Recent Interment Of The Bones Of A King Killed A Thousand Years Ago
( Originally Published 1902 )
NOT long ago there appeared in the newspapers the following message from London:
" The remains of King Edmund the Martyr, the last king of the East Angles, who reigned from 855 to 870, have been returned to England, after being in charge of France more than seven hundred years. They reached Arundel in charge of Monsignor Del Val, Archbishop of Nicæa, Asia Minor, and were placed in the private chapel of the Duke of Norfolk, pending final burial in the shrine being prepared for their reception in the new Catholic Cathedral in Westminster. The body, after burial at Hoxne, was again buried at Bury St. Edmund's, whence is was carried off to France by Louis VII. Through the good offices and personal intervention of the Pope, the body is now returned to England."
With appropriate ceremonies the remains were deposited in their resting place.
This event calls up a wonderful story. A hardy Dane by the name of Lothbroc, started out in his little boat on the German Ocean, to hunt among the islands that were so full of game. He was well equipped for his sport, having a trained hawk that could capture the birds flying in the air or swimming in the water, and a greyhound that could catch the animals on the ground. He ventured a little too far out, and a storm drove him farther and farther away till he found himself across the ocean on the English shore. Knowing that he was in a country hostile to his own, he concealed himself for some time in the forest, but being discovered, he was taken to Edmund, the king, who, being a kind-hearted man, and being favorably impressed with the appearance and manner of the stranger, not only gave him his liberty but made him his friend. The trained falcon, the greyhound and the skill of the stranger in the chase added greatly to the king's sport. Beorn, the chief huntsman of the king, became very envious of Lothbroc, and finding the opportunity one day in the woods, he slew him and hid his body. The faithful greyhound stayed by the remains of his master until he was compelled by hunger to leave for a little time and then returned to his vigil. His strange actions led to the discovery of the crime, which was easily traced to Beorn, who, as a punishment, was sent out in the same boat that had brought Lothbroc, to drift out into the great sea and perish there. By chance the boat drifted on the shores of Denmark. The sons of Lothbroc, believing that he had slain their father and taken his boat, were about to kill him, when he told them that King Edmund had done the bloody deed. The sons burned with rage, and being influential, they stirred up the people of Denmark to set out on an expedition of revenge. A large fleet crossed the ocean and invaded the kingdom. The innocent king made almost no resistance, was captured and carried before Hinquor, the captain of the Danes. The king was stripped and scourged, and then his body was filled with arrows—so full that not another one could find a place in his flesh. His agony was intolerable, but all the while he was being tortured he was offering prayer to God and praises to Christ for his sustaining power. When death came they cut his head from his body and threw it in a lonely place, determined that his friends should not have it for burial. As the invaders left the land, the people took the body of their king and his head, which they also found, and gave him an honored burial.
This story may be all history or all myth, or part history and part myth. There is an incident or two connected with it which is certainly myth—as where the head of the king, by speaking, leads to its discovery ; or where the wolf guards it and holds it in its paws until it is found, and where the same wolf joins the funeral procession and follows the royal body to its grave; and where the head seeks the body and fastens itself upon it in its place again so perfectly that only a purple scar is seen. Whatever the story be, it is full of human nature and divine grace. All the trouble came from envy. Lothbroc, with his hawk and hound, was a better hunter than Beorn, and this fact rankled in the heart of the latter, who hatched and executed his plot of murder. The jealousy of this hunter threw two nations into conflict and robbed the English throne of a benign ruler. Envy and jealousy have marshaled many armies, and set sail fleets, and thrown nations together in deadly combat, and taken kings from their thrones. The first murderer did his bloody deed because his brother offered a more acceptable sacrifice than he, and the same demon of envy has been doing its dreadful work ever since.
From the dark background of human nature in this foul murder, we see the beautiful picture of divine grace in the lovely character of Edmund, the king. How cruel for envy, after having murdered its rival, to betray to the death its friend and benefactor ! And yet Absolute Innocence was betrayed and Infinite Love was tortured to death. The tender-hearted, benign King Edmund was as brave in his death as he was beautiful in his life. No fate could have been more unjust, and no agony more severe; and yet he had such a sense of the Divine presence, such a fullness of the Saviour's love, that he was not only resigned to his fate, but was inexpressibly happy in his translation to heaven.
Whatever of truth or superstition there may be about the story of Edmund the Martyr, whatever of truth or superstition there may be about the identification of his remains, after the lapse of so many centuries, the action of the Catholics of England in the preservation of the supposed dust of the martyr is a just tribute to tenderness of affection, holiness of character and to sublime heroism in death.