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  • Print publication year: 1989
  • Online publication date: May 2010

7 - The cult of St Edmund



Edmund, rex Christianissimus, fell victim to the heathen Ivarr on 20 November 869. The king's body, according to Abbo, was left where it had fallen; the head was tossed into the undergrowth of the wood of Haegilisdun in order to prevent a proper burial: thus was the humiliation of the Christian king complete. But lvarr, it seems, did little to follow up his victory. The history of East Anglia in the years following Edmund's martyrdom is extremely obscure, but it seems that the great army which Ivarr had brought into the kingdom moved in the year following Edmund's death to Reading; Ivarr himself may have left England for Dublin. In 871, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records, the great army was joined in Wessex by a further force, a ‘great summer army’, and until 874 these armies acted in unison against Wessex, Mercia and a rebellious Northumbria. In the latter year the forces divided – the one, under Halfdan, going to Northumbria, and the second, ‘summer army’, under Guthrum, Oscetel and Anwend, moving from Repton to Cambridge. Cambridge seems thereafter to have been used as a base for an intensified attack upon an ever-weakening Wessex: King Alfred was forced to withdraw to the marshes of Athelney in order to avoid the fate of his East Anglian counterpart. But the tables were soon to be turned.