Biography of Edmund Spenser

Portrait of Edmund Spenser

Edmund Spenser was an Elizabethan dramatist most famous for “The Fairie Queene”.

When and Where was he Born?

1552/3, London, England.

Family Background:

Edmund Spenser is thought to be the son of a gentleman tradesman. His father may have been the John Spenser from Lancashire who moved to London and became a member of the Merchant Taylor’s Company.


Merchant Taylor’s School, London. Pembroke Hall College, Cambridge.

Timeline of Edmund Spenser:

1569: Spenser contributes several sections to the English version of “A Theatre for Worldlings” edited by Jan van der Noodt. In particular he translated epigrams by Petrarch and four sonnet paraphrases.

1573: He receives his BA degree from Cambridge University.

1576: He receives his MA degree from Cambridge University.

1578: Spenser is employed as a secretary to John Young the Bishop of Rochester, who was formerly Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge.

1579: He is taken into the employment of Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester and becomes part of the group called Areopagus, surrounding Sir Phillip Sidney. (5th December) Entry in the Stationer’s Register for the publication of his work “The Shepherd’s Calendar”.

1580: First reference to “The Fairie Queene” is made in some letters to Gabriel Harvey a friend from Cambridge. He is appointed Secretary to Arthur, Lord Grey of Wilton, who is the Lord Deputy of Ireland. In August he travels to Ireland with Grey and works as Clerk of the Privy Council at Dublin Castle.

1581: Spenser succeeds Lodowick Bryskett as Clerk in the Chancery for Faculties on 9th March which pays him a regular sum of money whilst still being employed by Grey. In December he leases the castle and manor house at Enniscorthy in County Wexford for a short while and then leases a dissolved monastery at New Ross in Wexford. He then takes a house in Dublin and New Abbey, County Kildare.

1583: Spenser is appointed as Commissioner of Musters for County Kildare.

1586: He is given Kilcolman Castle in Munster, which formed part of the lands confiscated from the Irish Earl Desmond, as a reward for putting down the rebellion of Trim. Is given the task of populating Munster with English people.

1589: He succeeds Bryskett as Clerk of the Council in Munster. (October) He returns to England with Sir Walter Raleigh to present “The Fairie Queene” to Queen Elizabeth the First. However the Queen has not forgotten his previous work “Mother Hubberd’s Tale” which proposed her match to the Duc d’Alencon, which she did not like.

1590: Books 1 to 3 of “The Fairie Queene” are published by William Ponsonby in London. The Stationer’s Register records his work “Complaints: Containing Sundery Small Poems of the World’s Vanity on 9th December.

1591: He returns to Ireland having been granted a life pension of £50 per year by the Queen. “Complaints and Daphniaida is published by William Ponsonby in December, He produces the dedicatory epistle to Raleigh “Colin Clout’s Come Home Again”.

1594: Spenser is appointed Queen’s Justice for Cork. “Amoretti and Epithalmion” is published on 19th November. He marries for a second time to Elizabeth Boyle, sister of Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork.

1595: The publication of “Colins Clout’s Come Home Again” and “A Pastoral Elegy on the Death of the Most Noble and Valorous Knight, Sir Philip Sydney”.

1596: Spenser revisits London. Publication of “The Fairie Queene” Books 4-6, and “Four Hymns”. King James the Sixth of Scotland accuses Spenser of slandering his mother Mary Queen of Scots as the figure of Duessa in the “The Fairie Queene” .

1598: Edmund Spenser named Sheriff Designate for County Cork. In April he completes “A View of the Present State of Ireland”, but it is not published until 1633. The castle at Kilcolman is attacked during October and is burned to the ground by the army of the Earl of Tyrone. Spenser fleas to Cork.

1598: He takes dispatches from Sir Thomas Norris, the Governor of Munster to London to give to the Privy Council.

1599: Edmund Spenser is back in Westminster.

(1609): Full publication of “The Fairie Queene” including “Two Cantos of Mutability”.

When and Where did he Die?

13th January 1599, London. His funeral was paid for by the Earl of Essex. According to Ben Jonson, talking to William Drummond a few years later Spenser “died for lack of bread,” however this is not likely to be strictly true as he had a generous pension from the queen of £50 per annum, although his estates in Ireland had already been taken from him.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1569: “The Visions of Bellay”. “The Visions of Petrarch”.
1579: “The Shepherd’s Calendar”.
1580: “Three Letters and Two Other Letters Passed between Two University Men”.
1590: “The Faerie Queen”. (Books 1-3). “Muiopotmos, or the Fate of the Butterfly”.
1591: “Complaints”. “Daphnaida”.
1595: “Amoretti”. “Colin Clout’s Come Home Again”. “Epithalamion”.
1596: “The Fairie Queen” (Books 1-3 Revised and Books 4-6).
(1633): “A View of the Present State of Ireland”.


1. To Machabyas Chylde at Westminster.
2. 1594 to Elizabeth Boyle, sister of Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork.

Site of Grave:

Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, London.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey, London (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:


Westminster Abbey.