Golden Legend – Saint Edmund, King

[Saint Edmund of East Anglia]Article

Here followeth the Life of Saint Edmund, King and martyr.

In the province of England of old time were divers kings, for the land was departed; among whom there was Saint Edmund, king of Norfolk and Suffolk, which took his birth of the noble and ancient lineage of the Saxons, and was from the beginning of his first age a blessed man, soft, virtuous, and full of meekness, and kept truly the very religion of christian faith, and governed his kingdom full well to the pleasure of Almighty God. In his time it happed that two wicked tyrants, that one named Hingvar, and that other Hubba, came out of Denmark and arrived in the country of Northumberland, and robbed and destroyed the country and slew the people without mercy in every place where they came. Then the one of them named Hingvar came into the country where this most christian Saint Edmund reigned, and understood that he was in his flowering age, strong and mighty in battle, and demanded of the people where their king was resident and dwelled, which that was most abiding in a town named then Eglesdon, and now is called Bury. Now the Danes had always custom that they would never fight battle set ne appointed, but ever lie in wait how they might by sleight and deceit prevented, fall on good christian men, and so slay and destroy them, like as thieves lie in await to rob and slay good true men. Wherefore, when he knew where this holy king was, he addressed one of his knights to him for to espy what strength he had, and what people about him. And Hingvar himself followed with all his host to the end that suddenly he should fall upon this king unadvised, and that he might subdue him unto his laws and commandments. Then this said knight came to this holy king Saint Edmund, and made his legation and message in this wise: Our most dread lord by land and by sea, Hingvar, which hath subdued divers countries and lands in this province unto his seigniory by strength of arms, and purposeth with all his ships and army to winter him in these marches, sendeth to thee his commandment that thou incontinent come and make alliance and friendship with him. And that thou depart to him thy paternal treasures and riches in such wise that thou mayst reign under him, or certainly thou shalt die by cruel death. And when the blessed king, Saint Edmund, had heard this message, anon he sighed and called to him one of his bishops and demanded counsel of him, what and how he should answer upon this demand that was asked of him. Which bishop, sore dreading for the king’s life, exhorted him by many examples for to consent and agree to this tyrant Hingvar, and the king a while said nothing but remembered him well, and after many devout words at the last, he answered to the messenger in this wise and said: This shalt thou say to thy lord: know thou for truth, that for the love of temporal life, the christian king Edmund shall no subdue him to a paynim duke. Then unnethe was the messenger gone out, but Hingvar met him and bade him use short words and tell him his answer, which message told unto Hingvar, anon the cruel tyrant commanded to slay all the people that were with Saint Edmund and destroy them, but they should hold and keep only the king, whom he knew rebel unto his wicked laws. Then this holy king was taken and bounden, his hands behind him, and is brought tofore the duke, and after many opprobrious words, at the last they led him forth unto a tree which was thereby. To which tree his adversaries bound him, and then shot arrows at him, so thick and many that he was through wounded, and that one arrow smote out another, and always this blessed king ceased not, for all his wounds, to give laud and praising unto Almighty God. Then this wicked tyrant commanded that they should smite off his head, which they so did, he always praying, and saying his orisons to our Lord God.

Then the Danes left the body there Iying, and took the head and bare it into the thick of the wood, and hid it in the thickest place among thorns and briars, to the end that it should not be found of the christian men. But by the purveyance of Almighty God there came a wolf which diligently kept the holy head from devouring of beasts and fowls. And after, when the Danes were departed, the christian men found the body, but they could not find the head, wherefore they sought it in the wood. And as one of them spake to another: Where art thou? Which were in the thick of the wood, and cried: Where art thou? the head answered and said: Here! here! here ! and anon then all they came thither and saw it and also a great wolf sitting and embracing the head between his forelegs, keeping it from all other beasts. And then anon they took the head and brought it unto the body and set it to the place where it was smitten off, and anon they joined together, and then they bare this holy body unto the place where it is now buried. And the wolf followed humbly the body till it was buried, and then he, hurting no body, returned again to the wood. And the blessed body and head be so joined together that there appeareth nothing that it had been smitten off, save as it were a red shining thread in the place of the departing where the head was smitten off. And in that place where he now lieth so buried is a noble monastery made, and therein monks of the order of Saint Benet, which be richly endowed. In which place Almighty God hath showed many miracles for the holy king and martyr.