Near the fireplace was a logical place to stay warm at all times of year in chilly Ireland.
Spenser raised at least three children at Kilcolman: from his second marriage (in 1594, to Elizabeth Boyle), a son, Peregrine; from his first marriage (in 1579, to Machabeus Chylde), a daughter, Katherine, and a son, Sylvanus. Sylvanus and his descendants would end up inheriting Kilcolman. A crib was a hopeful sign that a landed gentleman’s name and property would be passed on to his heirs. (See also Bedroom: Toy Knight)
Child mortality was a constant in the early modern period. Spenser’s contemporary, the writer Ben Jonson, reported that Spenser lost another child, a baby, in the destruction of the castle in 1598. How trustworthy this statement is is unclear. Jonson also said that Spenser died penniless, which is unlikely, and Jonson regularly focused on the death of children in his creative work. He may therefore have been embellishing an already dramatic story about the poet’s narrow escape during the uprising.
A story, told by the antiquarian James Ware in his preface to Spenser’s View of the State of Ireland (1633), relates that a different sort of child, i.e., the unpublished remainder of The Faerie Queene, was lost in transit following the desertion of his castle.
Children are an occasional feature of Spenser’s poetry. Some, like the infant Ruddymane in The Faerie Queene, appear in highly traumatic circumstances: Ruddymane is found playing in the blood of his dying mother, Amavia, who has stabbed herself (FQ II.i.39ff). Ruddymane, whose name means “red hand,” has been read by one of Spenser’s early commentators, John Upton, as alluding to the heraldic Red Hand of Ulster, and hence to the threat of violence and rebellion in the north (from whence soldiers came to sack Kilcolman, for example). Amavia, likewise, could evoke the Irish queen of the fairies (cf. Shakespeare’s “Queen Mab” in Romeo and Juliet). Ruddymane’s deceased father, Mordant, might glance at the English soldier, Captain Mordant, who according to state papers was reprimanded for bad behavior in Ireland in the mid-1580s. With the Ruddymane episode, is Spenser somehow allegorizing the bloody mess that Ireland was in?
Other children, like the “thousand thousand naked babes” in the ever-fertile Garden of Adonis (FQ III.vi.32.3) or the cupids (or amoretti) in his courtship poems, Amoretti and Epithalamion, stand for erotic creativity and new life in Spenser’s work. For example, in “Epithalamion,” the “sons of Venus,” i.e., cupids, amoretti or “winged loves,” symbolize Spenser’s sonnets themselves, titled Amoretti. These cupids fly and “play” around his bedroom at Kilcolman on his wedding night, which the speaker hopes will stay silently peaceful and free from threat while the couple makes love:
But let stil Silence trew night watches keepe,
That sacred peace may in assurance rayne,
And tymely sleep, when it is tyme to sleepe,
May poure his limbs forth on your pleasant playne,
The whiles an hundred little winged loues,
Like diuers feathered doues,
Shall fly and flutter round about your bed,
And in the secret darke, that none reproues,
Their prety stealthes shal worke, and snares shal spread
To filch away sweet snatches of delight,
Conceald through couert night.
Ye sonnes of Venus, play your sports at will,
For greedy pleasure, carelesse of your toyes,
Thinks more vpon her paradise of ioyes,
Then what ye do, albe it good or ill.
All night therefore attend your merry play,
For it will soone be day:
Now none doth hinder you, that say or sing,
Ne will the woods now answer, nor your Eccho ring.
Colin Burrow, Edmund Spenser (Plymouth: Northcote House, 1996): 8.
Andrew Hadfield, Edmund Spenser: A Life (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012): 263-4.
—. “Spenser, Edmund (1552?-1599).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004; online edition, 2008).
Carol V. Kaske, “Amavia, Mortdant, Ruddymane.” The Spenser Encyclopedia. Ed. A. C. Hamilton (Toronto: U of Toronto Press, 1990), 25-7.
Rory Sherlock, “The Later Medieval Fireplaces of County Cork.” Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 105 (2000), 207-30.
Roland Smith, “Irish Names in The Faerie Queene.” Modern Language Notes 61.1 (January 1946), 27-38.