When the heathen Anglo-Saxons invaded Christian Britain in the 400's, they eventually established seven kingdoms: Essex, Wessex, Sussex (East Saxons, West Saxons, and South Saxons), Mercia, Northumbria, and East Anglia (three kingdoms of the Angles), and the Jute kingdom of Kent. (The borders between these ancient kingdoms are still borders between regions speaking English with different accents today.) Under the influence of missionaries from the Celts and from continental Europe, these peoples became Christian, only to be faced themselves by a wave of heathen invaders.
Edmund's father was King Æthelweard who died in 854, and was succeeded by Edmund when the boy was a fourteen-year-old. Edmund was said to have been crowned by St Humbert on 25 December 855 at Burna (probably Bures St Mary, Suffolk), which at that time functioned as the royal capital.
Almost nothing is known of the life of Edmund during the next fourteen years. It was recorded that Edmund was a model king who treated all with equal justice and was unbending to flatterers. It was also written that he retired for a year to his royal tower at Hunstanton and learned the whole Psalter, so that he could recite it from memory.
In 869 the Danes invaded East Anglia and set-up camp at Thetford. Edmund was determined to drive the heathens from his kingdom and protect his Christian subjects from further abuses at the hands of the pagan marauders. Edmund and his army engaged the Danes under Ubbe Ragnarsson and Ivar the Boneless, but his forces were unable to withstand the fury of the Norsemen, with Edmund being captured. The Danish captains gave Edmund terms in hopes of expanding their holdings, but those terms Edmund could not accept. Edmund chose to die a martyr rather than renounce Christ and live under pagan overlords and he was executed on the field of battle.
He is venerated as a saint and a martyr in the Anglican, Eastern and Roman churches. It is said that the king's body was ultimately interred at Beadoriceworth, the modern Bury St Edmunds, where the pilgrimage to his shrine was encouraged by the 12th century monks' enlargement of the church. Edmund's popularity among the Anglo-Norman nobility helped justify claims of continuity with pre-Norman traditions; a banner of St. Edmund's arms was carried at the Battle of Agincourt.
Propers for King Edmund the Martyr - 20 November
O God of ineffable mercy, who didst give grace and fortitude to blessed Edmund the king to triumph over the enemy of his people by nobly dying for thy Name: Bestow on us thy servants, we beseech thee, the shield of faith, wherewith we may withstand the assaults of our ancient enemy; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Lesson - Revelation 12. 10-12a.
The Gospel - St. Matthew 10. 34-39.
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