Lineage and the ‘Nowell Account Book’
in The early Spenser, 1554–80
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This chapter surveys previous biographies by Alexander Grosart (1882–84), Alexander Judson (1945), and Andrew Hadfield (2012), re-examining the evidence concerning Spenser’s lineage and concludes that we know only that he was born in 1554. His father’s name and occupation are unknown – although conjectures that he was a journeyman merchant tailor have found their way into reference works. From an important manuscript source, the ‘Nowell Account Book’, Manchester, Chetham’s Library, MS A.6.50, we know that Spenser was the protégé of a circle of London clergymen, who expected him to take holy orders. This important documentary source details funds distributed from the estate of Robert Nowell, Attorney of the Queen’s Court of Wards, and brother of Alexander Nowell, Dean of St Paul’s. Spenser’s name does not appear in the admission records for Merchant Taylors’ School. We know that he attended Merchant Taylors’ School only because of bequests he received in the ‘Nowell Account Book’.

The early Spenser, 1554–80

‘Minde on honour fixed’

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