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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: April 2017

21 - Henry III and the cult of St Edmund

from PART II - The Abbey 1212–1256


Henry III's veneration for St Edmund seems to have been surpassed only by his veneration for another sainted Anglo-Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, patron saint of Westminster Abbey. Henry's devotion to St Edmund is well attested. He named his second son, Edmund (‘Crouchback’), after him. On 18 January 1245, two days after Edmund's birth, Henry wrote to Abbot Henry of Rushbrooke ordering him to tell the monks that his son had been named after ‘the glorious king and martyr’, their patron saint. And in 1253 he sent 12 oboli de musca and 20 measures of wax worth £40 for the feast of the translation of St Edmund (29 April), as votive offerings on account of his and Prince Edmund's infirmity. Henry attended personally the feast of St Edmund (20 November) in 1235 and 1248 and nearly always included the abbey in the tours of East Anglian shrines which he was accustomed to make in Lent during the period of his personal rule. When the barons were in power he no longer went on these Lenten pilgrimages. But in the autumn of 1272, when once more in control, he again stayed in the abbey from 2 to 12 September. While there he was afflicted by his final illness, from which he died at Westminster two months later (16 November).

Henry was a generous benefactor of the abbey church and of St Edmund's shrine. When he did not attend the saint's feast he seems regularly to have sent gifts. For example, on 20 November 1236 he ordered the sheriff of Norfolk to buy 8 oboli de musca and to offer them at St Edmund's altar on behalf of himself and the queen. His gifts were often given in advance or retrospectively. For example, on 26 December 1238 he gave the sacrist £7 16s for the purchase of wax to make 300 tapers to be placed around the shrine on St Edmund's feast-day. Indeed, gifts of wax to make 300 tapers, or sometimes more, for the feast, seem to have been Henry's usual practice. He also made rich gifts in gold in various forms for the feast, to add to the splendour and glitter of the shrine.