Welcome to our resource and summary of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. This is an alegorical poem that emerged in the late sixteenth century, and remains one of the largest poems in the English language.
Edmund Spenser was a contemporary of other great writers like William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, but despite the overflow of talent in that era, Spenser still managed to gain some notoriety when Queen Elizabeth I granted him a lifetime pension of 50 pounds a year for his work.
What is The Faerie Queene?
The Faerie Queene is divided into six parts, though Spenser had originally planned on composing six more. The first three were completed cerca 1589 when they were first presented to the queen, and published a year later. In 1596, the three books were republished along with the three that followed. Spenser had originally planned on writing 12 volumes, but died before his work was complete. Fragments of a seventh volume still survive.
The plot follows several knights, each of which embodies a different virtue. These virtues for the first six volumes are Holiness, Temperance, Chastity, Friendship, Justice, and Courtesy, respectively. It appears the virtue for the unfinished seventh volume would have been on Constancy. It is unknown what the virtues would have been for the remaining five volumes, but it is clear that two virtues were embodied by the characters of Gloriana (The Faerie Queen herself) and Arthur, that of Glory and Magnificence, respectively.
The poem is highly allegorical, often containing allusions to the theological and political ideology of the day. Some characters take forms representing certain virtues or sins. Some, like one of the primary antagonists, Duessa, represent that Catholic church. Others, like the Faerie Queene herself, represented Queen Elizabeth. It was very clear that Spenser wanted to get on the good side of the queen and her nobility. Indeed, the poem starts with a lengthy letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, probably a sponsor for the work.
The author was born in East Smithfield, London, around 1552. He grew up in London and eventually went to Cambridge for his education, where he studied at Pembroke College. At the age of 26 he became a secretary to the Bishop of Rochester, John Young. A year later, he had his first publication (The Shepheardes Calender). That was also the time when he married his first wife, Machabyas Childe, with which he had two children.
Spenser would spend a lot of time in Ireland, where he served under Lord Arthur Grey. But even after his service ended, he remained in Ireland, as he had acquired land there.
As mentioned above, Spenser published the first three volumes of The Faerie Queene in 1590 at the age of 38. But only four years after that, his wife died. He later remarried Elizabeth Boyle and they had one son.
In 1596, Spenser published the next three volumes of The Faerie Queen, but sadly he died three years later in London before he could complete any other volumes. He remains buried in the “Poet’s Corner” of Westminster Abbey.
Other publications by Spenser include: The Shepheardes Calender (1579), Complaints (1591), Axiochus (1592) Daphnaïda (1592), Amoretti and Epithalamion (1595), Astrophel (1595), Colin Clouts Come Home Againe (1595), Fowre Hymnes (1596), Prothalamion (1596), Babel, Empress of the East (1596), and A Vewe of the Present State of Irelande (published posthumously in 1633).
The Spenserian Stanza
The Faerie Queene is notable for being composed entirely in a new rhyming stanza, invented by Spenser himself, and therefore now called the Spenserian Stanza. It contains nine lines with iambic pentameter. The first eight have five pentameters, and the ninth has six. The rhyme scheme is ABABBCBCC. The Faerie Queene contains over two thousands of these stanzas.
The Faerie Queen is a very long and epic poem. The stories are detailed and full of multiple levels of meaning. What follows is a general summation of a highly extensive work.
The first book in the saga begins with the introduction of three important characters: The Redcrosse Knight, Una, and a dwarf. The knight is about as traditional as knights go, with a red cross on his shield that gives us his name. He has been given a task by the Faerie Queene to rid the world of a certain dragon. Una is a princess who’s parents and castle are besieged by this same dragon, and it’s her that the knight is here to help. The dwarf is a traveling companion who spends most of his time carrying all of Una’s things.
Soon, they encounter a good deal of rain and take shelter in a very ominously dark forest, where they soon get lost. While there, they come across Error, a huge, snake-like monster with all of its kids suckling at its body like little tendril scales (yeah, its gross). After an extensive fight with the beast, the Redcrosse knight finally strangles it after Una gave him the idea. At this point, all its young suck up their mother’s blood and literally explode from overeating (again, gross).
They continue traveling and eventually come upon an old man who lets them lodge with him for the night. But that old man turns out to be Archimago, one of the villains of this story and a wicked sorcerer. He casts a spell on them as they sleep which gives them nightmares. Redcrosse actually gets some rather sexually-charged dreams, where he sees Una trying to seduce him, which he finds confusing since Una appeared to be a good and virtuous woman. When this doesn’t work, Archimago changes his enchantments so that it appears that Una is being assaulted by another young knight. This is enough to convince the Redcrosse knight to leave camp (where the real Una is still sleeping), pursuing this knight. The dwarf goes with him.
Una wakes and is surprised to find the knight and her dwarf gone. So she has to travel on her own, very slowly. Archimago decides to have some fun by disguising himself as the Redcrosse knight, and following her. So that’s going to end well…
Meanwhile, the real Redcrosse knight has been wandering around for some time and comes across a Saracen (an Islamic person) named Sans Foy (Without Faith). The Saracen is accompanying a beautiful woman who calls herself Fidessa (but is really Duessa, the villain of this story). Redcrosse has an extensive fight with Mr. Sans Foy, and eventually he kills the Saracen and Fidessa thanks him for it. Apparently the Saracen had forced himself on her, and Redcrosse takes pity on her. He says he’ll protect her and the two of them go on their way (though not before the trees try to warn Redcrosse that he’s making a bad mistake). By now, he’s apparently forgotten all about Una and his original quest.
All this time, Una has been traveling alone, and somehow tames a lion with her beautiful face. Eventually, she comes upon a girl named Corceca who runs away at the sight of the lion. Una follows and finds that Corceca is deaf, and lives with her mother Abessa. Una decides to get some rest there. In the middle of the night, a criminal barges into the house and the lion attacks him. Bad idea. Apparently the criminal was the boyfriend of the daughter. So yeah…
Una runs away while Corceca and Abessa try to curse her. But then they run into Archimago disguised as the Redcrosse knight. He hears what happened and follows Una. Una is super happy to see her old friend again, and the two of them travel for some time until they meet another Saracen, this one called Sans Loy (Without Law). He’s the brother of the first one who the real Redcrosse knight killed. So upon seeing the disguised Archimago, he immediately assumes that he’s found the man who killed his brother. The two have a fight, Sans Loy beats Archimago, revealing his true self, and then Sans Loy also tries to force himself on Una. Oh and he also kills her lion. Super sad.
As we go back to the real Redcrosse knight, we discover Fidessa (or Duessa) has taken him to a place called the City of Pride. It’s not the best place as you can insinuate from the name. There they encounter a woman named Lucifera as well as the Seven Deadly Sins as well as Satan himself. So yeah, not a nice place. At that moment a knight shows up called Sans Joy, the brother of Sans Foy who Redcrosse killed earlier. He challenges Redcrosse to a duel, and the next morning they duke it out. Redcrosse appears to be winning when Sansjoy is suddenly consumed by a mysterious black mist and Duessa tells Redcrosse that this means he has won.
That night, Duessa has a rather strange encounter with Night, telling him that he needs to protect her nephews (the Sans Joy/FoyLoy brothers). Sans Joy is healed of his injuries and the two of them have a variety of side adventures that involve them getting to see a lot of Greek gods. They return to the City of Pride and find that Redcrosse has left after hearing about some prisoners that the dwarf found, and from general unease at being in a city like this one.
Back to Una, as Sans Loy and Archimago are trying to take advantage of her, she is rescued by some fauns and satyrs, and all the woodland people treat her like a goddess because of her beauty. She meets a knight named Satyrane. They run into Sans Loy again, and Satyrane tries to defend Una, all while some Pilgrim (who is actually Archimago in yet another disguise) watches with glee. Una eventually runs away.
Duessa pursues the Redcrosse knight until she finds him resting at a fountain. It’s actually a fountain that makes you tired, cursed by the goddess Diana (because of course it is). Once Duessa finds him, a huge giant comes out of nowhere and takes them both captive. He gets along fine with Duessa, who has agreed to be his wife for some reason, but throws Redcrosse into a dungeon. While all this has happened, the dwarf secretly observed everything. He escapes and runs into Una, telling her everything that happened. Due to how distressing his news is, she faints several times before she’s able to compose herself. They decide to try and find help.
And who should they run into but Arthur himself (as well as his squire). Arthur is called Prince Arthur at this point, though he doesn’t tell anyone this, and he agrees to help Una rescue the Redcrosse knight. They come to the giant’s castle and Arthur blows a really awesome horn that opens all the doors in the castle. The giant goes to fight Arthur, as does Duessa, who is now riding a seven-headed beast. Arthur injures her ride, cuts off the giant’s leg, and basically saves the day in the most heroic manner possible. He makes it look easy. They find the Redcrosse knight who is in a lot of pain and get him out of there. Duessa is stripped of her power and they discover that she’s really an ugly old hag with animal body parts.
Una asks Arthur who he is, and he doesn’t tell her, except that he knows that he’s of royal birth. He says he is looking for the Faerie Queen. Everyone goes their separate ways. Una and Redcrosse continue on their way to fight the dragon. While traveling they encounter a knight who had been traveling with another knight named Sir Terwin. Terwin had run afoul of a being called Despair in a dark cave. Despair is exactly as his name suggests. He somehow convinces Terwin to kill himself, and now this other knight is running away from the scene. Redcrosse and Una go to Despair, and Redcrosse challenges him. But Despair gains the upper hand and convinces Redcrosse to kill himself as well.
But just before he does the deed, Una saves him by taking the knife out of his hand and throwing it away. Despair, seeing that he’s failed, actually hangs himself. Una takes him to a Holy House where he is cared for by a woman named Caelia and her three daughters. While there, Redcrosse repents for all his disloyalty and other such flaws that he’s exhibited in the book. Basically, this is the Holiness part of the tale, where he is only able to overcome his shortcoming by learning Holiness. Once that is in order, he is ready to face the dragon. But before he goes, he has a vision thanks to an old man and he sees that he will become Saint George, the patron saint of England. You see, Mr. Redcrosse is actually the knight who kills the dragon.
Mr. George and Una now approach the castle where Una’s parents are held. While approaching, they hear the dragon, and Redcrosse engages the beast in a huge battle while Una watches from a distance. They fight and Redcrosse is injured at one point and falls into a fountain of youth that restores his health overnight while the dragon thinks him dead. But nope! The Redcrosse knight emerges from the fountain and the fight begins anew. More fighting and both are injured. George retreats to the tree of life (yes that tree of life from Genesis) where the dragon cannot go, and takes some time to recover. Finally they fight again and George finally stabs the dragon in the mouth, killing him.
The king and queen rush out of the castle overjoyed that they are now liberated and that Una is here. The King offers his daughter to Redcrosse as his wife (which is all good for Redcrosse and Una, since they were in love by this point), but Redcrosse says he’s devoted to the Faerie Queen for six years of service. They agree to get married after. After much feasting and rejoicing, Redcrosse leaves to finish serving the Faerie Queen.
Next, we get the legend of Sir Guyon, or of temperance. Temperance is basically the virtue of never doing anything in an extreme, and Guyon is the embodiment of this. His story starts when the evil Archimago comes across the knight and an old pilgrim called the Palmer. Archimago, being a schemer, tells Guyon that there is a knight who has raped a woman. Guyon, horrified, goes to fight the man, who turns out to be our pal the Redcrosse Knight. They realize that they both serve the Faerie Queen and stop short of killing each other. They part on good terms and Guyon and the Palmer go on their way.
One day they are resting in a forest and and hear a terrible scream. The scream is from a woman called Amavia who has just attempted suicide by plunging a knife in her chest. She also has a child nearby and there’s a dead knight beside her as well. Definitely not your typical crime scene.
He asks the lady to tell him what happened. She says the dead man is Sir Mordant, who was seduced by a witch called Acrasia using sorcery. Amavia went to find her husband and managed to bring him back, removing the spell from him. But Acrasia returned to enact revenge on the pair of them, cursing Mordant so the next thing he would drink would poison him. He had drunk from the nearby river and, as expected, keeled over dead. And then Amavia thought that was a good reason to kill herself somehow.
Once she has finished relating her story, she dies of the knife wound, and Guyon vows to avenge her and bring Acrasia to justice. He takes the baby and tries to wash the blood off his hands, but the blood doesn’t come off the baby. Also Guyon’s horse has been stolen, so Guyon takes the baby away on foot until they come to a great castle where three half-sisters live. They are fighting over who gets what part of the castle. One is far too extreme, one is not extreme enough, but the middle sister is just right. So Goldilocks takes the one that’s…oh wait, wrong story.
The eldest and youngest of the sisters have men courting them. One is called Sir Huddibras, and is a big, burly, stupid kind of knight. The other is Sans Loy, who we met in the previous volume (the one who tried to rape Una). They fight, like, all the time. Upon hearing of Guyon entering the town, they go to fight him, but as they encounter each other on the way, they forget about Guyon and fight each other. Medina (the middle sister) emerges and tells them all to be a little more moderate in their actions (Guyon’s kind of girl). They’re all so touched by her words that they agree. So there’s a huge banquet that Guyon’s invited to, where he shares all his adventures and tells them all about the Faerie Queen. Guyon ends up leaving the baby with Medina, but not before naming him Ruddymane (the kid’s going to be teased for life).
It’s at this point that we have a completely separate side-story all about a mischievous man called Braggadochio, who is actually the one who took Guyon’s horse earlier. He comes across a man named Trompart who becomes his servant. Together, they come across none other than Archimago, who thinks Braggadochio must be a really important knight because of his horse, and assumes he knows Guyon and the Redcrosse knight. Archimago tells them such a knight needs a sword, and that they should go find Arthur and steal his sword. Then he vanishes out of thin air, spooking both Braggadochio and Trompart.
The comical pair eventually come across a beautiful woman dressed as a hunter who almost kills Braggadochio thinking he’s a wild animal. They ask why she’s doing such hard things instead of enjoying herself as they are. She replies that honor is found in honest work, something these two don’t know much about. So they leave the woman before she gets too aggressive.
We then go back to Guyon, who is now traveling with the Palmer (horse-less). They come across a strange pair: a madman who fights like…well like a madman, and an old hag who urges him on with constant insults. They are beating up a young man, and Guyon tries to intervene. However, he can’t seem to best the madman. The Palmer tells Guyon that the two are called Occassion (the hag) and Furor (her son). He says Furor cannot be beaten while his mother continually provokes him. So Guyon goes after the mother and gags her and ties her hands. He’s then able to turn his attention to Furor who he eventually subdues with chains.
Guyon then talks to the young man he has just rescued, who tells him a story that sounds suspiciously like the plot of Much Ado About Nothing (Spenser and Shakespeare were contemporaries). Guyon recommends temperance to the young man as the solution to his troubles (as he would) before he and the Palmer prepare to continue on their way. But before they can do so, a man called Atin shows up and tells them that his master is about to come, a man named Pyrochles. Pyrochles has been looking for Occassion and Furor to fight them. Guyon says that’s a terrible idea, but Atin mocks Guyon and calls him a coward for tying up an old woman. Atin is a bit of a coward himself and throws a dart at Guyon when he retaliates. The dart does nothing but glances off Guyon’s shield. Atin runs away.
But at that moment, Pyrochles shows up on a blood-red horse that’s straight out of a nightmare, and he also has blood-red armor on. He and Guyon have a nice long fight in which Occassion and Furor are freed and they eventually pursue Pyrochles away. Atin, thinking his master is dead, goes off to find Pyrochles’s brother, Cymochles. The brother is chilling in the Bower of Bliss (this is where Acrasia is), and he’s kind of lazy, but perks up when he finds out his brother is dead. He follows Atin to lie in wait for Guyon.
Cymochles comes across a woman in a boat, and he calls to her to ferry him across the lake (called the Idle Lake). This woman is Phaedria, and she’s also a servant of Acrasia, we discover. They come to an island in the center of the lake. The island is beautiful and the two of them have great fun together. And….Cymochles falls asleep in her lap. So much for lying in wait for Guyon.
Meanwhile, Guyon and the Palmer arrive at the same lake. Phaedria shows up and lets Guyon get in her boat, but not the Palmer. She takes Guyon to the other side. She tries to get him to rest, but then he’s attacked by Cymochles who has awoken at this point. They fight, but Phaedria asks them not to, basically telling them that they should focus on romance instead of fighting each other. In other words: make love not war. They agree, but Guyon asks to leave, so Phaedria ferries him back to the shore.
Atin is waiting there, who begins cursing Guyon. However, Atin is distracted when he sees a knight running recklessly towards the water. Turns out his master Pyrochles was not dead, but has only been cursed by Furor to feel as though his entire body is on fire all the time. That’s why he’s trying to go into the water. Archimago shows up and they beg him for help. Archimago agrees and weaves a spell that relieves Pyrochles of his curse.
Guyon is currently wandering in some kind of wasteland when he comes across Mammon, the god of things like greed and riches. Not a nice guy. Mammon takes Guyon down to the entrance to the underworld and gives Guyon a tour of sorts, resulting in an increasing sequence of temptations. But Guyon, being the temperate knight that he is, manages to overcome all temptation (including wedding Mammon’s daughter) which ultimately means he gets to go back to the real world. Mammon is rather disappointed but cannot refuse. So Guyon makes it back to the real world, rather exhausted, but with honestly nothing to show for his underworld excursion, except maybe some extra hit points.
The Palmer finds the unconscious Guyon thanks to some help from a random angel, but unfortunately that’s when Pyrochles, Cymochles, Atin, and Archimago all show up. They make fun of Guyon, thinking he’s dead, but the Palmer stands his ground, telling them they shouldn’t mock. But the villains begin taking Guyon’s stuff. At that moment, Arthur arrives, and being Arthur, rescues the Palmer and Guyon by killing Pyrochles and Cymochles. Atin and Archimago escape.
Guyon fills Arthur in on his quest, and Arthur joins him and the Palmer for a time. They come to a castle that is beset with bandits, but they rid the castle of the bandits and are welcomed by the castle’s lady, Alma, who takes them on a tour of the castle. Both Guyon and Arthur become mildly infatuated with some women, but then they go to a library and forget all about those women while reading some books. Arthur reads a book on the History of Britain (which follows many of the events outlined in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain), and Guyon reads about the history of Faerie Land, which starts with Prometheus of Greek legend.
Guyon and the Palmer leave the castle the next day, but Arthur stays. It so happens that the bandits come back with greater numbers, and Arthur is almost defeated in pushing them back, but he is saved by his squire. This is notably one of the only times that we see Arthur in any real danger.
Guyon and the Palmer take a voyage to the Bower of Bliss and safely pass by several very problematic obstacles. When they arrive on the island, they pass through several walls with various temptations which, of course, Guyon passes with flying colors. Anticlimactically, Guyon and the Palmer simply cast a net over Acrasia when they find her, and they take her away. But there are still beasts roaming the island who used to be men, but have decided to stay as beasts because they are not temperate. So sad.
So now that Acrasia has been defeated, Guyon and Arthur chill in Alma’s castle for a little while before setting off again. One day they run into a knight called Britomart, who knocks Guyon off his horse. Little does he know that Britomart is actually a woman. But the three travel together after the Palmer calms Guyon down. Yet shortly thereafter a strange, beautiful woman rides past, pursed by a mountain man. So naturally Arthur and Guyon must pursue. Britomart on the other hand, continues on her own till she comes to a castle where six knights are beating up none other than the Redcrosse Knight from the first book. She stops that from happening and then the pair of them dine with the lady of that castle. The lady, who’s name is Malecasta, becomes quite smitten with Britomart (it’s unclear if she knew Britomart was a woman), and that night tries to sneak into her bed. Brit, however, is not okay with this, jumps out of bed, and high-tails it out of the castle with the Redcrosse knight accompanying her.
George asks for Britomart’s background, and she tells him that she was brought up as a knight, but one day she used a mirror that was given to her father by Merlin. The mirror showed her the man she would eventually marry, a knight called Artegall. She falls so madly in love with him that she appears sick. Her nurse, Glauce, tries to help her but to no avail. So Glauce gets the idea to go and visit Merlin to get the truth out of him. They do so and find Merlin in Merlin’s cave (go figure). Merlin tells Britomart that she and Artegall will spawn a line of great kings. He briefly outlines that future, and Britomart and Glauce eventually leave, seemingly satisfied. The two take on disguises and travel back to their own land.
Britomart and George part ways and Brit continues on to the coast where she encounters a man called Marinell who challenges her to a duel. She wins because he’s cursed to lose battles against strange virgins. Marinell’s mother finds out about her son’s demise, and goes to him, but discovers that he’s not all the way dead.
Meanwhile, Guyon and Arthur have split up in pursuing the mountain man who was pursuing the woman. They’re both having a hard time of it. Arthur loses his squire but eventually happens upon a dwarf who tells him the woman they’re chasing is called Florimell. Funny enough, Florimell is in love with Marinell who Britomart defeated earlier. But he won’t love her because, you know, she’s a woman and he will supposedly be defeated by a woman. Now Florimell has somehow discovered that Marinell has been defeated, and she’s running to help him.
Arthur’s squire, Timias, has actually caught up with the bandit who was pursuing Florimell, and does a number on him. But unfortunately that bandit had family, and they do a number on Timias. Timias is about to die when he’s rescued and healed by a woman named Belphoebe, who we saw briefly in book 2. Naturally, Timias falls madly in love with Belphoebe, but she’s not having it because she’s super protective of her virginity. There are a lot of virgins in this book, since the focus is on chastity and each major female character in this book represents a different type of that chastity.
Speaking of which, Florimell is running for her life and runs into a witch and her son. The son falls in love with Florimell and gets really upset when Florimell leaves. So the witch sends a monster after her, who pursues her to the ocean where she is able to hide on a boat. But the monster still takes her girdle and eats her horse. Mean.
While the monster is returning home, he runs into Satyrane (who we first saw briefly in book 1). Satyrane is also in love with Florimell and assumes, when he sees her girdle with the monster, that the beast has killed her. He manages to subdue the creature with brute force and ties it up using Florimell’s girdle. However, just at that moment a giant comes by carrying a squire and being pursued by Britomart. Satyrane tries to help but ends up unconscious. Thankfully Britomart saves them all.
The monster returns to the witch who now assumes Florimell is dead. This angers her son, so the witch creates a literal duplicate of Florimell to make him happy (weird). But the false-Florimell ends up getting carried off by some other knights. More on her in the next book. The real Florimell, meanwhile, is out in the middle of the ocean on a boat. The owner of said boat tries to force himself on her, but she is saved by Proteus, the shepherd of the sea. He takes her to a nearby cave and…also tries to sleep with her. Florimell does her best to resist him.
Satyrane and the squire run into a Faerie Knight called Paridell who is searching for Florimell. But Satyrane tells Paridell that he thinks she is dead, since he saw the monster eating her horse. They head off to find a nearby castle but aren’t let in. Britomart shows up, has a brief misunderstanding with Paridell in which she knocks him on his rump, and then they all team up to break into the castle.
On seeing them attack, the Lord of the castle, a man called Malbecco, lets them in and entertains them for the evening, telling them about the fall of Troy and how Brutus was a decendant of Troy who became the first of the Britons in the U.K. While all this is happening, Paridell is making eyes at Malbecco’s wife. When they all leave in the morning, Paridell tries to take Malbecco’s wife with him, but Malbecco’s torn between his wife and his money (he has a lot of it). In the end, he leaves the castle with his treasure, eventually runs into his wife much later who has since become the wife of several satyrs. Long story short, he loses both his wife and his money, and therefore tries to commit suicide by throwing himself off a cliff. Instead, he transforms into a monster with the name Jealousy (one of many side-stories in the Faerie Queene).
Britomart, meanwhile, comes upon a knight named Scudamore, who is so distressed that he can’t find his love Amoret that he is near death. She has been taken by a man named Busirane, and is being tortured because she won’t love him. Britomart vows to help and overcomes a series of challenges before finally confronting Busirane and rescuing Amoret. They leave but find that their companions, including Scudamore, had abandoned them since they’d taken so long (though there is another, older ending where Scudamore and Amoret are united)
Book 4 is a little different than some of the others, as it’s more a continuation of book 3 than a new book. It’s focus knights don’t really take up that big of a role, and instead it focuses on characters we’ve already met, such as Britomart. Brit and Amoret (who she rescued in the last book) are traveling together, though for some reason Amoret doesn’t know that Britomart is a woman, and is fearful of her. They come across a tournament where the victors get to compete for ladies, possessing them if they win (super not progressive). One man wants Amoret, and Brit fights him and wins. Later she reveals she is a woman and Amoret is now okay with being her companion.
They continue traveling and come across the villain, Duessa, who is traveling with Ate, who is a very horrible person by her description. They are also traveling with two knights: Blandamour, and Paridell, who we met in the last book. Britomart and Amoret manage to ride off, but another knight, Scudamore, also runs into the bad guys and has some problems with them. For one, he is tricked into thinking that his love, Amoret, is being disloyal to him. He runs off all in a huff.
Blandamour and Paridell continue on their way until they find a knight named Sir Ferraugh, who we learn had been the one to steal the False Florimell. Blandamour decides Florimell is one hot babe, so he easily defeats Sir Ferraugh for her hand. Paridell, who hadn’t cared up to this point, now becomes jealous when he sees Blandamour and False Florimell flirting with each other, so he and Blandamour fight for a long time until who shows up but the Squire of Dames who we met in the last book. The squire is surprised to find Florimell with them, since he thinks she is far away (which the real Florimell is), and tells them that there’s a tournament where they could compete for Florimell’s girdle, currently held by Sir Satyrane.
This idea placates the two fighting knights and they all set out to find this tournament. On the way they encounter two knights named Cambell and Triamond, with their respective ladies, Cambine and Canacee. These are the two characters for which the book is named, the two knights that are supposed to represent friendship. We get a lengthy explanation about where they come from and how they ended up together. Turns out Triamond used to have two brothers with him, and the three of them were all in love with Canacee who is Cambell’s sister, and they all decided to fight Cambell to determine who is the best and should marry Canacee.
Cambell kills Triamond’s two brothers but their spirits enter into Triamond, giving him extra strength and two extra lives in a very Super Mario-type turn of events (way to be ahead of the times, Mr. Spenser). But Cambell has a magic ring that makes him heal quickly, so the two are pretty evenly matched for a while. They fight until Triamond’s sister shows up and asks them to stop fighting. Cambell become enamored with Triamond’s sister so, long story short, he ends up with her and Triamond ends up with Canacee, and the two become best friends forever.
So now it’s just the four of them, which is where they run into Paridell and Blandamour. Rather than fight each other, they all proceed to the tournament to duke out any of their problems there. The tournament has a lot of fighters. At first, Satyrane wins the day, wounding Triamond. Then Cambell and Triamond seem to be doing well. But later another knight steps in, and this knight is none other than Artegall, though we don’t know it yet. Turns out Britomart is also participating, and no one knows who she is either. She fights Artegall, not knowing that they are destined to be lovers, and she knocks him on his you-know-what and wins the day!
Satyrane, Cambell, Trimond, and Britomart are all considered victors, but Britomart is voted the best. Also, Florimell’s girdle doesn’t stay fastened around the False Florimell because it’s apparently magic and only works for virtuous women. The only woman it stays fastened around is Amoret. But even though the girdle didn’t stick, False Florimell is voted most beautiful and is therefore awarded to Britomart, the best knight. But Britomart would rather have Amoret, so False Florimell eventually goes with, of all people, Braggadochio who had appeared earlier.
Britomart and Amoret continue on their way to find Artegall (who they didn’t know was actually at the tournament) and Scudamore, who is still out there with Glauce, convinced that Amoret and Britomart have a thing together. Scudamore and Glauce are traveling and stay in a cave, where they find a blacksmith named Care, who gives you bad dreams. He is somehow hurt in a spiritual way by this man, and he continues traveling the next day in a foul mood.
Soon he comes on Artegall, who is seeking Britomart to have revenge on her for whipping his butt in the tournament. When Scudamore figures out this is the same person he thinks has Amoret, they decide to conspire together. At that moment, Britomart shows up (without Amoret) and they all get into a fight. Eventually Brit’s helmet is knocked off and she is revealed as a beautiful woman. Artegall and Scudamore stop what they’re doing and Britomart finally sees Artegall’s face. They all go off to search for Amoret (who Britomart somehow lost) and Brit and Artegall start to fall in love.
Turns out Amoret had been accosted by a savage man who rapes his victims. She and two other women held by this savage man are rescued by Arthur’s old squire, Timias, and Amoret’s sister Belphoebe. After a brief side note involving a miscommunication between Timias and Belphoebe, we find that Arthur shows up to find Amoret and Aemylia (one of the other woman who was kidnapped by the savage man) near death. He helps them and they have some adventures together until Aemylia is reunited with her lover.
Later Arthur is riding with Amoret and they come across a bunch of knights who are all fighting for the love of Florimell (still) as well as Britomart and Scudamore. When the knights turn on Britomart, Arthur intervenes and calms everyone down. Scudamore is then asked how he and Amoret got together.
Scudamore tells a rather out-there story of how he had won a shield from a bunch of knights which somehow meant that he claimed Amoret’s love. He then led Amoret out of a temple of Venus after having gone through various trials (of which Amoret is the prize), even though she doesn’t want to go. Heads up, there’s some feminist problems in this part.
But remember Florimell, the real Florimell? Well she’s been tucked away in a cave for all this time, at the whim of Proteus. Her love, if you recall, was Marinell who had been injured by Brit. But one day it so happens that Marinell’s mother, Cymodoce, is attending a big ocean/river party which just happens to be hosted by Proteus. Marinell goes with her though he has to wait outside because he’s half mortal. While there, he hears Florimell’s voice and falls in love. Over the next little while, he’s literally sick with love, and once his mother finds out why, she goes to Neptune for help. Neptune agrees to get Florimell out of Proteus’ lair, and she is taken to Marinell.
Book V tells the story of Artegall, Britomart’s love, who we met in the last book. He’s a knight of Justice, which is the theme for this book. He’s been tasked by the Faerie Queene to accompany a lady named Eirena to free her land from a tyrant named Grantorto. Apart from the two of them they also have a person called Talus, who is kind of a Faerie robot. Don’t ask.
On the way they run into a squire crying over the headless body of a lady. The squire tells them that he had been traveling with another lady, who was carried off by a knight. This nefarious knight had had a lady with him, and he’d cut off her head. So Artegall, being the just man that he is, demands to know where he can find this knight, avenge the dead lady, and bring back the live one. Artegall sends Talus after the knight, who easily finds him, knocks him out, and brings both him and the lady back to Artegall. The knight is named Sanglier, and he claims that the squire killed the lady. Artegall acts as arbiter and suggests (like King Solomon) that they cut the live lady in half so each one can take a portion. Of course, the knight is okay with this but the squire is mortified, thus cluing Artegall as to who is in the right. Sanglier is punished by having to carry the dead lady’s head everywhere.
They run into a dwarf who belonged to Florimell. The dwarf tells them that Florimell is safe and about to marry Marinell, and they’re all happy about this. But the dwarf has been trying to get past a Saracen who blocks a bridge. So Artegall helps him, kills the man, Talus also kills the man’s daughter, and they all go on their way. They later come across a giant who wants to make land, air, and water all equal. Artegall gets into a heated debate about whether this is a good thing, which also kind of turns into an argument about equality in general, with Artegall arguing against it (let’s remember this is the 16th century). Talus kills the giant, then also kills all the people who protest at this. Talus is kind of scary, you guys.
While traveling, they come across Braggadochio with the False Florimell. Artegall is upset that Florimell is with another man when she’s supposed to be with Marinell. But as they come to where Marinell and Florimell were supposed to be married, they find he’s fighting a bunch of men for the real Florimell’s hand. Artegall steps in and helps. Braggadochio later reveals the False Florimell, and everyone is astounded, but False Florimell melts away when she comes into contact with the real Florimell. Oddly, at that moment, Sir Guyon shows up and attacks Braggadochio for stealing his horse way back in book 2. So Talus punishes Braggadochio by breaking his armor, marking his face, and exposing him as a coward.
After serving as arbiter for some other people, Artegall comes across some warlike women who are about to hang a man. He stops them and the man, Sir Turpine, tells them that about an Amazon woman who makes men dress in women’s clothing and do women’s work, and they are hanged if they resist, which is what Artegall just prevented. Turpine leads them to the Amazons, and Artegall and Talus fight with them all day until the Amazon leader asks to face Artegall in single combat the next day.
Well, Artegall looses the fight because he won’t hurt a woman, so he’s forced to wear women’s clothing like all the rest. However, it turns out both the Amazon leader and her maid both develop crushes on Artegall, who has none of it because he’s loyal to Britomart.
Which is the perfect transition to come back to Britomart. She is worried about Artegall, and one day she runs into Talus (who had escaped from the Amazons). She goes on a rampage to find him, killing several people in the process who try to stop her. After a brief stop at a temple of Isis of all people, she eventually kills the Amazon queen, barely stops Talus from exterminating all the rest, and rescues Artegall. But Artegall is determined to continue on his original quest, so Britomart mopes about wishing she could be with him more.
As Artegall continues, he saves a woman from two knights with the help of Arthur who also shows up. The lady says the two knights had belonged to an evil lady named Adicia, who had sent the two knights after the girl after she had brought them a message of peace. Artegall and Arthur decide they’re going to help the lady and her good queen by taking out the bad lady and her evil husband. So Arthur and Artegall dress up as the two dead knights, they go back to the evil castle and Arthur fights its king, named Souldan, to the death. Adicia seeks revenge and goes crazy, eventually roaming the world and becoming a tiger. Artegall chases out all the evil people and he and Arthur claim the place.
They eventually accompany the lady they had previously rescued (named Samient) to her queen, Queen Mercilla. While traveling, Samient tells them of another villain nearby, and naturally Arthur and Artegall want to do something about him. So they take care of that monster as well. Side quest: complete. When they finally arrive at Mercilla’s place, who just happens to be judging an important trial of none other than Duessa, from books 1-3. After presenting all the evidence, everyone agrees that she is guilty.
While they’re hanging out at Mercilla’s castle, several young men arrive and tell them of a tyrant that they want help getting rid of. Arthur decides to go with them and, as one might expect, rids the land of the tyrant. He then fights a large sphinx-like monster and destroys it as well.
But Artegall has finally gotten back to the original quest he started the book with, to help a princess named Eirene to get rid of a tyrant named Grantorto. He first finds out that Eirene has been taken captive by Grantorto and will be executed in ten days if he doesn’t do something about it. After a brief side mission where Artegall argues with a knight about losing his shield (a big no-no) and Talus slaughters a bunch of peasants, they take a ship to Eirene’s land (probably Ireland).
Artegall has several battles against Grantorto and his men, but eventually he kills the tyrant and puts Eirene back on the rightful throne. But as they are proceeding back to the Faerie Queen, they are attacked by some monstrous people, including a big multi-headed monster called the Blatant Beast. But Artegall chooses to simply ignore them somehow and proceed on his merry way.
The theme of book six is courtesy, though it is really more about not being slothful, which we’ll see in a bit. Our knight is Sir Calidore, who starts out the book by running into Artegall, who has just escaped from the Blatent Beast, which is perfect because Calidore is searching for this beast. Artegall tells him what he knows, and the two part ways. Calidore continues his quest until he runs into a castle where all women and men are shaved to make a blanket of human hair (gross). Calidore defeats the main lord of the castle, beats him, and sets everything right.
Next, Calidore comes across a lady and young man who had just killed a knight. The young man and the lady tell him that the knight deserved to die, since he was dragging the lady along forcibly as he rode on horseback. Apparently he had come across another knight/lady pair, and had so desired this new lady that he’d wounded the other knight, and when the lady he desired ran off, he became so mad that he began abusing his own lady. So Calidore agrees the knight deserved to die. Also, turns out this young man who killed the knight is none other than Tristan from the Tristan and Isolde legends.
Calidore catches up with the wounded knight and his lady and helps them get settled back at their home before setting off again. He later finds a knight named Celepine and his lady, Serena. But they are attacked by the Blatent Beast who nearly kills Serena. Calidore chases after the beast and Celepine tries to help his love, taking her to a castle where a very rude knight forbids them entrance. He eventually fights with this knight and also a wild man shows up to help. Weird.
Anyway, Celepine is doing better but Serena is not. So one day Celepine is wandering around and sees a bear carrying a human child in its mouth. So he follows and kills the bear to save the child. But he becomes lost in the process. As he’s trying to get back to civilization he comes across a woman named Matilda who is crying because she has no heir. Celepine feels bad for her so he gives her the baby he conveniently found and continues on to try and find Serena again.
Meanwhile Serena is hanging out with the savage or wild man, looking for Celepine, when they come across Prince Arthur and his squire, Timias. Timias (who had previously been living happily with Belphoebe) had been lured away and wounded by the Blatent Beast. They agree to team up to look for a cure for both Timias and Serena (who can’t be cured by regular means). They arrive at a hermitage and leave the two wounded people with a hermit. Arthur and the wild man continue on their own.
The hermit tells Timias and Serena that their real illness is that they just need to live good, virtuous lives and they’ll be fine, which is actually true. So they cure right up and continue traveling together. Meanwhile Arthur and the wild man go to avenge Serena of the hurt done to her by the rude knight for not helping them earlier. Arthur and the wild man beat this knight and stay the night in his castle. But the rude knight is still alive and plotting his revenge. This rude knight, by the way, is called Turpine. Turpine pursues Arthur and the wild man, but ends up failing and getting hung upside down from a tree for his treachery.
Meanwhile Serena and Timias find a poor woman named Mirabella being harassed by a giant named Disdain and a fool named Scorn. Timias tries to help, but ends up getting knocked out by Distain. Serena runs away in fear. Mirabella and Timias later get saved by Arthur, the wild man, and another knight. Poor Serena eventually gets picked up by cannibals and is barely saved by her lover Celepine right before she’s about to be offered as a sacrifice to some pagan god.
But we need to get back to Calidore. The knight has been tracking the Blatant Beast for a while now. Exhausted from his chase, he spends some time recovering with a family of shepherds. Turns out this family has a daughter named Pastorella, and Calidore falls head over heals for her. He ends up spending quite some time with these people, eventually gaining Pastorella’s favor but earning the jealousy of her suitors, particularly a man named Coridon.
One day, Calidore comes across a bunch of fairy ladies dancing on a beautiful hill, and unfortunately he startles them and they run away. One of these was apparently Gloriana, the Faerie Queen herself. When Calidore comes back, Pastorella is attacked by a tiger, and Calidore saves her, cementing her love for him. But unfortunately that love is not to last, because Pastorella and her whole family is later taken by bandits.
Calidore meets Coridon, who had escaped the bandits, and is told that a fight had broken out among the bandits and Coridon assumes everyone including Pastorella is dead. Calidore is mortified at this news, but they decide to go to the bandits on the off chance that she could still be alive. She is, and so Calidore and Coridon rescue her, kill a lot of bandits, and set everything right.
Calidore leaves Pastorella in the care of a nice noble couple he knows, then leaves to find the Blatant Beast. Turns out, Pastorella is the long-lost daughter of this couple, so that worked out splendidly. Calidore ends up finding the Blatant Beast, defeating him, tying him up, and parading him around Faerie Land. Though it is said that one day the Blatant Beast will escape.
The Unfinished Book VII and Beyond
There are unfinished fragments of what might have been Book 7 of The Faerie Queene that Spenser never finished. These are called The Mutabilitie Cantos. Though Spenser never finished the book, these fragments introduce a new character known as Titaness Mutabilitie, who has lofty ambitions to basically become the goddess of all the heavens. Interesting stuff.
But Spenser never finished that story, nor would he get to the other books that he had intended to write. He had originally planned on having 12 books, each with a different moral theme as the first six had. But that ambition never happened.
It is our goal here at ArthurLegends.com to do the next best thing. Our Faerie Queen series attempts to loosely adapt these first six books into stories that adhere to traditional story beats and fantasy tropes, in a sense updating Spenser’s vision for a modern audience. We hope to one day write six more, just as Spenser originally intended. But that story will have to wait for another time…
Jason is the editor-in-chief of ArthurLegends.com and the primary author of the Arthurian Shared Universe. He has a deep love of British history and mythology, especially relating to Celtic and Arthurian traditions (obviously). He spends most of his days in made-up worlds.