The Redcrosse knight (also spelled Red Cross and Red Crosse) is a character in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, Book 1. He is one of the lead characters and represents the virtue of Holiness.
And while we don’t see it until later in the poem, we find out that the Redcrosse knight is actually St. George, the mythical British hero who slew the dragon.
And yet, this portrayal of St. George is unique in that it portrays him as an Everyman, but one who manages to get past his inner demons and succeed in making himself holy.
Who is the Redcrosse Knight?
The Redcrosse knight is the hero of book one in The Faerie Queene. He accompanies Una, a lady representing truth and true Christianity, to slay the dragon that is plaguing her lands.
Along the way, he battles many demons (literal and internal), and makes a lot of mistakes. In fact, he literally fights a creature named Error. Spenser wasn’t much for subtlety.
He would later become seduced by the enchantress Duessa, and only escapes with the help of Una and Arthur.
But after a long recovery, and an encounter with Despair that nearly kills him (again, both literal and figurative), he manages to heal and raise himself to sainthood, a kind of spiritual resurrection. Only then is he capable of slaying the dragon, which he does in an epic three-day battle.
During that battle, he nearly dies twice, but is magically healed each time, almost like a physical resurrection.
The Everyman Hero
The Redcrosse knight starts out as a truly humble and everyman kind of hero. And Edmund Spenser seems to have done this intentionally.
In a way, the Redcrosse knight goes through the perfect hero’s journey over the course of book one, where he starts out from a place of comfort, goes through trials that strengthen him, and that strength gives him what he needs to win in the climax of the story.
He even spends months in a dungeon, the belly of the beast, which is a perfect parallel for the stages of the hero’s journey. This mirrors our own journeys in life, fraught with mistakes and battles, and yet we learn from them.
The Metaphorical Death and Rebirth
When Redcrosse emerges from the dungeon, he is a changed man. And further experiences with the spirit known as Despair push them even further toward death. In a sense, this is his death, for everything after this point features renewal and resurrection.
And let’s not forget the fact that he nearly dies twice during a three-day battle with the dragon. While he doesn’t literally die in this part of the story, it still shows a lot of symbolism.
Redcrosse Knight Character Analysis
The Redcrosse knight embodies the concept of holiness, or the ability to perfect ourselves through discipline and worship to God. It is through this process of making himself holy that he is able to battle the dragon.
What’s great about this is that he doesn’t start out perfect, we get to see him become holy. This is meant to give us hope for ourselves, that we can one day do the same.
The Redcrosse knight is also symbolically linked with Jesus Christ. We see this through the red cross that he carries on his shield, representing the cross that Jesus was crucified on, as well as the symbolism with the three day battle with the dragon.
The fact that the Redcrosse knight nearly dies during this battle, not once but twice, and magically comes back from death each time, is a clear parallel with how Jesus died, and three days later rose again.
FAQ About the Redcrosse Knight
Who Saves the Redcrosse Knight from the Dungeons of Orgoglio?
The Redcrosse knight was saved from the dungeons of Orgoglio by Prince Arthur, although we do not know that it is Arthur at the time. Arthur storms into the castle, slays the giant, and eventually finds the Redcrosse knight held up in the dungeon.
What Does the Redcrosse Knight Represent in The Faerie Queene?
The Redcrosse knight represents holiness in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. This is the process of perfecting oneself through discipline and meditation on the true principles of Christianity. He is meant to represent all of us in the same journey.
Why is the knight in The Faerie Queene called the Red Cross Knight?
He is called the Redcrosse knight because of the red cross that he carries on his breastplate and shield. This is similar to the look you will see on the Knights Templar, who also bore similar red crosses on their apparel. It is meant as a Christian symbol.
How is the Redcrosse Knight resurrected?
The Redcrosse knight is resurrected twice during his battle with the dragon, first through a magical well of life, and second through a stream that is also magical. This near death and rebirth is meant to represent the Christian resurrection story.
What kind of person is Redcrosse?
The Redcrosse knight starts out as a mysterious warrior, but we soon come to know that he is the fabled St. George. He starts out as an Everyman, who makes mistakes and takes the wrong path, and ends up becoming far more holy.
How does the Redcrosse Knight represent holiness?
The Redcrosse knight represents holiness because he perfects himself over the course of book one. He starts out imperfect, frequently making mistakes and literally battling with Error. But by the end of the book, he has taken steps to improve himself, thus making himself holy.
See our complete list of Arthurian characters for more entries like this one.
Cite This Article
- 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