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Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser oil painting.JPG
Born 1552/1553
London, England
Died 13 January 1599(1599-01-13)[1]
London, England
Resting place Westminster Abbey
Occupation Poet
Language English
Alma mater Pembroke College, Cambridge
Period 1569–1599
Notable works The Faerie Queene


Edmund Spenser (/ˈspɛnsə/; 1552/1553 – 13 January 1599) was an English poet best known for The Faerie Queene, an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. He is recognised as one of the premier craftsmen of Modern English verse in its infancy, and is often considered one of the greatest poets in the English language.


Edmund Spenser was born in East Smithfield, London, around the year 1552, though there is some ambiguity as to the exact date of his birth. As a young boy, he was educated in London at the Merchant Taylors' School and matriculated as a sizar at Pembroke College, Cambridge.[2][3] While at Cambridge he became a friend of Gabriel Harvey and later consulted him, despite their differing views on poetry. In 1578, he became for a short time secretary to John Young, Bishop of Rochester.[4] In 1579, he published The Shepheardes Calender and around the same time married his first wife, Machabyas Childe.[5]

In July 1580, Spenser went to Ireland in service of the newly appointed Lord Deputy, Arthur Grey, 14th Baron Grey de Wilton. Spenser served under Lord Gray with Walter Raleigh at the Siege of Smerwick massacre.[6] When Lord Grey was recalled to England, Spenser stayed on in Ireland, having acquired other official posts and lands in the Munster Plantation. Raleigh acquired other nearby Munster estates confiscated in the Second Desmond Rebellion. Some time between 1587 and 1589, Spenser acquired his main estate at Kilcolman, near Doneraile in North Cork.[7] He later bought a second holding to the south, at Rennie, on a rock overlooking the river Blackwater in North Cork. Its ruins are still visible today. A short distance away grew a tree, locally known as "Spenser's Oak" until it was destroyed in a lightning strike in the 1960s. Local legend has it that he penned some of The Faerie Queene under this tree.[8]

In 1590, Spenser brought out the first three books of his most famous work, The Faerie Queene, having travelled to London to publish and promote the work, with the likely assistance of Raleigh. He was successful enough to obtain a life pension of £50 a year from the Queen. He probably hoped to secure a place at court through his poetry, but his next significant publication boldly antagonised the queen's principal secretary, Lord Burghley (William Cecil), through its inclusion of the satirical Mother Hubberd's Tale.[9] He returned to Ireland.

By 1594, Spenser's first wife had died, and in that year he married Elizabeth Boyle, to whom he addressed the sonnet sequence Amoretti. The marriage itself was celebrated in Epithalamion.[10]

In 1596, Spenser wrote a prose pamphlet titled A View of the Present State of Ireland. This piece, in the form of a dialogue, circulated in manuscript, remaining unpublished until the mid-seventeenth century. It is probable that it was kept out of print during the author's lifetime because of its inflammatory content. The pamphlet argued that Ireland would never be totally 'pacified' by the English until its indigenous language and customs had been destroyed, if necessary by violence.[11]

In 1598, during the Nine Years War, Spenser was driven from his home by the native Irish forces of Aodh Ó Néill. His castle at Kilcolman was burned, and Ben Jonson, who may have had private information, asserted that one of his infant children died in the blaze.[12]

Title page, Fowre Hymnes, by Edmund Spenser, published by William Ponsonby, London, 1596

In the year after being driven from his home, 1599, Spenser travelled to London, where he died at the age of forty-six. His coffin was carried to his grave in Westminster Abbey by other poets, who threw many pens and pieces of poetry into his grave with many tears. His second wife survived him and remarried twice. His sister Sarah, who had accompanied him to Ireland, married into the Travers family, and her descendants were prominent landowners in Cork for centuries.

Rhyme and reason[edit]

Thomas Fuller, in Worthies of England, included a story where the Queen told her treasurer, William Cecil, to pay Spenser one hundred pounds for his poetry. The treasurer, however, objected that the sum was too much. She said, "Then give him what is reason". Without receiving his payment in due time, Spenser gave the Queen this quatrain on one of her progresses:

I was promis'd on a time,
To have a reason for my rhyme:
From that time unto this season,
I receiv'd nor rhyme nor reason.

She immediately ordered the treasurer pay Spenser the original £100.

This story seems to have attached itself to Spenser from Thomas Churchyard, who apparently had difficulty in getting payment of his pension, the only other pension Elizabeth awarded to a poet. Spenser seems to have had no difficulty in receiving payment when it was due as the pension was being collected for him by his publisher, Ponsonby.[13]

The Faerie Queene[edit]

Main article: The Faerie Queene
The epic poem The Faerie Queene frontispiece, printed by William Ponsonby in 1590.

Spenser's masterpiece is the epic poem The Faerie Queene. The first three books of The Faerie Queene were published in 1590, and a second set of three books were published in 1596. Spenser originally indicated that he intended the poem to consist of twelve books, so the version of the poem we have today is incomplete. Despite this, it remains one of the longest poems in the English language.[14] It is an allegorical work, and can be read (as Spenser presumably intended) on several levels of allegory, including as praise of Queen Elizabeth I. In a completely allegorical context, the poem follows several knights in an examination of several virtues. In Spenser's "A Letter of the Authors," he states that the entire epic poem is "cloudily enwrapped in allegorical devises," and that the aim behind The Faerie Queene was to "fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline.”

Shorter poems[edit]

Spenser published numerous relatively short poems in the last decade of the sixteenth century, almost all of which consider love or sorrow. In 1591, he published Complaints, a collection of poems that express complaints in mournful or mocking tones. Four years later, in 1595, Spenser published Amoretti and Epithalamion. This volume contains eighty-nine sonnets commemorating his courtship of Elizabeth Boyle. In "Amoretti," Spenser uses subtle humour and parody while praising his beloved, reworking Petrarchism in his treatment of longing for a woman. "Epithalamion," similar to "Amoretti," deals in part with the unease in the development of a romantic and sexual relationship. It was written for his wedding to his young bride, Elizabeth Boyle. The poem consists of 365 long lines, corresponding to the days of the year; 68 short lines, claimed to represent the sum of the 52 weeks, 12 months, and 4 seasons of the annual cycle; and 24 stanzas, corresponding to the diurnal and sidereal hours.[citation needed] Some have speculated that the attention to disquiet in general reflects Spenser's personal anxieties at the time, as he was unable to complete his most significant work, The Faerie Queene. In the following year Spenser released "Prothalamion," a wedding song written for the daughters of a duke, allegedly in hopes to gain favour in the court.[15]

The Spenserian stanza and sonnet[edit]

Spenser used a distinctive verse form, called the Spenserian stanza, in several works, including The Faerie Queene. The stanza's main meter is iambic pentameter with a final line in iambic hexameter (having six feet or stresses, known as an Alexandrine), and the rhyme scheme is ababbcbcc. He also used his own rhyme scheme for the sonnet.

Influences and influenced[edit]

Though Spenser was well read in classical literature, scholars have noted that his poetry does not rehash tradition, but rather is distinctly his. This individuality may have resulted, to some extent, from a lack of comprehension of the classics. Spenser strove to emulate such ancient Roman poets as Virgil and Ovid, whom he studied during his schooling, but many of his best-known works are notably divergent from those of his predecessors.[16] The language of his poetry is purposely archaic, reminiscent of earlier works such as The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer and Il Canzoniere of Francesco Petrarca, whom Spenser greatly admired.

Spenser was called a Poets' Poet and was admired by William Wordsworth, John Keats, Lord Byron, and Alfred Lord Tennyson, among others. Walter Raleigh wrote a dedicatory poem to The Faerie Queene in 1590, in which he claims to admire and value Spenser's work more so than any other in the English language. In the eighteenth century, Alexander Pope compared Spenser to "a mistress, whose faults we see, but love her with them all."[17]

A View of the Present State of Ireland[edit]

In his work A View of the Present State of Ireland, Spenser devises his ideas to the issues of the nation of Ireland. These views are suspected to not be his own but based on the work of his predecessor, Lord Arthur Grey de Wilton who was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1580.[18] Lord Grey was a major figure in Ireland at the time and Spenser was influenced greatly by his ideals and his work in the country, as well as that of his fellow countrymen also living in Ireland at the time.[19]

The goal of this piece was to show that Ireland was in great need of reform. Spenser believed that "Ireland is a diseased portion of the State, it must first be cured and reformed, before it could be in a position to appreciate the good sound laws and blessings of the nation".[20] In A View of the Present State of Ireland, Spenser categorises the “evils” of the Irish people into three prominent categories: laws, customs, and religion. These three elements work together in creating the disruptive and degraded people. One example given in the work is the native law system called "Brehon Law" which trumps the established law given by the English monarchy. This system has its own court and way of dealing with infractions. It has been passed down through the generations and Spenser views this system as a native backward custom which must be destroyed.

List of works[edit]

  • Iambicum Trimetrum
  • 1569: Jan van der Noodt's A theatre for Worldlings, including poems translated into English by Spenser from French sources, published by Henry Bynneman in London[21]



  • Complaints, Containing sundrie small Poemes of the Worlds Vanitie (entered into the Stationer's Register in 1590[21]), includes:
    • "The Ruines of Time"
    • "The Teares of the Muses"
    • "Virgil's Gnat"
    • "Prosopopoia, or Mother Hubberds Tale"
    • "Ruines of Rome: by Bellay"
    • "Muiopotmos, or the Fate of the Butterflie"
    • "Visions of the worlds vanitie"
    • "The Visions of Bellay"
    • "The Visions of Petrarch"


  • Axiochus, a translation of a pseudo-Platonic dialogue from the original Ancient Greek; published by Cuthbert Burbie; attributed to "Edw: Spenser"[21] but the attribution is uncertain[23]
  • Daphnaïda. An Elegy upon the death of the noble and vertuous Douglas Howard, Daughter and heire of Henry Lord Howard, Viscount Byndon, and wife of Arthure Gorges Esquier (published in London in January, according to one source;[21] another source gives 1591 as the year[22])




  • 1609: Two Cantos of Mutabilitie published together with a reprint of The Fairie Queene[24]
  • 1611: First folio edition of Spenser's collected works[24]
  • 1633: A vewe of the present state of Irelande, a prose treatise on the reformation of Ireland,[25] first published in James Ware's Ancient Irish Chronicles (Spenser's work was entered into the Stationer's Register in 1598 and circulated in manuscript but not published until it was included in this work of Ware's)[24]


  1. ^ National Archive documents
  2. ^ "Spenser, Edmund (SPNR569E)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  3. ^ "The Edmund Spenser Home Page: Biography". English.cam.ac.uk. Retrieved 10 December 2011. 
  4. ^ Hadfield, Andrew. Edmund Spenser: A Life. Oxford University Press. 2012. p110
  5. ^ Hadfield pp 128 & 140
  6. ^ Church, R. W. (1879). Spenser. pp. 56–58, 93. 
  7. ^ Hadfield, pp200-01
  8. ^ Hadfield, p362
  9. ^ Hadfield, p165
  10. ^ Hadfield, pp296, 301
  11. ^ Hadfield, pp 334–43, 365
  12. ^ Hadfield, p 362
  13. ^ Hadfield pp 5 & 236
  14. ^ Loewenstein, David; Mueller, Janel M (2003), The Cambridge history of early modern English Literature, Cambridge University Press, p. 369, ISBN 0-521-63156-4 .
  15. ^ Prescott, Anne. "Spenser's shorter poems." The Cambridge Companion to Spenser. Ed. Andrew Hadfield. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 143–161. Print.
  16. ^ Burrow, Colin. "Spenser and classical traditions." The Cambridge Companion to Spenser. Ed. Andrew Hadfield. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 217–236. Print.
  17. ^ Elliott, John, ed. The Prince of Poets. New York: New York University Press, 1968. 7–13. Print.
  18. ^ Henley 19, 168–69
  19. ^ Henley 169
  20. ^ Henley 178
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Web page titled "Edmund Spenser Home Page/Biography", "Chronology" section (at bottom of Chronology, Web page states: "Source: adapted from Willy Maley, A Spenser Chronology."), at the website of the University of Cambridge Faculty of English website, retrieved 24 September 2009
  22. ^ a b c Cox, Michael, editor, The Concise Oxford Chronology of English Literature, Oxford University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-19-860634-6
  23. ^ Hadfield, Andrew, The Cambridge Companion to Spenser, "Chronology", Cambridge University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-521-64199-3, p xix, retrieved via Google Books, 24 September 2009
  24. ^ a b c Hadfield, Andrew, The Cambridge Companion to Spenser, "Chronology", Cambridge University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-521-64199-3, p xx, retrieved via Google Books, 24 September 2009
  25. ^ Web page titled "Edmund Spenser Home Page/Biography", at the website of the University of Cambridge Faculty of English website, retrieved 24 September 2009


  • Edmund Spenser, Selected Letters and Other Papers. Edited by Christopher Burlinson and Andrew Zurcher (Oxford, OUP, 2009).
  • Edmund Spenser, The Faerie-Queene (Longman-Annotated-English Poets, 2001, 2007) Edited by A. C. Hamilton, Text Edited by Hiroshi Yamashita and Toshiyuki Suzuki.


  • Croft, Ryan J. "Sanctified Tyrannicide: Tyranny And Theology In John Ponet's Shorte Treatise Of Politike Power And Edmund “Spenser's The Faerie Queene." Studies in Philosophy, 108.4 (2011): 538–571. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 8 October 2012.
  • Johnson, William. "The struggle between good and evil in the first book of 'The Faerie Queene'." English Studies, Vol. 74,
  • Maley, Willy. “Spenser's Life.” The Oxford Dictionary of Edmund Spenser. Ed. Richard A. McCabe. 1st Ed. 2010. Print.
  • Rust, Jennifer. "Spenser's The Faerie Queene." Saint Louis University, St. Louis. 10 October 2007. No. 6. (December 1993) p. 507–519.

External links[edit]

Preceded by:
John Skelton
English Poet Laureate Succeeded by:
Samuel Daniel

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Spenser — Please support Wikipedia.
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5 news items

Bahama Islands Info (blog)
Sat, 02 Aug 2014 03:59:18 -0700

When I heard of the passing of Edmund Spenser Moxey last Monday morning, I immediately released a statement expressing sadness over the loss of a man who had not only etched his name in glory as a frontline soldier of the Peaceful Revolution but who ...

Peterborough Telegraph

Peterborough Telegraph
Mon, 18 Aug 2014 07:15:00 -0700

... which is available in Waterstone's (£9.99) is called 'Hy Brazil' and is the first volume of a trilogy which begins in County Cork, Ireland in 1591. It follows nineteen-year-old Edward Harry who sails to Ireland as secretary to the famous poet ...
Fri, 01 Aug 2014 21:38:29 -0700

He could care less about your interpretation of Genesis, as long as you could see how Tolkien was using it for raw material in his creation story and tie that back to John Milton and Edmund Spenser. He had enough on his mind and his job was to make ...


Tue, 26 Aug 2014 09:08:22 -0700

... silences surnaturels, clapotis et autres musiques (complaintes baroques, chœurs d'avant-garde, folklore divers) et se donnent sans cartel ni prêt-à-déchiffrer, sinon quelques lambeaux de citations empruntés à de riants poètes tels Edmund Spenser ...
Sun, 24 Aug 2014 06:18:45 -0700

Karin Slaughter è nata il 6 gennaio 1971 a Covington, in Georgia. Si è diplomata alla Morrow High School. Ha frequentato la Georgia State University e ha fatto una grande varietà di lavori tra cui progettista e venditore per una ditta prima di aprire ...

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