Guy of Gisbourne, Gisburne, Gisborne, Gysborne, or Gisburn

Our chapel is close by Gisburn. One of the village’s most interesting connections is in the Robin Hood tales, in which the Sherriff of Nottingham employs a henchman going by the name of Guy of Gisburn. He is sometimes called Sir Guy of Gisbourne, Gisburne, Gisborne, Gysborne, or Gisborn. There is only one Gisburn in the country, and it’s ours. Some have suggested Guy came from Guiseley (West Yorks) or Guisborough (North Yorks), but I think these less likely.

Guy sometimes features in the ballads along with one Richard of the Lee aka Sir Rychard at the Lee. In A Gest of Robyn Hode, printed between 1492-1534, Richard of the Lee is lord of Verysdale or Uterysdale, often identified with Lancashire’s Wyresdale, just the other side of Bowland’s Trough, and not very far from Gisburn. There is an estate in Wyresdale called Lee, as well as a village near Preston called Lea. This circumstantial evidence suggests to me that Guy was a real person, or based upon real persons.

In Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne, dating from 1650 but resembling a fragment from 1475, Guy is a mercenary paid to Kill Robin. He 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

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.’

That quaint, pretty village so many of us drive through each week, may well have been the birthplace of one of English history’s, or perhaps literature’s, most fearsome characters. ‘Good Gisborne’ is a lovely place, for sure. But like everywhere else, it breeds sinners. I hope one of its most famous sons, if he was real, found the grace of God. I hope its current denizens do likewise. Their sins may be less obvious and fearsome, but failing God's standard, by a little or a lot, is a fail. Thankfully, God’s capacity and willingness to forgive is greater even than Guy’s ability to sin:

Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. Romans 5:20

Models of Guy and Robin fighting can be purchased from Hobby Bunker.  

Allen W. Wright,

W. T. W. Potts, Lancashire and the Legend of Robin Hood.