The Golden Legend or Lives Of The Saints

Englished by William Caxton, First Edition 1483

From the Temple Classics Edited by F.S. Ellis


In the province of England of old time were divers kings, for the land was departed; among whom there was S. Edmund, king of Norfolk and Suffolk, which took his birth of the noble and ancient lineage of the Saxons, and was from the beginning of his first age a blessed man, soft, virtuous, and full of meekness, and kept truly the very religion of christian faith, and governed his kingdom full well to the pleasure of Almighty God.

The Danish Kings Invade

In his time it happed that two wicked tyrants, that one named Hingvar, and that other Hubba, came out of Denmark and arrived in the country of Northumberland, and robbed and destroyed the country and slew the people without mercy in every place where they came. Then the one of them named Hingvar came into the country where this most christian S. Edmund reigned, and understood that he was in his flowering age, strong and mighty in battle, and demanded of the people where their king was resident and dwelled, which that was most abiding in a town named then Eglesdon, and now is called Bury.

Now the Danes had always custom that they would never fight battle set ne [nor] appointed, but ever lie in wait how they might by sleight and deceit prevented, fall on good christian men, and so slay and destroy them, like as thieves lie in await to rob and slay good true men. Wherefore, when he knew where this holy king was, he addressed one of his knights to him for to espy what strength he had, and what people about him. And Hingvar himself followed with all his host to the end that suddenly he should fall upon this king unadvised, and that he might subdue him unto his laws and commandments. Then this said knight came to this holy king S. Edmund, and made his legation and message in this wise:

Our most dread lord by land and by sea, Hingvar, which hath subdued divers countries and lands in this province unto his seigniory [rule] by strength of arms, and purposeth with all his ships and army to winter him in these marches, sendeth to thee his commandment that thou incontinent [immediately] come and make alliance and friendship with him. And that thou depart to him thy paternal treasures and riches in such wise that thou mayst reign under him, or certainly thou shalt die by cruel death.

And when the blessed king, S. Edmund, had heard this message, anon he sighed and called to him one of his bishops and demanded counsel of him, what and how he should answer upon this demand that was asked of him. Which bishop, sore dreading for the king's life, exhorted him by many examples for to consent and agree to this tyrant Hingvar, and the king a while said nothing but remembered him well, and after many devout words at the last, he answered to the messenger in this wise and said: This shalt thou say to thy lord: know thou for truth, that for the love of temporal life, the christian king Edmund shall no subdue him to a paynim [pagan] duke.

Then unnethe [hardly] was the messenger gone out, but Hingvar met him and bade him use short words and tell him his answer, which message told unto Hingvar, anon the cruel tyrant commanded to slay all the people that were with S. Edmund and destroy them, but they should hold and keep only the king, whom he knew rebel unto his wicked laws.

The Death of King Edmund

Then this holy king was taken and bounden, his hands behind him, and is brought tofore the duke, and after many opprobrious words, at the last they led him forth unto a tree which was thereby. To which tree his adversaries bound him, and then shot arrows at him, so thick and many that he was through wounded, and that one arrow smote out another, and always this blessed king ceased not, for all his wounds, to give laud and praising unto Almighty God. Then this wicked tyrant commanded that they should smite off his head, which they so did, he always praying, and saying his orisons to our Lord God. Then the Danes left the body there Iying, and took the head and bare it into the thick of the wood, and hid it in the thickest place among thorns and briars, to the end that it should not be found of the christian men.

His Body is Restored

But by the purveyance of Almighty God there came a wolf which diligently kept the holy head from devouring of beasts and fowls. And after, when the Danes were departed, the christian men found the body, but they could not find the head, wherefore they sought it in the wood. And as one of them spake to another: Where art thou? Which were in the thick of the wood, and cried: Where art thou? the head answered and said: Here! here! here ! and anon then all they came thither and saw it and also a great wolf sitting and embracing the head between his forelegs, keeping it from all other beasts. And then anon they took the head and brought it unto the body and set it to the place where it was smitten off, and anon they joined together, and then they bare this holy body unto the place where it is now buried. And the wolf followed humbly the body till it was buried, and then he, hurting no body, returned again to the wood.

And the blessed body and head be so joined together that there appeareth nothing that it had been smitten off, save as it were a red shining thread in the place of the departing where the head was smitten off. And in that place where he now lieth so buried is a noble monastery made, and therein monks of the order of S. Benet, which be richly endowed. In which place Almighty God hath showed many miracles for the holy king and martyr. 

St. Edmund and St. John

The following story is told in the Latin text of the Golden Legend, in the section on St. John the Evangelist (IX ¶ 12, Graesse 62, Ryan I, 55):
Saint Edmund, a King in England, never said no to anyone asking something in the name of St. John the Evangelist. So it happened that while the king’s chamberlain was absent a pilgrim asked the king for alms. The king gave him a costly ring, as he had nothing else to give. But after many days an English knight who had gone across the sea on the same pilgrimage brought the ring to him and said, “He who, and for whose love you gave this ring, returns it to you.” Thus it was clear that blessed John had appeared to the king in the form of a pilgrim.
Caxton includes the story in his life of John but corrects "Saint Edmund" to "St. Edward." The episode does indeed belong to Edward, not Edmund.

The iconography of St. Edmund is available at the Christian iconography website.

For other saints, see the index to this Golden Legend website.

Scanned by Robert Blackmon,

This text was taken from the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

E-text © Paul Halsall, September 2000

Reformatted with paragraphs, rubrics, italics, and explanatory insertions by Richard Stracke, dickstracke [at] yahoo.