Kilcolman Settlement at Kilcolman

Spenser and Raleigh

Sir Walter Raleigh, the dashing adventurer, writer, courtier, advisor and favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, was also a veteran of Irish wars (in 1580-1) and a major landowner in Munster.  He received over 40,00 acres along the Blackwater and Bride Rivers in southeastern County Cork and southwestern County Waterford, by far the largest initial grant of lands on the Plantation (map of places on the Blackwater and Bride Rivers associated with Raleigh holdings).  The acreage was four times the maximum allowed by statute and some of the best land on offer (by comparison, Spenser acquired second-hand one of the smallest grants, at just over 3,000 acres).  Raleigh occasionally visited his lands in the late 1580s and early 1590s.  He oversaw the planting of colonists as well as the industrial development of his property.  In 1588-9, he was mayor of the coastal town of Youghal, where he lived in his house, “Myrtle Grove,” which still stands today (Youghal and Myrtle Grove).  One of his tenants on the Plantation was the accomplished scientist and colonial explorer Thomas Harriot, who occupied Molana Abbey, Co. Waterford, near the outlet of the Blackwater River into the sea (Molana Abbey).

Raleigh’s tenants and agents worked hard at clearing Munster’s woods for timber, which had various industrial uses and fueled some of the first iron mills in Ireland. A major product was the barrel stave, for us in the wine trade with France and Spain (Barrels). By 1596, Raleigh was already losing interest in his Irish estates and eventually sold them in a fire-sale in 1602.  Raleigh’s lands were bought by Richard Boyle, a mid-level Munster adventurer and administrator who eventually became the first earl of Cork.

Another reason for Raleigh’s trips to Ireland would have been to escape the political pressures of the court.  While there he visited Spenser, whom he brought back to London with him in 1589 (a voyage mentioned in Spenser’s poem “Colin Clouts Come Home Againe,” published in 1595).  Books I-III of The Faerie Queene were published in London in 1590.  Parts were perhaps read by Spenser to Queen Elizabeth at court, while Raleigh was still at the height of his influence there.  Spenser earned the status of poet laureate as well as a healthy pension of 50 pounds per annum as a reward.  Raleigh therefore directly or indirectly helped Spenser gain entré to the queen’s presence, and we should think of The Faerie Queene (especially the edition of 1590) as a work with Raleigh’s, not only Spenser’s, interests in mind.  Some of these interests were clearly Irish ones that pertained to their mutual colonial-imperial project in Munster.

Raleigh in Spenser’s Writing

The Faerie Queene I-III

Spenser’s epic involves Raleigh in many particulars: as a patron-dedicatee, as a reader, as a writer of commendatory sonnets (Raleigh wrote two of them for The Faerie Queene, both praising Spenser’s work) and as a subject of topical allegory in The Faerie Queene (in both the 1590 and 1596 editions).  Books I-III of The Faerie Queene have a lengthy dedicatory “Letter” to Raleigh appended to them.  The letter gives background to the plot and explains the poem’s literary principles, virtues and goals, among which are to “fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline.”

Spenser famously praises and advertises Raleigh’s colonial ambitions in the New World when he mentions the ongoing exploration of Peru, the Amazon and “fruitfullest Virginia” in Book II of The Faerie Queene (II.Proem.2.9).  Episodes from Raleigh’s adventures in Ireland are dramatized in Book III in the allegorical character Timias, the squire of Prince Arthur.  In the fifth canto of the Book, for example, Timias, a.k.a. Raleigh, fights three villains at a ford in a scene reminiscent of a fight that Raleigh had in reality against Irish rebels under the command of David, Lord Barry during the Desmond rebellion (1579-83) (Bednarz).  The fight is chronicled in a contemporary history of the rebellion by John Hooker, included in the second edition (1586) of Raphael Holinshed’s Histories.

In Spenser’s account, Timias chases after a rude, lustful, countrified villain, or “foster fowle” (III.v.13.4), who wanted to rape a damsel in distress, the “faire Florimell.”  Prevented from doing so, the villain leads Timias into a forest.  He conspires with his two angry or “yre”-filled brothers to ambush Timias there:

… for they were three
  Vngratious children of one gracelesse syre…
So them with bitter words he stird to bloodie yre.

Forthwith themselues with their sad instruments
  Of spoyle and murder they gan arme byliue,
  And with him foorth into the forrest went,
  To wreake the wrath, which he did earst reuiue
  In their sterne brests, on him [i.e., Timias] which late did driue
  Their brother to reproch and shamefull flight:
  For they had vow’d, that neuer he aliue
  Out of that forest should escape their might;
Vile rancour their rude harts had fild with such despight.

Within that wood there was a couert glade,
  Foreby a narrow foord, to them well knowne,
  Through which it was vneath for wight to wade,
  And now by fortune it was ouerflowne:
  By that same way they knew that Squyre vnknowne
  Mote algates passe; for thy themselues they set
  There in await, with thicke woods ouer growne,
  And all the while their malice they did whet
With cruell threats, his passage through the ford to let.

It fortuned, as they deuized had,
  The gentle Squyre came ryding that same way,
  Vnweeting of their wile and treason bad,
  And through the ford to passen did assay;
  But that fierce foster, which late fled away,
  Stoutly foorth stepping on the further shore,
  Him boldly bad his passage there to stay,
  Till he had made amends, and full restore
For all the damage, which he had him doen afore.

With that at him a quiu’ring dart he threw,
  With so fell force and villainous despite,
  That through his habericon the forkehead flew,
  And through the linked mayles empierced quite,
  But had no power in his soft flesh to bite:
  That stroke the hardy Squire did sore displease,
  But more that him he could not come to smite;
  For by no meanes the high banke he could sease,
But labour’d long in that deepe ford with vaine disease.

And still the foster with his long bore-speare
  Him kept from landing at his wished will;
  Anone one sent out of the thicket neare
  A cruell shaft, headed with deadly ill,
  And fethered with an vnlucky quill;
  The wicked steele stayd not, till it did light
  In his left thigh, and deepely did it thrill:
  Exceeding griefe that wound in him empight,
But more that with his foes he could not come to fight.

At last through wrath and vengeaunce making way,
  He on the bancke arryud with mickle payne,
  Where the third brother him did sore assay,
  And drove at him with all his might and mayne
  A forest bill, which both his hands did strayne;
  But warily he did auoide the blow,
  And with his speare requited him agayne,
  That both his sides were thrilled with the throw,
And a large streame of bloud out of the wound did flow.

He tombling downe, with gnashing teeth did bite
  The bitter earth, and bad to lett him in
  Into the balefull house of endlesse night,
  Where wicked ghosts doe waile their former sin.
  Tho gan the battaile freshly to begin;
  For nathemore for that spectacle bad,
  Did th’other two their cruell vengeaunce blin.
  But both attonce on both sides him bestad,
And load vpon him layd, his life for to haue had.

Tho when that villain he [i.e., Timias] auiz’d, which late
  Affrighted had the fairest Florimell,
  Full of fiers fury, and indignant hate,
  To him he turned, and with rigor fell
  Smote him so rudely on the Pannikell,
  That to the chin he clefte his head in twaine:
  Downe on the ground his carkas groueling fell;
  His sinfull sowle with desperate disdaine,
Out of her fleshly ferme fled to the place of paine [i.e., to Hell].

That seeing now the only last of three,
  Who with that wicked shafte him wounded had,
  Trembling with horror, as that did foresee
  The fearefull end of his auengement sad,
  Through which he follow should his brethren bad,
  His bootelesse bow in feeble hand vpcaught,
  And therewith shott an arrow at the lad [i.e., at Timias];
  Which faintly fluttering, scarce his helmet raught,
And glauncing fel to ground, but him annoyed naught.

With that he would haue fled into the wood;
  But Timias him lightly ouerhent,
  Right as he entering was into the flood,
  And strooke at him with force so violent,
  That headlesse him into the foord he sent:
  The carcass with the streame was carried downe,
  But th’head fell backeward on the Continent.
  So mischief fel vpon the meaners crowne;
They three be dead with shame, the Squire liues with renowne.

He liues, but takes small ioy of his renowne;
  For of that cruell wound he bled so sore,
  That from his steed he fell in deadly swowne;
  Yet still the blood forth gusht in so great store,
  That he lay wallowd all in his owne gore.
  Now God thee keepe, thou gentlest squire aliue,
  Els shall thy louing Lord [i.e., Prince Arthur] thee see no more,
  But both of comfort him thou shalt depriue,
And eke thy selfe of honor, which thou didst atchiue. (III.v.15-26)

[Gloss: blin = “stop”; bestad = ”beset”; auiz’d = ”saw”; Pannikell = ”skull”]

The political allegorical significance of the fight at the ford is complex.  At the time, Raleigh was serving as captain in the crown forces in Ireland commanded by Lord Deputy Arthur, Lord Grey, for whom Spenser served as secretary.  Raleigh was also busy at the time angling for part of Lord Barry’s estates, at Barryscourt, County Cork.  (Many objects in the recreated castle portion of this website are copied from the present-day recreation of the Tudor-era household, castle and gardens of Barryscourt, which is open to visitors.)  The three villains in Spenser’s episode could represent Raleigh’s ambushers allied with Barry, and/or they could correspond more generally with the three Fitzgeralds who were the core leaders of the Desmond rebellion: the fifteenth earl, Gerald; his brother, John (whose estate at Kilcolman Spenser claimed as his own); and their cousin, James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald.  All three Fitzgeralds were killed during the rebellion and their lands eventually attainted.  Raleigh played a key part in suppressing the rebellion through his deeds and, later, his advice to the queen at court.  His fight at the ford was part of a larger struggle to tame the revolt and so prepare the way for plantation; it also profited him personally (although his efforts to acquire Barryscourt in particular were unsuccessful).

Whatever their exact identity (if there is such a thing in Spenser’s allegories), the three villains are described as woodsy, savage and violent threats who deserve to be killed by Timias, who performs heroically and who loosely allegorizes Raleigh.

“Colin Clouts Come Home Againe”

Raleigh surfaces again in a different poem by Spenser, his lengthy pastoral canzone “Colin Clouts Comes Home Againe” (dated internally to “1591” but published in 1595 and containing details pertaining to events that occurred after 1591).  In this poem, set in the Irish countryside, the shepherd “Colin” (an alias for Spenser himself) describes how the “shepheard of the Ocean” (an alias for Raleigh) visited him and shared verse and song with him.  

One day (quoth he) I sat, (as was my trade)
Vnder the foot of Mole that mountaine hore,
Keeping my sheepe amongst the cooly shade,
Of the greene alders by the Mullaes shore:
There a straunge shepheard chaunst to find me out,
Whether allured with my pipes delight,
Whose pleasing sound yshrilled far about,
Or thither led by chaunce, I know not right:
Whom when I asked from what place he came,
And how he hight, himselfe he did ycleepe,
The shepheard of the Ocean by name,
And said he came far from the main-sea deepe.
He sitting me beside in that same shade,
Prouoked me to plaie some pleasant fit,
And when he heard the musicke which I made,
He found himselfe full greatly pleasd at it:
Yet æmuling my pipe, he tooke in hond
My pipe before that æmuled of many,
And plaid theron; (for well that skill he cond)
Himselfe as skilfull in that art as any.
He pip’d, I sung; and when he sung, I piped,
By chaunge of turnes, each making other mery,
Neither enuying other, nor enuied,
So piped we, vntill we both were weary. (“Colin Clouts” 56-79)

Raleigh and Spenser are part of a nation of willing servitors or “shepheards” for the Queen, called “Cynthia” after the virgin goddess of the moon (also known as Diana) in classical mythology:

Those be the shepheards which my Cynthia serue,
At sea, beside a thousand moe at land:
For land and sea my Cynthia doth deserue
To haue in her commandement at hand. (“Colin Clouts” 260-3)

Despite his adoration and service to her, Raleigh had fallen out of favor with Queen Elizabeth and so was writing poetry to lament his sorry state.  He also had appealed to the queen for mercy:

His [i.e., Raleigh’s] song was all a lamentable lay,
Of great vnkindnesse, and of vsage hard,
Of Cynthia the Ladie of the sea,
Which from her presence faultlesse him debard.
And euer and anon with singulfs rife,
He cryed out, to make his vndersong
Ah my loues queene, and goddesse of my life,
Who shall me pittie, when thou doest me wrong? (“Colin Clouts” 164-71)

The “song” referred to is likely to be Raleigh’s longest extant poem, a fragment entitled “Oceans Love to Scinthia,” i.e., “Cynthia.”  Spenser’s passage also refers either to a minor tiff at court before 1591, or to Raleigh’s great fall from the queen’s favor that occurred after the Throckmorton scandal broke in 1592 (see below).

Elsewhere in “Colin Clouts Come Home Againe,” Spenser describes his journey to visit Queen Elizabeth at court, brought there by Raleigh:

The shepheard of the Ocean [i.e., Raleigh] (quoth he) [i.e., Colin/Spenser]
Unto that Goddesse grace me first enhanced,
And to mine oaten pipe enclin’d her eare,
That she thenceforth therein gan take delight,
And it desir’d at timely houres to heare,
All were my notes but rude and roughly dight.  (“Colin Clouts” 358-63)

As noted above, while at court, Spenser presented to the Queen the first part of his great epic, The Faerie Queene.  In the Proem to Book III, Spenser describes a poem Raleigh wrote about the Queen, also called “Cynthia,” as “sweete verse, with Nectar sprinkled” (4.4).  Spenser will complement Raleigh’s praise of the queen in that poem with his own poem, The Faerie Queene, which celebrates her political and personal virtues:

Ne let his [i.e., Raleigh’s] fayrest Cynthia refuse,
  In mirrours more then one her selfe to see,
  But either Gloriana let her chuse,
  Or in Belphoebe fashioned to bee:
In th’one her rule, in th’other her rare chastitee. (The Faerie Queene III.Proem.5.5-9)

Elizabeth will see herself allegorically in the “mirror” of Spenser’s verse, as Gloriana, the Fairy Queen, and as Belphoebe, yet another version of Diana (or “Cynthia”), the virginal goddess of the moon and the hunt in classical mythology.  Both Spenser and Raleigh therefore portray Queen Elizabeth in similar mythological fashion.  Spenser and Raleigh mirror each other’s actions ‘piping’ or writing poetry back and forth to themselves in Ireland and in praise of the Queen when in London and Ireland.

The Faerie Queene IV-VI

Spenser did not only admire Raleigh in his poetry.  He creates a different allegorical representation of him in Book IV (first published in 1596) of The Faerie Queene.  Here, Raleigh-as-Timias appears as a melancholy, dejected but beseeching and finally redeemed lover of Belphoebe (IV.vii.38-46 and viii.2-18):  the episode is interpreted as referring to the Throckmorton scandal of 1592, wherein Raleigh secretly impregnated and married one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting, Elizabeth Throckmorton.  For this he was thrown into the Tower of London by the enraged Queen.  Raleigh was gradually restored to favor at court, but not until 1597.

In the episode, Timias appears changed, or rather degenerated from his former heroic self.  He is “melancholy” and resides in a “Cabin” in a dark wood (IV.vii.38.9; 42.5).  He has given up weapons, wine and women.  He has been utterly forgotten:

His wonted warlike weapons all he broke,
  And threw away, with vow to vse no more,
  Ne thenceforth euer strike in battell stroke,
  Ne euer word to speake to woman more;
  But in that wildernesse, of men forlore,
  And of the wicked world forgotten quight,
  His hard mishap in dolor to deplore,
  And wast his wretched daies in wofull plight;
So on him selfe to wreake his follies owne despight.

And eke his garment, to be thereto meet,
  He willfully did cut and shape anew;
  And his faire lockes, that wont with ointment sweet
  To be embaulm’d, and sweat out dainty dew,
  He let to grow and griesly to concrew,
  Vncomb’d, uncurl’d, and carelesly vnshed;
  That in short time his face they ouergrew,
  And ouer all his shoulders did dispred,
That who he whilome was, vneath was to be red.

There he continued in this carefull plight,
  Wretchedly wearing out his youthly yeares,
  Through wilfull penury consumed quight,
  That like a pined ghost he soone appeares.
  For other food then that wilde forrest beares,
  Ne other drinke there did he euer tast,
  Then running water, tempred with his teares,
  The more his weakened body so to wast:
That out of all mens knowledge he was worne at last. (FQ IV.vii.39-41)

The following canto continues this wretched description.  Timias’s unkempt hair disfigures his appearance:  he is “With heary glib deform’d, and meiger face,/ Like ghost late risen from his graue agryz’d” (IV.viii.12.6–7):  the very image, complete with Irish “glib” (a low-hanging forelock), of a dejected refugee of the Irish woods.  Such refugees included rogue native soldiers known as woodkern.  One also hears echoes here of the ghostly victims of famine, described by Spenser in A View, as having suffered from (and caused) the Desmond rebellion.  Timias in his shameful exile has degenerated to the level of the wild Irish.

Literary critic William Oram argues that Spenser is here criticizing Raleigh’s immorality, which led him to squander his artistic and political potential.  Spenser hopes that Raleigh will write more about “epic” deeds (to “thunder martial stowre,” in Spenser’s own words in his Dedicatory Sonnet to Raleigh) instead of wallowing in effete, Petrarchan self-pity, which was too much the fashion at court at the time.

There is clearly an Irish dimension here as well, however.  The scene arguably reflects Spenser’s disappointment with Raleigh because he needed Raleigh’s political support at court and because Raleigh was his New English neighbor on the Plantation.  The route to successful land grants and tenure in Munster ran in large part through the London court and law courts, including by sanction of the queen, whose great “grace… and bounty most rewardfull” Colin will seek in person at court thanks to Raleigh (“Colin Clouts” 187).  Spenser needed Raleigh’s connections, so Raleigh’s disgrace at court would have hurt him, too; Raleigh imperiled both his own and Spenser’s Irish livelihood.

Spenser turns Timias into another version of the starving woodkern:  a potentially treasonous (because rebellious and lustful) and certainly “savage” representation of a man, Raleigh, who was normally obsessed with his rich appearance at court.  Spenser turns Timias into a figure of Irish-tinged famine and despair as a fitting psychological analogy for Raleigh’s miserable state, cast out of the queen’s favor and barred from her nourishing riches. 

Moreover, according to his own letters written to Robert Cecil from prison in 1592, Raleigh’s improper behavior in London opened him to further accusation and legal prosecution in Munster by his rival and enemy, Lord Deputy William Fitzwilliam.  Raleigh states that his “disgraces” have “past the seas” and caused the Lord Deputy to punish him, including a “dispeopled” plantation.  As D.B. Quinn relates, in 1592 Raleigh’s lucrative timber and mill industry in Munster —another subject promoted in The Faerie Queene— was suspended for a year and a half as the Lord Deputy pressed him on treason charges for selling naval timber (and not only barrel staves, as permitted) to the Spanish and for channeling information to Catholic recusants from the Continent.  The charges were eventually dropped, and Raleigh and his agent Henry Pyne had their timber industry restored.   The Timias episode in Book IV of The Faerie Queene may allude to this recuperation of Raleigh’s fortune and reputation:  Timias, a moping lover, engraves “Belphebe” (i.e., Queen Elizabeth) on “euery tree” (IV.vii.46) and will find help and relief from his goddess in the following canto.

Raleigh may appear in The Faerie Queene in other guises pertaining to Ireland:  critics James Nohrnberg and Judith Owens, for example, see Raleigh satirized in the figure of the foolish satyr, Faunus, in Book VII, the “Mutabilitie Cantos” (1609), which are set explicitly in Ireland.


Christopher Armitage (ed.), Literary and Visual Ralegh (Manchester:  Manchester UP, 2013). [cf. articles by Nohrnberg, Herron, Erickson, and Beer]

James Bednarz, “Ralegh in Spenser’s Historical Allegory.”  Spenser Studies 4 (1983), 49-70.

Nicholas Canny, “Raleigh’s Ireland.”  Raleigh and Quinn:  The Explorer and his Boswell.  Ed. H.G. Jones (Chapel Hill:  North Caroliniana Society, 1987), 87-101.

Thomas Herron, “Native Irish Property and Propriety in the Faunus episode and Colin Clouts Come Home Againe.” Celebrating Mutabilitie: essays on Edmund Spenser’s Mutabilitie Cantos.  Ed. Jane Grogan (Manchester:  Manchester UP, 2010), 136-77:  164-8.

—.   “Ralegh’s Gold:  Placing Spenser’s Dedicatory Sonnets.”  The 1590 Faerie Queene:  Paratexts and Publishing.  Ed. Wayne Erickson.  Studies in the Literary Imagination 38.2 (Fall 2005), 133-47.

—.  Spenser’s Irish Work Poetry, Plantation and Colonial Reformation (Aldershot:  Ashgate, 2007):  122-7.

Katherine Koller, “Spenser and Ralegh.” English Literary History 1 (1934), 37-60.

Jerry Leath Mills, “Raleigh, Walter (1554-1618).”  The Spenser Encyclopedia.  Ed. A.C. Hamilton (Toronto:  University of Toronto Press, 1990), 584-5.

Jeffrey B. Morris, “To (Re)Fashion a Gentleman:  Ralegh’s Disgrace in Spenser’s Legend of Courtesy.”  Studies in Philology 94 (Winter 1997), 38-58.

James Nohrnberg, “Britomart’s gone abroad from Brute-land, Colin Clout’s come courting from the salvage Ire-land:  exile and the kingdom in two of Spenser’s fictions of ‘Crossing Over.’”  Edmund Spenser:  new and renewed directions.  Ed. Julian Lethbridge (Madison, NJ:  Fairleigh-Dickinson Press, 2006), 214-85:  269-75.

Walter Oakeshott, The Queen and the Poet (London:  Faber and Faber, 1960):  93-9.

William Oram, “Spenser’s Raleghs.” Studies in Philology 87 (1990), 341-362.

Judith Owens, “Professing Ireland in the woods of Spenser’s Mutabilitie.” Explorations in Renaissance Culture 29.1 (Summer 2003), 1-22.

Sir John Pope Hennessy, Sir Walter Ralegh in Ireland (1883).  Ed. Thomas Herron (Dublin:  University College Dublin Press, 2009).

David Beers Quinn, Raleigh and the British Empire, 2nd ed. (London:  English Universities Press, 1962):  149-51, 153-5.