This is a 1609 edition copy of the incomplete epic poem The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser. It is one of the longest poems in the English language and is notable for its verse form known as the Spenserian stanza. The Faerie Queene contains allegories to praise Queen Elizabeth I, who favoured the piece resulting in a £50 annual stipend for Spenser. This work would be his most famous. Call No: RAR PR 2358 AI 1609
Written during the Reformation, a time of religious and political controversy. The poem celebrates, memorialises, and critiques the Tudor dynasty (of which Elizabeth was a part). The Faerie Queene suggests that the Tudor lineage can be connected to King Arthur and The world of The Faerie Queene is based on English Arthurian legend.
The frontispiece is spellbinding. We must not forget that these poems were composed during the reformation, a time when many Catholic images were being destroyed by The ‘Establishment’ in England. We can clearly observe a scriptural reference to the hand and arm of the Lord emerging from the clouds indicating the presence of the almighty. These hands clasp the Anchor which is entwined by a snake. First impressions would indicate a Maritime theme, but this has a much deeper meaning. Remember the time … the anchor was a symbol used before the cross, and symbolises that Jesus/God/Christianity was the anchor. It’s also a Christian symbol for hope and steadfast. The snake entwined is about salvation or raising up, and eternal life. However, the Anchor is in fact the Ankh, the Crux Ansata. A simple T-Cross, surmounted by an oval – called the RU, which is, simply put, the gateway to enlightenment. This enigmatic symbol represents ‘eternal life’ and is often depicted being held by a god which we can see here.
Now the snake / serpent is the interesting part. In isolation the snake personifies evil, Satan and original sin and Saturn who personified time. This snake looks rather angry, you can see clearly it’s forked tongue. Elizabeth is renown to have owned jewellery and costume including emblems of serpents, which were probably understood as a symbol of wisdom.
Examining the frontispiece further looking at the Left hand side In Latin Et vsque ad nvbes veritas tva; head-and tail-pieces; initials with the picture which appears from the clouds holding a book in front of a sun. Laurel leaves and two single roses.
Central is the face of Isis and we will come back to this when looking at the poems within the book.
Right hand side
Os homini sublime dedit surround a central sun. Latin translated to “man the gods gave”
The top portion of the page centrally are the words
כחוח = Thistle
Flanked symmetrically by Two globes.
The central image on the page is the shield which was found on the frontispiece. The central sun with the words Os homini sublime dedit. Latin translated to “man the gods gave”
A shield is held by two ladies. One whom is bearing a break.
The poem is dedicated to Elizabeth who is represented in the poem as the Faerie Queene Gloriana, as well as the character Belphoebe. The upper part of the page displays The English Royal Lion (on the left) and the Welsh Dragon (on the right), symbolising that Elizabeth was Queen of England and Wales.
Throughout The Faerie Queene, virtue is seen as “a feature for the nobly born” On the opposite side of the spectrum, The Faerie Queene indicates qualities such as cowardice and discourtesy that signify low birth. Spenser, in his letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, points out the most obvious allegorical devices that run through the entire tale. Those are the Red Crosse Knight, Gloriana, and Faerie Land, as King Arthur, Queen Elizabeth I, and England, respectively. Sovereignty being what it was (and, to a lesser degree, remains), one may see not only Faerie Land but also the characters of the Red Crosse Knight and Gloriana as symbolic of all England. Thus, Spenser’s Trinitarian representation of the State is his first showing of England’s alignment with the divine and, thereby, Elizabeth’s God-given right to rule. (Palmer, J, 2009)