Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for Edmund



Edmund, King and Martyr, 855-869 or 870.
There was a campaign several years back to replace the cosmopolitan, nay global, George with one of the two homegrown boys he had displaced on his way to adding Patron of England to his rather lengthy resume.  Whether or not he suffered the same perforated end as the apparently sexier-to-many-people Sebastian, his symbol is often given as this:

Emblem of King Edmund, stained glass, St Peter and St Paul's Church, Hoxne, Suffolk. Artist: Derek Anson
However, something closer to the flag of Sweden or the arms of the University of Oxford, sans arrows, seems to have been more common until recently.  Compare the flag of East Anglia, where is it superimposed on George's cross:

It is the three crowns in particular that interest me.  Is it one crown for each county?  The Oxford website linked above notes that three crowns are associated with him, just as they are with Jesus Christ and King Arthur.  One could have wished for a fuller comment.

Montague Rhodes James, 1862-1936
I first ran across the legend of the three crowns that protect England in the story, "A Warning to the Curious" by that master of mood M. R. James.  The legend resists further archaeology.  Did James make it up?  If so, it's a wonderful conceit.  If you are not familiar with the antiquarian ghost tales of this scholar and Anglican clergyman, knock over some Old Etonians if you have to and get to the local bookstore or library and correct this misfortune as soon as ever you can.  James counts among his fans H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Stephen King.

For a helpful instance of synchronicity, see this Clerk of Oxford.


  1. The church where M. R. James grew up:

    A Google search will turn up multiple web pages devoted to him and his stories. I believe all his stories are in the public domain, now.

  2. Thanks for the link - this really was serendipity! Interesting post. With regard to the three crowns, I suppose you've come across the theory that they represent kingship, martyrdom and virginity? It seems a popular theory around the internet, but to me it seems equally likely that you could be right, and they represent the three counties. In any case, the arms were a later medieval invention (13th century, I believe), since the Anglo-Saxons didn't have heraldry of that kind (and indeed English kings in Edmund's lifetime may not have worn crowns at all). Arms were invented for the Saxon kings just as they were for King Arthur and for Christ...

    Perhaps you already knew that, in which case I apologise for redundancy! And I will look out for that M.R. James story, which I've never read - this is a very convincing recommendation!

  3. Thanks for your comment, Clerk. I've seen the theory you allude to, and maybe there's something to it, but to my ear it blares "Preacher Story." Of course, that's because I instantly start thinking, "Martyrdom: wrong kind of crown. Virginity: what does this have to do with a crown?" and so forth. (Although, maybe to be fair, Hildegard of Bingen thought crowns were apropos for her virgins? Hazy memory, here.)

    Your comment is very apt: The Middle Ages as they really were vs. The Middle Ages as they ought to have been!

    I look forward to any James report you might have in the future. He's one of those figures that may allow one to indulge multiple interest at once--I know he is, in my case, at least.