Faerie Queene. Book V. Canto X.

The Faerie Queene. Disposed into Twelve Bookes, fashioning XII. morall Vertues. The Second Part of the Faerie Queene. Containing the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Bookes.

Edmund Spenser

George L. Craik: "Canto X. (39 stanzas). — This new Canto the poet opens as follows: — 'Some clerks do doubt in their deviceful art | Whether this heavenly thing whereof I treat, | To weeten Mercy, be of Justice part, | Or drawn forth from her by divine extreat'.... These lines are introductory to a further celebration of the clemency of Mercilla in declining to take the life of Duessa 'Till strong constraint did her thereto enforce | And yet even then racing her wilful fall | With more than needful natural remorse, | And yielding the last honour to her wretched corse.'

"While Arthur and Artegal, delighted and filled with admiration, both by what they see of her general government, and by the particular courtesies and favours of which they are themselves the objects, still tarry at Mercilla's court, there arrive two youths from a foreign country to implore her succour for their mother, a widow, who is kept in great dolour and fear by a strong tyrant, by whom her land has been invaded, and the greater number of her children slain: — 'Her name was Belge; who, in former age | A lady of great worth and wealth had been'.... But now, of all that numerous brood, the tyrant had left her only five, having devoured the other twelve, and sacrificed their blood to his idols. Beige, with her seventeen sons, is obviously the country of the Netherlands, anciently the habitation of the Belgae; of the seventeen provinces of which five, namely, Holland, Zealand, Utrecht, Guelderland, and Friesland, declared themselves independent in 1579 by the celebrated Union of Utrecht (afterwards joined in 1580 by Overyssel, and in 1594 by Groningen). The tyrant by whom Belge is oppressed is, of course, Philip II. of Spain. 'Soothly,' we are told, — 'he was one of matchless might, | Of horrible aspect and dreadful mood, | And had three bodies in one waste empight, | And the arms and legs of three to succour him in fight.'

"The allusion here may be to Philip's triple dominion over Spain, the Netherlands, and Portugal. But his father, it is added, had also 'three bodies' power in one combined,' and this, we may presume, must refer to the union in the Emperor Charles V. of the three sovereignties of Spain, the Netherlands, and Germany. It is strange that these striking points in the allegory should have been overlooked by the commentators. His three bodies and his dominion of Spain together naturally lead the poet to identity Charles with the old giant Geryon.

"The tyrant under whom the widow Belge suffered was, he further tells us, of the race of the giants, being the son of that same Geryon who had formerly oppressed Spain, and by whom all strangers arriving in that country used to be given as food to his kine — 'the fairest kine alive, but of the fiercest kind.' For they were all, it is said, purple coloured, and were under the charge of a cruel and murderous herdsman called Eurytion, who never slept either by day or by night, but walked about tending them continually with his two-headed dog Orthrus, the monstrous progeny, of Typhaon and the foul Echidna: 'but Hercules them all did overcome in fight.' Geryon's son, named Geryoneo, after his father fell 'under Alcides' club,' straightway fled from that sad land, and — 'came to this, where Belge then did dwell | And flourish in all wealth and happiness, | Being then new made widow, as befell, | After her noble husband's late decease; | Which gave beginning to her woe and wretchedness.'

"This Upton interprets as describing the state of Belge 'when the Spaniards had subverted the liberties of the States after the assassination of the Prince of Orange.' But the words evidently do not refer to any assassination, any more than they do to the time (1584) when the Prince of Orange was assassinated. Belge's noble husband must be Charles the Bold, the last Duke of Burgundy, slain in 1477, the marriage of whose daughter with Maximilian of Austria brought the Netherlands into the possession of that foreign house. The poet goes on to relate that Geryoneo (here to be understood as meaning the House of Austria generally) in the first instance offered himself and was accepted by Belge as her champion to defend her against all foreign foes; that for a long time he executed that office faithfully, so that at last she committed everything to his hands, 'and gave him sovereign power to do whatever he thought good or fit;' and that then he began 'To stir up strife and many a tragic stour; | Giving her dearest children one by one | Unto a dreadful monster to devour, | And setting up an idol of his own, | The image of his monstrous parent Geryon.'

"The dreadful monster is plainly, as pointed out by the commentators, the Inquisition, set up in the Netherlands by Philip under the government of the Duke of Alva: but the last line is evidently to be further explained as designating the Popish religion by a reference to the triple crown of the Roman pontiff. The two youths whom the widow sends to Mercilla may perhaps have a special reference, as has been suggested, to the Marquis of Hauree and Adolph Metkerk, who were deputed to Elizabeth by the United States in 1577; but it is not necessary to consider the matter so literally; they are called by the poet Belge's two eldest sons, the most natural ambassadors for her to employ in her circumstances. When they present their suit Prince Arthur chances to be present, and seeing that none of the other knights seems inclined to offer himself, he steps forward, 'admired of all the rest in presence there,' and entreats the Queen to grant him the adventure of going against Geryoneo. Here at least we seem to have the Briton Prince manifestly representing the Earl of Leicester, whose appointment in 1585 as Captain-General of the threes in the Netherlands, and his conduct in that post throughout the two following years, make so principal a passage of his history.

"Arthur sets out on his expedition the very next morning, with 'those two gentle youths' as his guides, and soon arrives 'Within the land where dwelt that lady sad | Whereof that tyrant had her now deprived, | And into moors and marshes banished had, | Out of the pleasant soil and cities glad, | In which she wont to harbour happily:' words pointing to the geographical situation of the insurgent provinces as compared with that of the others winch remained in subjection to Spain. Belge is in such a state of grief and distraction that the sight of the armed knight at first alarms her but on seeing her sons she knows that he is come to help her, and, falling on their necks as they kneel before her, and bursting into tears, 'All, my sweet boys,' she says, 'now I gin new life to feel; | And feeble spirits, that gan faint and reel, | Now rise again at this your joyous sight'.... Arthur would have her leave her present miserable abode and go with him to some place where they might have rest and refreshment.....

"They journey on till they come to a city, apparently Antwerp (where the Duke of Alva built a citadel) 'the which whilome that lady's own had been,' but which has now been taken from her by her foe, who has shut up its haven and ruined the trade of its merchants, and has also set upon its neck a strong castle by which it is completely commanded and kept in subjection. He has also made it 'bear the yoke of Inquisition,' 'And forced it the honour that is due | To God to do unto his idol most untrue'.... Finally, the tyrant has placed in the conquered city a strong garrison commanded by a seneschal of the most merciless temper and of eminent military skill. Belge would have the prince to shun the place, but her dissuasions have no effect on him; he rides straight up to the wall of the castle, and desires the warder to call the seneschal forth.

"The latter at once accepts the challenge; they encounter 'in the middle plain;' the seneschal's spear can find no entrance into the prince's shield, 'so pure the metal was and well refined;' but Arthur's makes to itself ready passage not only through his adversary's shield, but also 'through his habergeon and eke his horse.' But as he marches up to try if he can find entrance into the castle, after having thus slain its master, three knights all armed to point issue forth, and ride against him all at once. He receives their three spears on his shield as firmly as if he were a bulwark, not swerving in his saddle the least aside; and not only so, but tranfixes the middle one on his own spear and hurls him lifeless to the ground. The other two immediately turn and take to flight; but Arthur, pursuing them, overtakes them as they reach the gate of the fort, and slays the one on the threshold, the other at the screen (or inner door). All the other persons that are in the castle then make their escape by a postern gate; and the victorious Briton prince conducts Belge and her two sons into the place, 'Where all that night themselves they cherished, | And from her baleful mind all care he banished'" Spenser and his Poetry (1845; 1871) 2:244-50.

Prince Arthur takes the Enterprize,
For Belge for to fight:
Gerioneo's Seneschal
He slays in Belge's Right.

Some Clarks do doubt in their deviceful Art,
Whether this heavenly Thing whereof I treat,
To weten Mercy, be of Justice part,
Or drawn forth from her by divine Extreat.
This well I wote, that sure she is as Great,
And meriteth to have as high a Place,
Sith in th' almighty's everlasting Seat
She first was bred, and born of heavenly Race;
From thence pour'd down on Men, by Influence of Grace.

For, if that Vertue be of so great Might,
Which from just Verdict will for nothing start,
But to preserve inviolated Right,
Oft spills the Principal to save the part;
So much more then is that of Power and Art,
That seeks to save the Subject of her Skill,
Yet never doth from Doom of Right depart:
As it is greater Praise to save, than spill,
And better to reform, than to cut off the Ill.

Who then can thee, Mercilla, throughly praise,
That herein dost all earthly Princes pass?
What heavenly Muse shall thy great Honour raise
Up to the Skies, whence first deriv'd it was,
And now on Earth it self enlarged has,
From th' utmost brink of the Armerick Shore,
Unto the Margent of the Molucas?
Those Nations far thy justice do adore:
But thine own People do thy Mercy praise much more.

Much more it praised was of those two Knights;
The noble Prince, and righteous Arthegal,
When they had seen and heard her Doom arights
Against Duessa, damned by them all;
But by her tempred without Grief or Gall,
Till strong Constraint did her thereto enforce.
And yet even then ruing her wilful Fall,
With more than needful natural Remorse,
And yielding the last Honour to her wretched Corse.

During all which, those Knights continu'd there,
Both doing and receiving Courtesies
Of that great Lady, who with goodly Chear
Them entertain'd, fit for their Dignities.
Approving daily to their noble Eyes
Royal Examples of her Mercies rare,
And worthy Patterns of her Clemencies;
Which till this day 'mongst many living are,
Who them to their Posterities do still declare.

Amongst the rest, which in that space befel,
There came two Springals of full tender Years,
Far thence from foreign Land, where they did dwell,
To seek for Succour of her and her Peers,
With humble Prayers and intreatful Tears;
Sent by their Mother, who a Widow was,
Wrapt in great Dolours, and in deadly Fears,
By a strong Tyrant, who invaded has
Her Land, and slain her Children ruefully, alas!

Her Name was Belge, who in former Age
A Lady of great Worth and Wealth had been,
And Mother of a fruitful Heritage,
Even seventeen goodly Sons; which who had seen
In their first Flower, before this fatal Teen
Them overtook, and their fair Blossoms blasted,
More happy Mother would her surely ween
Than famous Niobe, before she tasted
Latona's Childrens Wrath, that all her Issue wasted.

But this fell Tyrant, through his tortious Power,
Had left her now but five of all that Brood:
For, twelve of them he did by times devour,
And to his Idols sacrifice their Blood,
Whilst he of none was stopped, nor withstood.
For, soothly he was one of matchless Might,
Of horrible Aspect, and dreadful Mood,
And had three Bodies in one Waste empight,
And th' Arms and Legs of three, to succour him in Fight.

And sooth they say, that he was born and brad
Of Gyants Race, the Son of Geryon,
He that whylome in Spain so sore was drad
For his huge Power and great Oppression,
Which brought that Land to his Subjection,
Through his three Bodies power, in one combin'd;
And eke all Strangers in that Region
Arriving, to his Kine for Food assign'd;
The fairest Kine alive, but of the fiercest kind.

For, they were all, they say, of purple hue,
Kept by a Cow-herd, hight Eurytion,
A cruel Carle, the which all Strangers flew,
Ne day nor night did sleep, t' attend them on,
But walk about them ever and anon
With his two-headed Dog, that Orthrus hight;
Orthrus begotten by great Typhaon,
And foul Echidna, in the House of Night;
But Hercules them all did overcome in Fight.

His Son was this, Geryoneo hight;
Who, after that his monstrous Father fell
Under Alcides' Club, straight took his flight
From that sad Land, where he his Sire did quell,
And came to this, where Belge then did dwell,
And flourish't in all Wealth and Happiness,
Being then a new-made Widow (as befel)
After her noble Husband's late Decease;
Which gave beginning to her Woe and Wretchedness.

Then this bold Tyrant, of her Widow-head
Taking advantage, and her yet fresh Woes,
Himself and Service to her offered,
Her to defend against all foreign Foes,
That should their Power against her Right oppose.
Whereof she glad, now needing strong defence,
Him entertain'd, and did her Champion chuse:
Which long he us'd with careful diligence,
The better to confirm her fearless Confidence.

By means whereof she did at last commit
All to his hands, and gave him sovereign Power
To do whatever he thought good or fit.
Which having got, he 'gan forth from that hour
To stir up Strife, and many a tragick Stowre,
Giving her dearest Children one by one
Unto a dreadful Monster to devour,
And setting up an Idol of his own,
The Image of his monstrous Parent Geryone.

So tyrannizing, and oppressing all,
The woeful Widow had no means now left,
But unto gracious great Mercilla call
For aid, against that cruel Tyrant's Theft,
E'er all her Children he from her had reft.
Therefore these two, her eldest Sons, she sent
To seek for Succour of this Lady's Gieft:
To whom their Suit they humbly did present,
In th' healing of full many Knights and Ladies gent.

Amongst the which, then fortuned to be
The noble Briton Prince, with his brave Peer;
Who when he none of all those Knights did see
Hastily bent that Enterprize to hear,
Nor undertake the same, for coward Fear,
He stepped forth with Courage bold and great,
Admir'd of all the rest in presence there,
And humbly 'gan that mighty Queen entreat,
To grant him that Adventure for his former Feat.

She gladly granted it: then he straightway
Himself unto his Journey 'gan prepare;
And all his Armours ready dight that day,
That nought the morrow next mote stay his Fare.
The morrow next appear'd with purple Hair
Yet dropping fresh out of the Indian Fount,
And bringing Light into the Heavens fair,
When he was ready on his Steed to mount,
Unto his way, which now was all his Care and Count.

Then taking humble leave of that great Queen,
Who gave him royal Gifts and Riches rare
As Tokens of her thankful Mind beseen,
And leaving Arthegal to his own care;
Upon his Voyage forth he 'gan to fare,
With those two gentle Youths, which him did guide,
And all his way before him still prepare.
Ne after him did Arthegal abide,
But on his first Adventure forward forth did ride.

It was not long till that the Prince arriv'd
Within the Land, where dwelt that Lady sad,
Whereof that Tyrant had her now depriv'd,
And into Moors and Marshes banish'd had,
Out of the pleasant Soil, and Cities glad,
In which she wont to harbour happily;
But now his Cruelty so sore she drad,
That to those Fens for Safeness she did fly,
And there her self did hide from his hard Tyranny.

There he her found in Sorrow and Dismay,
All solitary without living Wight;
For all her other Children, through affray,
Had hid themselves, or taken further flight:
And eke her self through sudden strange Affright,
When one in Arms she saw, began to fly;
But when her own two Sons she had in sight,
She 'gan take heart, and look up joyfully:
For well she wist this Knight came Succour to supply.

And running unto them with greedy Joys,
Fell straight about their Necks, as they did kneel:
And bursting forth in Tears; Ah my sweet Boys.
Said she, yet now I 'gin new Life to feel;
And feeble Spirits, that 'gan faint and reel,
Now rise again at this your joyous sight.
Already seems, that Fortune's headlong Wheel
Begins to turn, and Sun to shine more bright
Than it was wont, through Comfort of this noble Knight.

Then turning unto him; And you Sir Knight,
Said she, that taken have this toilsome Pain
For wretched Woman, miserable Wight,
May you in Heaven immortal Guerdon gain
For so great Travail, as you do sustain:
For other Meed may hope for none of me,
To whom nought else, but bare Life doth remain;
And that so wretched one, as ye do see
Is liker lingring Death, than loathed Life to be.

Much was he moved with her piteous Plight;
And low dismounting from his lofty Steed,
'Gan to recomfort her all that he might,
Seeking to drive away deep-rooted Dread,
With hope of help in that her greatest Need.
So thence he wished her with him to wend
Unto some place, where they mote rest and feed,
And she take comfort, which God now did send;
Good heart in Evils doth the Evils much amend.

Ay me! said she, and whither shall I go?
Are not all places full of foreign Pow'rs?
My Palaces possessed of my Foe,
My Cities sack'd, and their sky-threatning Tow'rs
Rased, and made smooth Fields now full of Flow'rs?
Only these Marishes, and miry Bogs,
In which the fell Ewftes do build their Bow'rs,
Yield me an Hostry 'mongst the croking Frogs,
And harbour here in Safety from those ravenous Dogs.

Nath'less, said he, dear Lady with me go;
Some place shall us receive, and Harbour yield:
If not, we will it force, maugre your Foe,
And purchase it to us with Spear and Shield;
And if all fail, yet farewell open Field:
The Earth to all her Creatures Lodging lends.
With such his chearful Speeches he doth wield
Her Mind so well, that to his Will she bends;
And binding up her Locks and Weeds, forth with him wends.

They came unto a city far up land,
The which whilom that Lady's own had been;
But now by force extort out of her hand,
By her strong Foe, who had defaced clean
Her stately Tow'rs, and Buildings sunny sheen;
Shut up her Haven, and her Merchant's Trade,
Robbed her People, that full rich had been,
And in her Neck a Castle huge had made,
The which did her command, without needing persuade.

That Castle was the Strength of all that State,
Until that State by Strength was pulled down,
And that same City, so now ruinate,
Had been the Key of all that Kingdom's Crown;
Both goodly Castle, and both goodly Town,
Till that th' offended Heavens list to lour
Upon their Bliss, and baleful Fortune frown:
When those 'gainst States and Kingdoms do conjure,
Who then can think their headlong Ruin to recure?

But he had brought it now in servile Bond,
And made it bear the Yoke of Inquisition,
Striving long time in vain it to withstond;
Yet glad at last to make most base Submission,
And Life enjoy for any Composition.
So now he hath new Laws and Orders new
Impos'd on it, with many a hard Condition,
And forced it, the Honour that is due
To God, to do unto his idol most untrue.

To him he hath, before this Castle-Green,
Built a fair Chappel, and an Altar fram'd
Of costly Ivory, full rich beseen,
On which that cursed idol far proclaim'd,
He hath set up, and him his God hath nam'd,
Off'ring to him in sinful Sacrifice
The Flesh of Men, to God's own Likeness fram'd,
And pouring forth their Blood in brutish wize,
That any iron Eyes to see it would agrize.

And for more Horrour and more Cruelty,
Under that cursed idol's Altar-stone,
An hideous Monster doth in Darkness lie,
Whose dreadful Shape was never seen of none
That lives on Earth; but unto those alone
The which unto him sacrificed be.
Those he devours, they say, both Flesh and Bone:
What else they have is all the Tyrant's Fee;
So that no whit of them remaining one may see.

There eke he placed a strong Garison,
And set a Seneschal of dradded Might,
That by his Pow'r oppressed every one,
And vanquished all ventrous Knights in Fight;
To whom he wont shew all the Shame he might,
After that them in Battel he had won.
To which, when now they 'gan approach in sight,
The Lady counsel'd him the Place to shun,
Whereas so many Knights had foully been fordone.

Her fearful Speeches nought he did regard;
But riding straight under the Castle-Wall,
Called aloud unto the watchful Ward,
Which there did wait, willing them forth to call
Into the Field their Tyrant's Seneschal.
To whom when Tidings thereof came, he straight
Calls for his Arms, and arming him withal,
Eftsoons forth pricked proudly in his Might,
And 'gan with Courage fierce address him to the fight.

They both encounter in the middle Plain,
And their sharp Spears do both together smite
Amid their Shields, with so huge might and main,
That seem'd their Souls they would have riven quite
Out of their Breasts, with furious Despight.
Yet could the Seneschals no Entrance find
Into the Prince's Shield, where it empight;
So pure the Metal was, and well refin'd,
But shiver'd all about, and scatter'd in the Wind.

Not so the Prince's; but with restless Force
Into his Shield it ready Passage found,
Both through his Haberjeon, and eke his Corse:
Which tumbling down upon the sensless Ground,
Gave leave unto his Ghost from Thraldom bound,
To wander in the griesly Shades of Night.
There did the Prince him leave in deadly Swound,
And thence unto the Castle marched right,
To see if Entrance there as yet obtain he might.

But as he nigher drew, three Knights he spy'd,
All arm'd to point, issuing forth apace,
Which towards him with all their pow'r did ride;
And meeting him light in the middle Race,
Did all their Spears at once on him enchace.
As three great Culverings for Battery bent,
And level'd all against one certain Place,
Do all at once their Thunder's Rage forth-rent,
That makes the Walls to stagger with Astonishment.

So all at once they on the Prince did thunder;
Who from his Saddle swarved nought aside,
He to their Force gave way, that was great wonder,
But like a Bulwark, firmly did abide;
Rebutting him, which in the midst did ride,
With so huge Rigour, that his mortal Spear
Past through his Shield, and pierc'd through either side,
That down he fell upon his Mother dear,
And powred forth his wretched Life in deadly Drear.

Whom when his other Fellows saw, they fled
As fast as Feet could carry them away;
And after them the Prince as swiftly sped,
To be aveng'd of their unknightly Play.
There whilst they entring, th' one did th' other stay,
The hindmost in the Gate he over-hent,
And as he pressed in, him there did slay;
His Carcass tumbling on the Threshold, sent
His groaning Soul unto her Place of Punishment.

The other, which was enter'd, labour'd fast
To sperr the Gate; but that same Lump of Clay,
Whose grudging Ghost was thereout fled and past,
Right in the middest of the Threshold lay,
That it the Postern did from closing stay:
The whiles the Prince had pressed in between,
And Entrance won. Straight th' other fled away,
And ran into the Hall, where he did ween
Himself to save; but he there new him at the Skreen.

Then all the rest, which in that Castle were,
Seeing that sad Ensample them before,
Durst not abide, but fled away for fear,
And them convey'd out at a Postern Door.
Long sought the Prince but when he found no more
T' oppose against his Pow'r, he forth issu'd
Unto that Lady, where he her had lore,
And her 'gan cheer, with what she there had view'd,
And what she had not seen, within unto her shew'd.

Who with right humble Thanks him goodly greeting,
For so great Prowess, as he there had prov'd,
Much greater than was ever in her weeting,
With great Admirance inwardly was mov'd,
And honour'd him, with all that her behov'd.
Thenceforth into that Castle he her led,
With her two Sons, right dear of her belov'd,
Where all that Night themselves they cherished,
And from her baleful Mind all Care he banished.

[Works, ed. Hughes (1715) 3:817-26]