From the recall of the legions to the foundation of the kingdom of East Anglia, we are left much to the guidance of that alluring but untrustworthy companion -Imagination.
The country could hardly have been deserted of man for more than a century and a half. Yet the discovered hoards of coin tell of those who neither returned nor told others of these treasures in earthen vessels. It may be that the remnants of British blood and the numerous half-breeds began to occupy places abandoned by the rulers of the world ; wheat, so long known to Suffolk, even from prehistoric times, when looked after, grew as kindly for them as for their predecessors ; to cattle it recked nought for whom they grazed and were slaughtered; and the sports of the chase do not diminish as civilization retires. A hardy, sparse population would manage to pick up a living. Enough justice to prevent mutual destruction would be meted out in an irregularly patriarchal form. Pottery deteriorated, roads fell into a bad way ; but the Numerarius had disappeared, and the struggle for existence against the wild powers of nature was not so much embittered by the visits of the man with the ink-horn, or the summons to send vectigalia to Villa Faustini or Combretonium. Whatever may have been the condition of our predecessors at that time, we find no trace of any resistance offered by them to the formation of the kingdom of East Anglia by the second Uffa circa A.D. 575.
Uffa and his son Tytil are mere names to us. Redwald, next in succession, certainly permitted the preaching of Christ within his realm, but his personal convictions were not to be depended upon. He was baptized at Canterbury under the eye of Ethelbert of Kent ; but, according to Bede30, he resembled the Samaritans of old31 in attempting to unite the worship of Christ with that of his old gods. His sons, Erpenwald and Sigebert, come before us as earnest propagators of the Faith. The former was assassinated by a pagan named Richbert, after three years’ reign ; but the latter, undaunted by his half-brother’s fate, as soon as he became King, invited to his kingdom the great apostle of the East Angles, St. Felix the Burgundian. During the three years’ interregnum ensuing on Erpenwald’s murder, Sigebert had sojourned in Burgundy, where he had been instructed and baptized, and whence he summoned one of the most eminent of his teachers to grapple with the work of Christianizing his people.
The arrival of the Burgundian apostle was followed, after a lapse of at least four years, by his consecration at the hands of Honorius, Archbishop of Canterbury32. His labours, arduous as they must have been, included the organization of a school, probably at Dunwich, which he furnished with masters and teachers after the manner of Kent, whence he had lately come>33. The church at Babingley, close to Sandringham, is dedicated to him. Here the ‘Christian hills’ are by tradition associated with his preaching. The two Flixtons and Felixstowe still preserve his name. The German Ocean has, indeed, swallowed up all material evidence of his life at Dunwich, his see; but one venerable structure remains-the “Old Minster,’ as it is called, close to South Elmham Hall, not to be passed over in connection with the first East Anglian Bishop.
Deeply imbedded in foliage, and only to be reached through byways, in one of the remotest corners of Suffolk, stands that remarkable mass of rubble which represents the toil and hardship of these early preachers of the Word. As elsewhere, whether in the county or out of it ; whether at Combretonium, Burgh, near Woodbridge, and Ilketshall St. Laurence ; at Delgovicia , Goodmanham in the East Riding, Porchester, Dover, or many other places, the enclosure, which apparently dates from the Roman period, to judge from its rectangular form, consisting of a low mound and shallow foss, becomes the Llan, the τέμενος, the God’s Acre, as we regard it from a Keltic, Greek, or Teutonic point of view. In this spot, to which allusion has already been made, may be seen the ‘Old Minster,’ 104 feet long and 33 feet wide, with its semicircular apse, and that most rare feature in church remains, the narthex. Entering the building by the west doorway, the visitor finds himself confronted by a wall only occupying the middle of the building, and leaving access by wide openings into the nave on the north and south. In larger and more stately buildings there was an ante-temple or outward narthex, where lustrations were performed, emblematical of that purity of soul without which no worship is acceptable, where also the dead were often interred. The word narthex, which, like canon, signifies a reed, became used for any oblong space34, and in particular for that space at the entrance of a church which was reserved for hearers who were allowed to stand and listen to the psalms, lessons, and sermon, and then dismissed without joining in the prayers or receiving the benediction. The openings into the nave are called by later Greek writers the beautiful and the royal gates.
With regard to the apse or bow at the east end, it seems to have become a feature in churches after so many basilicas, partly temple, partly law-court, partly exchange, passed into Christian hands in Constantine’s time. We know from Justin Martyr that in earlier days the Eucharist was celebrated in the body of the church, and that there was much of that unseemly crowding about which St. Paul complained35. The raised space within the apse of the basilica carried its own recommendation for the avoidance of this scandal, and from the cancelli, or rails which stood in front of it, comes our word ‘chancel.’
The comparison of this building with known specimens attests its ante-conquestal character ; boulder stones and flints alone are used, even the arches and angles being formed of them, and there is no trace of ashlar throughout the whole structure. The orientation is true. There are thought to be some rudiments of a tower ; in the walls are sundry holes which do not sufficiently correspond to enable us to regard them as used for scaffolding ; Roman urns are recorded to have been dug up at no great distance. These fragmentary notices of one of the earliest Christian buildings in Great Britain are meager enough, but comprise nearly everything that can be said about it.
To Sigebert also we owe the residence of St. Fursey, as well as the coming of St. Felix. That Irish missionary, in his travels, was kindly received at the East Anglian monarch’s Court, where he made many converts, and confirmed in the faith those who already believed. After a time, feeling his strength to be failing, he desired to establish a monastery before his death. Sigebert had granted him a site at a place called Cnobheresburg, in a camp surrounded by woods, and pleasant from its nearness to the sea, not hard to identify with Burgh Castle, the Gariannonum of the Counts of the Saxon Shore. Here he had many visions of the other world, which he did not relate publicly, but only to those who sought him out from desire of reformation of life. Afterwards he quitted all the business of this world, and even his monastery, becoming an anchorite. When the irruption of the pagans appeared to threaten destruction to what was dear to him, he retired to France, built a monastery at Lagny, near Paris (Latiniacum), where his body was said not to have seen corruption.
Attracted by the calm of monastic life, and perhaps by the visions vouchsafed to St. Fursey, Sigebert retired to a monastery of his own founding at Beodricesworth, afterwards Bury St. Edmund’s. Egric, his successor, however, became embroiled with that old pagan, Penda, King of Mercia, who, according to William of Malmesbury, hated peace worse than death, and as the East Anglian soldiers would hear of no leader but Sigebert, the peaceful cell had to be abandoned for the camp. Bearing only a wand,the ex-King appeared at the head of his troops, and perished with Egric at the hands of the Mercian idolater in A.D. 642, probably in the bounds of East Anglia, but where is unknown.
The new King, Ina, or Anna, son of Eni, no less odious to Penda than his predecessors had been, fell in battle at the field of Bulcamp (bellus campus), now in the parish of Blythburgh, in A.D. 654 or 655. It is thought, not unreasonably, that his capital was Norwich ; that Conisford (Kingsford) Ward, which stretches down to Trowse, already mentioned, is named from him ; that his progress to his last battlefield was mainly along the Roman road, Ant. IX., already mentioned ; and it is quite possible that King’s Lane in Henham is on the line of march. His tomb, doubted by Kirby, is shown in Blythburgh Church ; but the later dates of the monument and of the church which enshrines it are no valid grounds for rejecting the tradition, the stone being renewable in the Middle Ages in the same spirit in which James I. placed the memorial to Ethelred I. in Wimborne Minster. On the field of battle now stands the partially-filled Union Workhouse of the Blything Hundred. I am not aware that much has been discovered at this spot. Some of the bodies of the slain may have been removed to Blythburgh, for in 1758 and in 1851 great numbers of bones were discovered near the site of that priory. One circumstance in the later discovery, the interment of bodies with their feet eastward and westward alternately, may have been in mockery of the usual custom in Christian burial. The body of Firminus, whom some speak of as Anna’s son, and others as his brother, is said to have been removed to Bury St. Edmund’s.
‘Cast down, but not destroyed,’ are words which may well be applied to Christianity at this time. Penda and Ethelhere, Anna’s successor, fell the next year at ‘ Winwidfield,’ near Leeds, fighting against Oswy of Northumbria. Penda’s son Peada brought his people over to the Faith. Of Ethelwald, Ethelhere’s and Anna’s brother, Bede 38 relates that he received from the font Swithelm, King of Essex, after his baptism by St. Chad, at Rendlesham. When Aldulf became King of the East Angles in A.D. 664, the Metropolitan See of Canterbury had just fallen vacant, nor did it receive its head for four years, when the great Theodore of Tarsus was promoted to the Primacy by Pope Vitalianus. Even then the arrival of the new Archbishop was delayed for eighteen months, but it was worth the delay. A vigorous administrator, a great patron of learning, his tenure of office for twenty years and more was marked by consolidation and progress. Parishes were now organized, landowners stimulated to church-building, provision for the clergy recognised, and their characters simultaneously improved. In all these and other good works he found in Aldulf of East Anglia a cordial coadjutor. The Synod of Hertford, in A.D. 673, with much other matter on hand, undertook the division of the East Anglian see into two. Bisi, the old Bishop, remained at Dunwich, a second see being formed at Elmham. And now the question arises, Which Elmham, North in Norfolk, or South in Suffolk ? Something is to be said on each side. The North folk were obviously important enough to have a bishop to themselves. There had been flourishing settlements all over the county, from Walpole to Caister-next-Yarmouth, from Baconsthorpe to Brettenham, in the Roman period ; nor is it likely that so fair a territory should have fallen entirely out of shape. Roman remains have been found at North Elmham, and the entrenched mound there has been episcopal property from time immemorial. Hither retired John de Grey in the troubles of King John’s reign, and the remains of the palace of the fighting Bishop Spencer, formerly well known, have of late been brought more extensively to light. On the other side it must be borne in mind that the progress of Christianity was far too variable for us to expect any symmetrical ordering of sees. Lichfield, only seventeen years old, was then the sole cathedral of the midlands from the German Ocean to Wales, for Dorchester in Oxfordshire had been abandoned, and Sidnacester not yet formed; while, on the contrary, Wales was well manned, and London, Canterbury, and Rochester were within easy distance of each other. If Bishop Spencer lived at North Elmham, so we shall also find him at South Elmham. It may be that the establishment of a see at the latter place was all that was at the time possible, while the tide of paganism, so late at the flood, was slowly ebbing from the borderland of the Waveney Valley. Adhuc sub judice lis est. It is hardly for us to determine so vexed a question.
The change from darkness to light, as the great law of love took the place of the merciless worship of the gods of war and conquest, must have been of a most startling nature. What was destroyed needs not to be recapitulated, and what took its place, thank God! we still have. Yet one point in the old worship, the reverence in which the ash was held, may receive a brief notice, emphasized as it is by some of our existing names of villages. Though the detail of the Yggdrasil, or mystic ash, comes to us from a Scandinavian source, yet it is so intermingled with the myth of Odin, the great god common to the Teutonic race, and the ash is of such frequent occurrence in Angle and Saxon names and words, that it claims an earlier notice than would be accorded to it by Danish invasions. Yggdrasil is at once the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, with roots reaching to the abode of the Old Dragon, to the Fountain of Wisdom and to the Seat of judgment. With regard to Odin, as he, Haener and Loder were walking by the sea, they found an ash and an elm, whereof they made the first man and woman, Ask and Embla39. With this double importance attached to Fraxinus excelsior, which successive bands of Teuton rovers must have been delighted to find indigenous to British soil, it is not surprising to find the name attached to localities in a way peculiar to itself. Ashfield, indeed, is of itself no more noteworthy than Oakley or Elmsett ; but Campsey Ash, known simply as Ash, is very near Route IX in Antonine’s Itinerary, and Badwell Ash seems to accord with that part of Route V. which has been spoken of as lying between Stoke Ash and Ixworth. With these may be compared Ash-next-Sandwich, close by Route II., which ends at Richborough. The suggestion is that near these great roads the sacred tree was planted, and there would courts, first tribal and then local, be held. Ash Bocking, which also was called simply Ash, is possibly another instance. Other detail of Teutonic worship may be sought for in the many treatises on the subject.
After King Aldulf’s death in A.D. 683, there followed in succession Elfwulf, Beornred, Ethelred, and Ethelbert. There is -little to be said about any but the last, who was assassinated near Hereford while at the Court of the Mercian Prince Offa. This murder seems to have been committed in A.D. 793, and the seizure of the vacant throne without delay by Offa brought great suspicion on him. But Offa and his house soon came to nought, and another Offa, chosen by those who- had been driven out of the land by the usurper’s tyranny, appears to have spent a long reign in struggles, first with Mercia, and afterwards with the Danes. The history of this time, however, must be received with caution, for there are serious discrepancies to be reckoned with, and Gaufridus de Fontibus, whose detail is very full, is separated from the time by more than three centuries. In this perplexity we record with some diffidence that Offa of East Anglia, seeking an heir, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, visited on the way a relative named Alcmund in Saxony, adopted his son Edmund, and died on board ship in the Hellespont as he was returning home. We have a plethora of wonderful stories about Edmund, the Martyr-King, which may be read by those that will in a florid biography of the saint 40, who was endued with every possible virtue, and, according to a most reliable frontispiece, wore a fringe, was remarkably neat in apparel and hosiery, and generally resembled a pretty school-girl of sixteen summers.
His struggles against the Danes, however, were a grim reality, whoever he may have been, and whatever he may have been like. And this brings us to say a few words about that race.
There seems to have been a superabundance of searovers. While some were thus settling down into decent Christian folk, digging their ‘hales’ or moats, breaking up the stubborn glebe, slowly clearing forest and scrub, and rearing cattle, sheep, swine, and poultry, others were constantly growing up, over-populating their districts, and being shipped off to take their chance over the water rather than to remain a burden to the already hardpressed home. Who the Danes were let those say that know. Dudo of St. Quintin, whose book Camden found in John Stowe’s library, describes their horrible custom on driving out those of their youth who were chosen by lot to cut out their fortunes with the sword :
When they were ready to be dispatched away, their custom was to sacrifice to Thur, the god whom they anciently worship’d ; not with sheep, or oxen, but with the blood of men. This they looked upon as the most precious of all sacrifices,: and after the priest had deter- mined by lot who should dye, they were barbarously knocked on the head with yokes of oxen, and kill’d at one stroak. Each of them who were to die by lot, having. their brains, dash’d out at a single blow, were afterwards stretch’d on the ground, and search was made for the fibre on the left side, that is, the vein of the heart. Of this they us’d to take the blood, and throw it upon the heads of such as were designed fora march : and imagining that this had won the favour of the gods, they immediately set to sea, and fell to their oars.
Ditmarus, of somewhat greater antiquity than Dudo, adds some ghastly particulars:
But because I have heard strange things of the ancient sacrifices of the Normans and Danes, I would not willingly pass them over. There is a place in those parts, the capital city of that kingdom call’d Lederun, in the province of Selon. There they meet once every nine years, in January, a little after our twelfth day, and offer to their gods 99 men, and as many horses ; with dogs and cocks for hawks ; being fully persuaded (as I observed before) that these things were most acceptable to them.
The first reliable notice we have of the Danes is in A.D. 787, when, according to the Saxon Chronicle, in the days of Brithric of Wessex, three ships of Northmen came, out of Haeretha-land. Seven years afterwards they destroyed the church at Lindisfarne, and in the next year the monastery founded by St. Columba on Raghlin Island, on the north-east coast of Ireland. The distracting feuds of the Saxons and Angles prevented any unitedresistance to these Scandinavian invaders.
In A.D. 823 a King of the East Angles joined a general alliance under Egbert against the men of Mercia, and to them is assigned the death of Beornwulf, King of Mercia. The Danes, of course, profited largely by this condition of things. As this internecine struggle went on they became more bold, and, in spite of sharp rebuffs, repeated their desolating visits, not only along the old Saxon shore, but as far north as Lincolnshire, and as far west as Dorset.
In A.D. 851 they wintered in Thanet for the first time, and four years afterwards in Sheppey. Just about this date began St. Edmund’s reign, for, according to Asser, he ascended the throne, a mere boy, on Christmas Day, A.D. 855, and was crowned by Bishop Humbert of Elmham a year afterwards.
Perplexity again awaits us as we enter on the quarrel between Edmund and the Danes. Who Lothbroc was, whether identical with Ragnar of that name, whether the name means “hateful brook”41, or “leather breeches”42, or what not, which of half a dozen versions of spelling should be adopted, whether he taunted his sons with the prowess of Edmund, whether he was put into a dungeon with snakes, or murdered by Beorn the Hunter out of jealousy in the forest of Heglesdune or Hoxne, must remain among things not generally known.
For some cause or other, Hingvar and Ubba, sons of Lothbroc, backed by the King of Denmark, burst upon the east coast of England with a host of 20,000 men in the year 865. They were driven on the coast of Northumbria first, but, unsated by slaughter and devastation, Hingvar made for Norfolk and Suffolk. Bearing his terrible standard of the Raven, he harried the East Anglian sea-board with constant depredations, in spite of the defeats which Edmund and his people managed to inflict upon their foes. Twice the Angle King narrowly escaped capture, once at Barnby, where his local knowledge enabled him to use a ford43 unknown to his enemies, and once at Framlingham, where a weak part of the castle walls is said to have been disclosed by one of his old pensioners, who had fallen into the hands of the Danes. For a time the invaders were occupied in Mercia and Northumbria. After the winters of 869 and 870 they turned their steps again south-eastward. Bardney, Crowland, Thorney, Medeshamsted44, Ramsey, and Ely in turn yielded to their wild fury. Sword and fire only seemed to whet their fell appetite by indulgence. Crossing from Ely to Stuntney, they had an unobstructed march on Thetford, which soon shared the fate of the other towns. At length, on the heaths south of Thetford, they encountered the young Christian King, whose character and faith were equally objects of their hatred and scorn. Surely the words of the Saga about Ringmere, a few miles over the Norfolk border, may be applied to this struggle on the ground where now the parishes of Thetford St. Mary and Barnham join :
On the wild heath
The chime of war.
Sword striking shield
Rings from afar. The living fly ;
The dead piled high The moor enrich ; Red runs the ditch.
No permanent mark of the struggle remains, save, perhaps, that not far off is the base of one of those wayside crosses which showed the pilgrims’ track to St. Edmundsbury or Walsingham. The scream of the stone curlew and the broken whistle of the lapwing still ring in a weird fashion in the ears of those that pass that way. The rabbit’s active feet construct his tunnels among the furze, which often takes toll in the shape of tufts ofhis gray or white fur. The wheatear lays her greenish-blue eggs and brings off her young brood. No longer, indeed, does the stately bustard stalk over these broad stretches of free warren, and show that glory of fawn colour which England is never like to see again save in museums. Otherwise all is unchanged, and no great effort of the imagination peoples the scene with Dane and Angle met in mortal fray.
According to Abbo of Fleury, Hingvar first sent a message to Edmund, then at Hoxne, inviting submission, which the King refused, in spite of the counsel of Bishop Humbert ; then an indecisive battle took place, and Edmund retired on Hoxne. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions but one battle in which the Danes, under Ingwair and Hubba, ‘got the victory and slew the King.’ The story of the discovery of the King under the ‘Golden Bridge’ at Hoxne, through the flash of his golden spurs, rests on local tradition only, and may be dismissed, together with an equally popular legend, witnessed to by many a medieval carving 45, of the wolf which guarded the saintly head. Abbo tells us of this, and of the voice which proceeded from the head, ‘ Here, here, here,’ guiding the searchers to the right spot. Butler adds a pillar of light, emanating, apparently, from .his inner consciousness ; and some picturllesque imaginings are to be found in a later write 46, all pointing to the cumulative instinct when the wondrous is related.
What seems to rest on a substantial basis, the martyrdom at Hoxne, confirmed by the flint arrow-head discovered in an old oak which was felled near the traditional place of the King’s death, and the subsequent interment at Bury St. Edmund’s, is intermingled, as usual, with contradictory and extravagant tales. The narrative, however, which represents the martyr-King as shot to death by arrows, the English representation of St. Sebastian, has a just demand on the historian, and has never failed of recognition.
- Bede, ‘Eccl. Hist.’, ii. 15.
- Kings xvil. 41.
- Honorius succeeded Justus in A.D. 634.
- See Bede, ‘Eccl. Hist.’, iii. 18.
- See note in Bingham, ‘Antiq.’, book viii., chap. iv.
- Cor. xi. 17, etc.
- ‘Ex Girviorum proximia oriundus.’ — William of Malmesbury.
- A fragment of his name remained in my memory in some fifteenth-century glass in Blythburgh Church.
- Eccl. Hist-il iii. 22.
- I See the article `Scandinavian Mythology,’ by Professor Rasmus Andersen, in Chambers’ Cyclopaedia 1892.
- ‘Saint Edmund’, by the Rev. J. B. Macicinlay, O.S.B., 1893.
- ‘Odiosus rivus’. — Gaufridus de Fontibus.
- Said to be called Bernford, because by it he escaped from Bern.
- Now Peterborough.
- Eg., at Fressingfield.
- Black and While, February 6, 1891.