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Edmund Spenser is one of the great poets of English Literature. He was more or less contemporary with Shakespeare and the Authorised Version: he was "probably born in 1552" (DNB), and died in 1599. He was described on his tomb in Westminster Abbey as "the Prince of Poets in his tyme" (sic), and "our English Virgil", and until well into the twentieth century was regarded, with Chaucer and Milton as cornerstones of the English tradition. He has been seen as archaic, notably because his work, unlike that of Shakespeare, is often reprinted with the original spelling (as in the extract at Spenserian stanza), and he himself was a conscious imitator of Chaucer. His most famous work is The Faerie Queene, and he also wrote The Shepheardes Calender (1579), Colin Clouts Come Home Againe, (1591) and many epigrams, sonnets, elegies and epithalamia.

From 1580, Spenser lived principally in Ireland, first as private secretary to Lord Grey, who was Lord Deputy of Ireland until 1582, and then in various official posts. In 1586 he acquired an estate, including a dilapidated castle and 3028 acres, at Kilcolman. This was burnt by Irish rebels in 1598, and the Spensers fled, first to Dublin (where Edmund often seems to have resided on official business) and then in Westminster, where he died in 1599.

Spenser is the inventor of the Spenserian stanza, a verse form he devised for The Faerie Queene.