Edmund was born about 841 and was King of East Anglia from the early age 15 years old in about 855. He was crowned on 25 December 855 at Burna, [Bures, Suffolk?] his right to the kingdom is unsure. He may have been related to Æthelwulf of Wessex descending from a long line of Wuffingas, [Wulf] claiming a direct line from the Saxon god Woden. He could also have been related to the famous Sutton Hoo tribe.
He was a wise, virtuous and moral. Above all, for the violent times he was a peace loving King. He was greatly admired by his subjects.
The Viking raids had managed to maintain a home base in Mercia. This part of the country was frequently suffering raids from land and sea. In 869 travelling through Mercia the Danes established a stronghold at Thetford in the west of the Norfolk. Lead by Ivar the Boneless [Hinguar] and his brother Ubbe Ragnarsson who were sons of the legendary Viking King Ragnar Lothbrok, the Danes marched into the heart of Anglo Saxon territory somewhere around Rendlesham. After fierce fighting they defeated King Edmund,s army at Hellesdon. Edmund managed to escape and was tracked by the victorious foreigners to Haegelisdun [Hoxne] in Suffolk on 20th November.
To avoid capture Edmund hid under a bridge (Goldbrook Bridge in Hoxne, Suffolk ) however the tale goes that he was discovered by a wedding party crossing the bridge when they saw his gold spurs shining in the water. Why the locals should hand over their King to a load of pagan strangers with massive beards and horns on their helmets is a mystery.
In typical Anglo-Saxon style Edmund cursed the wedding party, to this day any bride on her way to church always takes an alternative route and never cross Goldbrook Bridge.
Now we know where ‘make a saint swear’ comes from!
Not being very nice people, they tortured Edmund demanding he gave up his Kingdom and Christian belief, when he refused he was then tied him to an Oak tree and whipped him before the Viking archers used him for target practice. Covered in arrows he was finally beheaded with his head being discarded it in a nearby wood.
We must assume having done their worst the invaders left, as the body was later recovered looking much like a giant hedgehog. A search was undertaken, legend tells of a hungry wolf, guarding the missing head while calling out ‘here, here, here’.
His reunited body and head were buried nearby and a small wooden chapel built on the site. When he was exhumed his head and body had magically joined together, a miracle indeed.
His body was moved several times before being finally transported to Beodericsworth on 29 April 940, later to be renamed Bury St Edmunds. [Bury is Anglo-Saxon for a fortified place, not to be necessary interpreted as being a reference to the burial]
Following Edmund’s defeat East Anglia became part of the Danelaw (Area ruled by Danish law)
Due to increased Viking raids his remains were later temporarily moved to London in 1010 for safety. Once the pagan raids had subsided his body was reinstated back to Bury St Edmunds.
His shine was a major pilgrimage site, attracting visitors from all over Europe including King Canute who financed the rebuilding of the abbey, one of his better ideas; the tide thing was never going to work!
The Abbey grew in magnificence and wealth controlling and collecting tithes from over all of West Suffolk.
In 1086 (Domesday Book) the entry states:
[Villa Sancti Eadmundi: Abbot of St. Edmund's. 2 mills, monastery, 2 fishponds. 30 priests, deacons and clerks, 28 nuns [at the time nuns were usually male] and poor persons, 75 bakers, ale brewers, tailors, washerwomen, shoemakers, robe makers, porters, cooks and agents, 34 knights, French and English, 342 houses. 118 monks. ]
Indeed The Abbot of St. Edmund was listed as holder of most West Suffolk village entries. For Bury to have two mills, 34 knights and 75 traders indicate the status of the Town.
The first English reference of a windmill was at Bury St Edmunds when the Abbot refused to allow an independently owned mill, which would take the trade from the Abbey owned mill.
Further expansion of the Abbey was undertaken in 1095.With the unification of East Anglia and Wessex in 91 when the area came under Edward the Elder, Edmund became the Patron saint of the embryonic England we know today. A coin was minted to commemorate his status.
However several times during its history the establishment was almost bankrupt. This was mainly due to providing the expected hospitality for visiting nobility. It is recorded that Henry VI spent Christmas 1433 with is court, not leaving until after Easter 1434, which must rate as one of the most overstayed visits in history!
The Jews community in the town bailed out the Abbot on more than one occasion. The mounting debt was of such concern that eventually Jews were forbidden from living in the town.
Edmunds grand shrine was sited at the high Alter, the stone structure was provided with holes cut into it so that pilgrims could insert their hands to touch the body inside (nice!). It was destroyed during the dissolution, when his body is rumoured to have be buried in the old Abbey graveyard under a present day tennis court.
Other miracles have been ascribed to Edmund in London (1441) and in Bury (1444)
The feast day of St. Edmund is 20 November; the celebration of the translation of his relics is 29 April. More than 60 churches in Anglo-Saxon England were dedicated to him. He was considered a patron saint to be invoked against the plague.
Besides being the true Patron saint of England, apparently Edmund is the Patron saint of tortured men – little comfort I’m sure! And Wolves (no, the furry kind – not the football team)
Historic records come from several sources including:
Anglo Saxon Chronicles,
Abbo of Fleury
John Lydgate and
The Wilton Diptych
The Saxon Chronicle simply states:
"This year the army [Danes] rode over Mercia into East-Anglia, and there fixed their winter-quarters at Thetford. And in the winter King Edmund fought with them; but the Danes gained the victory, and slew the king; whereupon they overran all that land, and destroyed all the monasteries to which they came".
The Wilton Diptych (hinged painted wood panels from about 1395–1399) shows Edmund the Martyr (left), Edward the confessor and John the Baptist with Richard II kneeling in the foreground. Now housed in the National Gallery, London.
In King Aethelred's day [Aethelred II, reigned 978-1016] a certain very learned monk named Abbo came over the sea from the south, from St. Benedict's resting-place [the monastery of Fleury-sur-Loire] to Archbishop Dunstan, three years before Dunstan died [in 988]. During their conversation Dunstan related the story of St. Edmund, just as Edmund's sword-bearer related it to King Aethelstan [924 – 939] when Dunstan was a young man and the sword-bearer was an aged man. Abbo recorded the entire story in a single book, and when the book came to us [i.e., Aelfric], we translated it into English, just as it stands now. The monk Abbo returned home to his monastery within two years, and was soon elevated to abbot of that same monastery.
John Lydgate of Bury (1370 – 1451) was a monk and poet, born in Lidgate, just west of Bury St Edmunds. As he takes his name from the village it can safely be assumed he was from the family of Lidgate Castle which dates from 1100s
The manuscript is of parchment, and is of 119 folios in length, 248 x 175 mm in size. The text is written in a single column, in a very formal hand, with decorated initials, rubrics, and blue headings; a full page of text contains three 7-line stanzas, but most pages contain less text than this to make room for illustrations. Of the 120 miniatures, two are full-page pictures.
Besides having been the property of Henry VI, then, presumably, his successors up to Henry VIII this manuscript is also said to have been in the possession of King James the Second of Scotland (d. 1460),
The manuscript was in the possession of the king of England in the sixteenth century when Henry VIII gave it to Thomas Audley, when created Baron Audley of Walden in 1538, He was for a time Lord Chancellor