This revisionary biographical study documents that Spenser was the protégé of a
circle of churchmen who expected him to take holy orders, but between 1574, when
he left Pembroke College, and 1579, when he published the Shepheardes Calender,
he decided against a career in the church. At Pembroke College and in London,
Spenser watched the Elizabethan establishment crack down on independent
thinking. The sequestration of Edmund Grindal was a watershed event in his early
life, as was his encounter with Philip Sidney, the dedicatee of to the
Shepheardes Calender. Once Spenser exchanged the role of shepherd-priest for
that of shepherd-poet, he understood that his role was not just to celebrate the
victories of Protestant England over the Spanish empire, immortalize in verse
the virtues of Gloriana’s knights, but also to ‘fashion a noble person in
vertuous and gentle discipline’. The received biography of the early Spenser
emphasizes Gabriel Harvey, who is reported to have been Spenser’s tutor. Brink
shows that Harvey could not have been Spenser’s tutor and argues that Harvey
published Familiar Letters (1580) to promote his ambition to be named University
Orator at Cambridge. Brink shows that Spenser had already received preferment.
His life is contextualized by comparisons with contemporaries including Philip
Sidney, Lodowick Bryskett, Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Ralegh. Brink’s
provocative study, based upon a critical re-evaluation of manuscript and printed
sources, emphasizes Philip Sidney over Harvey and shows that Spenser’s
appointment as secretary to Lord Grey was a preferment celebrated even years
later by Camden.
This chapter asks and answers the question of why Ireland was attractive to
Englishmen, particularly those, like Spenser, who were intrigued by
adventure and had few, if any, prospects in England. The combination of
Latin debates on Roman colonization and the lurid report of Captain Thomas
Smith, a patron of Gabriel Harvey’s, being boiled and fed to dogs sparked
interest in Ireland. For Spenser, his appointment as secretary to Arthur,
Lord Grey of Wilton, was a preferment, an extraordinary opportunity for a
twenty-five-year-old poet. In the sixteenth century, Ireland resembled the
England of the Wars of the Roses, and it promised medieval glamour as well
as remarkable opportunities for social advancement to those, like Spenser,
who traded sixteenth-century England for Ireland.
will make the case in Chapter 4 ,
‘Southerne shepheardes boye’, that from 1574 to 1578 Spenser was
probably in London working for John Young, Master of Pembroke and then Bishop
of Rochester in 1578.
There is no solid evidence of why or how Spenser moved from
service under Bishop Young to the patronage of ArthurLordGreyofWilton. At
some point between 1578 and 1579, Spenser exchanged the role of shepherd-priest
. The Shepheardes Calender not only treats Edmund Grindal
sympathetically, but also attacks John Aylmer (Elmer, Elmore as Morrill), then
Bishop of London.
We know that Spenser's next patron was Arthur, LordGreyofWilton, a military man who had previously acted as the patron of George
Gascoigne, but we do not know when their relationship began. In this study of
the early Spenser, the text of Familiar Letters is used to suggest that
document Spenser's association with a militant
Puritan sympathizer, ArthurLordGreyofWilton.
The pendulum seems to have swung too far to the right and there may be too
much insistence on Spenser's conformity.
We need to consider the agency of John Young, who, even if he
agreed with Spenser's politics, would not, and probably could not, have
Clinton (d. 1517)
married Jane Poynings, one of Sir Edward Poynings’ seven illegitimate children, and sister
of Thomas, Lord Poynings; and Arthur, LordGreyofWilton married Dorothy, daughter
of Richard 9th Lord Zouche.36 Although all the daughters of Emanuel, earl of Sunderland
were married after 1640, it is worth examining their marital careers, as they provide
some contrast to the observation that few illegitimate women married noblemen in the
years 1500–1640. In addition to Mary and Annabella Scrope, who inherited extensive
lands in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire
83 Arthur Grey, ‘Declaration by ArthurLordGrey, ofWilton, to the Queen, showing the
state of Ireland when he was appointed Lord Deputy, with services during his government, and the plight he left it in’, 1583, TNA: PRO, SP 63/106/62.
84 John Perrot, ‘A brief declaration of part of the services done to your Majesty by Sir John
Perrot, knight, during the time of his deputation in the realm of Ireland’, 1588, TNA:
PRO, SP 63/139/7; Hiram Morgan, ‘The fall of Sir John Perrot’, in John Guy (ed.), The
reign of Elizabeth I: Court and culture in the last decade