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Edmund Spenser was born in East Smithfield, London around the year 1552 though there is some ambiguity as to the exact date of his birth. As a young boy, he was educated in London at the Merchant Taylors' School and matriculated as a sizar at Pembroke College, Cambridge. While at Cambridge he became a friend of Gabriel Harvey, and later consulted him, despite their differing views on poetry.
In July 1580, Spenser went to Ireland in the service of the newly appointed Lord Deputy, Arthur Grey, 14th Baron Grey de Wilton. Then he served with the English forces during the Second Desmond Rebellion. After the defeat of the native Irish he was awarded lands in County Cork that was confiscated in the Munster Plantation during the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland.
Through his poetry, Spenser hoped to secure a place at court, which he visited in Raleigh's company to deliver his most famous work, The Faerie Queene. However, he boldly antagonised the queen's principal secretary, Lord Burghley, and all he received in recognition of his work was a pension in 1591. When it was proposed that he receive payment of 100 pounds for his epic poem, Burghley remarked, "What, all this for a song!"
Later on, during the Nine Years War in 1598, Spenser was driven from his home by the native Irish forces of Aodh Ó Néill. His castle at Kilcolman, near Doneraile in North Cork was burnt, and it is thought one of his infant children died in the blaze – though local legend has it that his wife also died. In the year after being driven from his home, Spenser travelled to London, where he died in distressed circumstances (according to legend), aged forty-six. It was arranged for his coffin to be carried by other poets, upon which they threw many pens and pieces of poetry into his grave with many tears.
The Faerie Queene Spenser's masterpiece is an extensive poem The Faerie Queene. The first three books of The Faerie Queene were published in 1590, and a second set of three books was published in 1596. This extended epic poem deals with the adventures of knights, dragons, ladies in distress, etc. yet it is also an extended allegory about the moral life and what makes for a life of virtue. Spenser originally indicated that he intended the poem to be twelve books long, so the version of the poem we have today is incomplete.