Una is a main character in the first book of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. She starts out as a standard damsel in distress, but quickly shows a little more depth than that over the course of the story (though only a little, this was written 400 years ago after all).
She falls in love with the Redcrosse Knight (who is actually St. George), who at first seems like he could be a good match for her. He’s polite, well-spoken, and handsome. But it quickly becomes clear that he’s not really up to the task of being her knight in shining armor. He’s imperfect and literally battles with Error.
But through her purity, Lady Una is able to literally and figuratively save the Redcrosse knight, and the two marry by the end of the book.
The Story of Una
Una’s story starts out like many others in The Faerie Queene. She’s presented as a damsel in distress, in need of a knight to save her from an evil dragon. However, there are a few things that set her apart from the other damsels.
First, she’s not just beautiful, she’s also wise and virtuous. And this is what saves her multiple times throughout the story of the book, once the Redcrosse knight leaves her while he is enchanted by Duessa.
During the story she undergoes multiple attempted rapes, tames a lion who follows her for much of the story, and manages to escape from the direst of circumstances. She goes through several adventures, including an encounter with Prince Arthur, before she is finally reunited with the Redcrosse knight.
At the end, she helps save the life of the Redcrosse knight, and brings him to the Houses of Healing, where he is able to heal spiritually. Only then is he able to deal with the dragon.
So in essence, Una is the reason why the Redcrosse knight does anything awesome.
What Does Una’s Name Mean?
The name Una means “oneness” which seems simple, but is actually a profound expression of what she means to the story.
She is the one who brings peace and concord to the knight’s soul, which enables him to be whole and integrated.
What Does Una Represent in the Allegory of The Faerie Queene?
Una represents two main qualities, both of which are present in her name:
- Unity of Truth
- The One True Church
Let’s take a look at both of these…
Unity of Truth
Una represents Truth, which is why she’s often described as being clad in white. She also spends a lot of time with a lion, who represents courage. These two things together make her the perfect match for the Redcrosse knight, who needs to learn both truth and courage if he’s going to be an effective knight.
Una is a strong and steady character in contrast to Redcrosse’s lack of focus. She’s the one who brings him back to himself, and in doing so helps him become the knight he’s meant to be. She is dedicated in her goals, her morals, and her love of the Redcrosse knight and her family. She’s essentially as steady as a rock.
Again, this contrasts starkly with Redcrosse, who never seems to have a clear moral ground when compared to Una.
The True Church
During Spenser’s time, there was a lot of religious turmoil. One of the main issues brought up in The Faerie Queene is how horrible the Roman Catholic church was, and how superior the Protestant church was. We see these religious parallels all over The Faerie Queene.
- She rides a donkey at the beginning of the book
- She is humbly dressed
- A lamb is her companion
- She is a virgin
- She is often associated with Queen Elizabeth I, head of the Church of England
All in all, Una’s pure representation of the Protestant Church or Church of England is a stark contrast to Duessa, who represents the false church (Catholicism).
So that’s Una! She’s a complicated and interesting character, and definitely not your typical damsel in distress, even today.
See our complete list of Arthurian characters for more entries like this one.
- 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