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.
Spenser, Sidney, and the early modern chivalric code
Jean R. Brink
familiar with Spenser's progress on the Faerie Queene. In addition to
these marks of mutual intellectual respect, we should note that both of
Spenser's two civil service offices in Ireland were initially occupied by
Bryskett, suggesting that he may have recommended or supported Spenser's
candidacy as his successor.
Court humanism versus the earlymodernchivalriccode
The Shepheardes Calender records this vocational shift as well as
functioning as a landmark work of English literature.
In Chapter 6 , ‘Minde on honour
fixed’, I marshal whatever circumstantial evidence exists to suggest that
Spenser knew and was influenced by the Sidneys, who introduced him to the earlymodernchivalriccode. Under their influence, he came
leaders conclude that battles will be determined by their own single combat;
avowed enemies become sworn brothers because they each kept their word.
Shuger's formulation explains why descriptions of events in Ireland in
Henry Sidney's Memoirs sometimes read like passages out of Malory's
Knights of King Arthur. The earlymodernchivalriccode, largely an
honour code, bound both Irish and English military servitors, like ‘Black