Arthur has been spending time at Alma’s castle and has finally recovered from his battle wounds. Meanwhile, Sir Guyon sends Acrasia back in chains to the Faerie Queene and decides to go traveling with Arthur. They go on many dangerous but glorious adventures together.
The beginning of Book III ties up the adventures of Book II, as it transitions toward introducing a new character who will become the focus of the third book.
One day on a plain, Sir Guyon spots a knight with an old squire. The knight starts charging at him on his horse, and the two attack each other with spears. Though no one is seriously injured, Guyon is shocked and ashamed to find himself knocked off his horse. It turns out his opponent’s lance is enchanted, and in fact, his opponent is none other than the famous knight Britomart, who is adventuring to find her lover.
As the knight of temperance, Sir Guyon has a lot in common with Britomart, who is the knight who represents chastity. It is perhaps shocking that Britomart knocks Guyon off his horse, particularly given how weak many of the virtuous women in the poem have been so far, although Britomart shares a sense of faith and chastity with previous women characters like Una.
Sir Guyon would rather die than be shamed, which worries the Palmer, so he persuades Guyon not to press his luck against Britomart and her enchanted lance. Eventually, everyone’s temper cools, and Guyon and Britomart reach an understanding because they’re both honorable. They (and Arthur) decide to ride together.
The difference between Sir Guyon and a brash knight like Pyrochles is that Sir Guyon can listen to reason, particularly when it’s delivered to him by the Palmer.
Sir Guyon, Arthur, and Britomart travel together for a while, across many countries, having many adventures. One day, they see a lady in shining clothes ride out of a thick brush on a white horse. She is followed by a brutish foster (forester), who seems to be full of lust.
The friendship between Sir Guyon and Britomart illustrates how virtue and shared values can lead people to find common purpose.
While Sir Guyon and Arthur are going to help the fair lady, Britomart stays behind, then eventually she heads off on her own, arriving at a castle. At the castle, six knights are in a fight against one very mighty knight. The knight has taken some heavy blows but keeps fighting fiercely. Britomart is dismayed and asks everyone to stop fighting. They don’t listen at first, but finally she brings peace. Britomart says they should explain the cause of their disagreement.
Since Book III is dedicated to the virtue of chastity, it follows the character of Britomart—who exemplifies chastity—rather than going with Sir Guyon or Arthur. Like the male knights, Britomart’s sense of duty to chivalry causes her to try to intervene whenever she sees people arguing or in trouble.
The lone knight says that the other six were trying to force him to love a different damsel than the one he currently does. It turns out that the knight is the Redcross Knight (and so his lady is Una). Britomart believes the six knights are in the wrong for trying to separate a knight from his lady, but they explain that there is a lovely lady inside the castle who has made a rule: any knight without his own love can do service to this lady in the castle, and any knight with a lady must battle to prove the worth of his own lady.
The reveal of the Redcross Knight’s identity suggests that the knights opposing him are in the wrong, since the Redcross Knight is noble and firm in his commitment to Una. The theme of knights being driven to do bad things by a lady picks up right where the previous book left off with Acrasia in the Bower of Bliss.
Britomart still isn’t convinced by the six knights, and she starts knocking them down one by one with her enchanted spear. When there are only two of the six knights left standing, they yield and seek peace. Britomart and the Redcross Knight agree to spare them all.
Britomart proves that her victory over Sir Guyon wasn’t just a fluke and that she’s one of the most powerful knights around.
The castle turns out to be Castle Joyous, where the Lady of Delight (Malecasta) resides. The castle is sumptuously decorated, with references to mythology like the story of Venus and Adonis. At last, they see the Lady of Delight lying on her bed like a proud Persian queen. The Redcross Knight disarms, but Britomart doesn’t.
References to Persia in the poem often suggest a connection to “paganism” (specifically, Islam), and so this immediately paints the Lady of Delight as representing the opposite of the poem’s Protestant heroes.
Britomart sees that the six knights she fought are brothers. Though they have been trained in knightly skills and civility, they are little more than shadows to Britomart. The Lady of Delight keeps insisting that Britomart take off her armor, full of lust and believing that Britomart is a man.
Britomart is frequently mistaken for a man in the poem, suggesting that at least part of her ability to be respected as a knight is based on her ability to conceal her true identity.
After a lavish dinner with everyone, Malecasta (the name of the Lady of Delight) can’t rest that night. She sneaks out of her room and very gently goes up beside Britomart in bed. Britomart fears a lecher and grabs her weapon, causing Malecasta to scream, and causing the Redcross Knight and the six other knights to come running. When they get to the scene, the six knights think Britomart has attacked Malecasta.
This section finally reveals Malecasta’s true nature and that beneath her seeming hospitality lurks an uncontrollable lust. Britomart, however, is such a fierce defender of her own chastity that she was expecting an intruder and manages to escape without too much trouble.
One of the six knights fires an arrow that wounds Britomart. She fights back, though, and with the Redcross Knight’s help, they soon have the six knights running in fear. Britomart puts on her armor and they ride away from the castle.
The arrows fired at Britomart are similar to Cupid’s arrows and reflect a futile attempt to make Britomart stay.