The Faerie Queene 18: Sir Artegall’s quest, and the fate of a horse thief

John Hamilton Mortimer (1740-1779), Sir Arthegal, the Knight of Justice, with Talus, the Iron Man (1778), oil on canvas, 242.6 x 146 cm, The Tate Gallery, London. Wikimedia Commons.

The last episode completed The Legend of Cambel and Telamond, or Of Friendship, so reaching the end of the fourth book of The Faerie Queene. This episode starts the fifth book, which is The Legend of Artegall, or Of Justice.

Walter Crane (1845–1915), Title page, Book 5 (1895-97), print, ‘Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, ed TJ Wise, George Allen, London, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

Book 5: The Legend of Artegall, or Of Justice

Canto 1

Artegall trayn’d in Justice lore
Irenaes quest pursewed,
He doeth avenge on Sanglier
his Ladies bloud embewed.

When Britomart and Artegall had become betrothed, he had to leave her to continue on his important quest. It had its origins when the lady Irena had arrived, distraught, at the court of the Faerie Queene, seeking her aid against a tyrant who had dispossessed her of all her lands. Artegall had been chosen by the Queene to help Irena and recover her lands from the clutches of the evil Grantorto.

The goddess Astraea had adopted and raised Artegall when he was a child, schooling him in the principles of justice. She had given him the sword Chrysaor to mark his attaining adulthood; since then he has become renowned both as a knight and for his judgement over what’s right and wrong. Before his adoptive mother returned to heaven as the constellation Virgo she gave Artegall a servant Talus, who is made of iron, cannot stand wickedness, and carries an iron flail.

John Hamilton Mortimer (1740-1779), Sir Arthegal, the Knight of Justice, with Talus, the Iron Man (1778), oil on canvas, 242.6 x 146 cm, The Tate Gallery, London. Wikimedia Commons.

As Artegall and Talus travel to assist Irena, they meet a squire weeping over the headless corpse of a lady.

Walter Crane (1845–1915), Artegall trayn’d in Justice lore (1895-97), print, ‘Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, ed TJ Wise, George Allen, London, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

The squire tells Artegall that he had been travelling with his beloved lady when they met the knight Sanglier, who announced that he wanted the squire’s lady rather than his own. When Sanglier tried to take the squire’s lady away, his own lady tried to stop him, so he beheaded her and went off with the squire’s lady.

Artegall despatches Talus in pursuit of this Sanglier. The iron servant quickly overtakes him and instructs him to return. Sanglier attacks Talus without effect, but the iron servant deals him a mighty blow, and takes him to Artegall for judgement. There, Sanglier denies the squire’s account of what happened. To resolve the dispute, Artegall decrees that the lady will be divided in two so that each can have their own half.

Sanglier is happy for the lady to be killed and divided between them, but the squire can’t countenance her death and offers that she should be given alive to Sanglier instead. Artegall recognises the guilt of Sanglier, and sentences him to carry the severed head of his own lady, while the squire and his beloved are reunited.

Canto 2

Artegall heares of Florimell,
Does with the Pagan fight;
Him slaies, drownes Lady Munera,
Does race her castle quight.

Next Artegall and Talus meet a dwarf, Florimell’s servant Dony, who is rushing nervously to the marriage of his mistress and Marinell. Dony is worried, though, as the way ahead is blocked at a bridge over the river, which is being held by the Saracen Pollente. He is demanding that those who wish to cross either pay him an exorbitant toll or defeat him in battle. As a result, Pollente has grown very rich and killed many fine knights: they drop through a trapdoor into the river below, where the Saracen can kill them easily.

When Artegall reaches the bridge, Pollente demands his extortionate toll. The knight charges at him, his lance ready, and when the trapdoor is released he leaps down into the river rather than falling. As soon as the Saracen joins him, Artegall attacks him violently, beating the water to foam in his frenzy. As the Saracen starts to weaken and gasp for air, he climbs out of the water and tries to run away. Artegall catches him and with one stroke of his sword Chrysaor beheads him, letting his body tumble back into the river.

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

While his master is dealing with Pollente, Talus attacks the Saracen’s castle. Rocks and arrows bounce off his iron body as he beats through the door with his heavy iron flail. When Artegall enters, the castle’s inhabitants scatter, allowing Talus to drag Pollente’s evil daughter out. He throws her into the river to drown there. Artegall and Talus then destroy the castle and raze it to the ground.

They head towards the coast, where there’s a giant standing on a rock, talking to a gathered crowd. He holds a pair of scales which he claims could weigh the world. He says that he can also weigh heaven against hell, and could correct their imbalance, as the world is full of such inequalities, with everything being oppressed by something else, as the sea wears away the land.

Artegall is angry at this boasting, and warns the giant that he mustn’t disturb the just proportions of the world as made by the Creator. The giant argues back, calling Artegall foolish. But the knight tries to explain that the world already has balances, such as when the land is eaten away by the sea, it’s deposited elsewhere by the waters and isn’t lost at all.

When the giant tries to demonstrate with his scales, he can’t get anything to stay in place. He first puts his words on one pan, but they fly away; when he goes to weigh truth against lies, those lies slide off; no matter how many wrongs he puts on one pan, the rights are always heavier. Artegall responds by telling the giant that these things have to be weighed in the mind and heart, not on his scales.

At that, the giant loses his temper and threatens the knight. For that, Talus throws the giant down a cliff, where his body and scales shatter into pieces. The crowd then starts to retaliate against the pair, forcing Talus to drive them off with his flail.

Canto 3

The spousals of faire Florimell,
where turney many knights;
There Braggadochio is uncas’d
in all the Ladies sights.

Artegall and Talus continue their way to the wedding of Florimell and Marinell, arriving at the same time as Braggadochio with the false Florimell. After a great deal of feasting and celebration, all the knights of the land meet for a grand tournament, the first two days of which confirm Marinell as champion. On the third day, though, he faces a hundred knights who defeat him, and are about to take him away as their captive when Artegall intervenes.

Artegall first disguises himself with Braggadochio’s shield, then launches himself valiantly against the hundred knights surrounding Marinell. Once he has swept half of them aside, they release their prisoner to join Artegall in disposing of the remainder. Artegall is thus the overall champion of the tournament, and Florimell comes forward to give him his laurels. But Artegall has already returned Braggadochio’s shield, so it is that vainglorious thief who rides out to receive the award.

In front of the crowd, Braggadochio presents and unveils the false Florimell, who causes great consternation. At that point, Artegall breaks Braggadochio’s deception and brings the two Florimells together.

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

At that, the false one vanishes into thin air, in the face of the truth, leaving just the golden sash behind. Artegall picks it up and places it around the real Florimell, where it belongs.

Then through the crowd comes Sir Guyon, who has recognised his stolen horse under Braggadochio. Artegall holds Guyon back and asks him for proof, which he provides in the form of a black mark inside its mouth. When some of the knights try to check that, Guyon’s charger kicks them away, but it goes peacefully to its rightful owner, and allows him to examine its mouth.

With Sir Guyon’s horse returned at last, Braggadochio has to continue on foot. He riles at that, and hurls abuse at everyone until Talus shuts him up by stripping the thief of all trappings of his false knighthood, including shaving his beard, breaking his armour up, and removing the emblem from his shield. For good measure, Talus’s flail drives Braggadochio and his squire Trompart from the arena, and they’re both banished for ever from the company of knights and their ladies.

Principal Characters

Sir Artegall, a mighty and good knight, with a deep sense of justice, who is betrothed to Britomart, but cannot marry her until he has completed his quest for Irena. The subject of this book. Taken to represent Lord Grey of Wilton, whom Queen Elizabeth sent to crush rebellion in Ireland, and the wisdom of fair justice.

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

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

Florimell, another virgin in search of her true love, but passive and defenceless. She represents perfect beauty. Saved from being a captive of Proteus in the depths of the sea, she is marrying Marinell.

Grantorto, an evil tyrant who has wrested all Irena’s lands from her, and is now the subject of Artegall’s quest.

Irena, a lady who went to the Faerie Queene’s court to seek aid to recover her lands from Grantorto.

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. He is marrying Florimell.

Talus, the servant of Artegall, made of iron, who cannot stand any form of wickedness, and carries a heavy iron flail with which he enforces justice. Represents the letter of the law.


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

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Douglas Hill (1980) Edmund Spenser, The Illustrated Faerie Queene, Newsweek Books. No ISBN.
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