Defense of Her Majesty and the Church of England in The Faerie Queene
In The Faerie Queene, Spenser presents an eloquent and captivating representation of the Roman Catholic Church, her hierarchy, and patrons as the malevolent forces pitted against England in her exploits as Epic Hero. A discussion of this layer of the allegory for the work in its entirety would be a book in and of itself, so, for the purposes of this exercise, the focus will be confined to Book I, Canto 1, through the vanquishing of the dragon, Errour. Even in this small section of the work, however, it will be evident that Spenser very much took to heart both his duty as an Englishman to honour Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I, and his duty as a Protestant Christian to champion the Church of England. The purpose of this exercise is not to prove whether Spenser was correct in his assertions, but to explore the manner in which he sets forth his views; it is, therefore, written from the position that his views are righteous, in the interest of eliminating the need for multiple caveats stating that the ideas herein are an interpretation of Spenser's beliefs. That being said, Spenser's multi-layered allegory sets him apart as perhaps the first Anglican Apologist, in whose footsteps C.S. Lewis would later follow with his own deeply symbolic tales. That Spenser displayed the literary and imaginative prowess to lay down so many layers of richly crafted allegorical fabric has made The Faerie Queene a work for the ages, both as lessons in English and Ecclesiastical history and as a fine example of the enduring beauty of the Language.
Spenser, in his letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, points out the most obvious allegorical devices that run through the entire tale. Those are the Red Crosse Knight, Gloriana, and Faerie Land, as King Arthur, Queen Elizabeth I, and England, respectively. Sovereignty being what it was (and, to a lesser degree, remains), one may see not only Faerie Land but also the characters of the Red Crosse Knight and Gloriana as symbolic of all England. Thus, Spenser's Trinitarian representation of the State is his first showing of England's alignment with the divine and, thereby, Elizabeth's God-given right to rule.
Holinesse, the Red Crosse Knight, as an allegorical presentation of Arthur and, therefore, the mystical goodness of Camelot, sets out on his quest after the dragon, Errour, on which he has been sent by Gloriana. Spenser's description of the knight's armour echoes the passage in St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians instructing the faithful to "put on the whole armour of God" (6:11). He wears the "bloudie Cross" (FQ, l. 10) of England on both tunic and shield. A contemporary audience would doubtless have recognized this as also the symbol of the Knights Templar, "The dear remembrance of his dying Lord" (l. 11). So, the Red Crosse Knight is not merely setting out on a quest to act as Faerie Land's St. George in the slaying of...