Edmund Spenser

Spenser, Edmund, the English poet, author of the Faerie Queene, resided for a considerable time in Ireland.

He was born in London in 1552, and came over as Secretary to Arthur Lord Grey of Wilton, probably in August 1580.

In the following March he obtained the lucrative post of Clerk of Decrees and Recognizances in the Irish Court of Chancery.

He was given a lease on beneficial terms of the abbey and manor of Enniscorthy.

About 1586 he was granted 3,028 acres in the County of Cork, including the manor and Castle of Kilcolman; and in June 1588 was appointed Secretary of the Council of Munster.

On the 11th June 1594, he married, at Cork, the daughter of a merchant of that city.

It is believed that he wrote much of the Faerie Queene at Kilcolman.

The beautiful and interesting references to the Irish rivers in that work (Book iv. Canto 11., vv. 40-44), were doubtless written from personal observations.

Spenser’s important political tract, A View of the State of Ireland, written Dialogue-wise between Eudoxus and Irenaeus, was probably composed in 1596, during a visit to England. It was not printed till 1633, at the cost of Sir James Ware.

It is an extremely interesting and thoughtful survey of the state of Ireland and its relations with England, and contains much that is applicable to the present day.

His low estimate of the character of the inhabitants of the country, and his heartless incentives to further sweeping confiscations of the lands of the Irish were so irritating, that it is not surprising he was one of the first sufferers from the effort of the Sugan Earl of Desmond, in 1598, to repossess himself of the estates of his forefathers.

Early in October, upon the breaking out of hostilities, Kilcolman was attacked and set on fire. Spenser, his wife, and family with difficulty escaped, leaving behind an infant, who probably perished in the flames.

He died in poverty in London, three months afterwards, 16th January 1599, aged 46.

His widow, who married again before 1603, was granted a small estate by the Government.

It has been difficult to trace the history of the poet’s sons, Sylvanus and Peregrine, who remained in or returned to Ireland.

Edmund, the eldest son of Sylvanus, is understood to have died unmarried; while Hugoline, Peregrine’s son, suffered outlawry and loss of property for joining the Irish side in the Wars of 1641–’52 and 1689–’91.

It was contended by Sir William Betham that Spenser left two other children, Lawrence and Katherine; but diligent search has failed to establish anything concerning them, or to trace his descendants beyond the second generation.


309. Spenser, Edmund, Works, Life.