The Faerie Queene 2: The lion and seven deadly sins

Briton Rivière (1840–1920), Una and the Lion (date not known), oil on canvas, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

In the first episode, the Redcrosse Knight set out on a mission to kill a dragon for his Queen. Accompanying him is the fair lady Una with her white lamb. After killing the monster Errour, they both fell into the clutches of the evil sorceror Archimago, who used magic to split them up. The Redcrosse Knight then defeated a Saracen in combat, and ended up carrying off Duessa, who is disguised as Fidessa and represents falsehood.

Canto 3

Forsaken Truth long seeks her love,
And makes the Lyon mylde;
Marres blind Devotions mart, and fals
In hand of leachour vylde.

Far behind the Redcrosse Knight and the feigning Duessa, Una is searching for him. She enters a dark wood, where a fierce lion emerges and charges at her, its mouth agape. It stops short of her, its ferocity overcome by her beauty and meekly licks her hands. The lion then attaches itself to Una as her constant companion as she continues her search for the knight.

George Stubbs (1724–1806), Portrait of Isabella Saltonstall as Una (c 1765-75), oil on panel, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England. Wikimedia Commons.
National Galleries of Scotland
William Bell Scott (1811–1890), Una and the Lion (c 1860), oil on canvas, 91.5 x 71.2 cm, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland. Wikimedia Commons.
Briton Rivière (1840–1920), Una and the Lion (date not known), oil on canvas, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Days later, Una and the lion reach the foot of a mountain, where they meet the first living person they’ve seen, a girl carrying a pot of water on her shoulders. She takes fright at the lion, drops her pitcher and runs off to the tiny cottage where she lives with her mother, who is blind and spends her life in constant religious devotion. The lion sweeps in, letting Una enter to rest.

Walter Crane (1845–1915), Forsaken Truth long seeks her love (1895-97), print, ‘Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, ed TJ Wise, George Allen, London, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

That night, they are visited by a thief, Kirkrapine, who robs churches and visits the girl occasionally to satisfy his lust. The lion tears Kirkrapine apart with its claws as the girl and her mother curse Una, who departs with the lion beside her and the girl and her mother in pursuit. The latter eventually return to their cottage, meeting Archimago, still disguised as the Redcrosse Knight. He learns of Una’s presence, and catches her up.

Archimago is cautious to approach Una because of the lion, but she believes him to be the Redcrosse Knight and greets him, asking where he has been and why he had avoided her. Una accepts his explanation and the pair ride along together, until they see a Saracen named Sansloy (younger brother of the dead Sansfoy) riding towards them.

The two knights have to fight one another, but Archimago is dismounted and knocked senseless in the first charge. Brandishing his sword, Sansloy tells the sorceror that he is going to avenge the death of his brother. Despite Una’s pleas for clemency, the Saracen pulls Archimago’s helmet off and recognises the old man inside the armour. The Saracen abandons him unconscious on the ground, and pulls Una roughly up to his saddle to abduct her. The lion attacks, but Sansloy kills it with his sword and carries Una away, her white palfrey following behind.

Canto 4

To sinfull hous of Pryde, Duessa
Guydes the faithfull knight;
Where brothers death to wreak Sansjoy
Doth chaleng him to fight.

Meanwhile, the real Redcrosse Knight has carried Duessa to a mass of travellers, who are heading towards a palace nearby. Duessa urges him to join them, and they head towards the House of Pride, which is an old ruin build on sand, cunningly made to look opulent with thin gold sheet overlaid on its walls. The knight is deceived by its superficial riches as he enters, and sees Lucifera, its queen, admiring herself while sitting on her throne.

Walter Crane (1845–1915), To sinfull house of Pryde Duessa (1895-97), print, ‘Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, ed TJ Wise, George Allen, London, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

The Redcrosse Knight and Duessa kneel to pay their respects to the queen, who leaves and gets into her golden carriage, which is drawn by:

  • Idleness riding a slow ass,
  • Gluttony on a pig,
  • Lechery on a bearded goat,
  • Avarice on a camel loaded with gold,
  • Envy chewing a poisonous toad and riding on a wolf,
  • Wrath with a torch and dagger on a lion.

Satan is her coachman, and Duessa is seated at the side of the queen.

William Kent (c 1685-1748), Pride’s Procession with Idleness, Gluttony, Letchery, Avarice, Envy and Wrath, Drove by Satan (1751), engraving, ‘The Faerie Queene’, Brindley and Wright, London, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

When the Redcrosse Knight sees this fearsome carriage travel along a road made from the bones of victims, he turns aside, only to meet a Saracen named Sansjoy. The latter recognises his brother Sansfoy’s shield on the knight’s horse, and challenges him to a duel. Lucifera insists that they postpone this until the next day, then she and her court spend much of the night in revelry and over-indulgence.

When everyone has retired to bed, Duessa goes to Sansjoy’s chamber and promises the Saracen that she’ll use her witchcraft to help him to victory, provided that he becomes her protector.

Principal Characters

Archimago, an evil sorceror who tries to stop all knights in the service of the Faerie Queen.

Duessa, Una’s opposite, personifying falsehood, and the symbol of the Roman Catholic Church.

Kirkrapine, a thief who steals from churches, and occasionally visits a girl to satisfy his lust. He represents the Church of Rome.

Lucifera, the usurper queen of the House of Pride.

Redcrosse Knight, hero of Book 1, “Holiness”, a knight on his first adventure, Saint George.

Sansfoy, a Saracen knight, the older brother of Sansloy and Sansjoy.

Sansjoy, a Saracen knight, the younger brother of Sansfoy and Sansloy.

Sansloy, a Saracen knight, younger brother of Sansloy, and brother to Sansjoy.

Una, accompanies the Redcrosse Knight, and the symbol of the ‘true’ (Protestant) Church.


Wikipedia on The Faerie Queene, with a partial summary
Wikipedia on Edmund Spenser

Richard Danson Brown (2019) The Art of the Faerie Queene, Manchester UP. ISBN 978 0 7190 8732 5. (Note: this isn’t about visual art, but literary art and poetics.)
AC Hamilton (ed) (2007) Spenser, the Faerie Queene, 2nd edn, Routledge. ISBN 978 1 4058 3281 6. (Critical edition.)
Elizabeth Heale (1999) The Faerie Queene, A Reader’s Guide, 2nd edn, Cambridge UP. ISBN 978 0 521 65468 5.
Douglas Hill (1980) Edmund Spenser, The Illustrated Faerie Queene, Newsweek Books. No ISBN.
Richard A McCabe (ed) (2010) The Oxford Handbook of Edmund Spenser, Oxford UP. ISBN 978 0 1987 0967 1.