The Faerie Queene 19: Defeat and slavery

Walter Crane (1845–1915), Talus brings newes to Britomart (1895-97), print, 'Spenser's Faerie Queene', ed TJ Wise, George Allen, London, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons

In the last episode, all the knights of the land had met for a tournament as part of the wedding celebrations of Florimell and Marinell. Artegall emerged its victor, after he had freed Marinell from a mob of a hundred knights who had taken him captive. This led to the unmasking of Braggadochio as the thief of Sir Guyon’s horse, and a vainglorious imposter. He was then stripped of his false trappings and banished for ever from the company of knights and their ladies.

Canto 4

Artegall dealeth right betwixt
two brethren that doe strive,
Saves Terpine from the gallow tree,
and doth from death reprive.

Artegall and Talus resume their journey along the coast, and soon meet a couple of young squires fighting as their ladies try to intervene. The knight pulls them apart, and learns that they are Amidas and Bracidas, who had been left by their father on two separate islands nearby. Over time, Bracidas’s island had been eroded by the sea, and his lost land deposited to augment his brother’s land.

When she saw this, Bracidas’s lady had eloped with his brother, whose property was growing in size. At that, Amidas’s lady was deserted, so tried to drown herself. Once in the water she changed her mind and clung onto an old chest before she was rescued by Bracidas. The pair discovered this chest contained treasure, which Amidas claimed was the other lady’s dowry, and that was how the two brothers came to fight one another.

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

Sir Artegall questions each brother as to their rights, and declares that what the sea has given to each of them – land and treasure – is theirs to keep. Although Bracidas and his lady are left upset by this, Amidas and his lady happily take the treasure with them, leaving the knight and his iron servant to move on.

Next they’re surrounded by a crowd of Amazons who are armed to the teeth, and in possession of a knight with his hands tied and a noose around his neck, ready for the gallows. When Talus disperses the mob with his heavy flail, they leave their victim, Sir Terpin. The Queen of the Amazons Radigund had been rejected by the knight she loved, which had filled her with hatred for all knights. She then starts capturing them and forcing them to perform women’s tasks while dressed in women’s clothes. Any that refuse or try to escape, as Terpin had, she hangs.

With Terpin as their guide, Artegall and Talus make haste to Radigund’s city, where the queen herself orders its gates be opened to admit them. The moment that the three of them are inside, they’re attacked by the Amazons. Radigund fells Terpin with a blow to the head, and it takes Artegall to stop her from beheading him. They fight on until nightfall, by which time the three of them have been driven back outside the gate, where they spend the night. Radigund’s maidservant comes to deliver Artegall the message that her queen will meet him in single combat to settle the matter at dawn.

Canto 5

Artegall fights with Radigund
And is subdewd by guile;
He is by her emprisoned,
But wrought by Clarins wile.

Radigund emerges from the gate at dawn and confronts Artegall in front of a large crowd. Once the heralds’ trumpets have sounded, she quickly lays blow after blow on the knight, who bides his time in defence, waiting for her to tire.

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

As her assault weakens, he responds with heavy blows from his sword which eventually cuts her shield in half. She retaliates, cutting his leg, for which he shatters the remains of her shield and knocks her unconscious to the ground. When Artegall removes her helmet, though, he’s unable to kill her, and casts his sword aside.

The queen then regains consciousness and refuses Artegall’s offer of peace by attacking him again. As he no longer has his sword, he is forced to concede, and is taken prisoner to serve the queen as her slave. The unfortunate Terpin is promptly hanged, but Talus can’t be conquered and escapes, leaving his master to suffer the consequences of his own defeat.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), Hercules and Omphale (1537), oil on beech wood, 82 × 118.9 cm, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig, Germany. Wikimedia Commons.

[Although Lucas Cranach the Elder’s painting of Hercules among the women of Omphale’s court tells the misfortunes of the mythological hero, it’s also highly appropriate here. This myth was clearly the basis for Spenser’s story too, although he refers to Iole rather than Omphale.]

Sir Artegall is then put to work spinning while dressed in women’s clothes, alongside many other enslaved knights. While he’s spinning for the queen, she develops a passion for the knight, and tells her maidservant to sound him out without letting him know her desires. As she’s doing that, she too falls in love with Artegall, so she lies to the queen that the knight would rather die than get involved with Radigund. This angers Radigund, who makes Artegall’s tasks more demanding and half starves him. The queen’s servant tells the knight that this is because of her mistress’s cruelty, and secretly gives him extra food in her own bid for his heart.

Canto 6

Talus brings newes to Britomart,
of Artegall’s mishap,
She goes to seeke him, Dolon meetes,
who seeks her to entrap.

Walter Crane (1845–1915), Talus brings newes to Britomart (1895-97), print, ‘Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, ed TJ Wise, George Allen, London, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, Talus has rushed to seek Britomart’s help. At first she assumes that Artegall has succumbed to another woman, and she alternates between grief and anger, but when she hears the whole story, the pair ride at speed to the city of the Amazons. As it’s growing dark, they accept an offer of accommodation for the night from an old knight they meet. However, their host Dolon has a grudge, in that Artegall had slain his oldest son in battle. Mistaking Britomart for that knight, he devises a way to get his revenge.

In the middle of the night, Britomart is sleeplessly pacing her room when her bed suddenly disappears through a trapdoor. Grabbing her sword before going out into the corridor, she there meets the old knight’s two surviving sons with a group of villains. Talus is already blocking their progress, and quickly drives them off with his flail. Britomart and Talus ride on at first light, crossing the bridge where Artegall had defeated Pollente. There they meet the old knight’s sons again, now determined to get revenge for the death of their brother.

Britomart charges the pair of them, hurling one to his death in the river below, and skewering the other on the end of her lance. As his body drops from her weapon, Talus and Britomart cross that bridge and ride on to help Artegall.

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.

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.

Radigund, Queen of the Amazons, whose love was refused by a knight, causing her to wreak vengeance on all knights. She captures them, forces them to wear women’s clothes, and puts them to work performing women’s tasks such as spinning, as her slaves.

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

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.