Edward George Harman.

Edmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon online

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The question naturally occurs, how did Spenser become
so intimate with Sir Walter Ralegh ? For ten years at
least (from 1580 to 1590) Spenser, on the accepted
facts of his life, was in Ireland. It is assumed by some
writers that he made Ralegh's acquaintance there at the
time of his first going over with Lord Grey. Such
speculations, however, seem superfluous in view of the
description in Colin Clouts Co7ne Home Again of what
purports to be their first meeting. If we may accept the
story of that poem (and it is on such evidence that the
whole of Spenser's " biography " as a poet has been
constructed), Spenser first made Ralegh's acquaintance in
Ireland in 1589, just before the publication of the first
three books of the Faerie Queene. Now the Squire
" Timias " of the poem apparently contains an allusion,
under certain aspects, to Ralegh. Presumably the three
books were completed when Ralegh visited Kilcolman, as
described in Colin Clout. In these circumstances how
comes it that a man in Spenser's position, unacquainted
with either Ralegh or the Queen, could have had the
temerity to write about them in the terms used in Canto
V. of Book III. of the Faerie Queene} Still more, why
should such a man have gone out of his way to risk the
handling of such a delicate subject as the Queen's attach-
ment for Ralegh and the reports which were current
about it ? ^ (See particularly stanzas 44, 47 and 54.)

On the other hand, in the View of the Present State of
Ireland, there is a reference to " Smerwick " by " Irenaeus "
(who evidently stands for the author), from which it is
inferred that Spenser was present at that action where
Ralegh was in command of one of the bands which was
put in by Lord Grey's orders to execute the garrison.

although Meres, the reputed author, is said to have lived another fifty years.
The treatise, which is largely of the nature of a jeu cTesprit, is, in my
judgment, by Bacon.

' On this subject see further in Chapter XVII.


This was in the autumn of 1580. But the phrase used
is so vague, " my selfe being as neere them as any," ^ that
we are no more justified in building on it a theory of
previous acquaintance with Ralegh (in the face of the
story in Colin Clout) than we are entitled to take it for a
fact that Spenser was in Ireland under Sir Henry Sidney
because, in the same treatise, Irenaeus speaks of what he
saw " at the execution of a notable traytour at Limmericke
called Murrogh O-Brein," ^ which is said to have occurred
in July 1577. Moreover, there is nothing in the defence
of Lord Grey's action on that occasion ^ which could not
have been derived from subsequent conversation in

Let us now take the Ralegh dates so far as they are
known. Ralegh is believed to have been born in 1552,
the same year, it will be observed, as the date inferred
from Sonnet Ix. of the Ainoretti for Spenser's birth.
What little is known of Ralegh's origin and career before
he attracted the notice of the Queen in 1581 may be
stated in a few sentences. Of his parents and his early
life hardly any particulars are known. He is stated by
Anthony Wood to have gone to Oxford " in or about the
year 1568." But, as regards Wood's further statement
that he stayed there three years, Edwards ^ says that it
is an established fact that he was in France in September
1569. It is stated that he went there to serve in the
Huguenot army as one of a body of volunteers raised by
his relative Henry Champernoune, and that he remained
there five or six years. Naunton,^ however, states that his
first service was in Ireland. Some verses bearing the name
of Walter Ralegh in commendation of Gascoigne's Steele
Gins, published in the spring of 1576, have led to the
supposition that he was then in London.^ All that is
subsequently known of him from that time to his becoming
the favourite of the Queen (1581) has been collected in

' See the passage quoted in Chapter XIX.
2 "Globe" edition, p. 636. 3 Ibid. p. 656. * Life of Ralegh.'

° Fragmentia Regalia. * On this see Chapter IX. p. 243.


the article in the Dictionary of National Biography, from
which I take the following: "In December 1577 he
appears to have had a residence at Islington, and been
known as a hanger-on of the Court (Gosse, p. 6). It is
possible that in 1577 or 1578 he was in the Low
Countries under Sir John Norris. ... In April 1578
he was in England {Trans, of the Devonshire Assocn. xv.
174) and in September he was at Dartmouth, where he
joined his half brother Sir Humphrey Gilbert in fitting
out a fleet of eleven ships for a so-called voyage of dis-
covery. . . . After an indecisive engagement with some
Spaniards, the expedition was back at Dartmouth in the
spring of 1579."

Thereafter Ralegh appears to have been about the
Court as a retainer of the Earl of Leicester, until, in June
1580, he took service in Ireland as captain of a company
of soldiers employed in Munster against the Earl of
Desmond. The Deputy was Lord Grey of Wilton, who
made Spenser his Secretary on his appointment in 1580.
Ralegh did not get on with Lord Grey, who suspected
him of intriguing for his own ends. In December i 5 8 i
Ralegh was sent to England with dispatches, and on
coming to the Court at Greenwich he appears then to
have taken the fancy of the Queen, and he thenceforward
rose into a position of power as the Queen's favourite.

Comparing these dates and incidents I can see no
point of contact between Spenser and Ralegh which
could, under the accepted facts of Spenser's life, reasonably
be held to account for a literary intimacy between them
anterior to the supposed visit by Ralegh to Kilcolman in
I 5 89, and Spenser's visit to England of i 590. Their several
occupations in Ireland, and the arduous nature of them,
during the short time they were there together at the
earlier period, and the fact that Lord Grey, whose servant
Spenser was, disliked Ralegh, would not naturally give
them many opportunities of meeting, still less of leisure
for the discussion of literary projects. On the other
hand, the fact that Spenser continued to obtain grants
from the Crown in Munster after Lord Grey's recall in


1582 suggests that he was in some way one of Ralegh's
" men," Ralegh being, by gift of the Crown, the greatest
landowner in Munster, and the Queen's adviser in Irish

What, then, is the real connection between Ralegh and
the author of these poems ? I think the answer to this
question will emerge from the Amoretti and the Epi-
thalaniion, which we may now proceed to consider. The
accepted view is that these sonnets are a chronicle of
Spenser's courtship, and that in the Epithalaniion the poet
celebrates his own marriage. The poems were published
in 1595, and it is inferred from this that they were begun
at the end of 1592, and completed before June 1594,
when the marriage is held to have taken place (" Barnaby
the bright," Epithal.). The lady is supposed to have
been one Elizabeth Boyle, of the neighbourhood of Cork
(Sonnet Ixxiv. and Dr. Grosart's researches). My own
belief, however, is that the motive of these compositions is
something quite different, as I shall proceed to explain.

In the first place, Grosart's identification of Elizabeth
Boyle as Spenser's wife, though now generally accepted,
clearly cannot be regarded as proved. It rests on an
indenture discovered among the records of the town of
Youghal, dated 3rd May 1606, between "Sir Richard
Boyle, ffermore [stated to be " farmer "] . . . and
Elizabeth Boyle als Seckerstone of Kilcoran, in the
countie of Corcke, widow." ^ It is found also that
Spenser's widow married in 1603 a Roger Seckerstone.
This comes from a petition of that year from Sylvanus
Spenser (Edmund Spenser's eldest son) to the Chancellor
of Ireland, praying for remedy as follows :

Whereas your Petitioner's father Edmund Spenser was seized
in his demesne in fee of Kyllcollman and divers other lands and
tenements in the county of Corke, which descended to your
petitioner by the death of his said father, so it is right honorable,
the evidences of the sayd inheritance did after the decease of the
petitioner's father cum to the hands of Roger Seckerstone and

1 Cf. p. 36 above. ' Grosart, Works of Spenser, i. 198.


petitioner's mother whicii they uniustly detayneth {sic) ; . . . and
avoweth that the said Roger Seckerstone, his mouther's now
husband, uniustly detayneth. . . . ^

The conclusion drawn from this is that the heroine of
the Ajuoretti (who is supposed to be Spenser's wife) was
Elizabeth Boyle, and that she married again in 1603, and
was again a widow in 1 606. But it is necessary to
assume for this conclusion that there was only one
Elizabeth Seckerstone in that district at the time, whereas
both those names may have been common ones there.
Moreover, as I shall endeavour to show, the conclusion
that the " three Elizabeths " sonnet applies to the poet's
wife, though a natural one, is based on a misinterpretation.
Finally, it is necessary to suppose that the widow deserted
her young children, or at any rate her eldest boy, within
a few years of her first husband's death, and that (as
Grosart supposes) Sylvanus, who in 1603 could not have
been more than eight years old," was represented in the
legal proceedings by others. But this is most improbable ;
there is nothing in the documents to suggest it, and they
furnish, to my mind, an additional argument for an earlier

The "three Elizabeths" sonnet (No. Ixxiv.) is as follows :

Most happy letters ! fram'd by skilfull trade,
With which that happy name was first desynd,
The which three times thrise happy hath me made,
With guifts of body, fortune, and of mind.
The first my being to me gave by kind.
From mothers womb deriv'd by dew descent :
The second is my sovereigne Oueene most kind,
That honour and large richesse to me lent :
The third, my love, my lifes last ornament.
By whom my spirit out of dust was raysed :
To speake her prayse and glory excellent,
Of all alive most worthy to be praysed.
Ye three Elizabeths ! for ever live.
That three such graces did unto me give.

' Grosart, Works of Spenser, i. 556.

* The inference from the Sonnets and the Epithalamion is that Spenser's
marriage took place on iith June 1594.
3 Cf. Chapters II. and XIX.


The Sonnet Series appears to relate to the years i 592—
I 594, and Sonnet Ix,, with the line " Then al those fourty
which my life out-went," is regarded as fixing the year of
Spenser's birth at, or about, 1552. Now Ralegh was
also born in or about the year 1552, and about forty
years later, in 1592 or early in 1593, he married
Elizabeth Throgmorton. These two facts therefore
perfectly coincide with the circumstances mentioned in
the two sonnets. The name of Ralegh's mother, however,
was Katherine (Katherine Champernoune), third wife of
Walter Ralegh of Hayes, in the County of Devon. But
what ground is there for the assumption that the sonnet
refers to the poet's mother ? Evidently none, if words are
to be taken in their ordinary acceptance, for how can a
man reasonably be said to be " derived by due descent "
from his mother ? " Descent " and " derivation " connote
time and ancestry, and the " first " Elizabeth may be
presumed therefore to be a female ancestor. Spenser
himself uses the phrase again, and in that sense, in the
second of the " Mutabilitie " cantos :

My heritage . . .

From my great Grandsire Titan unto mee

Deriv'd by dew descent. ... (16.)

Now let the reader attentively consider the following
passage from the address of the antiquary John Hooker
(alias Vowell) of Exeter to Ralegh (then Lord Warden of
the Stanneries), prefixed to his translation of the Irish
History of Giraldus Cambrensis, in his continuation of
Holinshed's Chronicles, 1587:

I trust it shall not be offensive unto you that I doo a little
digresse and speak somewhat of your selfe and your ancestors ;
who the more honourable they were in their times, the greater
cause have you to look into the same. . . .

There were sundrie of your ancestors by the name of Raleigh,
who were of great account and nobilitie, and allied as well to the
Courtneis earls of Devon, as to other houses of great honour and
nobilitie, and in sundrie succeding descents were honoured with
the degree of knighthood. One of them, being your ancestor in
the directest line, was named Sir John de Raleigh, who then


dwelled in the house of Furdell in Devon, an ancient house
of your ancestors, and of their ancient inheritance : and which
at these presents is in possession of your eldest brother. This
knight married the daughter and heire to Sir Roger D'amerei,
or de Amerei, whom our English chronicles doo name lord
de Amereie, who was a noble man and of great linage, and
descended of the earls de Amereie in Britaine, and allied to
the Earls of Montfort in the same duchie and province. This
man being come over into England, did serve in the court, and
by the good pleasure of God and the good liking of the king he
married the ladie Elizabeth, the third sister and coheire to the
noble Gilbert earle of Clare and of Glocester, who was slaine in
the battell of Banokesborough in Scotland, in the time of king
Edward the second. This Earle died sans issue, he being the
Sonne and the said ladie Elizabeth the daughter to Gilbert de
Clare, earle of Glocester, by his wife the ladie Jane de Acres
or Acou, daughter to king Edward the first. This Gilbert
descended of Robert earle of Glocester, sonne to king Henrie
the first, and of his wife the ladie Mawd, daughter and heire to
Robert Fitzhamon, lord of Astrouill in Normandie, coosen to the
Conqueror, knight of the privie chamber to king William, and
lord of the lordship of Glamorgan in Wales. So that your
ancestor sir John de Raleigh married the daughter of de Amerei,
Damereie of Clare, Clare of Edward the first, and which Clare
by his father descended of king Henrie the first. And in like
maner by your mother you male be derived out of the same house.

Sir William Pole, another Devonshire antiquary, and
a contemporary of Ralegh and Hooker, comments on this
as follows :

Mr. Hooker, in his written booke to bee printed, hath so
sophisticated this pedegree to give more attributes than belong to
this famyly, and deducing them from the match of Damarell with
ye house of Clare, and kinge Edw. I, daughter, where hee
attempteth to enoble it, in my opinyon hee doth much deface it.
It is noe dowbt a very ancient famyly of itself . . . and needes
no other father then such as begate them, and not other mother
then such as bare them. I do not denye y' Ralegh matched w''>
Dammorye's daughter by Elizabeth de Clare . . . But I affirme
that this [is] another howse of Ralegh.

In the light of this passage, which I beh'eve the author
of the sonnet to have had in his mind, I can have no
doubt that the " first " Elizabeth is " Elizabeth de Clare,"


and that the poet was lending his support to the
genealogists, who were endeavouring, after their manner,
to provide Ralegh, the novus homo, with a pedigree of
distinction/ Naturally Ralegh's rapid rise caused much
jealousy. Essex, for instance, regarded Ralegh as an
upstart ; and there is a story among Bacon's Apotheg^ns
which shows the prevalence of this feeling at the Court.^
In such circumstances the implied endorsement of Hooker's
version of Ralegh's origin would not be unwelcome to the
Queen, and might help to maintain Ralegh in her favour.
Like Othello, he could say —

I fetch my life and being
From men of royal siege, and my demerits
May speak unbonneted to as proud a fortune
As this that I have reached.

Another point to notice is that Spenser makes no
mention of his own father and mother, or (with the
exception of a general allusion to Cambridge) of his
bringing up, but he professes to connect himself with an
aristocratic family of the same name, the Spencers of
Althorpe : " of which I meanest boast myself to be."
Is it likely that a writer of this temperament should for
the first and only time introduce the name of his mother,
a person of humble birth and situation, together with that
of his wife, who belonged to a then obscure and unknown
family, in familiar conjunction with the name of the

^ " Sir Walter Ralegh had scarcely emerged from obscurity into the
Court of Elizabeth, when we find him in busy communion both with Devon-
shire antiquaries and with the College of Heralds. He desires not only that
his own pedigree may be fully established, but that his collateral and even
his remote relationships may be put safely on record in the books of Garter
and Clarencieux. Doubtless, part of the secret of a more than usual anxiety
of this kind lay in his own quick observation of men, and his shrewd estimate
of the new world into which he had entered. He soon saw that, in Queen
Elizabeth's eyes, to be a well-descended gentleman was an additional grace,
even for a very comely man. "^Edwards, Life, i. 2.

- " When Queen Elizabeth had advanced Raleigh, she was one day playing
on the virginals, and my lord of Oxford and another nobleman stood by. It
fell out so, that the ledge before the jacks was taken away, so as the jacks
were seen : my lord of Oxford and the other nobleman smiled, and a little
whispered. The queen marked it, and would needs know what the matter
was ? My lord of Oxford answered ; ' That they smiled to see that when
jacks went up, heads went down.' "


sovereign ? In a piece of enigmatical writing the case
is different, and there is no sense of unfitness in con-
structing a literary conundrum out of " three Elizabeths,"
who were, respectively, the granddaughter of Edward
the First, Queen Elizabeth, and the Queen's maid of

Lastly, though Spenser had done well for himself
in Ireland, he owed this not to the Queen but to the
powerful influence of such men as Lord Grey and Ralegh.
The lines therefore —

The second is my sovereigne Queene most kind,
That honour and large richesse to me lent,

are not true of him, even with the pension which he is
said to have received as the reputed author of the Faerie
Queene. But they are true of Ralegh, who had been
raised by the Queen from slender means and comparative
obscurity to a dazzling position of wealth and eminence.
Moreover the lines, as applied to the poet, are in direct
conflict with the complaint about his " long fruitlesse stay
in Princes Court " in the Prothalamion, which was published
in the following year.

Who, then, is the subject of these sonnets? In my
opinion. Queen Elizabeth. Some of them are meaningless
as applied to a woman of private station, and there are
other indications which point directly to this conclusion,
as will be seen from the following passages which I select
as illustrations : —

Sonnet i. :

. . . those lilly hands,
Which hold my life in their dead-doing might.

Queen Elizabeth is said to have been proud of her hands,
which were very white and well shaped.^

^ The Venetian ambassador in 1557 sent home a description of Queen
Elizabeth in which he says : " Her eyes, and still more her hands — which
she takes care not to hide — are of special beauty." He also describes her as
•'of a stately and majestic comportment." There are other similar reports.
(Edwards, Life of Ralegh^ i. 53, and elsewhere.)


Leaves, lines and rymes, seek her to please alone,
Whom if ye please, I care for other none.

Compare Shepheards Calender, eclogue for " December,"
where (as I said in Chapter I.) I think the writer is
speaking of the Queen :

The loser Lasse I cast to please no more ;
One if I please, enough is me therefore.

Spenser elsewhere always subordinates his love to his
admiration of the Queen {Faerie Queene, VI. x., etc.).
These lines, therefore, unless applicable to the Queen, are
not in his manner.

Sonnet iii. :

The soverayne beauty which I doo admyre

with her huge brightnesse dazed

• • • • •

I stand amazed
At wondrous sight of so celestiall hew.

Sonnet v, :

And her faire countenance, like a goodly banner.
Spreads in defiaunce of all enemies.

Sonnet ix. :

Long-while I sought to what I might compare
Those powrefull eies, which lighten my dark spright ;
Yet find I nought on earth, to which I dare
Resemble th'ymage of their goodly light.
Not to the Sun, etc.

• • • • •

Then to the Maker selfe they likest be.
Whose light doth lighten all that here we see.

The Queen's eyes were said to be clear and lively.
(See remarks and footnote under extract from Sonnet i. ;
and compare Sonnets xxi. and xlix., below.) The
deification here is in Spenser's habitual manner when
writing of the sovereign.

Sonnet xiii. :

In that proud port, which her so goodly graceth.
Whiles her faire face she reares up lo the skie,


And to the ground her eie-Hds low embaseth,
Most goodly temperature ye may descry ;
Myld humblesse, mixt with awful majesty.

(See footnote under extract from Sonnet i.)

Sonnet xxi. :

With such strange termes her eyes she doth inure,
That with one looke, she doth my life dismay ;
And with another doth it streight recure ;
Her smile me drawes ; her frowne me drives away.
Thus does she traine and teach me with her lookes ;
Such art of eyes I never read in bookes.

See remarks under Sonnet ix., and compare with it
Bacon's description in his " Discourse in Praise of the
Queen," which Spedding thinks was written about 1592 :

What life, what edge is there in those words and glances,
wherewith at pleasure she can give a man long to think, be it
that she mean to daunt him, to encourage him, or to amaze him.^

Sonnet xxvii. :

That goodly Idoll, now so gay beseene,
• . • • "

That many now much worship and admire.

(Compare remarks on this in Chapter XV! I. p. 501.)

Sonnet xlix. :

Fayre cruell ! why are ye so fierce and cruell ?
Is it because your eyes have powre to kill }
Then know that mercy is the Mighties jewel! :
And greater glory thinke to save then spill.
But if it be your pleasure and proud will,
To shew the powre of your imperious eyes ;
Then not on him that never thought you ill,
But bend your force against your enemyes :

But him that at your foot stoole humbled lies,
With mercifull regard, give mercy too.

Sonnet Iv. :

For to the heaven her haughty lookes aspire.

» Spedding, Life, i. 138.


Sonnet Ixi. :

The glorious image of the Makers beautie,
The soverayne saynt, the Idoll of my thought,

For being, as she is, divinely wrought.
And of the brood of Angels hevenly borne ;

Such heavenly formes ought rather worshipt be,
Then dare be lov'd by men of meane degree.

Spenser was in a good position in Ireland, and had
no reason to adopt this attitude of social humih'ty towards
the lady whom he is supposed to have married. But
compare with this the lines in the Faerie Queene (III. v.),
referred to at p. 371 above, as to Timias and Belphoebe.
Still more remarkable in this connection is Sonnet Ixvi. :

To all those happy blessings, which ye have
With plenteous hand by heaven upon you thrown ;
This one disparagement they to you gave.
That ye your love lent to so meane a one.
Yee, whose high worths surpassing paragon
Could not on earth have found one fit for mate,
Ne but in heaven matchable to none,
Why did ye stoup unto so lowly state ?
But ye thereby much greater glory gate,
Then had ye sorted with a princes pere.

And again in Sonnet Ixxxii. :

your owne mishap I rew.
That are so much by so meane love embased.

Everybody who reads these sonnets must also notice
the recurrence of the word " Angel," with a capital " A."
Grosart, who observed it, says " it is not to be gainsaid
that the Poet's use of ' Angel ' is peculiar, and in a way
enigmatical." ^ The explanation, however, is provided by
Spenser himself, who throughout the Faerie Queene uses
it whenever he introduces the various impersonations of
Queen Elizabeth, and he connects it with the ancient
name for the English, " Angles." It was also evidently

' Works of Spenser, i. 197.


current at the Court, in the form of " AngeHca," as a
name for the Queen. I have made a note of the passages

Online LibraryEdward George HarmanEdmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon → online text (page 34 of 55)