Edmund the Martyr

Edmund the Martyr

:"For the 13th century Archbishop, see St. Edmund of Abingdon."Infobox Monarch
name =St Edmund the Martyr
title =King of the East Angles

caption =Detail from the Wilton Diptych.
reign =25 December, 85520 November, 869
coronation =
othertitles =
full name =
predecessor =Æthelweard
successor =Oswald and/or
suc–type =
heir =
queen =
consort =
spouse 1 =
issue =
royal house =
dynasty =
father =Alcmund
mother =Siwara
date of birth =841
place of birth =Nuremberg, present day Germany
date of death =death date|869|11|20|df=y
place of death = historical: Hoxne, Suffolk possible: Dernford, Cambridgeshire.
date of burial =
place of burial =Bury St Edmunds|
Infobox Monarch Saint
feast_day= 20 November
venerated_in=Eastern Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Communion
titles=King and Martyr
attributes=crowned and robed as a king; holding a scepter, orb, arrow, or a sword
patronage= Douai Abbey, kings, pandemics, Roman Catholic diocese of East Anglia, the English county of Suffolk, torture victims, Toulouse, wolves
major_shrine=Bury St Edmunds, destroyed

Edmund the Martyr (841–20 November 869) was a King and martyr of East Anglia. He succeeded to the East Anglian throne in 855, while still a boy. The earliest and most reliable accounts represent Edmund as descended from the preceding kings of East Anglia of the Wuffing line. Other accounts state that his father was King Æthelweard. Geoffrey of Wells claimed that Edmund was the youngest son of Alcmund, a Saxon king. Edmund was said to have been crowned by Bishop Humbert of Elmham on Christmas Day 855.

In 869, Edmund was defeated in battle by the Great Heathen Army; he was captured, tortured and died the death of a martyr. He is venerated as a saint and a martyr in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Anglican Communion. The king's body was ultimately interred at Beadoriceworth, the modern Bury St Edmunds, where the pilgrimage to his shrine was encouraged by the twelfth-century monks' enlargement of the church. Edmund's popularity among the Anglo-Norman nobility helped justify claims of continuity with pre-Norman traditions; a banner of St. Edmund's arms was carried at the battle of Agincourt.

One can find churches dedicated to his memory all over England, including Christopher Wren's St Edmund the King and Martyr in London. There are a number of colleges named after St Edmund. Edmund is seen as a patron saint of various kings, pandemics, torture victims, and wolves, the Roman Catholic diocese of East Anglia, the English county of Suffolk, Douai Abbey the French city of Toulouse and of the English nation by the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. ["Butler's Lives of the Saints, New Edition (November)" by Alban Butler, Sarah Fawcett Thomas, Paul Burns, Continuum International Publishing Group, p. 173 ISBN 0860122603.]


Edmund the Martyr was a King of East Anglia.cite book
coauthors = F. L. Cross (Editor), E. A. Livingstone (Editor)
title =The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd edition
publisher =Oxford University Press | date =13 March 1997 | location =USA
pages =428 | isbn = 0–19–211655–X
] According to both Abbo of Fleury followed by John of Worcester, he came "ex antiquorum Saxonum nobili prosapia oriundus"," which when translated seems to mean that Edmund was of foreign origin and that he belonged to the Old Saxons of the continent.cite book | last =Abbo of Fleury | title =Life of St Edmund in Anglo – Saxon Primer 9th Ed | publisher =Oxford University Press | year = 1961 | location =Oxford | isbn = ] This is a very doubtful tradition, as there is no evidence that his alleged father, King Alcmund, ever existed. The earliest and most reliable accounts represent Edmund as descended from the preceding kings of East Anglia of the Wuffing line. Nevertheless, the story of Old Saxon origins was later expanded into a full legend which spoke of Edmund's parentage, his birth at Nuremberg to the otherwise unknown Alcmund, his adoption by King Æthelweard of East Anglia, his nomination as successor to the king, and his landing at Hunstanton to claim his kingdom.cite book | last =Dearmer | first =Percy | title =The Little Lives of the Saints | publisher =Wells Gardner, Darton & Co | year =1904 | location =London | isbn = ]

Other accounts state that his father was King Æthelweard.cite web
title =St Edmund the Martyr | work =Catholic Encyclopedia | publisher =Robert Appleton Company | year =1909 | url =http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05295a.htm | accessdate=2007-08-20
] What is certain is that the king died in 854, and was succeeded by Edmund when the boy was a fourteen-year-old.cite book |last=Bunson |first= |authorlink= |coauthors=Matthew, Margaret, & Stephen |title=Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Saints |year=1998 |publisher=Our Sunday Visitor Publishing |location=Huntington, IN |pages=212|id=ISBN 0–87973–588–0] Thus, his birthyear is 841. Edmund was said to have been crowned by St Humbert on 25 December 855 at "Burna" (probably Bures St Mary, Suffolk), which at that time functioned as the royal capital. [Bishop Humbert of Elmham was later venerated as Saint Humbert]

Almost nothing is known of the life of Edmund during the next fourteen years. It was recorded that Edmund was a model king who treated all with equal justice and was unbending to flatterers. It was also written that he retired for a year to his royal tower at Hunstanton and learned the whole Psalter, so that he could recite it from memory.


In the year 869, [The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports the following details and the defeat and death of Edmund under the year 869.] the Danes who had wintered at York, marched through Mercia into East Anglia and took up their quarters at Thetford. Edmund engaged them fiercely in battle, but the Danes under their leaders Ubbe Ragnarsson and Ivar the Boneless had the victory, killed King Edmund, and remained in possession of the battlefield.cite book | last =Swanton | first =Michael | title = The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle | pages = pp. xiv–xvi | isbn = ] cite book |last= Keynes|first= Simon|coauthors= Lapidge, Michael|title= Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of King Alfred and other contemporary sources|pages= |year= 2004|publisher= Penguin Classics|isbn=0–140–44409–2 ] The conquerors may have simply killed the king in battle, or shortly after. The more popular version of the story, which makes Edmund die as a martyr to Danish arrows when he had refused to renounce Christ or hold his kingdom as a vassal from heathen overlords, dates from comparatively soon after the event. It is not known which account is correct.

According to Abbo of Fleury, Edmund's earliest biographer, [His "vita" was written in 985.] the story came to Abbo by way of St Dunstan, who heard it from the lips of Edmund's own sword-bearer. Given accepted birth and death days, this is just chronologically possible. In Abbo of Fleury's alternative version of events Edmund refused to meet the Danes in battle himself, preferring to die a martyr's death, with conscious parallels to the Passion of Christ:

cquote|King Edmund stood within his hall of the mindful Healer with Hinguar (Ivar), who then came, and discarded his weapons. He willed to imitate Christ's example, which forbade Peter to fight against the fierce Jews with weapons. Lo! to the dishonorable man Edmund then submitted and was scoffed at and beaten by cudgels. Thus the heathens led the faithful king to a tree firmly rooted in Earth, tightened him thereto with sturdy bonds, and again scourged him for a long time with straps. He always called between the blows with belief in truth to Christ the Saviour.

The heathens then became brutally angry because of his beliefs, because he called Christ to himself to help. They shot then with missiles, as if to amuse themselves, until he was all covered with their missiles as with bristles of a hedgehog, just as Sebastian was. Then Hinguar, the dishonorable viking, saw that the noble king did not desire to renounce Christ, and with resolute faith always called to him; Hinguar then commanded to behead the king and the heathens thus did. While this was happening, Edmund called to Christ still. Then the heathens dragged the holy man to slaughter, and with a stroke struck the head from him. His soul set forth, blessed, to Christ.

The traditional date of his death, quoted by most reference works, is 870. [cite book | coauthors =Michael Lapidge, Simon Keynes Blair and Donald Scragg
title =Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo–Saxon England | publisher =Blackwell Publishing | year =2000 | isbn = 9780631224921
] However recent research has led to the claim that he actually died in 869, [cite book | last =Whitelock | first =Dorothy | title =Fact and Fiction in the Legend of St Edmund in Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology Volume 31 | year =1969 | pages =217–233 | isbn = ] and this date is now accepted as fact in most new histories.

This uncertainty arose because the compilers of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle dated the start of the year from September, so an event that took place in November 869 according to the modern calendar would be considered by them to take place in 870. The Great Heathen Army conquered the Kingdom of Northumbria in 866. They then invaded Wessex, the English kingdom whose history from that time is best documented, in December 870.cite book | last =Churchill | first =Winston | authorlink = | coauthors = | title =The Birth of Britain p.102 | work = | publisher =Dodd, Mead | year =1966 | url = | format = | doi = | accessdate=2007-08-20] The uncertainty raises the question of whether they did so within a few weeks of killing Edmund, or whether they spent a year pillaging and consolidating their position in East Anglia.

One possible location for the battle is at Hoxne near Eye in Suffolk, some 20 miles east of Thetford. Another candidate is in Dernford, Cambridgeshire,cite web | last =Scarle
first =R.D | title = Do you know where King Edmund died in 869 AD ? | work =The Good Grid Reference | publisher =Cambridge Archaeology | url = http://www.cambridge-archaeology.org.uk/ggr.html#king1 | accessdate=2008-03-23
] while Bradfield St Clare, near Bury St Edmunds is also a possible site for the martyrdom.cite book | title =Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History Volume 35 part 3 | year =1983 | pages =p223 | isbn = ]


The king's body was ultimately interred at Beadoriceworth, the modern Bury St Edmunds. The shrine of Edmund soon became one of the most famous and wealthy pilgrimage locations in England and the reputation of the saint became universal. [Cynthia Hahn, "Peregrinatio et Natio: The Illustrated Life of Edmund, King and Martyr", "Gesta" 30.2 (1991:119-139) analyses an illuminated manuscript in the Morgan Library "carefully calculated to demonstrate that Edmund is first among the saints of England." (p. 119).] The date of his canonisation is unknown, although Archdeacon Hermann's "Life of Edmund", written in the late eleventh century, seems to state that it happened in the reign of Athelstan (924–939). Edmund's popularity among the English nobility was lasting. It is known that his banner was borne in the Irish expedition of the Anglo-Normans and also when Caerlaverock Castle was taken in 1300. A banner with Edmund's crest was also carried at the battle of Agincourt. [cite web |url=http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=12212 |title=Manuscript:Yates Thompson 47 f. 107 |accessdate= |accessmonthday= |accessdaymonth= |accessyear= |author= |last= |first= |authorlink= |coauthors= |date= |year= |month= |format= |work= |publisher=British Library:Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts |pages= |language= |doi= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote= ] Churches dedicated to his memory are found all over England, including Christopher Wren's St Edmund the King and Martyr in London. There are a number of colleges named after St Edmund. His shrine at Bury St Edmunds was destroyed in 1539, during the English Reformation. His feast day in the Orthodox, Roman, and Anglican traditions is 20 November.

In legend


Abbo of Fleury's "vita" continues the narration of Edmund's decapitation without a break. His severed head was thrown into the wood. Day and night as Edmund's followers went seeking, calling out "Where are you, friend?" the head would answer, "Here, here, here," until at last, "a great wonder", they found Edmund's head in the possession of a grey wolf, clasped between its paws. "They were astonished at the wolf's guardianship". [Edmund was the last of the Wuffinga line.] The wolf, sent by God to protect the head from the animals of the forest, was starving but did not eat the head for all the days it was lost. After recovering the head the villagers marched back to the kingdom, praising God and the wolf that served him. The wolf walked beside them as if tame all the way to the town, after which it turned around and vanished into the forest.

After giving the head and body a speedy burial, the kingdom rebuilt itself for several years before finally erecting a church worthy of Edmund's burial. Legend told that upon exhumation of the body, a miracle was discovered. All the arrow wounds upon Edmund's corpse were healed and his head reattached to his body. The only evidence of his previous decapitation was a thin, red line around his neck. Despite being buried for many years in a flimsy coffin, his skin was soft and fresh as if he were merely sleeping the entire time. These details induced the writers of the British Museum's account of the bog body called Lindow Man [I. Stead, J. Bourke and D. Brothwell, "Lindow Man: The Body in the Bog" (British Museum) 1986.] to suggest that the body of St Edmund recovered in the fens "was in fact a prehistoric bog body, and that in trying to find their murdered king, his people had recovered the remains of a sacred king of the old religion still bearing the marks of his ritual strangulation." [John Grigsby, "Beowulf & Grendel" (London: Watkins) 2005.]


One can find churches dedicated to his memory all over England, including Christopher Wren's St Edmund the King and Martyr in London. There are a number of colleges named after St Edmund. Edmund is seen as the patron saint of various kings, pandemics, torture victims, and wolves, the Roman Catholic diocese of East Anglia, the English county of Suffolk, Douai Abbey the French city of Toulouse and of England by the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.cite book | last =Butler | first =Alban | authorlink = Alban Butler | coauthors =Sarah Fawcett Thomas, Paul Burns | title =Butler's Lives of the Saints, New Edition (November) pages=173–175 | work = | publisher =Continuum International Publishing Group | year =2000 | url = | format = | doi = | accessdate=] cite book | last =Bordier | first = Edmond | authorlink = Edmond Bordier| coauthors = | title =Vivant saint Edmond : Roi et martyr| work = | publisher = Les Editions du Cedre | year = 1961 | url = | format = | doi = | accessdate=] cite web | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Edmund of East Anglia | work = Patron Saints Index | publisher =Catholic Community Forum | date = | url =http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/sainte08.htm | format = | doi = | accessdate=2007-08-20] cite web | title =St Edmund, Patron Saint of Suffolk | work =St Edmund's day feature | publisher =BBC | date =2007-04-25 | url= http://www.bbc.co.uk/suffolk/content/articles/2007/04/18/st_edmund_day_feature.shtml | accessdate=2007-08-20] In 2006, a group that included BBC Radio Suffolk and the East Anglian Daily Times saw the failure of their campaign to get St Edmund named as the patron saint of England. Edward III replaced Edmund as a national saint by associating Saint George with the Order of the Garter. [cite book| last =Daniell| first =Christopher| title =From Norman Conquest to Magna Carta: England, 1066 – 1215 | publisher =Routledge| year = 2003| pages = 78| isbn = 041522215X] The Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley had taken up the cause and helped deliver a large petition to the government in London. BBC Radio Suffolk also called for a change of the English flag from the Cross of St George ("Argent, a cross Gules" or "a red cross on a white field") to the new Flag of Suffolk. [cite web | title =St Edmund | work =Where I Live: Suffolk | publisher =BBC | url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/suffolk/content/articles/2006/10/26/st_edmunds_flag_feature.shtml | accessdate=2007-08-20 ] This consists of three gold crowns on a field of blue ("Azure, three crowns Or").cite book
last =Perrin | first =W.G. | title =British Flags | publisher =Cambridge University Press | year =1922 | location =Cambridge | isbn =
] This is an heraldic banner introduced during the Norman period. [cite book | last =Scott–Giles | first =W.C. | title =The Romance of Heraldry | publisher =J. M. Dent | year = 1965 | location =London | isbn = ] Prime Minister Tony Blair rejected the request, however their attempt was successful on another level:


Until the middle of the 19th century, an old tree stood in Hoxne Park and it was believed that it was the tree on which Edmund had been martyred. In 1849, the old tree fell down and was chopped up. According to the story, in the heart of the tree an arrow head was found. Pieces of the tree were kept and one of them was used to form part of the altar of a church which was dedicated to Edmund. Another piece of this tree is in the collection of Moyse's Hall Museum. A dentist volunteered to x-ray this piece and found that it contained a bent nail.


In Percy Dearmer's "The Little Lives of the Saints", we are told of Edmund's posthumous revenge on the Danes:

Sweyn's son, King Canute, converted to Christianity and rebuilt the abbey at Bury St Edmunds. In 1020, he made a pilgrimage there and offered his own crown upon the shrine as atonement for the sins of his forefathers.

ee also

*List of monarchs of East Anglia


Further reading

*Grant, Judith, editor. "La Passiun de Seint Edmund". London: Anglo–Norman Text Society, 1978. ISBN 0–905474–04–X
*Hervey, Francis. "Corolla Sancti Eadmundi". London: J. Murray, 1907.

External links

* [http://www.stedmundsbury.gov.uk/sebc/visit/stedmund.cfm The history of the legend of Saint Edmund at the St Edmundsbury's website.]
* [http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/870abbo-edmund.html Abbo of Fleury: The Martyrdom of St. Edmund, King of East Anglia, 870.Medieval Sourcebook]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/suffolk/content/image_galleries/backing_st_edmund_gallery.shtml?7 The Prime Minister's rejection letter to BBC Radio Suffolk]

###@@@KEY@@@###s-ttl|title=King of East Anglia
years=December 25 85520 November 869

NAME = Edmund the Martyr
ALTERNATIVE NAMES = St Edmund the Martyr
SHORT DESCRIPTION = King of East Anglia
DATE OF DEATH = 20 November 869
PLACE OF DEATH = Hoxne, Suffolk, England

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