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A Saint's Revenge - Edmund of the East Angles

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East Anglia was once a great Anglo-Saxon kingdom. The Kings lived and were buried in great splendour. It was also a brutal time.


We can only guess at the details of their lives and deaths, as their stories did not survive the 'dark ages', with one exception: the extraordinary story of brave King Edmund. There were many early Christian martyrs willing to die for their beliefs; however, not many managed to inflict their revenge - over a hundred years after their murder!

It was back in 855 when Edmund became king of East Anglia. His kingdom was under constant threat from invasion and Edmund had to battle to maintain his land and position.


One day, in 869, a Viking leader called Hinguar and his warriors invaded the Kingdom of East Anglia. The Vikings destroyed one of the cities and the people were very frightened.

King Edmund summoned his army and went to war. The Saxons battled hard but the Viking forces were large and defeated them. King Edmund was taken prisoner.


Hinguar insisted that Edmund serve him and bow before the Viking gods. Edmund knew that, if he refused, the penalty would be a particularly gruesome death. However, Edmund was a religious man and took his commitment to God very seriously. He bravely refused.

On a cold November morning, King Edmund was led out onto a field at Haegelisdun. The defeated warriors looked on in horror as their king was thrashed, tied to a tree, shot full of arrows and, whilst still barely alive, beheaded.


Onlookers later commented that poor Edmund was shot with so many arrows, 'he bristled with them like a hedgehog'. The King's head was then thrown into the bramble thickets at Haegelisdun Wood.

The Saxon warriors that had survived the battle searched for the head of their king, so they could give him a proper burial. They could not find it. Just as the sad and defeated men were about to give up, they were alerted by the cries of an animal. In the thick undergrowth was a large grey wolf; the wolf was guarding the head of the king.

The death of King Edmund saw East Anglia plunged into battle, as both Danes and Vikings attacked. However, during this time of great upheaval, King Edmund did not lie quiet, for a number of miraculous events began to occur.


People saw visions of the dead king and several sick people were cured of their illnesses. Local people, even some of the Viking settlers, would visit his grave for inspiration in times of trouble.

Word soon spread of the remarkable miracles connected with the martyred king. The king's remains were brought to the town of Bury St. Edmunds in 903 and a shrine was dedicated to Saint Edmund. However, the most miraculous event was still to occur.

Saint Edmund had been dead over a hundred years when, on February the 3rd 1014, witnesses watched as a miracle took place.


The Monks recorded in their journal that they were joined by an imposing but unwelcome visitor - the new king Sweyn Forkbeard. He had arrived fresh from conquering England. The king was intent on plundering treasure from both the wealthy shrine of St. Edmund and the property of his new East Anglian subjects.

However, before he could begin, suddenly a vision of Saint Edmund appeared and began to scold the king for his oppression of the English people.


The appearance of the long dead king proved electrifying for those present. Even the monks, despite their belief in the miraculous power of their saint, were speechless.

Sweyn Forkbeard, however, remained calm. His arrogant reply was clearly not the kind of response the saint expected and lacked respect for English values, for Edmund was furious. The saint stormed up to Sweyn, raised his arm and struck him a blow of such force that the invading king was dead within moments.

So Edmund had achieved, as a saint, what he had not been able to achieve in his lifetime - the defeat of an invading king, ending Sweyn's tyranny towards the English! One hundred years after his death, he was finally able to exact revenge for his earlier treatment at the hands of the Vikings.

The defeat of Sweyn was just one of a number of miracles attributed to Edmund as his fame grew.


In 1050, a dumb woman named Alfgeth went on a pilgrimage to St. Edmunds shrine, where she claimed to have miraculously recovered her speech. In gratitude, she devoted her life to keeping the shrine tidy.


Others saw visions or consulted the saint before going to war, as did many of the early kings of England.

St. Edmund's fame grew to such an extent that few would travel through the area, without stopping off to pay their respects at his shrine. To many, Edmund was the first and true patron saint of England.

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