Guiron le Courtois was long considered to be a single prose romance. However, recent scholarship has shown that this huge textual compilation is better regarded as a cycle whose core narratives are the Roman de Méliadus, the Roman de Guiron and the Suite Guiron (Morato 2010, Lagomarsini 2014, Trachsler 2014).
In order to be able convincingly to trace the first stages of the textual tradition, we would need an earlier witness, or alternatively knowledge of the exact narrative content of the 54 quires mentioned in the 1240 letter from the chancellery of the Emperor Frederick II (see the Introduction). The earliest witnesses date from between 1250-1280, a moment in which the cycle's dynamics appear already advanced. The philological and structural analysis currently being carried out by the Gruppo Guiron, a sister project of MFLCOF, allows us to use the material evidence to formulate some new hypotheses about the genesis and evolution of the cycle (Leonardi 2011).
Internal evidence suggests that the Méliadus came first, followed by the Guiron and later the Suite Guiron (Morato 2010). The fact that none of the three seems to have had a satisfactory conclusion was probably one of the drivers of the cycle's growth. This urge to provide an ending is confirmed by the long continuation of the Méliadus found in MSS BL Add. 12228 and Venice BM Z XV, and a much more developed version of this in Cambridge Corpus Christi College Ferrell 5 (Wahlen 2010).
There is however an essential textual difference between Méliadus and Guiron, because the Méliadus is witnessed in a pre-cyclic form as well as in at least three cyclic forms, while the Roman de Guiron is known only as part of different cyclic forms. The earliest of these cyclic forms (c. 1250-1280) is preserved by MSS BnF f.fr. 338, and by the twins BnF f.fr. 356-357 and Arsenal 3477-3478 (all of them relatively late witnesses), fashioned from a shortened version of the Méliadus and a transition (partly based on the Suite Guiron) onto which the pre-cyclic Guiron was grafted (Morato 2012). The long suite of the Guiron attested by MSS Add. 36880 and X (which further lengthens it with a Franco-Italian conclusion) was added to the Guiron as it appears in the first cyclic form (Leonardi et al., 2014).
A second cyclic form was created on the basis of the first, but it is difficult to be precise about the date and the place (the most likely scenario being France towards the end of the 14th century?). It redeploys the long version of the Méliadus and concludes the narrative of the Guiron by adding a rather awkward ending: a rewriting of the Episode du Servage from the Prose Tristan. The second cyclic form is witnessed by huge compilations such as Bodmer 96; Add. 36673; Turin Bibl. Naz. 1622. It re-arranges Rustichello’s narratives in various ways (Morato 2010, Lagomarsini 2014). It had a wide circulation, and it is no coincidence that the Parisian editio princeps (Antoine Vérard, 1501) is based on it, and identifies Rustichello as the author of the whole cycle (Morato 2012, Lagomarsini 2012).
This outline’s brevity leaves out a few important witnesses of the textual tradition that offer anthologies of the cycle (e.g. Laurenziana Ash. 123, BnF f.fr. 12599), clusters of narrative material (e.g. Morgan M916 or Venice BM Z IX), or other arrangements of the core narratives in cyclic form.