The Faerie Queene 20: Artegall released and Duessa brought to trial

Walter Jenks Morgan (1847–1924), The Queen and the Two Knights (1885), illustration in 'Spenser for Children', MH Towry, further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

In the last episode, Sir Artegall lost his duel with the Amazon Queen Radigund, was taken into bondage by her, and forced to do women’s work like spinning while wearing women’s clothes. Although the queen took a fancy to him, her maidservant who was acting as a go-between was duplicitous because she too fancied the knight. Artegall’s servant Talus rushed to enlist Britomart’s help, and despite her attempted murder by an old knight who accommodated them, Talus and Britomart have crossed the bridge where Artegall had defeated Pollente, and are heading to rescue Artegall from the clutches of the Amazons.

Canto 7

Britomart comes to Isis Church,
Where shee strange visions sees;
She fights with Radigund, her slaies,
And Artegall thence frees.

Britomart reaches a temple to the Egytian goddess Isis. Although Talus is kept outside, she’s made welcome by the priests, and gazes in awe at the silver statue of Isis inside. Feeling sleepy, Britomart lies down nearby and dreams that the statue comes to life. She sees Isis first subdue the crocodile at her feet, then unite with it to give birth to a mighty lion.

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

Whe she awakes, Britomart tells the priests of her dream. They interpret it as confirming her lineage and future, with the crocodile representing Artegall. Together the couple will produce the line of British monarchs.

With that, Britomart leaves to continue her quest with Talus. When they reach the city of Amazons, Queen Radigund prepares to fight her outside the city walls. At first light the following morning the queen tells the knight that the price of losing is that she becomes the queen’s slave. Britomart rejects that, and they are soon engaged in a ferocious battle with one another.

The Amazon’s attacks on Britomart are vicious and sustained, but each time the knight responds powerfully and drives her opponent back. When Britomart is momentarily off-balance, Radigund seizes the opportunity and drives her sword deep into the knight’s shoulder, cutting to the bone. Britomart struggles to hold her shield with that arm, but responds with a deadly stroke which cuts straight through the queen’s helmet into her brain. With the Amazon on the ground, Britomart follows through with a final stroke of her sword which cuts her opponent’s head off.

The crowd of onlooking Amazons quickly disperse with the encouragement of Talus’s flail. Britomart then enters the city to release the queen’s many slaves, including Sir Artegall, who find their original clothes and armour so they can restore their dignity at last. Britomart and Artegall stay in the city to allow her to recuperate, a period in which she assumes power of its government to restore justice. Once she has recovered, Artegall resumes his quest, and Britomart returns home in sadness at their parting.

Canto 8

Prince Arthure and Sir Artegall,
Free Samient from feare;
They slay the Soudan, drive his wife,
Adicia to despaire.

Artegall meets a lady riding in terror from two attacking Saracens, who in turn are being pursued by another knight. Artegall takes on one of the Saracens, and the other knight tackles the second. Artegall and his opponent charge at one another, their lances at the ready. That Saracen is immediately thrown from his saddle and breaks his neck as he hits the ground. In the other contest, the second Saracen is also killed quickly by the knight who turns out to be Prince Arthur.

Both Artegall and Arthur ride after the lady, but mistake one another for enemies. Only when they have shattered their lances in combat, and the lady draws their attention to the fact that they’re both her rescuers, do they pause and reveal themselves to one another, to the accompaniment of their profuse apologies. With order restored, the lady reveals herself as Samient, servant to Mercilla, the wise and graceful ruler who has been oppressed by the evil and idolatrous Souldan. She had been sent to try to negotiate a peaceful resolution, but Souldan’s wife Adicia had sent her away with those Saracens in pursuit.

The two knights plan to resolve this, with Artegall disguising himself as one of the Saracens and returning Samient to the Souldan’s palace, allowing Arthur to attack it. This proceeds well as Artegall is admitted with his prisoner, following which Arthur arrives and calls for the tyrant to release her. The Souldan arms himself and rides out in his chariot, which has hooked blades on the hubs of its wheels, and is drawn by wild horses fed on human flesh.

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

Arthur dodges the Souldan’s first attack, but falls victim to the second, when the Souldan’s javelin strikes him in the side. In spite of his wound, Arthur pursues the chariot, unveiling his magic shield in the process. The blazing light from that makes the Souldan’s horses bolt out of control. As the chariot speeds over the countryside it overturns, and the tyrant is dragged along until he becomes entangled with the blades on its wheels, his body and clothing being shredded in seconds.

Arthur takes the Souldan’s armour back to hang on a tree in his palace. When Adicia sees them she takes a dagger to murder Samient, but Artegall, still in disguise, disarms her. Adicia then runs from the palace and is turned into a wild tigress in the forest. Finally, Sir Artegall takes on the Souldan’s hundred knights and puts them to flight.

Canto 9

Arthur and Artegall catch Guyle
whom Talus doth dismay,
They to Mercillaes pallace come,
and see her rich array.

Artegall and Arthur hand over the Souldan’s palace to Samient, who begs them to ride with her to Mercilla, her mistress. As they travel together, Samient tells them of Malengin, a master of deceit who lives in a nearby cave. The two knights agree to put an end to Malengin preying on local people by matching his deceit with their own.

They send Samient ahead to the cave, where she lures Malengin out by feigning distress. He’s a wizened old man with a hooked staff and a net, in which he entraps those who fall victim to his guile. He smooth-talks the woman into trusting him, then throws his net over her and snatching her back into his cave. By this time, though, the knights are blocking its entrance, forcing Malengin to drop the woman and flee. He nimbly skips over the rocky terrain, making any pursuit by a knight in full armour pointless, so Artegall sends Talus to drive him down from the mountain.

Malengin changes form to a fox, then a bush, a bird, a stone and a hedgehog in quick succession, but Talus persists until Malengin becomes a snake, and his heavy flail crushes his body against a rock.

When the group reaches Mercilla’s palace they admire its lofty towers, and meet the giant Awe who guards its gate. The marshal Order is inside controlling all the petitioners who are awaiting judgements by Mercilla. When they’re brought before her, she is seated on a golden throne with her sceptre of clemency. At her feet is a sword in its scabbard, and a great lion. The knights kneel in respect, and she has them seated by her as she concludes a case which has been brought before her.

Walter Crane (1845–1915), Arthur and Artegall catch Guyle (1895-97), print, ‘Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, ed TJ Wise, George Allen, London, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.
Walter Jenks Morgan (1847–1924), The Queen and the Two Knights (1885), illustration in ‘Spenser for Children’, MH Towry, further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

The accused is a beautiful woman with sin in her eyes: the knights recognise her as the evil sorceress Duessa, who has deceived so many fine knights. Zeal, prosecuting, lists her many crimes, including a plot to remove Mercilla from her throne, in which she was aided and abetted by Blandamour and Paridell. Witnesses give evidence of Duessa’s evil, among them Authority, Kingdom’s Care, Law of Nations, Religion and Justice.

After them come those trying to mitigate her crimes: Pity, Regard of Womanhood, Grave Danger, Nobility and Grief. Then Zeal brings the old hag Ate, who seems only too happy to betray her former companion by revealing her many plots. The case concludes with more accusations from Murder, Sedition, Adultery and Impiety.

The two knights agree firmly that Duessa is guilty, so Zeal calls for justice to be served. With that, Mercilla passes the only sentence possible, that of death, as tears roll from her eyes.

Principal Characters

Adicia, evil wife of the Souldan.

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.

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

Ate, discord personified, an ugly old woman with a forked tongue and feet which point in opposite directions. An accomplice of Duessa, she lives by the gates of Hell.

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.

Duessa, Una’s opposite, an evil sorceress who personifies falsehood, and is the symbol of the Roman Catholic Church.

Malengin, a treacherous old man who lives in a cave, and persuades people to trust him, then throws a net over them and abducts them to his cave.

Mercilla, a wise and graceful ruler who is challenged by the oppression of the Souldan. She sends her servant Samient to negotiate a peaceful settlement with him. Represent Queen Elizabeth I of England.

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.

Samient, servant to Mercilla, who is sent to the Souldan to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict between him and her mistress.

The Souldan, an idolatrous tyrant who challenges Mercilla for her land. A Sultan, who may represent King Philip II of Spain, England’s greatest enemy at the time.

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.