When Edmund Spenser Showed His Poem to Elizabeth I

Eminent poet Edmund Spenser (1552/1553 – 1599) lived during the Elizabethan era. His most famous work is The Faerie Queene, an epic poem with an allegorical theme in praise of the Tudor dynasty and Queen Elizabeth I. The unique verse form (at the time) used in this work was invented by Spenser, which would later be known as the Spenserian stanza.

In 1589, Spenser showed the Queen the first three books of The Faerie Queene. It was an obvious attempt to gain the Queen’s approbation and favor. He succeeded and as a result, the Queen rewarded him a handsome sum of money — a life pension of £50 a year. However, several sources claimed that there was no evidence that the Queen read the poem. That’s rather sad if you think about it. Nonetheless, the mere knowledge that The Faerie Queene gained the Queen’s approval ensured that it would become one of the most prominent pieces of literature of that period.

Theophilus Cibber, in his book The Lives of the Poets (1753) shared another anecdotal and probably apocryphal account of the first meeting between Spenser and Elizabeth I.

After Spenser showed a few of his poems to the Queen, she was so impressed that she directed her Lord High Treasurer, Baron Burleigh to pay him £100. The Treasurer scoffed and objected, “What, all this for a song?” The Queen replied, “Then give him what is reason.” Spenser waited for his reward, but he became disappointed when he was only handed a paltry amount of money.

So, Spenser presented a paper with a short verse to the Queen reminding her of the order she had given:

I was promised on a time
To have reason for my rhime.
From that time, unto this season,
I received nor rhime, nor reason.

Spenser’s verse got the intended effect and the Queen, after reproaching the Treasurer, ordered the payment of £100 as she initially promised.

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