On Christmas Day 855, 14 year-old Edmund was acclaimed king of Norfolk by the ruling men and clergy of that county. The following year the leaders of Suffolk also made him their king.
For 15 years Edmund ruled over the East Angles with what all acknowledged as Christian dignity and justice. He himself seems to have modeled his piety on that of King David in the Old Testament, becoming especially proficient in reciting the Psalms in public worship.
From the year 866 his kingdom was increasingly threatened by Danish invasions. For four years the East Angles managed to keep a shaky, often broken peace with them. Then the invaders burned Thetford. King Edmund’s army attacked the Danes but could not defeat the marauders. Edmund was taken prisoner and became the target for Danish bowmen.
In a later account, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reputedly derived second-hand from an eyewitness, Abbo compared Saint Edmund to Saint Sebastien, and so he also became a saint invoked against the plague. The story goes that Edmund was captured at Hoxne. He refused to share his Christian kingdom with the heathen invaders, whereupon he was tied to a tree and shot with arrows, till his body was ‘like a thistle covered with prickles’; then his head was struck off. He died with the name of Jesus on his lips.
The record continues that the Danes “killed the king and overcame all the land…they destroyed all the churches that they came to, and at the same time reaching Peterborough, killed the abbot and monks and burned and broke everything they found there”.
Saint Edmund thus remains the only English sovereign until the time of King Charles I to die for religious beliefs as well as the defense of his throne. Edmund was quickly revered as a martyr and cultus spread widely during the middle ages.
King Saint Edmund is generally depicted as a bearded king holding his emblem – an arrow. Sometimes he is shown suspended from a tree and shot, or his head between the paws of a wolf.
He is venerated at Bury Saint Edmunds (Saint Edmund’s borough), where his body is enshrined and a great abbey arose in 1020. Richard II invoked him as patron to those threatened by the plague. His feast day is November 20.
From For All the Saints website.