Historical Allegory in “The Faerie Queene” by Edmund Spenser

In an allegory, some actual actions or instructive morals are shadowed under imaginary persons or things. Every allegory has two senses- the literal and the mystical. The literal sense is like the vision of which the mystical is the true meaning.

The story consists of fictitious persons, creatures of the poet’s brain in a moral allegory. In the historical allegory, the story is framed of historical persons and how other persons or actions are represented.

Spenser looked upon himself as a historical poet aiming at interpreting British history. He used the method of allegory to fulfill his aim in The Faerie Queene. 

Book I Comprises Henry VIII And Mary Tudor in England

The first book traces the history of England during the time of Henry VIII and Mary Tudor. Henry VIII declared the Church of England free from the authority of Rome in 1533.

After the death of Henry VIII, his daughter restored Catholic Church. When Elizabeth came to the throne, she favored the Protestants again. In the Faerie Queene, Spenser deals with this history, and with the help of allegory, he successfully represents all the characters.

It is a romanticized history of the English Reformation, and every character represents someone of early Tudor times.

Book I reflects the widespread recognition of Queen Elizabeth’s first excellent service in the cause of truth.

Spenser Represented Elizabeth Through Una And Gloriana

Una is the allegorical character of Truth who remains veiled because truth can never be seen clearly. Gloriana is at the service of Truth. So both Una and Gloriana represent Elizabeth. In Book I, Spenser deals with the following historical incidents like Elizabeth’s sufferings at the hand of Gardener before she became the queen, her first attempt to re-establish religion, her contest with the dragon of Spain.

Spenser’s Duessa is Mary Tudor, who has brought back the letter of Rome. The last letter of Duessa to Una’s parents before the marriage of Una represents the last effort of the Roman Church to re-assent its supremacy. The plan failed. The false letter also stands for Mary’s false claim to the English throne.                

Una’s spirit stands for Thomas Cromwell- the champion of the Reformation Church. Sansloy represents Gardener, the leader of the Roman Church.

Spenser Featured Religious Control And Church’s Reformation

After the defeat of Cromwell, Gardener gained control of the ecclesiastical policy. Sansloy is identified with Walsey, and his love Duessa represents Walsey’s attempt to gain papal authority. Sir Satyrane has been identified with Crammer, who became the leader of the Reformed Church after the death of Cromwell.

Orgoglio stands for Phillip II. The Knight’s imprisonment by Orgoglio represents the condition of the Roman Church during the reign of Mary Tudor. Orgoglio’s adoration of Duessa is, in fact, the adoration of Mary of Scots by Phillip of Spain.

The dragon that has made Una’s parents captive also represents Roman Catholicism. The dragon’s defeat symbolizes the final defeat of the Roman Church at the hand of the Reformed Church. Archimago is a Roman Pope and the antichrist.

Spenser Highlighted False Leadership And Truth’s Helplessness

Redcross Knight represents holiness in the moral sense. He has been identified with Henry VIII. He also represents St. George, the champion of true faith. The monster, Error, represents false leading during Spenser’s time. He also encounters Archimago, who stands for Philip II and the Pope.

The adventure of the Knight in the cave of Despair referred to the sad state of England when Queen Elizabeth assumed responsibility. The marriage of Una and the Knight represents the union of England and the true religion.

In the first book, Prince Arthur rescues the Knight, and it symbolizes that truth is powerless in great emergence until it is helped by magnificence.


Spenser treated the epic of Europe in his The Faerie Queene by the complete method of historical allegory.

Spenser made a list of Tudor agents and personages and cast them in the form of literary crossword puzzles to be unparalleled by the ingenuity of later commentation.

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