Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, is holding her annual twelve-day feast. As is the custom, anyone in trouble can appear before the court and ask for a champion. The fair lady Una comes riding on a white ass, accompanied by a dwarf. She complains that her father and mother are shut up in a castle by a dragon. The Red Cross Knight offers to help her, and the party sets out to rescue Una’s parents. In a cave the Red Cross Knight encounters a horrible creature, half serpent, half woman. Although the foul stench nearly overpowers him, the knight slays the monster. After the battle, the Red Cross Knight and Una lose their way. A friendly stranger who offers them shelter is really Archimago, the wicked magician. By making the Red Cross Knight dream that Una is a harlot, Archimago separates Una from her champion.
Una goes on her way alone. Archimago quickly assumes the form of the Red Cross Knight and follows her to do her harm. Meanwhile the Red Cross Knight falls into the company of Duessa, an evil enchantress. They meet the great giant Orgoglio, who overcomes the Red Cross Knight and makes Duessa his mistress. Prince Arthur, touched by Una’s misfortunes, rescues the Red Cross Knight from Orgoglio and leads him to Una. Once again Una and her champion ride on their mission.
At last they come to Una’s kingdom, and the dragon that imprisoned her parents comes out to do battle. After two days of fighting, the Red Cross Knight overthrows the dragon. After the parents are freed, the Red Cross Knight and Una are betrothed. Still hoping to harm the Red Cross Knight, Archimago tells Sir Guyon that the Red Cross Knight despoiled a virgin of her honor. Shocked, Guyon sets out to right the wrong. The cunning Archimago disguises Duessa as a young girl and places her on the road, where she tells a piteous tale of wrong done by the Red Cross Knight and urges Guyon to avenge her. When Guyon and the Red Cross Knight meet, they lower their lances and begin to fight. Fortunately the signs of the Virgin Mary on the armor of each recall them to their senses, and Guyon is ashamed that he was tricked by the magician.
In his travels Guyon falls in with Prince Arthur, and the two visit the Castle of Alma, the stronghold of Temperance. The most powerful enemy of Temperance is the demon Maleger. In a savage battle Prince Arthur vanquishes Maleger. Guyon goes on to the Bower of Bliss, where his archenemy Acrasy lives. With stout heart Guyon overthrows Acrasy and destroys the last enemy of Temperance. After sending Acrasy back to the fairy court under guard, Guyon and Prince Arthur go on their way until on an open plain they see a knight arming for battle. With Prince Arthur’s permission, Guyon rides against the strange knight, and in the meeting Guyon is unhorsed by the strong lance of his opponent. Ashamed of his fall, Guyon snatches his sword and continues the fight on foot.
The palmer, attending Guyon, sees that the champion cannot prevail against the stranger, for the strange knight is enchanted. When he stops the fight, the truth is revealed: The strange knight is really the lovely Britomart, a chaste and pure damsel, who saw the image of her lover, Artegall, in Venus’s looking-glass and sets out in search of him. With the situation explained, Britomart joins Guyon, Prince Arthur, and Arthur’s squire, Timias, and the four continue their quest.
In a strange wood they travel for days, seeing no one, but everywhere they meet bears, lions, and bulls. Suddenly a beautiful lady on a white palfrey gallops out of the brush. She is Florimell, pursued by a lustful forester who spurs his steed cruelly in an attempt to catch her. The three men join the chase, but out of modesty Britomart stays behind. She waits a long time; then, despairing of ever finding her companions again, she goes on alone.
As she approaches Castle Joyous she sees six knights attacking one. She rides into the fight and demands to know why they are fighting in such cowardly fashion. She learns that any knight passing has to love the lady of Castle Joyous or fight six knights. Britomart denounces the rule and with her magic lance unhorses four of the knights. She enters Castle Joyous as a conqueror. After meeting the Red Cross Knight in the castle, Britomart resolves to go on as a knight errant. She hears from Merlin, whom she visits, that she and Artegall are destined to have illustrious descendants.
Meanwhile Timias is wounded while pursuing the lustful forester. Belphoebe, the wondrous beauty of the Garden of Adonis, rescues him and heals his wounds. Timias falls in love with Belphoebe. Amoret, the fair one, is held prisoner by a young knight who attempts to defile her. For months she resists his advances. Then Britomart, hearing of her sad plight, overcomes the two knights who guard Amoret’s prison and free her. Greatly attracted to her brave rescuer, Amoret sets out with Britomart.
At a strange castle a knight claims Amoret as his love. Britomart jousts with him to save Amoret, and after winning the tourney Britomart is forced to take off her helmet. With her identity revealed, Britomart and Amoret set off together in search of their true loves.
Artegall, in search of adventure, joins Scudamour, knight errant. They meet Amoret and Britomart, who is still disguised as a knight. Britomart and Artegall fight an indecisive battle during which Artegall is surprised to discover that his opponent is his lost love, Britomart. The two lovers are reunited at last, but in the confusion Amoret is abducted by Lust. With the help of Prince Arthur, Scudamour rescues Amoret from her loathsome captor. He woos Amoret in the Temple of Love, where they find shelter.
Artegall, champion of true justice, is brought up and well trained by Astraea. When Artegall is of age, Astraea gives him a trusty groom, and the new knight sets out on his adventures. Talus, the groom, is an iron man who carries an iron flail to thresh out falsehood. Irene, who asks at the fairy court for a champion against the wicked Grantorto, sets out with Artegall and Talus to regain her heritage. With dispatch Artegall and Talus overcome Grantorto and restore Irene to her throne.
Later Artegall enters the lists against a strange knight who is really the disguised Amazon, Radigund. Artegall wounds Radigund, but when he sees that his prostrate foe is a comely woman, he throws away his weapons. The wounded Amazon then rushes on the defenseless Artegall and takes him prisoner. Artegall is kept in shameful confinement until at last Talus informs Britomart of his fate. Britomart goes to her lover’s rescue and slays Radigund.
Continuing his quest, Artegall meets two hags, Envy and Detraction, who defame his character and set the Blatant Beast barking at his heels. Artegall forbids Talus to beat the hags and returns to the fairy court. The Blatant Beast, defamer of knightly character and the last remaining enemy of the fairy court, finally meets his match. The courteous Calidore, the gentlest of all the knights, conquers the beast and leads him, tamed, back to the court of the Fairie Queene.