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  • Writer's pictureJo-Anne Blanco

Britomart - Arthurian Female Warrior

Perhaps the most famous warrior woman with ties to Arthur in English literature is Britomart, a female knight in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590–1596) and in many ways a parallel English version of the Italian Bradamante. A beautiful young maiden, daughter of King Rience of Wales, Britomart in The Faerie Queene is the embodiment of chastity and a representative of Queen Elizabeth I. After falling in love with a knight called Artegall who she sees in an enchanted mirror, she takes up arms as a knight and travels to Fairy Land to find him. Similar to Bradamante and her lance, Britomart carries a magic black spear which ensures she is never defeated in battle. In Fairy Land, she becomes a companion to Arthur, who in this version is a prince in love with Gloriana, the Fairy Queen. During her adventures, Britomart helps the Red Cross Knight escape from the Castle Joyous, meets Merlin and hears his prophecies about the future of Britain, and rescues the maiden Amoret who has been abducted and imprisoned by the sorcerer Busirane.

Amoret’s lover Scudamore is convinced that Amoret has run off with Britomart and is jealous. A tournament is held in which Britomart fights both Scudamore and Artegall, all wearing helmets with visors. Britomart defeats Scudamore but when her helmet falls off during her fight with Artegall, the latter falls in love with her, takes off his helmet and lays down his arms. Britomart recognises him as the man she saw in the mirror, and the two are quickly married. However, Artegall must complete a quest assigned to him by the Fairy Queen and leaves, while Britomart aids Scudamore and Arthur on a mission to find Amoret, who has been abducted again. On his quest, Artegall arrives at the city of the Amazons, ruled by the ruthless Queen Radigund, another warrior woman, who will not suffer any male knight to enter her realm and, after defeating them in combat, forces them become her slaves and to wear female clothes. When Britomart learns from the metal-man Talus that Artegall has been captured and taken as a slave by Radigund, she goes to the city herself and fights and kills Radigund in a mighty duel. The Amazons’ city falls to Britomart, and she and Artegall are happily reunited.

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