King Edmund the Martyr Killed by the Great Heathen Army

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The Great Heathen Army landed in East Anglia in 865, led by the infamous Viking warrior Ivar the Boneless. The locals established an uneasy truce with the Vikings by providing horses to the Viking army. The Viking army wintered in Thetford before carrying out the invasion of Britain.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles recorded the Viking invasion. In 865 it recorded:

This year sat the heathen army in the isle of Thanet, and made peace with the men of Kent, who promised money therewith; but under the security of peace, and the promise of money, the army in the night stole up the country, and overran all Kent eastward.

The Viking horde moved north and attacked the Kingdom of Northumbria, ultimately occupying York. The Anglo-Saxons Chronicles read:

…the army went from the East-Angles over the mouth of the Humber to the Northumbrians, as far as York. …there an immense slaughter of the Northumbrians, some within and some without; and both the kings were slain on the spot. The survivors made peace with the army.

From Northumbria the Vikings moved into Mercia, taking over Notthingham. Mercia and Wessex joined forces to take Nottingham back but we’re unsuccessful. The King of Mercia begrudgingly paid the Viking Danegeld. From the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles:

This year the same army went into Mercia to Nottingham, and there fixed their winter-quarters; and Burhred, king of the Mercians, with his council, besought Ethered, king of the West-Saxons, and Alfred, his brother; that they would assist them in fighting against the army. And they went with the West- Saxon army into Mercia as far as Nottingham, and there meeting the army on the works, they beset them within. But there was no heavy fight; for the Mercians made peace with the army.
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Ivar the Boneless gave King Edmund one chance to live, by renouncing his Christian faith. King Edmund, steadfast in his religion refused. Ivar the Boneless beat and whipped Edmund then tied him to a tree.

When Edmund refused to renounce Christ, Ivar let his vikings use Edmund for target practice, shooting him full of arrows. It’s said his body was so full of arrows he looked like a porcupine. Despite the torture and pain, Edmund refused to renounce his religion and called to Jesus for strength during his ordeal. Ivar grew tired of Edmund and beheaded him.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles was rather matter-of-fact about the whole incident:

This year the army 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 names of the leaders who slew the king were Hingwar(Ivar) and Hubba(Ubbe).

Ivar and the Great Heathen Army were finally defeated in 878 by King Alfred the Great at the Battle of Edington.

Not long after Edmund’s death pilgrimages to his burial site began. By the 11th century his shrine at Bury St. Edmund was one of the most famous pilgrimage locations. He was venerated into Sainthood by the Catholic Church, but the exact date is unknown.

Saint Edmund the Martyr is the patron saint of kings, torture victims and maybe more importantly for today he is the patron saint for pandemics and protection from plagues. Something we could all use right now.

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Saint Edmund the Martyr

King of East Anglia

Patron Saint of Pandemics &

Protection from the Plague

Died 20 November 869

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