Edmund the Martyr

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Edmund the Martyr bigraphy, stories - King of East Anglia

Edmund the Martyr : biography

841 – 20 November 869

Edmund the Martyr (Old English: Eadmund, ēad, "prosperity", "riches"; and mund, "protector"); also known as St Edmund or Edmund of East Anglia (died 20 November 869) was king of East Anglia from about 855 until his death.

Almost nothing is known of Edmund. He is thought to be of East Anglian origin and was first mentioned in an annal of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, written some years after his death. The kingdom of East Anglia was devastated by the Vikings, who destroyed any contemporary evidence of his reign. Later writers produced fictitious accounts of his life, asserting that he was born in 841, the son of Æthelweard, an obscure East Anglian king, whom it was said Edmund succeeded when he was fourteen (or alternatively that he was the youngest son of a Germanic king named ‘Alcmund’). Later versions of Edmund’s life relate that he was crowned on 25 December 855 at Burna, an unidentified location, and that he became a model king.

In 869, the Great Heathen Army advanced on East Anglia and killed Edmund. He may have been slain by the Danes in battle, but by tradition he met his death at an unidentified place known as Haegelisdun, after he refused the Danes’ demand that he renounce Christ: the Danes beat him, shot him with arrows and then beheaded him, on the orders of Ivar the Boneless and his brother Ubbe Ragnarsson. According to one legend, his head was then thrown into the forest, but was found safe by searchers after following the cries of a wolf that was calling, "Hic, Hic, Hic" – "Here, Here, Here". Commentators have noted how Edmund’s death bears resemblance to the fate suffered by St Sebastian, St Denis and St Mary of Egypt.

A coinage commemorating Edmund was minted from around the time East Anglia was absorbed by the kingdom of Wessex and a popular cult emerged. In about 986, Abbo of Fleury wrote of his life and martyrdom. The saint’s remains were temporarily moved from Bury to London for safekeeping in 1010. His shrine was visited by many kings, including Canute, who was responsible for rebuilding the abbey: the stone church was rebuilt again in 1095. During the Middle Ages, when Edmund was regarded as the patron saint of England, Bury and its magnificent abbey grew wealthy, but during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, his shrine was destroyed. The mediaeval manuscripts and other works of art relating to Edmund that have survived include Abbo’s Passio Santi Eadmundi, John Lydgate’s 14th century Life, the Wilton Diptych and a number of church wall paintings.

Hanks, A Dictionary of First Names, p. 84. –>

Mediaeval hagiographies and legends

De Infantia Sancti Edmundi, a fictitious 12th century hagiography of Edmund’s early life by Geoffrey of Wells, represented him as the youngest son of ‘Alcmund’, a Saxon king of Germanic descent. ‘Alcmund’ may never have existed.Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 295.

Edmund’s fictitious continental origins were later expanded into legends which spoke of his parentage, his birth at Nuremberg, his adoption by Offa of Mercia, his nomination as successor to the king and his landing at Hunstanton on the North Norfolk coast to claim his kingdom. Other accounts state that his father was the king he succeeded, Æthelweard of East Anglia, who died in 854, apparently when Edmund was a boy of fourteen.

He was said to have been crowned by St Humbert (Bishop Humbert of Elmham) on 25 December 855, at a location known as Burna (probably Bures St. Mary in Suffolk) which at that time functioned as the royal capital. Later versions of his life recorded that he was a model king who treated all his subjects with equal justice and who was unbending to flatterers. It was written that he withdrew for a year to his royal tower at Hunstanton and learned the whole Psalter, so that he could recite it from memory.

Edmund may have been killed at Hoxne, in Suffolk.Warner, Origins of Suffolk, p. 219. His martyrdom is mentioned in a charter that was written when the church and chapel at Hoxne were granted to Norwich Priory in 1101. Place-name evidence has been used to link the name of Hoxne with Haegelisdun , named by Abbo of Fleury as the site of Edmund’s martyrdom, but this evidence is dismissed by the historian Peter Warner.Warner, Origins of Suffolk, pp. 139, 141. The association of Edmund’s cult with the village has continued to the present day. Dernford, Cambridgeshire and Bradfield St Clare (near Bury St Edmunds) are other possible sites for where Edmund was martyred.