Sir Walter Raleigh as “Faunus”: The Elizabethan World of Magic and Impurity

Dear Reader,

I will readily admit, that, although a traditional Catholic, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Elizabethan period. Thus, it has always been difficult for me to accept the Hilaire Belloc narrative that the period was drenched in debauchery and financial corruption.

However, the more I research into the matter, the more I release that Belloc was right. Not only do Shakespeare’s plays, which usually depict a corrupt and degenerate court of both Elizabeth and then the Stuart monarchs, but even writers such as Edmund Spenser seem to indicate that there may have been a lot of impurity and decadence involving even Elizabeth herself.  It is curious that among the most famous poets and thinkers of the period, five things seems to go together.

  1. Magic
  2. British Imperialism
  3. Sexual impurity
  4. Financial corruption and greed
  5. Religious novelty

I was just reading over a passage in Spenser’s Faerie Queene again in which Spenser depicts Elizabeth as Diana and Sir Walter Raleigh as a satyr named Faunus who stumbles upon Diana bathing. This is a clear reference to Raleigh’s affair with Elizabeth Throckmorton, one of Elizabeth’s ladies. However, it is also curious that Spenser has Raleigh implicitly see Elizabeth naked. What is more, Raleigh is described as a lustful and diabolical figure, a satyr with a “goatish beard” and “hornes.”

In addition to his life as a degenerate philanderer, Raleigh helped to sow the seeds of the British Empire, and wrote approvingly of white magic in his History of the World.

What was going on in the court of Elizabeth?