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Rereading Ruins: Edmund Spenser and Scottish Presbyterianism

Mottram, Stewart


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Dr Stewart Mottram
Director of Research, School of Humanities, and Reader in English Literature


Alexandra Walsham

Bronwyn Wallace

Ceri Law

Brian Cummings


With a focus on Edmund Spenser, this chapter explores representations of ruined monasteries within (New) English protestant writing of c.1590-1642. Monastic ruins are visible mnemonics of British-Irish reformation, and protestants express surprisingly broad motivations for their remembrance, from sorrow for, to celebration of, monastic dissolution – a breadth of opinion reflecting the breadth of beliefs and practices within the Elizabethan/early Stuart church. Recognition of this confessional latitude is leading to reappraisal of Spenser’s own ‘puritan’ credentials, and to realisation that Spenser was as anti-presbyterian as he was anti-catholic. The chapter is the first to translate Spenser’s presbyterian anxieties to a Scottish context, arguing that Spenser’s famously fractious relationship with James VI was prompted as much by Spenser’s anxieties over James’s seeming support for Scottish presbyterians as by Spenser’s attack on James’s catholic mother. The chapter shows how, in 'Faerie Qveene' VI, Spenser evokes memories of monastic ruins to warn his generation against the prospect of further, presbyterian-led ruination in England and Ireland under a future Scottish king. This perspective on monastic ruins – as memories of past, and monitories against future, reformation – serves as a salutary reminder that ‘reformation’ was a protracted and by no means universally popular process for Spenser’s generation.


Mottram, S. (2020). Rereading Ruins: Edmund Spenser and Scottish Presbyterianism. In A. Walsham, B. Wallace, C. Law, & B. Cummings (Eds.), Memory and the English Reformation (223-237). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Acceptance Date Mar 14, 2020
Online Publication Date Nov 2, 2020
Publication Date Nov 12, 2020
Deposit Date Nov 19, 2020
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Pages 223-237
Book Title Memory and the English Reformation
Chapter Number 11
ISBN 9781108829991; 9781108820493
Keywords Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, A View of the Present State of Ireland, Dissolution of the monasteries, Ruins in literature, Presbyterianism, James VI of Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabethan Ireland, Elizabethan church
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