Study Guide

The Faerie Queene Book 2, Canto 10

By Edmund Spenser

Book 2, Canto 10

  • Since Guyon and Arthur are busily reading about history, our narrator decides that we could use a history lesson too. This is a lesson about the ancestors of the Britain—aka Queen Elizabeth I—and our narrator invites us to read along with Arthur.
  • Now, the narrator wants us to prepare ourselves for just how important this topic. He's going to need all his poetic skillz to relate it.
  • He explains that Arthur is the ancestor of the Queen and that Arthur's ancestors themselves go way back.
  • Back in the day, Britain was a total wilderness that a few wanderers had discovered, but they lived in constant fear of neighboring giants and monsters, apparently the offspring of a Roman emperor's daughter.
  • The land remained chaotic until a Roman nobleman, Brutus, conquered it and made himself king.
  • The monsters continued to be an issue, but three heroes emerge victorious and divide up Britain between themselves: Corineus takes Cornwall, Debons takes Debonshire, and Canute takes Cantium.
  • Brutus then rules Britain happily ever after and leaves it and its surrounding territories to his three sons: Locrine takes Britain itself, Albanact takes Scotland, and Camber takes Wales.
  • Things go along peacefully until the Huns (a fierce tribe of warriors from Asia) attack, whom Locrine expertly defeats.
  • Unfortunately, this victory goes to Locrine's head and he begins living an overly luxurious life, even cheating on his wife, Guendolene (the daughter of Corineus) with a lady named Estrild.
  • Well, Guendolene doesn't put up with it and defeats Locrine in battle, puts him in jail, and kills both Estrild and her daughter by Locrine, Sabina.
  • She then rules in Locrine's place until their son, Madan, comes of age and then she hands over the kingdom to him.
  • Madan and his son, Memprise, end up being pretty lousy kings, but Memprise's son, Ebranck, turns out to be pretty solid.
  • This guy has fifty-two children, twenty of which are sons, and briefly manages to invade Germany until France kicks them out.
  • One of his sons, Brutus the Second, takes over and manages to conquer parts of France, and his son, Leill, takes a more peaceful tone and builds some cool castles.
  • The next two kings, Huddibras and Bladud, continue this peaceful vibe and Bladud, being a learned type, brings arts and sciences to some of Britain's rougher parts (for example, the amazing hot baths at Bath which are still around today).
  • His son is the infamous Leyr. Yep, that King Lear. Spenser's version is actually a source for Shakespeare. Lear had no sons and wanted to divide his kingdom between his daughters equally.
  • However, when he got old and grumpy, he demanded that his daughters prove their love for him, which the eldest Gonorill did, and then the youngest, Regan, also. But the middle daughter, Cordeill, said she loves him just as she should and had nothing to prove.
  • Well, this did not make Leyr happy so he cut her out of her inheritance and she went off with her husband to France.
  • Leyr then decided to retire with his daughter Gonorill, who got sick of him and then with Regan, who got sick of him too.
  • Finally, he had no one to turn too but Cordeill, who took him in happily and led a war against Gonorill and Regan for the throne.
  • She defeated them and restored the throne to Leyr who then left it all to her when he died.
  • However, the children of Gonorill and Regan then rose up against Cordeill for the throne and they captured her, threw her in prison, and she eventually hanged herself.
  • The children of Gonorill and Regan—Cundah and Morgan—began to fight over the throne, and Cundah eventually defeated Morgan.
  • Their son continues the bloodshed, but after him is a short time of peace, until the sons of the king Gorbogud—Ferrex and Porrex—throw him in prison.
  • Not surprisingly, they begin to squabble over the throne and Porrex kills Ferrex, but then their mother, Wyden, kills Porrex. This ain't a happy family, folks.
  • With their death, the line of Brutus ended and Britain descended into chaos until one leader, named Donwallo, brought peace, unity, and laws to Britain.
  • His sons, Brennus and Belinus, conquer Rome, Greece, France, and Germany. The son of Belinus, Gurgunt, continues in his father's footsteps, conquering Norway and Denmark and establishing some Spaniards in Ireland as his subjects.
  • Next Guitheline reigns with his wife, Martia, who brings in good laws and is followed by various kings until the sons of Morindus reign: Gorboman, then Archigald, who is deposed for being haughty, then Elidure, who puts Archigald back on the throne until he dies, but then has his throne seized by Peridure and Vigent.
  • No wonder they call it a Game of Thrones: this nonsense is like musical chairs.
  • Elidure is then imprisoned for a long time, but finally regains the throne and ushers in many generations of kings.
  • One of these is Hely, whose eldest son reigns after him and builds fortifications around London.
  • He leaves the throne to his sons, Androgeus and Tenantius, and put their uncle in charge since they are too young.
  • It's during their reign that Julius Caesar and the Romans attack and eventually defeat Britain because Androgeus betrays his people out of anger that his uncle was allowed to rule.
  • Even though Rome takes control of Britain, it's not without a good fight; Caesar faces their hero, Nennius, in single combat and although Nennius dies, Caesar's sword is stuck to his shield and so is buried with him near London.
  • Our narrator also informs us that Arthur will one day stand up to Roman rule.
  • Tenantius takes over ruling Britain, and during his son's reign we learn that Jesus is born.
  • The Roman emperor Claudius attacks Britain again, killing the king, but Arvirage takes over and repels them and even marries the Roman emperor Vespasian's daughter, Genuissa, who convinces her husband to no longer make war against Rome.
  • After this there is a time of peace that ends with king Lucius, who brings Christianity to Britain.
  • After his death, since he leaves no heirs, chaos ensues and the warrior-queen Bunduca (also called Boadicea (yeah, we think it sounds like "bodacious" too)) challenges Rome and almost wins, but ultimately kills herself. Oops.
  • After her, more turmoil continues, as many kings of Britain unsuccessfully attempt to defeat Rome.
  • Finally, Rome sends Constantius to deal with the British king Coyll, and Coyll agrees to give his daughter, the beautiful and musically talented Helena, to Constantius as a wife.
  • She and Constantius have a son, the famous emperor Constantine, who is the first Christian emperor of Rome.
  • Meanwhile, Octavius becomes king of Britain, and gives his daughter to a Roman, Maximilian, who becomes emperor but is killed.
  • Soon, Britain descends again into chaos, overtaken by the warring tribes of Huns and Picts, and the whole Roman Empire dissolves for four hundred years until order is established under a second Constantine, who extends Britain's boundaries.
  • The sons he leaves were all young so their uncle, Vortigere, takes over and sends the children to Brittany while he sends for aid from Germany. But he's betrayed by those Germans, and barely escapes alive.
  • Meanwhile, the children of Constantine have grown up. Their names are Ambrose and Uther, and they want their kingdom back.
  • They kill Vortigere and his German henchmen and Ambrose takes over and rules in peace and is then succeeded by his brother Uther—
  • But wait! Arthur's book has cut off right here, unfinished for some mysterious reason.
  • Arthur is very moved by reading the history of his people but meanwhile, Guyon has been reading about the history of Faerie Land and is still distracted doing that.
  • Our narrator says that he doesn't have time to include a full history of that too (phew!), but he'll give us a taste.
  • The history of Faerie Land tells how Prometheus created man, but was severely punished for this. The man he created he called "Elfe" meaning "quick."
  • This first Elfe king finds a lovely lady he calls Fay, hence Faeries, and they begin a great lineage of great Elves who control huge parts of the world like India and America.
  • Their line goes on for many, many generations and kills all kinds of goblins, monsters, and giants.
  • Finally, we come to Elficeos, whose youngest son Oberon leaves his power to Tananquill, aka the Faerie Queene, the greatest sovereign yet to reign.
  • Arthur and Guyon are completely absorbed in their texts, but Alma realizes how late it is and, reluctantly, they follow her to dinner.