The Faerie Queene 12: Florimell lost at sea

Walter Crane (1845–1915), The Witch creates a snowy Lady (1895-97), print, 'Spenser's Faerie Queene', ed TJ Wise, George Allen, London, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

In the previous episode, Prince Arthur’s squire Timias had collapsed after being attacked, but was resuscitated by Belphoebe the huntress, who carried him away to her remote home. During his recuperation he secretly fell in love with her, and that emotion prevented him from regaining his strength. Belphoebe’s origins were revealed, including her raising by Diana, and Amoret, her twin sister, who was brought up by Psyche as a paragon of grace and beauty, and is now faithful to her true (but unnamed) love.

Canto 7

The witches sonne loves Florimell:
She flyes, he faines to dy.
Satyrane saves the Squyre of Dames
From Gyaunts tyranny.

While Timias has been in combat, Florimell continues her flight from Prince Arthur. Eventually her white palfrey collapses under her and she proceeds on foot, reaching a tiny cottage in a dark glen. There she seeks shelter with what turns out to be an evil old witch.

Walter Crane (1845–1915), The witches sonne loves Florimell (1895-97), print, ‘Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, ed TJ Wise, George Allen, London, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

Shortly after Florimell goes in, the witch’s good-for-nothing son comes home and is captivated by her beauty. He’s upset the following morning when, her palfrey recovered, Florimell rides off alone into the forest.

The witch’s son grows so distressed at Florimell’s departure that his mother conjures up a hideous beast to pursue the woman, and either bring her back or kill her. As soon as she sees the beast approaching, Florimell resumes her flight until she reaches the coast. There she dismounts and jumps into a small boat in which there’s a sleeping fisherman. As she pushes the boat further out to safety, the beast arrives and promptly devours her horse.

With the beast still feeding on the body of the horse and Florimell’s boat drifting out of sight, Sir Satyrane, a knight who had helped Una, happens to pass. He finds the woman’s golden sash dropped on the beach, and recognises the remains of her palfrey. As he’s unable to kill the witch’s beast, he instead binds it with that magical sash and draws it away from the water’s edge.

Walter Crane (1845–1915), He spide far off a mighty Giauntesse (1895-97), print, ‘Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, ed TJ Wise, George Allen, London, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

Sir Satyrane next sees a giant woman being pursued by a strange knight. Trussed across her saddle is a helpless young squire. Satyrane lowers his lance into position and charges at her; she ditches her captive and swings a huge mace over her head. The knight’s lance has no effect, but he is struck on the side of his head by the mace. As he sits senseless in his saddle, she plucks him up and drapes him over her saddle where the squire had been a few moments earlier. When the strange knight draws near, the woman throws Satyrane aside and flees, still pursued by that knight.

Satyrane unties the young man, who calls himself the Squire of Dames and tells the knight that the giant is Argante, daughter of Titans and twin of Ollyphant, whose insatiable lust drives them to any extreme. The squire’s love sent him to do noble deeds for damsels around the world over a year. When he was successful at that, out of jealousy, she sent him out again to find the same number of ladies who would chastely refuse his advances towards them. That has proved far tougher, with only one courtesan refusing him, on the grounds that he wouldn’t pay, as well as as a nun and one woman who remained chaste for its own sake.

The Squire of Dames and Satyrane ride back to where the beast lay, to find it had escaped and returned to the witch.

Canto 8

The Witch creates a snowy Lady,
like to Florimell,
Who wronged by Carle by Proteus sav’d,
is sought by Paridell.

Walter Crane (1845–1915), The Witch creates a snowy Lady (1895-97), print, ‘Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, ed TJ Wise, George Allen, London, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

When the beast tells the witch of Florimell’s survival, the son is beside himself with grief. His mother therefore makes an identical figure to Florimell, but with a wicked spirit within her. Her son is happy with her as his companion until one day they meet Braggadochio, thief of Sir Guyon’s charger and lance, still posing as a knight. Braggadochio acts the part and quickly puts the witch’s son to flight, then starts making advances towards the false Florimell. A real knight soon rides up, and the thief quickly realises he is outclassed, so abandons the woman to the knight.

The real Florimell is still drifting out to sea when the fisherman awakes. His old body inflamed by sudden lust, he leaps on her, making her scream. Proteus the sea god is nearby and answers her call of distress. The god drags the fisherman away and beats him black and blue with his staff. Florimell faints away at the sight of Proteus, who carries her down to his home at the bottom of the sea in his chariot. He in turn is smitten by her beauty, and frustrated when she turns him down. He angrily throws her into a dungeon until she changes her mind.

Meanwhile Satyrane and the Squire of Dames meet Sir Paridell, who tells them of the death of Sir Marinell, and the many knights from Gloriana’s court who have ridden out to protect Florimell. Satyrane, suspecting the beast had devoured the lady, tells Paridell, and they agree that she is probably dead, although they’ll continue to search for her.

Just as it’s growing dark, the three of them reach a castle and seek its hospitality for the night.

Canto 9

Malbecco will no straunge knights host,
For peevish gealosy;
Paridell giusts with Britomart;
both shew their auncestry.

When the castle gate remains shut, the Squire of Dames explains they are barred by the castle’s miserly keeper Malbecco because he fears that he’d lose both his treasure and his wife Hellenore. With a hailstorm upon them, the three seek alternative accommodation in a nearby shed. A fourth knight arrives, but they tell him there’s no room.

That knight informs them that they will either find room for him or he’ll remove them, so Paridell dons his arms and goes to confront the stranger on his mount. The two charge at one another so forcefully that Paridell is tossed onto the ground. As they’re about to fight on, Sir Satyrane intervenes and suggests their action should be directed at the owner of the castle.

When Malbecco sees the knights approaching, he opens the castle’s gates and welcomes them in with his apologies. Once inside they remove their armour, and discover that the mysterious fourth knight who had unseated Paridell is Britomart. They dine together with Malbecco and his wife Hellenore. The jealous owner has only one eye, so is oblivious of furtive glances being exchanged between his wife and Paridell.

Walter Crane (1845–1915), Malbecco will no straunge knights host (1895-97), print, ‘Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, ed TJ Wise, George Allen, London, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

After they have eaten, Paridell gives an account of the Trojan War and Aeneas’ flight from the sacked city to found Rome, tracing his ancestry back to that time. To that, Britomart describes the third city in the succession, that of Troynovant on the banks of the River Thames in Albion, which had been founded by the Trojan hero Brutus. All the while, Paridell and Hellenore are exchanging looks, as the flame of passion burns ever brighter within them, unnoticed by her husband.

Principal Characters

Amoret, or Amoretta, twin sister of Belphoebe, raised by Psyche as a paragon of grace and beauty, with only one true love.

Argante, a woman giant, daughter of Titans, and sister of Ollyphant, with an obscene lust.

Prince Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, bearer of a magic shield which blinds his enemies and turns them to stone, and future king.

Belphoebe, twin sister of Amoret, who prefers hunting to being at court. Raised by Diana as a huntress, she is adept with her spear, and bow and arrows.

Braggadocchio, a waster and thief, prone to boastfulness, with not an ounce of honour or goodness. He steals Sir Guyon’s charger and lance.

Britomart, or Britomartis, heroine of Book 3, “Chastity”, of faithfulness in true love. A woman knight and virgin, taken to represent the Fairy Queene herself, she has fallen in love with the image of the knight Artegall, and is in quest of him.

Florimell, another virgin in search of her true love, but passive and defenceless. She represents perfect beauty.

Sir Guyon, hero of Book 2, “Temperance”, a knight at the Faery Queen’s court, who stopped the wrongs of Acrasia.

Hellenore, wife of Malbecco, who elopes with Sir Paridell. When abandoned by him, she serves as communal lover and servant to a troop of lecherous satyrs.

Malbecco, miserly keeper of a castle, who guards his wealth and wife, Hellenore, jealously, and become Jealousy itself.

Malecasta, lady of the Castle Joyous, extremely rich and quite wanton.

Marinell, a knight, son of a Nereid, who has been warned to keep away from women, as a maiden will bring him great injury and grief.

Ollyphant, a woman giant, daughter of Titans, and sister of Argante, with an obscene lust.

Sir Paridell, a fickle knight from Gloriana’s court who falls in love with Hellenore, elopes with her, then abandons her.

Sir Satyrane, a good knight, who helped Una in the past.

The Squire of Dames, a young squire sent on missions to please his lover, currently struggling to find more than three women who won’t surrender their chastity to him.

Timias, Prince Arthur’s squire, a young man who falls in love with Belphoebe.


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.