Two men, Gabriel Harvey and Thomas Nashe,
are in a position to determine what we think of Edmund Spenser – his
personality and his standing with his contemporaries. For the most part,
Harvey's portrait of Spenser as his admiring disciple has been accepted. Even
though Nashe questions these views of Spenser, Harvey, and their
correspondence, he has been ignored. The text and authorship of FamiliarLetters , however
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.
undercuts his claim of kinship with Sir Thomas Smith. We
should take note that Smith is glossed in the Shepheardes Calender and
alluded to in FamiliarLetters – even though there is no evidence
that Spenser was himself acquainted with him.
There are other biographical references demonstrating that
Harvey had to be involved in preparing E.K.'s commentary. Specific details of
the bibliographical history of Harvey's Gratulationes Valdinenses are
This book is an anthology of selections from works dealing with same-sex love, desire, sexual acts, and relationships during the period 1550-1735 in early modern England. It presents religious and moral writings, pseudo-medical writings, criminal pamphlets, travel writings, and letters on same-sex desire. The condemnation of male and female same-sex sexual acts is embedded in the earliest Christian theology. The early modern medical, pseudo-medical, and anatomical texts in Latin are surprisingly reticent about the physiological and anatomical aspects of homoerotic sexuality and desire. Canon law had long condemned male same-sex sexual acts. The 1533-34 statute in England forbade male same-sex sexual acts but ignored female same-sex intercourse. English travel narratives dealing with the sexual customs of other cultures often present sexual licentiousness as endemic, sometimes touching specifically on sodomy and tribadism. The most detailed presentations of same-sex erotic relationships in non-European cultures are those relating to Turkey and the Turkish seraglio. Familiar letters, such as between James I and VI, could reveal personal secrets and be radically transgressive in their emphasis on fostering love and desire. The book discusses homo-sexual subculture during 1700-1730, translation of Latin and Greek texts, and numerous literature representing male and female same-sex erotic relationships. The largely 'socially diffused homosexuality' of the seventeenth century changed profoundly with 'clothes, gestures, language' connoting 'homosexuality'. The book shows how literary genres of male same-sex and female-sex desires such as Shakespeare's Sonnets, and Catherine Trotter's Agnes de Castro allow the modern reader to chart changes in their representation.
. 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, Lord Grey of
Wilton, 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 FamiliarLetters is used to suggest that
FamiliarLetters , Spenser is portrayed as Harvey's admiring disciple,
but this portrait of Spenser was Harvey's invention.
Harvey's magisterial tone has fuelled speculation that he was Spenser's
tutor, but he cannot have been. Spenser matriculated at Pembroke in 1569 and
graduated in 1573. Fellows did not instruct undergraduates until after they had
earned the M.A. and become regents. As I discuss in Chapter 3 , ‘Pembroke College
In Gabriel Harvey's Gratulationes
Valdinenses (1578), a work that could be described as his Shepheardes
Calender , he reveals his approach to securing patronage. This text,
written without a collaborator and published prior to FamiliarLetters ,
enables us to understand how Harvey was viewed by his contemporaries.
The task of distinguishing Spenser from Harvey is far from simple because
Spenser, Sidney, and the early modern chivalric code
Jean R. Brink
before printing the
dedication. He was sensitive to the awkwardness of dedicating a poem to a
person who might disagree with its contents or resent the dedication because it
suggested undue familiarity. In FamiliarLetters , alluding to Stephen
Gosson's having dedicated The Schoole of Abuse to Sidney, Spenser
Newe Bookes I heare of none, but only
of one, that
occupied the same position as Timothy
Reynolds and was a civil servant employed by the government has obscured how
significant it was for Grey to select the twenty-five-year-old poet as his
personal secretary. This appointment allows us to make inferences about the
personality of the early Spenser that are not obvious from the letters which
Harvey selected to include in FamiliarLetters (1580) .
A lord deputy of Ireland needed
and Natural History, 7 (1891), 68–76; C. Boyce, ‘The family
of William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury’, ibid., 20 (1930), 116–23.
17 Bodleian, MS Tanner 57, fols 384v–384r: Sancroft to Mr Widdrington, 21 October 1648
18 FamiliarLetters of Dr William Sancroft, Late Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, to Mr North,
afterwards Sir Henry North of Mildenhall, Bart. (1757), pp. 10, 24: Sancroft to North, Fressingfield, 12 August 1691, 23 December 1691.
19 Although Beddard notes the grant of arms in January 1663 (‘Sancroft’), Sancroft had