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Britomart: The Knight of Chastity

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Britomart is one of my personal favorite characters in the entire saga of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser.

Britomart is the only female knight in the epic poem, represents chastity, and is one of the toughest warriors in all of Edmund Spenser’s work.

If you are studying The Faerie Queene for its feminist themes, this might be one character to examine closely. Certainly, a book published in the 16th century has chauvinist flaws, but Britomart is one of those characters that really demonstrates Spenser’s respect for the opposite sex, and that he didn’t believe that a traditional role for women was necessarily the best.

What Does Britomart Represent in The Faerie Queene?

Britomart represents a powerful type of chastity, which is the main theme of book 3.

However, unlike other characters in The Faerie Queene like Belphoebe and Florimell, Britomart is not destined to be a virgin forever. She is in love with Artegall, and seeks after him. In the meantime, though, she remains virtuous and even demonstrates a unique power.

Indeed, Britomart is one of the most powerful knights in The Faerie Queene, and it is no secret that she gets this, in part, through her virtuous living.

Book 3 was highly devoted to Queen Elizabeth I, since she was also seen as a pinnacle of chastity, given her virgin status. But Britomart does not represent Queen Elizabeth I, since Britomart intends to marry eventually. A better candidate to represent Queen Elizabeth is Belphoebe.

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Britomart’s Role in The Faerie Queene

Britomart was originally based on the character of Bradagante, from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. However, Spenser’s version is significantly different, starting with her name, which means “a warlike British person.”

So being British is huge part of Britomart’s identity, and as we learn through the story, she is prophesied to be the mother of a long line of British kings and queens.

So while Britomart does not represent Queen Elizabeth, she is presented as one of Queen Elizabeth’s ancestors.

Who Is Britomart in Love with?

Britomart is in love with Artegall, a fellow knight of The Faerie Queene. She originally catches sight of Artegall in a magic mirror that will show you anyone you wish to see, and she wishes to see the man she will marry (Probably not the smartest thing to wish for, but I don’t think any of us can blame her).

When she catches sight of Artegall, she grows ill with love, and eventually seeks out Merlin to explain who she sees in the mirror. Merlin also prophesies about her future and the future of her descendents.

It is at this point that Britomart goes off seeking Artegall, but never finds him in book 3. That is reserved for book 4 when she fights him in the tournament.

The Flaws of Britomart

Despite everything that is awesome about Britomart, she has a few flaws. Often she is rash, charging to battle first and thinking later.

This is what leads her to attack Artegall in book 4 without realizing who he is. It is also this impulsiveness that leads to her initial infatuation with Artegall’s mirror reflection. But there are times when this boldness comes in handy. Most notably when she takes on the sorcerer Busirane at the end of book 3, and saves the life of Amoret, one of the most horrifying and captivating tales of the entire Faerie Queene saga.

See our complete list of Arthurian characters for more entries like this one.

Arthurian Bibliography

See also my ever-expanding list of primary and secondary sources.

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Jason is a Mythic Fantasy Author and creator of MythBank. He loves mythology, history, and geek culture. When he's not writing, his favorite hobbies include hiking, chilling with his wife, spouting nonsense words at his baby daughter, and developing this (and other) websites.

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