Hailing from a gentry family, Robert Southwell was born in Norfolk, one of the places where Catholicism prevailed even under Elizabeth I. The exact date of his birth is unknown, but he claimed that he was 33 when he stood trial in February 1595. In 1576, Southwell was sent to school in Douai, France, a refuge for exiled English Catholics. From here he went to the Jesuit college of Clermont in Paris. In 1577 he applied to enter the Jesuit order, and in 1578 he went to Rome, where he remained for several years.
In 1585, an Act of Parliament barred those English citizens who had been abroad since Elizabeth's accession to the throne from returning to England, and Catholicism was formally outlawed in England. It was illegal to attend mass or go to confession, to be a priest or to assist a priest. As all of these actions constituted treason, they were punishable by death. Nevertheless, in 1586 Southwell embarked on a secret mission to England with another Jesuit, Henry Garnet. The two priests remained at large for several years, acquiring a certain reputation for missionary zeal. Richard Top-cliff, one of Queen Elizabeth's priest hunters, was particularly eager to capture Southwell, which he did on June 25, 1592. Southwell endured torture, deprivation, and imprisonment in the Tower of London, but he never betrayed any of his fellow Catholics. He was finally executed on February 21, 1595. Southwell was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929.
Southwell's poetry tends toward the didactic and meditative. It dates from the period of July 1586, his return to England, until his arrest in 1592. His only long poem, Saint Peter's Complaint, is a monologue in which Saint Peter laments betraying Christ. Critics have noted that William Shakespeare's later poem The Rape of Lucrece (1593-94) shows the influence of Southwell's earlier work. The poem represents the sum of Southwell's priestly and poetic insights, and it is geared to a variety of audiences: practicing Catholics, lapsed Catholics, and other poets.
Southwell's poetry deals with spiritual maturity and the intent of teaching the way to love God through suffering; it covers topics such as the nativity of Christ, the virgin Mary, and Christ's ministry. "The virgin Mary's Conception" is perhaps the best known of the Mary poems, while "The Burning Babe" commands the most attention overall. It has force and simplicity and was much admired by contemporaries. Printing and possessing Southwell's work was illegal during the reign of Elizabeth I; nevertheless, his poetry surreptitiously enjoyed wide circulation.
Brownlow, F. W. Robert Southwell. New York: Twayne, 1996.
McDonald, James H., and Nancy Pollard Brown, eds. The Poems of Robert Southwell, SJ. Oxford: Clarendon, 1967. Pilarz, Scott R. Robert Southwell and the Mission of Literature, 1561-1595. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2004.
SPANISH ARMADA (1588) In 1588, a large fleet (armada) of 130 Spanish vessels sailed through the English Channel with the objective of occupying England. The duke of Parma's troops in the southern Netherlands were to embark on the fleet, and the Spanish troops would be set on English soil. The armada's objectives failed miserably: Before it even reached Parma's soldiers, the Spanish ships suffered heavy damage from the English navy, and many vessels were lost on their return voyage off the West Irish coast. The expedition was a human and financial disaster for the Spanish Crown, which became increasingly destitute by financing its wars in the Low Countries (today's Belgium, Luxembourg, and Netherlands). Moreover, the armada's demise was a sign of the Spanish navy's decreasing power, freeing up their English, French, and Dutch competitors to challenge Iberian authority over its overseas possessions in the Americas, Africa, and Asia.
Moreover, this victory proclaimed the Protestant deliverance over Catholic tyranny during the 16th century's religious wars, and set the stage for English imperialism.
The outcome of the religious and political warfare made its way into pamphlets, memorial medals, and literature. For instance, Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene and Thomas Campion's "Ad Thamesin" both directly reference the armada. William Shakespeare's Sonnet 107 (see Shakespeare's sonnets) also boasts cryptic references to this event. Historians have taken the armada's defeat as the ultimate sign of "Spanish decline" and English "rise to glory." Though perhaps not quite so definitive as this, the English victory did encourage the budding nationalists, and later literature referenced it often.
Mattingly, Garrett. The Defeat of the Spanish Armada. Har-
mondsworth, U.K.: Penguin Books, 1962. Whitehead, Bertrand T. Brags and Boasts: Propaganda in the Year of the Armada. Dover, N.H.: Alan Sutton Publishers, 1994.
SPENSER, EDMUND (ca. 1552-1599)
Edmund Spenser was an important figure of the English Renaissance who succeeded in inventing his own verse form, style, and vocabulary. Spenser not only stimulated a whole contemporary pastoral tradition with the publication of his first major work, The Shep-heardes Calender (1579), but also, posthumously, exerted a powerful influence on a series of major canonical authors, most notably John Milton, William Blake, and T. S. Eliot.
Edmund Spenser was born around 1552 to a family of modest means and earned his education through academic prowess. In 1561, Spenser entered the Merchant Taylors' School as a "poor scholar." There he came under the tutelage of Richard Mulcaster, a noted humanist scholar and writer, who emphasized equally the classtical tradition and studies in the vernacular. Spenser continued his education in 1569 by entering
Pembroke College, Cambridge University, as a sizar, a student who earns his tuition by acting as a servant to wealthy students. He earned his B.A. in 1573 and his M.A. in 1576.
While at Cambridge, and later in London, Spenser cultivated important acquaintances, such as Gabriel Harvey and Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, and noted poet and courtier Sir Philip Sidney. Through these connections, Spenser entered the social circle at Queen Elizabeth I's court, and secured a career in government, being appointed secretary to Arthur, Lord Grey de Wilton, in 1580. Spenser remained in Ireland for the rest of his life.
In Ireland, Spenser began his masterpiece, The Faerie Queene. By 1589, he had finished the first three books of his projected 12-book epic. After reading these, Sir Walter Raleigh encouraged Spenser to return with him to England, where he arranged an audience with Queen Elizabeth. In 1590, with court patronage, his work was published and deemed an immediate success. Impressed, the queen promised Spenser a large pension, which was later reduced due to political machinations. He returned to Ireland, and on June 11, 1594, married Elizabeth Boyle, his second wife, commemorating the event with the sonnet sequence Amoretti and his poem Epithalamion.
Living in Kilcolman Castle with his family, Spenser composed the last six books of The Faerie Queene and was appointed sheriff of Cork in the fall of 1598. Tragedy struck only weeks later when rebellion broke out among the Irish in Munster and mobs set fire to his castle. The family escaped with their lives, but the fire claimed most of Spenser's recent writing. only two cantos of Book 7 of The Faerie Queene survived (published in 1609); consequently, Spenser's ambitious masterwork was never completed. In December 1598, Spenser was recalled to England. Weakened by the winter journey, Spenser died in London on January 16, 1599. He was buried near Geoffrey Chaucer in Westminster Abbey.
Cheney, Patrick. Spenser's Famous Flight: A Renaissance Idea of a Literary Career. Toronto: University of Toronto Press,
Maley, Willy. A Spenser Chronology. Lanham, Md.: Barnes and Noble, 1994. Waller, Gary F. Edmund Spenser: A Literary Life. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.
SPENSERIAN SONNET A variation, developed by Edmund Spenser, of the sonnet (14-line poem), this form is quite rare. Considered a complication of the English sonnet form, the Spenserian sonnet also exhibits three quatrains and a concluding couplet, but features a more complex, interlinking rhyme scheme: abab bcbc cdcd ee. The repetition of rhymes bridging quatrains creates a tight, focused narrative structure. Spenser's Amoretti is the most prominent example of this sonnet type.
See also Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet.
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