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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Edmund, King of East Anglia

< 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica

EDMUND, king of East Anglia (c. 840-870), succeeded to the East Anglian throne in 855 while he was yet but a boy. According to Abbo, followed by Florence of Worcester, he was “ex antiquorum Saxonum prosapia,” which would seem to mean that he was of foreign origin and that he belonged to the Old Saxons of the continent. This very doubtful tradition was expanded later into a fuller legend which spoke of his Old Saxon parentage, his birth at Nuremberg, his nomination as successor to Offa, king of East Anglia, and his landing at Hunstanton to claim his kingdom. His coronation took place in the next year at “Burna” (i.e. probably Bures St Mary, Suffolk), which was then the royal capital.

Of the life of St Edmund during the next fourteen years we know nothing. In the year 870 the Danes, who had been wintering at York, marched through Mercia into East Anglia and took up their quarters at Thetford. Edward engaged them fiercely in battle, but the Danes under their leaders Ubba and Inguar were victorious and remained in possession of the field of battle. The king himself was slain, whether on the actual field of battle or in later martyrdom is not certain, but the widely current version of the story which makes him fall a martyr to the Danish arrows when he had refused to renounce his faith or hold his kingdom as a vassal from the heathen overlords, may very probably be true. The story is a very old one, and according to Abbo of Fleury (945-1004), St Edmund’s earliest biographer, it was told him by Dunstan, who heard it from the lips of Edmund’s own standard-bearer. This is chronologically just possible, but that is all. The battle was fought at Hoxne, some 20 m. south-east of Thetford, and the king’s body was ultimately interred at Beadoricesworth, the modern Bury St Edmunds. The shrine of Edmund soon became one of the most famous in England and the reputation of the saint was European. The date of his canonization is unknown, but churches dedicated to his memory are found all over England.

See Asser’s Life of Alfred, ed. W. H. Stevenson; Annals of St Neots; Saxon Chronicle; Memorials of St Edmund’s Abbey (Rolls Series), including the Passio Sancti Edmundi of Abbo of Fleury; and the Corolla Sancti Eadmundi, edited by Lord Francis Hervey (1907).

 (A. Mw.)