The ‘Kingdom’ of East Anglia had its origins in the 5th century migrations of Angles and Saxons from North Germany and Denmark. By the early 7th century towns began to be established with continental trade flourishing and political regal development and the introduction of Christianity. Their most notable King, Redwold, was buried in astonishing splendour at Sutton Hoo in 625. After his death the fortunes of the Kingdom fluctuated with increasing pressure and eventual domination of the Middle Kingdom of England of Mercia by 793 and Northumbria by 821.
St Edmund was born in about 840 and was crowned King of East Anglia in 855 at Burres according to the Annals of St Neots, an early 11th century record. Some accounts suggest that he was descended from the preceding kings of East Anglia although there is also suggestion that he was born in Nuremberg, Germany son of King Alcmund of Saxony. He was considered a modern ruler from the start and as Abbo Fleury’s Life of St Edmund translated by K Cutler states “Edmund the Blessed, King of East Anglia, was wise and worthy, and exalted among the noble servants of the almighty God. He was humble and virtuous and remained so resolute that he would not turn to shameful vices nor would he bend his morality in any way, but was ever mindful of the true teaching: ‘if you are installed as a ruler, don’t puff yourself up, but be among men just like one of them”.
In 870 he managed to repulse two Danish chiefs Hinguar and Hubba who invaded East Anglia. However, they soon returned with an overwhelming force and pressed terms on him that as a Christian he felt bound to refuse. To avert a massacre he disbanded his troops and retired towards Franglingham. On his way he was captured and taken to Hinguar who demanded that he forsake Christ and become his vassal-king. King Edmund refused to submit to this demand. He was then dragged out, beaten, tied to a tree and whipped. He called out to Christ to aid him which infuriated his captors who shot arrows into him and then while he was still calling out to Christ beheaded him. The site of the martyrdom has been suggested as being at a place called Haegelisdun although in 1101 Hoxne was claimed to be the site also Hellesdon near Norwich has been suggested.
There are many accounts of miracles associated with the St Edmund however these cannot be corroborated. However, whatever the truth, his influence survived the times of Danish domination to become the focal point for the development of one of the greatest abbeys of England, whose abbey church was the largest in Europe.
[This short account was extracted from the St Edmundsbury Borough Council , New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia and the Medieval Source Book which can be accessed by clicking on the name]