Book 3 of Edmund Spenser‘s The Faerie Queene is all about chastity. This is the last of the first three books that were published earlier in Spencer’s career, whereas the latter three were published several years later.
In the summary, I will give you a full overview of what happens in Faerie Queene Book 3, split into sections to keep it as easy to follow as I can.
Let’s get into it.
The Proem gives us the name of this book: “The Thirde Booke of the Faerie Queene. Contayning The Legend of Britomartis, or, Chastity”. As you can tell from the title, chastity is going to be the name of the game in this book.
The narrator mentions that he doesn’t need to talk about chastity through allegory, because his Queen (Elizabeth I) already embodies it.
However, he decides he is going to do it anyway, despite the fact that he considers storytelling and poetry inadequate to portray such a lofty virtue. He also tells us that the Queen will be embodied in the character of Belphoebe, who we get to meet in this book.
Note: the Queen already embodies the character of the Faerie Queen herself, Gloriana, but in Book 3 we get another character who also represents the Queen.
All’s right with the world.
Guyon is Defeated by Britomart
They set out in search of more adventures, and it isn’t long before they encounter a knight on a horse, a lion on his shield, with an old man for a squire.
Guyon, acting uncharacteristically rash, decides to rush at the knight with his spear. But, to Guyon’s shock, the knight unseats him from his horse. Apparently, this is the first time that has ever happened, although in Guyon’s defense, we later learned that the opposing spear is enchanted.
And it turns out that the knight is not a he, but a she (although Sir Guyon does not know this).
The knight’s name is Britomart, and she is currently in Faerie Land looking for her love, a man she glimpsed in a mirror provided by Merlin.
The Palmer calms Guyon’s down, he makes up with Britomart, and together the two of them plus Arthur continue on their journey until they get to a dark and spooky forest.
Guyon and Arthur vs Beautiful Woman
As they enter the forest, they see a beautiful woman in a gold dress, riding a brilliant white horse. She rides frantically, and behind her comes a rabble of mountain men in hot pursuit.
Guyon and Arthur, partly infatuated with the women but also partly enraged at the men pursuing her, decide to run off and try to help her.
Thankfully, Britomart has no such infatuation with the woman, so she continues on her way until she gets to a castle. At the castle, she sees a knight beset upon by six other knights.
Britomart Saves the Redcrosse Knight
She rushes forward, enraged at the injustice of six against one, and demands an explanation.
They explain that the knight they were attacking refused to admit that their lady was better than his lady.
Britomart angrily insists that forcing love is a heinous crime, and that they cannot do that to the Redcrosse knight. But the six knights respond that their lady is incredibly beautiful, and all who come must serve her or prove that their lady is better.
Britomart replies that she has a love, but not a lady, and she and the Redcrosse knight attack the six together. Britomart takes out three, Redcrosse takes out one, and the other two surrender.
Britomart and Redcrosse Enter the Castle
Britomart proclaims that the Redcrosse knight must be allowed to love his own lady (Una) in peace.
The six knights agree, and they lead Britomart and the Redcrosse knight to their lady: the Lady of Delight. We will later learn that this lady’s name is Malecasta.
On the way, they see that the castle is decorated in various lavish and somewhat sensual trappings. In one chamber, they see a tapestry that tells the story of Venus and Adonis.
When they reach the Lady of Delight, she is lying in bed, immodestly dressed, and she tells them that they can have a good time. All of the knights, including the Redcrosse knight, disarm, but Britomart only removes her helmet, revealing her beauty and gender.
We now learn the names of the six knights, all of them brothers:
Upon seeing Britomart as a woman, they all find her attractive, but refuse to try anything because of her skill at swordsmanship.
Britomart vs Malecasta
Malecasta doesn’t seem to realize that Britomart is a woman for some reason, and develops a huge crush on her. Seriously, she just seems to ignore the fact that Britomart just took off her helmet. You could read this as having slight homoerotic overtones, but this is likely debunked by what is about to happen later.
The narrator points out that other women should not be like the Lady of Delight, a.k.a. Malecasta, since she is clearly showing a lack of chastity by eyeballing Britomart the way she is. She spends a lot of time trying to get Britomart out of her armor, finally begging on the ground for Britomart to do so.
Britomart, a little unsure of what is going on, makes awkward conversation before they all head off to bed.
But Malecasta, completely enraptured by Britomart, sneaks into Britomart’s room and tries to get into bed with her. As soon as this happens, Britomart wakes up and grabs her sword. Malecasta, now fully aware that Britomart is a woman, and terrified by the sword brandished against her, screams and faints, waking up the whole house.
The knights rush into the ballroom, and while most are wary of attacking her again, one tries to shoot her with a bow and arrow and lightly grazes her.
She then attacks them, is eventually joined by Redcrosse, and between the two of them they frighten everyone off.
Needless to say, Britomart has had enough of this place, and she runs off as fast as she can.
The narrator takes a moment to praise women, whom he regards as undervalued in society. He points out that women used to be warriors until men got jealous and made women subservient (way to be somewhat forward thinking for your time, Edmund Spenser).
Britomart and Redcrosse are now traveling, and Redcrosse asks her why she came to Faerie Land. He also wants to know why she dresses as a knight, even though she is a woman.
Britomart takes some time to answer, clearly emotional at her response.
She tells Redcrosse that she was originally from Britain, and has been raised to be a knight ever since she was little. She came to Faerie Land for adventures and bravery, but also to find a man named Artegall. Artegall is her destined lover, but she doesn’t want to give this fact away, so she says that Artegall had dishonored her…don’t ask me where she got that logic.
The Redcrosse knight is confused, and says that Artegall is an honorable knight who would never do such a thing, and he goes on to praise Artegall and his deeds, all of which make Britomart very happy to know that Artegall is as wonderful as she hoped.
In an effort to hear more, Britomart continues her lie that Artegall had dishonored her, and that she wants to get revenge. The Redcrosse knight cautions her, telling her that wrath rarely leads to anything good, and that she will be hard-pressed to defeat Artegall even if she finds him.
Britomart asks more questions about Artegall, like what he looks like, what he wears, etc. She already knows some of this because of a magic mirror…
The Magic Mirror
The mirror was crafted by Merlin, and it will show you the whereabouts of any person at any time, making it a highly useful tool. It was given to Britomart’s father, King Rycene, and Britomart found it one day.
After spending some time gazing at herself and admiring her own beauty, she wonders who her husband will be. And that’s where she sees him, Artegall, dressed in armor that apparently used to belong to Achilles, with the image of a hound on his shield.
After some time staring at him, Britomart falls madly in love, though she doesn’t quite understand the feeling at first.
Glauce to the Rescue
Thankfully, she has a nurse named Glauce who recognizes that something is off with Britomart. She suspects that Britomart is in love with someone, but doesn’t know who, and Britomart isn’t telling.
Glauce insists that she can find a cure for Britomart’s suffering, but Britomart tells her that her ailment is unique, and they go back and forth arguing for a time until Britomart finally admits that she is in love with the man in the mirror.
Glauce is actually relieved, thinking that Britomart might’ve been in love with someone inappropriate, but thinks that the man in the mirror is probably a good guy (spoiler alert, he is).
But Britomart is still upset, thinking that she will spend the rest of her days pining after someone she does not know, so the nurse suggests they try and use magic to locate him.
After spending the next day at church, they get home and the nurse makes a potion for Britomart, but it doesn’t help. At this point, Glauce begins to be worried.
The narrator begins by praising the God of love, though not the God of sexual love, but the God of pure and virtuous love.
This is the love that makes men and women do great things, like Britomart and her quest to find Artegall.
The narrator then calls on Clio, one of the muses, to help him sing about this story, which he calls a story of the ancestors of Queen Elizabeth.
We’ll get to that.
Glauce and Britomart Seek Merlin
Glauce is now looking for a cure for Britomart, and they decide to go directly to the source: Merlin.
The two put on disguises, and sneak into Merlin’s cave.
In this version, Merlin’s cave is full of a lot of little demons that are constantly creating a racket as they build a wall that Merlin ordered them to build before he was kidnapped by the Lady of the Lake. Somehow, Merlin got out, but he did not tell the little demons to stop building, so they are still doing their work.
This makes the cave a little creepy, but Britomart and Glauce go in any way.
But Merlin, being Merlin, knows they are coming and asks them what they need. Glauce responds that Britomart is ill, and she doesn’t know how to help her. Merlin replies that it can’t be that simple, otherwise they could just go see a doctor.
Merlin Reveals All
But Glauce tells him that it’s not that kind of ailment, to which Merlin finally reveals that he knew all along what the issue was and tells them not to worry. Even though it is painful now, things will turn out good in the end.
He explains that Britomart and Artegall will be the start of a noble line of kings and queens and heroes, and Glauce eagerly reminds Merlin that they need to find this man before any of that can happen.
Merlin tells them that his name is Artegall (the first time that Britomart actually learns the name), and that he was born in Britain, but was swept away to Faerie Land at a young age. It will be Britomart’s job to bring him back home, where they will defend Britain from attacking Muslims and have a child (though sadly, Artegall is fated to die before the child is born).
A Prophecy of Merlin
We then get a brief prophecy from Merlin, which bleeds into history as we know it:
- Britomart and Artegall’s nephew, Constantius will reign first
- Vortipore, their grandson, will reign next but will lose the kingdom
- Then his son, Malgo, will get it back (Merlin also describes this man as extremely handsome)
- His son, Careticus will reign briefly before a man named Gormond dethrones him and drives out Christianity
- He is followed by Etheldred
- Who is defeated by Cadwan
- And followed by Cadwallin, who kills all descendants of Etheldred
- Cadwallin defeats “the good king Oswald” but eventually loses Britain to the Saxons (Britomart interjects here, wondering if Britain will always be ruled by foreigners, but Merlin assures her that there will always be great Briton leaders, and even the Saxons will have invaders of their own, i.e. the Normans)
- Speaking of the Normans, William the Conqueror takes the reigns next
- Eventually, King Henry VII would take control of the throne, bringing peace and unity to an age of chaos
- Later a Great Queen (Queen Elizabeth I) will take the throne and reign in glory and splendor.
After this lengthy prophecy/history lesson, Merlin needs time to rest. So the two women leave and begin to hash out their next steps.
Glauce and Britomart Make Plans
Glauce thinks that they should dress up like knights, because there is a war on, and no one will notice them leaving.
She tells Britomart about a virgin knight in particular, named Angela, who fought against Britomart’s father and lost, but was still a valiant knight.
Britomart realizes that this is a great idea, and in an enormous stroke of luck, manages to find the knight’s armor and magic spear as they are on their way to be hung up in the castle hall.
So Britomart and her nurse Glauce dress up as a knight and squire respectively, and make their way to Faerie Land.
Despite all of the good things the narrator has said about women, he opens this Canto by saying that there are no more heroic women in the world, and ponders why they all existed in the past.
But even these heroines of old do not compare to Britomart, a truly remarkable knight.
Britomart and Redcrosse Part Ways
Getting back to the story, we find Britomart and the Redcrosse knight becoming fast friends, but eventually Redcrosse has to go on his own way, and so the two part on friendly terms.
Left to herself, Britomart travels and thinks about Artegall, which overwhelms her with pains of love.
Eventually, she stops to take a break by a sea cliff. Distraught at her situation, she sees herself in the violent waves that crash against the surf, and metaphorically prays to the god of the sea that he will bring calmer winds to her.
Thankfully Glauce is there to comfort her and remind her of Merlin’s prophecy. Yes, Glauce has been there the whole time, even though she hasn’t been mentioned much since Britomart’s first introduction.
Britomart vs Marinell
At that moment, a knight begins riding toward her so fast that she puts on her helmet and charges. The two clash, and she wounds the aggressor in the side.
This knight’s name is Marinell, the son of a nymph named Cymoent. Britomart doesn’t consider him much of a threat, so she leaves him on the beach.
The Backstory of Marinell
But we now get more information about Marinell and his mother. Turns out Marinell was defending this beach from all outsiders. His mother is Cymoent and his father is Dumarin.
So far, no one has yet defeated him on the beach, until now. He was feared by many, and is also rich, having been granted numerous precious jewels by his grandfather, a sea God. All of these jewels now lie scattered across the beach.
Marinell’s mother, Cymoent, had previously worried that her son’s attitude would get him killed, so she goes to the god Proteus, who can predict the future.
Proteus tells Cymoent that she must keep him away from virgins, because it will be a virgin who defeats him and possibly kills him. And so Marinell has, thus far, stayed away from virgins. But since he didn’t know that Britomart was a woman, he walked right into his fate.
Cymoent, upon hearing the news of what happened to her son, faints with dread, but is soon revived by her sisters.
After this, she rushes to the aid of Marinell with the help of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea. When she sees her son looking very dead, she wails and bemoans his death, but as she and another water nymph begin cleaning the body, the other nymph, named Liagore, discovers that Marinell has a pulse.
So Cymoent takes him home and curses the one who wounded him.
A Brief Update on Britomart
Thankfully, Britomart seems largely unaffected by curses. We get a brief update on her story, and the narrator tells us that Archimago, our old friend, is now chasing after her. He had just finished following Sir Guyon and Prince Arthur as they, in turn, were pursuing the beautiful woman they saw earlier.
Guyon and Arthur Have No Luck
Speaking of Guyon and Arthur, we learned that they soon lost sight of the beautiful woman, and eventually split up to cover more ground. But Arthur’s squire, Timias, is still hotly pursuing the men that were chasing the woman originally.
Arthur manages to get close to the woman, trying to assure her that he means no harm, but she continues to ride away as fast as she can.
When night comes, even Arthur is unable to keep up with her, so he decides to stop and sleep.
In his dreams, he finds himself wishing that the Faerie Queene was the one he was chasing. He blames Night (who we saw in book 1), and wonders why God even allows a being like Night to exist. He wishes that daytime would come soon, and when it does, he continues on his way tired and slow.
The narrator begins this Canto by reflecting on how love affects people differently. For some, it inspires them to be heroic, and others it turns into lustful beings.
Arthur Meets a Dwarf
Prince Arthur, we are told, thankfully falls into the first category. By this time, he is completely befuddled and determined to find the strange woman. While traveling, he comes upon a dwarf who was also looking for the same woman.
This dwarf is a servant of that lady, but cannot find her anywhere. Arthur explains that he saved her from a forester, but has been unable to find her since. When Arthur asks who she is, the dwarf replies that she is the beautiful maiden Florimell.
Florimell is in love with, wait for it, Marinell, the strange knight defeated by Britomart in the previous Canto. Because a virgin was prophesied to defeat Marinell, he would have nothing to do with Florimell, which only increased her obsession with him.
Now, she has heard that Marinell was injured, prompting her to leave the Faerie Queene’s court to help.
Side note: the timeline doesn’t really match up here because Florimell had already left the Faerie Queene’s court when we first encountered Britomart, long before Britomart defeated Marinell, but we’ll let this one slide.
Arthur and the dwarf decide to search for Florimell together.
Timias vs the Three Brothers
Meanwhile, Timias, Arthur’s squire, has defeated the forester that was chasing after Florimell, and the forester went to his brothers in shame. The forester told his brothers what happened, and all three of them set out to take revenge against Timias.
They get the jump on Timias, first trying to shoot him with an arrow, which misses, then getting into a violent skirmish.
In the battle, Timias is stabbed in the thigh, but manages to kill all three brothers. Unfortunately, his wound is so great that he faints after the battle.
Thankfully for him, Belphoebe shows up.
Belphoebe Saves the Day
Belphoebe, who we briefly saw in book 2 in a scene with Braggadochio and Trompart, has been chasing wild beasts when she comes across Timias. At first, she thinks he is dead, but when she realizes he is still alive, pulls together some herbs to help. Using the herbs, she creates a paste, applies it to the wound, bandages his thigh, and essentially saves his life.
As Timias awakes, he believes he was saved by an angel, but Belphoebe explains that she is mortal just like him, and they are joined by Belphoebe’s handmaidens, who are also hunters.
Together, they find Timias his horse, and take him back to their cottage in a glade.
As Belphoebe tends to Timias, he falls in love with her. In fact, he falls in love so much that he begins to look sick again, which makes Belphoebe think that his wound might have gotten worse. She gives him more medicine, but it obviously doesn’t work because this isn’t a wound of the flesh.
Unfortunately for Timias, Belphoebe is determined to remain a virgin, which the narrator points out is a wonderful trait. In fact, Belphoebe is the ultimate embodiment of chastity, something that, ironically, just makes men want her more.
The narrator begins this Canto by telling us about Belphoebe, who is both courteous and chaste, despite the fact that she never had a refined education in a court.
The narrator tells us that these qualities were simply an innate part of her, because her mother was a fairy.
And Edmund Spenser decided it was prudent for us to know how they were conceived, so here we go…
Chrysogonee was impregnated by the sun’s rays after taking a nap, something that the narrator tells us we should not be to skeptical about, because the sun is an incredibly powerful force (I mean, he’s not wrong).
Concerned about her spontaneous impregnation, Chrysogonee flees to the forest to have her twins.
Venus and Diana
At the same time, Venus, the Roman goddess of love, is traveling through the area looking for her son, Cupid. She looks everywhere, including the forest, because this is where the goddess Diana hangs out.
She asks Diana if she has seen Cupid, but at first Diana makes fun of Venus and her request, telling her that she would not know where Cupid is, because she doesn’t like him.
But when Venus gets upset, Diana feels a little guilty, so she sends her handmaidens to go look for Cupid. As the handmaidens search, they find Chrysogonee, who has just given birth to the twins.
The handmaidens take the twins to Diana and Venus, who agree to raise them separately. Diana raises Belphoebe, and Venus raises Amoret.
We unfortunately hear nothing more about Chrysogonee. Suspicious if you ask me…
The Garden of Adonis
Venus takes Amoret into the Garden of Adonis, which is a beautiful paradise full of flowers and trees. This garden is where humans begin and end their life, with some remaining a thousand years before returning to earth in new bodies like a form of reincarnation.
Every animal exists in this garden, and it needs no gardener. All matter exists in the garden, and is transformed by the garden.
Unfortunately, the embodiment of Time shows up now and then to end the life of various creatures in the garden, but this is the only unpleasant exception.
In the center of the garden is a bower, made by nature, unlike the Bower of Bliss which was made by design. This is where Adonis lives, whom Venus likes to keep to herself. Though Adonis is mortal, being in the garden essentially gives him immortality.
Cupid eventually returns, coming to the garden to be with his wife, Psyche, and they have a child named Pleasure.
All this to say that Venus has brought Amoret to a pretty amazing garden.
Amoret grows up to be a beautiful woman, and she eventually joins the court of the Faerie Queene and falls in love with a knight named Sir Scudamore, but she has a traumatizing future. More on that later.
The narrator ends this Canto by telling us it is high time to return to Florimell and see what happened with her.
So Florimell is still running away from Prince Arthur, and she’s basically afraid of everyone now. After enough chasing, her horse gets tired and she is forced to continue on foot.
The Witch in the Woods
Like any good fairytale damsel in distress, she wanders in the forest until she comes across a cottage. But surprise surprise, this cottage is inhabited by a witch. That which is furious for Florimell has intruded upon her, but eventually realizes how distressed Florimell is, and so she lets Florimell stay.
As Florimell tidies herself up, the witch’s son arrives and is amazed to see such a beautiful woman hanging out in their house. Florimell explains what happened, but the son begins to lust after her.
To try and gain her favor, he brings her animals from the forest, but Florimell is having none of it, and she secretly decides to leave once her horse has also recovered.
The witch and her son wake and are incensed that Florimell left without so much as a by your leave. The son in particular is so upset that his mother thinks he will become ill. Yeah, there are a lot of people getting sick with love in book 3.
She tries to cure him with various herbs and potions, but nothing works, so she summons dark magic in order to create a huge monster that looks vaguely like a hyena.
Monster vs. Florimell
When the monster catches up with Florimell, she immediately gets on her horse and tries to flee as fast as she can, but the horse is not fast enough, and they quickly approach the ocean, meaning they have run out of room.
Florimell quickly jumps off the horse and gets into the boat of an old man who was ashore. The monster can’t swim, so she is temporarily safe. Her horse is another matter, though, and the monster gets a filling meal.
But at that moment, we get the return of Satyrane, who we first met in book 1. He arrives and sees the monster eating Florimell’s horse, and fears the worst for Florimell.
Satyrane is another who has fallen hopelessly in love with Florimell, having found her girdle lying in the forest.
Side note: a girdle is simply a kind of sash or belt. And it can apparently make you fall in love with the women who wear them.
Satyrane tries to defeat the beast, but it is impervious to weapons. In fact, they seem to make it stronger. But Satyrane is eventually able to tie it down with brute strength, using Florimell’s girdle as a rope to subdue the monster.
Argante and Ollyphant
The story takes a sudden turn as Satyrane glimpses a giantess, carrying a bound squire, and being chased by a knight.
Since this is apparently far more interesting, Satyrane leaves the monster in order to chase after the giantess himself.
Satyrane’s attempt doesn’t go well, as he is immediately knocked out and grabbed by the giantess. But thankfully the pursuing knight arrives and attacks as well, forcing the giantess to drop Satyrane. When Satyrane wakes, he goes over to check on the squire that the giantess had carried originally.
We don’t learn the squire’s name, but only that he calls himself the Squire of Dames (okay squire, glad you think so much of yourself). The Squire of Dames also tells Satyrane that the giantess’s name is Argante, and we get an unnerving backstory about her.
Argante and her twin brother, Ollyphant, are the result of an incestuous relationship between the Titan Typhoeus, and Mother Earth. To carry it a step further, she and her brother had sexual intercourse while still in the womb, and she later gave birth to a son, Thopas.
Yeah, it’s not great.
As the living embodiment of the worst sexual sins, she and her brother now go around capturing men and raping them, which is why Argante was carrying the Squire of Dames.
Also, as it turns out, the knight pursuing the giantess was Britomart herself.
Backstory of the Squire of Dames
Now that things have calmed down, Satyrane asks the Squire of Dames for his backstory. We learn that he was in love with a woman named Columbell, but that she required him to do “good deeds” for women. And yes, this is meant to have sexual undertones.
After performing these “good deeds” for 300 women (wow), he comes back only to find that his lady is not as happy as she thought she would be (gee, I wonder why).
So now she has tasked him with finding 300 more women who would refuse his offers, and he is not doing as well in this endeavor, having only found three: a prostitute, a nun, and a genuinely chaste girl from a cottage.
He is sad because, in his experience, it is so rare to find genuinely chaste women.
Satyrane must have lost interest, because he heads back to the monster that he left tied up, but finds that it has already freed itself, and has gone back to the witch and her son.
We return now to Florimell, and the narrator pauses to tell us that her story is just so sad, which makes it hard to tell.
If you recall, she was attacked by a monster, which was restrained by Satyrane using Florimell’s girdle. But now that monster has made its way back to the witch, who assumes Florimell is dead, given that the beast now carries her girdle.
Creation of the False Florimell
Satisfied, the witch gives the girdle to her son, who was in love with Florimell. But the son, terrified that Florimell might be dead, goes berserk.
So what does the witch do? She makes a duplicate of Florimell, of course.
Yep, this new Florimell is a perfect copy, made from the following:
- A body of snow
- Eyes of lamps
- Hair of golden wire
- Life from a magic spirit
The witch uses some of Florimell’s clothes that had been left at her house, to dress the new copy of Florimell. After that, she gives her to her son, who is none the wiser.
While the son and this false-Florimell (we will refer to her this way from now on) are taking a walk, they run into none other than Braggadochio, who we first met as the thief of Sir Guyon’s horse in book 2.
Braggadochio is so entranced by the beautiful false-Florimell, that he defeats the witch’s son (which was easy, the son is a coward) before carrying the girl away.
But Braggadochio is not the only one who wants this new version of Florimell. She and Braggadochio run into another knight, huge and fierce, who demands that he take the false-Florimell for himself. Braggadochio, who is also a coward, runs like his tail is on fire, allowing the new knight to take false-Florimell for his own.
But now, let’s go back to the real Florimell.
Florimell’s #MeToo Moment
When we last saw her, she had ordered a small boat controlled by a fisheran in order to escape the monster.
Now, she wakes to find the old man in the boat, who is amazed to see such a beautiful woman in his boat. And (sigh) he, like so many others, tries to force himself on her.
Since there are no chivalrous knights to help her, Florimell prays to the heavens for help.
And who should hear her but Proteus, the shepherd of the sea, who arrives and beats the old man before trying to comfort Florimell. But Florimell is still afraid, thinking that Proteus might be just another villain trying to take advantage of her (trust your instincts, Florimell). Proteus eventually manages to convince her to trust him, and they travel to his home, which is in a massive undersea cave. Oh, and the old man is unceremoniously dumped on shore.
There, they meet with a sea nymph named Panope, and Proteus begins trying to seduce Florimell.
These guys just won’t give her a break. No means no, people!
Despite his advances, Florimell rejects him, and he even changes his shape to look like a Faerie Knight, since that is who she professes to love, but it does no good.
Enraged, Proteus stoops to threats to persuade her, which Florimell continues to reject, leaving her in a precarious situation.
Satyrane Meets Paridell
Meanwhile, we go back to Satyrane, who has just finished conversing with the Squire of Dames, before they see an impressive-looking knight approaching.
As they come closer, they discover that the knight is Paridell, and Paridell asks him (Satyrane) what has been happening in the Faerie Court lately. Satyrane tells him that he thinks Florimell is dead, and Paridell asks why Satyrane thinks so.
Satyrane explains that he saw Florimell’s horse eaten by a monster, and he also found her girdle in the forest, which Paridell agrees are not good signs. Regardless, they decide to continue searching, which they do, until the Squire of Dames points out that it is getting late, and they should head somewhere for shelter, so they continue on to a nearby castle.
Here, Edmund Spenser leaves us in a cliffhanger until the next Canto, as the castle will not open up to admit them, and we do not know why.
And so we come to this locked castle with three characters: Satyrane, Squire of Dames, and Paridell.
Have Fun Storming the Castle
When they come to the castle, they are not allowed in, and the Squire of Dames explains that there is an old man who lives there whose only obsession is hoarding his own treasure, including it would seem, his wife. The man’s name is Malbecco, and his wife’s name is Hellenore.
Satyrane thinks it is silly to keep his wife and treasures in this way, and Paridell agrees, saying that Malbecco has essentially made himself a captive.
Nevertheless, Satyrane wisely suggests that they ask politely, and if it doesn’t go their way, they can use brute force.
Paridell therefore goes to the castle gate and asks to be granted room and board for the night, but the guards quickly deny his request, saying that Malbecco is the only one who has the keys, and he is currently asleep.
And wouldn’t you know it, a storm chooses that moment to rush in. So they find an old shack to hide in.
At this point, another knight arrives at the castle and also asks to be let in, but is likewise denied. This knight joins the others at the small shack, and complains with understandable irritation at the entire situation.
But Paridell doesn’t seem to like the complaining, so he chooses to pick a fight with the new knight, but is swiftly defeated and knocked out. The Squire of Dames is about to go next, but Satyrane gets in the way and tells them all to calm down. He turns their attention back to the real problem: getting into the castle.
And their best plan of action: to burn it down…during a storm.
Malbecco Welcomes Them
Somehow, this ruse appears to work, because as they try to burn down the gate, Malbecco (who we assume has woken up by now), panics, and lets them in, claiming that his servants are to blame for the earlier denial.
Malbecco gives them the hospitality they desired, not because he is a nice guy, but because he has no other choice. Regardless, the knights accept the hospitality and remove their armor.
It is only at this point that we realize that the strange knight who defeated Paridell is actually a woman, none other than Britomart.
Naturally, the other knights are stunned by her beauty, not to mention her skill as a knight, and even Paridell gets over the (apparently embarressing) fact that he was defeated by a woman.
When dinner arrives, they all demand to see Malbecco’s wife, Hellenore, who you may recall is apparently hidden away by Malbecco. Indeed, Malbecco makes excuses, saying that she is ill of health and exhausted from the day, but the knights accept none of these excuses, and eventually Malbecco is forced to bring her in.
Hellenore arrives, and they all sit down for dinner. Hellenore seems pleasant enough, but Malbecco is jealous of everyone, so there is a lot of tension at the dinner table.
Tales of Troy
Paridell decides to be the idiot, and makes eyes a Hellenore all night, and she returns the flirtation. After dinner, Hellenore asks them to tell a story, and Paridell tells them about the Fall of Troy, you know, the one where Paris stole a woman named Helen from the Greeks before taking her to Troy.
We learn that Paridell is actually a descendent of Paris, citing that Paris eventually fled Troy, after its destruction, and came to the island of Paros, which he would eventually leave to his son, Paridas, and it is through this lineage that Paridell is descended.
This is clearly meant to be a parallel of Paridell and Hellenore, with even their names bearing similarities to Paris and Helen. I’m sure Malbecco is not pleased.
But Britomart is so engrossed in the story, that she feels great hatred for the Greeks, having also heard that all of Britain is descended from Troy. She laments that such a fantastic city could be destroyed, and that anything can decay and die so quickly.
She is so enraptured, that she wants to continue the story by talking about another prince, Aeneas, who also escapes the destruction of Troy. And if you have read Virgil’s Aeneid, this should be familiar.
Aeneas fled Troy and wondered the sea before finally landing in Italy, where he fights a king named Latinus before finally brokering a piece and marrying Latinus’s daughter.
From there, there is a great line of kings that started with Aeneas’s son, Iulus, continuing on to Romulus, the founder of Rome, which Britomart claims is a second Troy. Yet now she predicts a third Troy called Troynovant (which means “New Troy”), to be built on the River Thames (and yes, this is supposed to be London).
She talks about how Brutus founded the city, with two gates in the west and north, and a great bridge going over the river.
Paridell then interrupts Britomart, apologizing because he just remembered another part of the story. He tells everyone that Brutus accidentally killed his father, Silvius, with an arrow. Due to this, he would eventually flee to what we now call Britain, and took control of it from the giants that lived there.
He not only founded Troynovant (or London), but also Lincoln and many other cities.
Now that Paridell has established that both he and Britomart are descended from Troy, he decides to apologize to her for attacking her earlier.
While all of this is happening, Hellenore is making googly eyes at Paridell, and they have been secretly flirting during this entire story.
But since it is late, and Malbecco is very bored, they all go to bed.
To start off this Canto, Britomart and Satyrane leave the castle in the morning, but Paridell remains behind, complaining that he was hurt from the skirmish with Britomart. As we will learn, he is a big fat liar.
Malbecco is not pleased, since he hates entertaining people, and he’s always worried about losing his stuff or his wife. It would be sad, except that this is exactly what Paridell plans to do.
Paridell and Hellenore Run Off
Paridell spends his morning trying to woo Hellenore and convince her to run away with him. He eventually does so, and one night they take some of Malbecco’s money, burn the rest, and hightail it out of there.
Malbecco is horrified to see his money burning, not to mention his wife leaving, but she eventually shows his true colors by going after his money instead of his wife, which allows Paridell and Hellenore to escape the castle easily.
Malbecco eventually contains the fire, but is enraged that Paridell has snuck off with his wife. He goes looking for her, taking what money remained and burying the rest.
He spent some time traveling, and eventually comes across two people he thinks might be Paridell and Hellenore, but it is actually Braggadochio and Trompart.
Malbecco Teams Up with Braggadochio
Braggadochio confronts Malbecco, asking him why he is not a knight, and Malbecco tells him that he is just a pilgrim, looking for his wife who was taken by a knight.
He humbly asks for Braggadochio’s help to return his wife to him, and Malbecco will even pay him to do so.
Braggadochio is originally unsympathetic, but is convinced by the craftier Trompart to help out. So together, the three travelers go in search of Hellenore, but it turns out that Braggadochio and Trompart are just scheming to get Malbecco’s gold.
They eventually do run into Paridell, who is alone because he abandon Hellenore after sleeping with her (WTF man?), and the only information we get about Hellenore is that she wandered for some time before meeting a group of satyrs, eventually marrying all of them. Getting some real Snow White and the Seven Dwarves vibes from this story.
Malbecco confronts Paridell, asking where his wife is, but all Paridell knows is that she ran off into the forest. When Paridell rides away, Malbecco chooses to go after his wife instead of chasing after Paridell, but Trompart reminds him that the forest is dangerous, so Malbecco buries his remaining treasure before going into the forest.
Malbecco Finds His Wife
Sure enough, the forest is dark and scary, and they all run away upon hearing a lot of strange noises. Malbecco hides in a bush, where he sees Hellenore dancing with the satyrs, but he is too afraid to do much of anything.
Eventually, when night falls, Malbecco sneaks in among the satyrs to look for his wife. He finds her, wakes her up, and begs her to return with him, but she refuses. Eventually, the sun rises, and the satyrs chase him away.
Malbecco returns to where he hid the treasure, only to find that Trompart has taken it. Relieved of his wife and his precious treasure, he throws himself off a cliff, but during the fall, he is transformed into a large monster with claws, and he spends the rest of his days in a cave, now known as the embodiment of Jealousy.
Speaking of jealousy, the narrator starts by lamenting that jealousy exists, and that we should all focus on just one love, just as Britomart does with Artegall.
Britomart Pursues Ollyphant
We return to Britomart and her story, as she and Satyrane come across a young man fleeing from the giant Ollyphant, the brother of Argante who we saw earlier.
Just as Argante was filled with a feminine lust, her giant brother is filled with an over-the-top manliness, resulting in extreme violence. Britomart and Satyrane go after the giant, but Ollyphant is able to run away very quickly.
And run he does, because when he sees Britomart, he realizes that he is no match for her chastity, a virtue so polar opposite to what Ollyphant represents, that he cannot be near it.
As Britomart follows Ollyphant, she eventually comes upon a man by a fountain, whose armor is strewn all around him.
Britomart Meets Scudamore
We learn that this man’s name is Scudamore, and he is distressed because his love, Amoret, has been taken by a wicked man named Busirane. Busirane is torturing Amoret, piercing her chest with steel because she won’t return his affection.
Scudamore is near death with distress, so Britomart tries to comfort him. He mistakes her for a goddess, and she reminds him that virtue is still sufficient to fight evil. Then she offers to help.
Scudamore tells her that Busirane has locked Amoret inside of a magic dungeon, and that retreating here is impossible. But Britomart vows that she will save Amoret or die trying, and Scudamore is amazed by her goodness, but is in such despair that he believes that it would be better for them all to die.
But Britomart finally manages to convince him to get a hold of himself, and together they head out looking for Amoret. Eventually they come upon the castle with hellish fire burning in front of it. They are both discouraged, not knowing how they can get past the fire, but Britomart insists that they cannot give up, so she charges ahead and miraculously passes through the flames unharmed.
Scudamore tries to do the same, but is unable to pass. It seems that Britomart’s courage and purity are working in her favor here.
Britomart Enters the Enchanted Castle
So Britomart goes into the castle and finds herself in a room with tapestries depicting horrible scenes of rape and other awful stories. At the end of the room is an altar with a statue of Cupid, and under his feet is written “Unto the Victory of the Gods this be”. People come to this altar, worshiping it.
But above the door to the next room, Britomart and spies the words “Be Bold”, and so Britomart walks boldly through the door.
The next room is even nicer than the previous, covered in gold and carved with the shape of various monsters. Britomart sees the spoils of war: spears, shields, swords, etc.
Britomart continues cautiously, having not seen anyone yet, and she sees the door to another room with words above it saying “be not too bold.” Confused, Britomart sits and waits, but doesn’t remove her armor in case danger strikes.
After waiting until the late hours of the night, Britomart hears a trumpet, as if a battle was won. A huge storm and earthquake shake the room, smoke and fire and sulfur choke her, but still Britomart does not move. A huge wind slams every door shut, but actually opens the door Britomart is waiting in front of.
A Strange Theatrical Party
Beyond the door, a man is dressed as if he is a performer in a theater production, and he introduces his performance by miming. He has a staff with the name Ease written on it.
The performance starts, with beautiful music, and a series of characters that come on stage:
- Fancy, dressed in feathers
- Desire, an older character who creates sparks in his hands
- Doubt, a feeble character and over worried
- Danger, clothed in rags and with a ugly face
- Fear, looking timid and covered in armor
- Grief, looking… Like he is grieving
- Fury, a female character who is almost naked and tearing off her clothes
- Displeasure, who appears sad
- Pleasure, who appears happy
Following all of these characters is a beautiful woman, led by two other characters: Despite and Cruelty.
This new woman is majestic but is in horrible condition. Her chest is bare, with a huge knife plunged into it, her heart has been taken out of her chest, and it is lying nearby.
As we learn, this is poor Amoret, the sister of Belphoebe, and this poor girl has been enduring insane torture.
Following Amoret comes a blinded Cupid, riding a lion, but who occasionally takes off his blindfold to look at Amoret. Behind him is a huge group of monsters, and the whole party marches around the room before returning through the door that they came from, slamming the door behind them.
Britomart Saves Amoret
Britomart has been hiding while all of this goes down, and now runs to the door only to find it locked. So she waits two days for the party to come through the door again, and when they finally do, she rushes inside. But no one is there, everyone has disappeared, all save Amoret, who is now chained to a pillar.
In front of her is Busirane, who is using a pen dripped in her blood to inscribe “strange characters” with the intent to make her love him. As Britomart enters, this Busirane jumps up, knocking over all of his books of sorcery, and almost stabs Amoret so no one can have her, but Britomart intervenes.
Instead, he lightly grazes Britomart, and Britomart attacks him with such violence that he nearly dies.
Just as she is about to lay the final blow, Amoret tells Britomart not to kill him, since Busirane is the only one who can free her. So Britomart bargains with Busirane, offering him his life if he can free Amoret.
In that moment, an earthquake begins and Amoret’s chains loosen, the steel comes out of her chest, the heart returns to her chest, and all is like it never happened.
Amoret thanks Britomart, telling her that her love, Scudamore, must be worried sick about her.
They chain Busirane in the same chains that he had used on Amoret, and head out.
At this point we actually get two endings for book 3 of The Faerie Queene. The first was written in the original publication in 1590, but Spenser wrote another one in 1596:
- The 1590 ending: Scudamore, upon seeing Amoret, embraces her so tightly that they look like Hermaphroditus, a Greek character who was both man and woman together. Britomart is jealous.
- The 1596 ending: Britomart and Amoret leave Busirane’s house only to find that Scudamore and Glauce have left. Amoret is saddened, but hopeful that they will find Scudamore soon. We learn that Scudamore and Glauce had left because Britomart was inside so long, and they went to find another way to free Amoret.
So go ahead and choose whichever one you like as your head canon, then we can move on to book 4.
- Norris Lacy, Geoffrey Ashe, Debra Mancoff – The Arthurian Handbook (Second Edition)
- Alan Lupack – The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend
- Ronan Coghlan – The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Arthurian Legends
- Anonymous – Lancelot-Grail, the French Vulgate
- Sir Thomas Malory – Le Morte d’Arthur