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Edmund of East Anglia

Edmund, king of East Anglia (circa 840-870), succeeded to the East Anglian throne in 855 while still a boy.

According to Abbo, followed by Florence of Worcester, he came "ex antiquorum Saxonum prosapia," which apparently means that he was of foreign origin and that he belonged to the Old Saxons of the continent. This very doubtful tradition 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" (probably Bures St Mary, Suffolk), which then functioned as 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 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 Ubba and Inguar had the victory and remained in possession of the battlefield.

We do not know whether the conquerors slew the king on the actual field of battle or in a later martyrdom episode, but the widely current version of the story, which makes him fall a martyr to Danish arrows when he had refused to renounce his faith or hold his kingdom as a vassal from heathen overlords, may very probably have some basis in truth. The story dates from very early times, and according to Abbo of Fleury (945-1004), St Edmund's earliest biographer, it came to him (Abbo) via Dunstan, who heard it from the 1ips of Edmund's own standard-bearer. This is chronologically just possible, but that is all.

The battle took place at Hoxne, some 20 miles south-east of Thetford, and 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 in England and the reputation of the saint became Europe-wide. 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).

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.


Edmund of East Anglia, a website presented by The Richard Rawlinson Center for Anglo-Saxon Studies and Manuscript Research, The Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University