Brewer Ltd. p. 21. ISBN 9780859915250.
  2. Knight, Stephen Thomas (2003). Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography. Cornell UP. p. 14. ISBN 9780801438851.
  3. Clark, Robert L. A.; Sponsler, Claire (1997). "Queer Play: The Cultural Work of Crossdressing in Medieval Drama". New Literary History. 28 (2): 319–44. doi:10.1353/nlh.1997.0017. JSTOR 20057418.
  4. Holt, J. C. (1982). Robin Hood. Thames & Hudson. pp. 30–31. ISBN 0-500-27541-6.
  5. Hilton, R. H. (1958). "The Origins of Robin Hood". Past & Present. 14: 30–44. doi:10.1093/past/14.1.30. JSTOR 650091.
  6. Knight, Stephen Thomas (2003). Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography. Cornell UP. pp. 15–16. ISBN 9780801438851.
  7. 1 2 3 Knight, Stephen Thomas (2003). Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography. Cornell UP. p. 153. ISBN 9780801438851.
  8. Allen W. Wright, "A Beginner's Guide to Robin Hood".
  9. Reynolds, Simon (10 November 2008). "Strong joins Ridley Scott's 'Nottingham'". Digital Spy. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
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