A Gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine,
Y cladd in mightie armes and siluer shielde,
Wherein old dints of deepe wounds did remain,
The cruell markes of many' a bloudy fielde;
Yet armes till that time did he neuer wield:
His angry steede did chide his foming bitt,
As much disdayning to the curbe to yield:
Full iolly knight he seemd, and faire did sitt,
As one for knightly giusts and fierce encounters fitt.
But on his brest a bloudie Crosse he bore,
The deare remembrance of his dying Lord,
For whose sweete sake that glorious badge he wore,
And dead as liuing euer him ador'd:
Vpon his shield the like was also scor'd,
For soueraine hope, which in his helpe he had:
Right faithfull true he was in deede and word,
But of his cheere did seem to solemne sad;
Yet nothing did he dread, but euer was ydrad.
The Faerie Queene, Book I, Canto I
The Knight of the Red Cross is the hero of Book One of The Faerie Queene, by Edmund Spenser.
Allegorically, he represents the virtue of Holiness, and wears the red cross on his armor and shield in remembrance of Christ. He is an elf, or faery (Spenser uses the two interchangably), who is also directly in the service of the Faerie Queene, who represents Elizabeth I, to whom Spenser dedicated his work.
The Redcrosse Knight's armor, bearing the cross of Christ, is the armor of Christianity, and bears the strength and might of all Christendom, as evidenced by the many dents and scratches it already has, despite the fact that the Redcrosse Knight himself is as yet untested.
The Redcrosse Knight is accompanied on his travels by a dwarf, who is usually taken to be his conscience, and Una, a fair maiden. The Redcrosse Knight is serving Una, who has fallen into hard times, and it is only through her that he is able to do anything right. As soon as he strays away from her for a second, bad things happen to him until he finds her again. Una is really "una fides veritas," or the one true faith, and as such she is veiled.
The Redcrosse Knight must rescue Una's parents from the dragon that is keeping them prisoner, and with them all humanity. In this exploit he is confused with Saint George, whose legend was very popular when The Faerie Queene was written.