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 Edmund Spencer

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Edmund Spencer

  • Birth c.1553 Smithfield, City of London, Greater London, England
  • Death 13 Jan 1599 Westminster, City of Westminster, Greater London, England
  • Burial Westminster, City of Westminster, Greater London, England
  • Plot Poets' Corner
  • GPS
  • Memorial ID 5941

Poet. His unfinished allegorical epic "The Faerie Queene", dedicated to Elizabeth I, is a masterpiece of English Literature. The Elizabethans hailed him as their "Prince of Poets". Spenser was born in East Smithfield, London. While studying at Cambridge University (M.A. 1576) he read Plato and Aristotle and was influenced by Puritan moral beliefs. Scholar Gabriel Harvey introduced him to an important patron, Sir Philip Sidney, and both encouraged his early writing. His first major poem, "The Shepheardes Calender" (1579), gained him immediate notoriety. In 1580 Spenser went to Ireland as secretary to Lord Grey of Wilton, who had been appointed Governor there with the task of suppressing the Second Desmond Rebellion. He probably witnessed the Siege of Smerwick (November 1580), in which a garrison of Papal troops were massacred after agreeing to surrender to the English. Lord Grey was recalled in 1582, but Spenser remained in Ireland as a settler and colonial bureaucrat, becoming Clerk of the Council of Munster in 1586. The following year he was granted a 3000-acre plantation at Castle Kilcoman, County Cork. Spenser made two extended visits to England (1590 to 1591, 1595 to 1596), primarily to oversee publication of the first two parts of "The Faerie Queene". During the first visit Elizabeth received him favorably and awarded him an annual pension, one of only two she ever bestowed upon a poet. The second trip took place while Ireland was swept up in Tyrone's Rebellion (1594 to 1603), and Spenser wrote a prose tract, "A View of the Present State of Ireland", advocating a scorched-earth policy against the Irish population. (It was deemed so inflammatory it would not be published until 1633). In 1598 he was designated Sheriff of Cork, but on October 15 the rebels burned Castle Kilcoman and the Spenser family barely escaped with their lives. He was back in London in December, delivering dispatches to the Privy Council; he fell ill soon afterwards and died, apparently in distressed circumstances, in Westminster. By then his creative reputation was at its peak. The Earl of Essex arranged for his interment at Westminster Abbey, near the tomb of Geoffrey Chaucer in the South Transept; from then on the location became a burial place of honor for England's literary greats, dubbed "Poets' Corner" by Oliver Goldsmith. "The Faerie Queene" is a vast patriotic celebration of English culture set in a mystical fairy tale world. Spenser began the poem in the late 1570s and worked at it intermittently for the rest of his life. His models were Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales", the Italian epic poetry of Ariosto and Tasso, and the Elizabethan genre of the "courtesy book", a guide to manners for courtiers. In each of its planned 12 books a Medieval knight would embark on an adventure, through which he would acquire a virtue expected of a gentleman. The future King Arthur, who already possesses all 12 virtues, figures in each book as he searches for the fabled fairy queen Gloriana (an idealized Elizabeth). To ensure the unhurried musicality of its language the author wrote it in a unique pattern, the Spenserian Stanza, consisting of eight pentameter lines followed by an alexandrine. Spenser completed only half the work - Books 1-3 were published in 1590, Books 4-6 in 1596. A fragment known as the "Cantos on Mutability" is believed to be all that remains of Book 7; it appeared in the first complete edition of 1609. Of his shorter poems the most universally admired is "Epithalamion" (1595), which describes 24 hours of an Irish wedding day. This and the sonnet-sequence "Amoretti" (1595) were inspired by Spenser's courtship and marriage (1594) to his second wife, Elizabeth Boyle. Other works include "Astrophel", an elegy on the death of Sidney, the collection "Complaints" (1591), the autobiographical pastoral "Colin Clouts Come Home Againe" (1595), and another marriage poem, "Prothalamion" (1596).

Bio by: Bobb Edwards





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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 23 Jul 1999
  • Find A Grave Memorial 5941
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Edmund Spencer (c.1553–13 Jan 1599), Find A Grave Memorial no. 5941, citing Westminster Abbey, Westminster, City of Westminster, Greater London, England ; Maintained by Find A Grave .