Gateway to the Classics: The World's Story: England by Eva March Tappan
The World's Story: England by  Eva March Tappan

King Edmund and the Wolf


EDMUND, the blessed king of the East Angles, was a man of wisdom and worth, and one who by his constant practice of the most sterling virtues was ever showing honor to God Almighty. He was of a humble disposition, but nevertheless so firm in the right that nothing would induce him to swerve from the path of duty. He was ever mindful of the precept, "If thou hast been made a ruler, do not exalt thyself, but abide among men as one of them." He was as a father to the poor and widowed; and with earnest desire he led his people in the ways of righteousness, he curbed the power of the wicked, and ever abode in the true faith.

Now it came to pass that the Danes came with a fleet, and ravaged the land and murdered the people, as their custom is. The leaders of this fleet were Hinguar and Hubba, brought together by the power of Satan himself. Hinguar went to the East with his ships, and Hubba remained in the North, overcoming the people with the utmost cruelty. It was in the year when Alfred, who afterwards became the famous king of the West Saxons, was twenty-one years of age, that Hinguar landed on the coast of the East Angles.

And the aforesaid Hinguar stole upon the land like a wolf and slew its people, men, women, and harmless little children, and brought disaster upon the innocent Christians. Then he sent an envoy to King Edmund with this message: "Hinguar, our leader, a brave man and a winner of victories on land and sea, is already ruler of many tribes. He proposes to winter here with his army, and he bids you to divide with him straightway whatever treasure you may have hidden and whatever your forefathers were possessed of, if you care for your life, for you have no power to resist him."

King Edmund called the bishop who was nearest him, and they consulted together what reply they should make to the cruel Hinguar. The bishop was alarmed, and so feared for the life of the king that he advised yielding to Hinguar's demand. The king was silent, and looked down at the ground, then he turned to the bishop and gave to him a right royal answer. "O, my bishop," he said, "my poor people are maltreated, and if they may only enjoy their own country, I should rather fight together with them and fall in the fight."

And the bishop said, "O my beloved king, your people have been slain, you have no troops to lead into battle. The pirates are at hand, and unless you either yield to them or else save yourself by flight, you will soon be a dead man."

Then said King Edmund, hero as he was, "My beloved people, together with their wives and children, are slain in their beds by these pirates. Never have I tried to save myself by flight, and now I would rather die for my country than flee. God knows that, whether I live or die, I will never cease to love and worship Him."

Then he turned to the messenger and fearlessly said, "You deserve to be put to death, but I will not defile my hands with your foul blood. I am a follower of Christ, and if God decrees that I be slain by you, I am ready to obey his will in all gladness. Therefore do you go at once and say to your cruel leader: 'Edmund yields to Christ his Saviour alone, and he will never yield to Hinguar, the leader of the heathen pirates.' "

The messenger hastened on his way, and on the road he met the savage Hinguar with all his host. He gave him the answer of Edmund, and Hinguar turned straightway to his followers and said, "Do you let all else go and watch for this king who despises the command of your leader. Him do you seize and bind."

And when Hinguar drew near to Edmund's hall there stood the king. He had cast aside his weapons, for in his heart was the thought of Christ, who forbade Peter to take up arms. Then Edmund was bound fast, and insulted, and beaten with rods; and after this he was tied to a tree by many cruel bonds. He was beaten again, but between the blows of the whips, he called ever upon Christ to come to his aid. This made the anger of the heathen even more furious, and they began to hurl their spears at him until his body, like that of St. Sebastian, was as bristling with spears as is the body of a hedgehog with quills.

When the wicked Hinguar saw that the noble king would not deny his Saviour, he ordered that he should be beheaded; and even while he was calling upon Christ, they dragged him to his death. They cut off his head at a blow, but his soul went happily away to Christ. A man who was watching close by heard all this and afterwards told it just as I have reported it here.


The pirates took the head of the king with them and threw it into the brambles, and then they went back to their vessels. And the people of the country came upon the body of their king, and they mourned for him, and they grieved because they could not find his head to place with his body.

The man who in his hiding-place had seen the cruel deeds of the pirates, declared that they had cast the head away somewhere in the forest, and the people sought through briars and brambles in the hope that they might come upon the lost head of their lord.

Now through the goodness of God a great marvel had come to pass, for God had sent a wolf to guard the head day and night and protect it from the other wild beasts of the forest. The followers of King Edmund knew nothing of this, but they sought through and through the wilderness, calling to one another every now and then, "Hilloa, comrade, where are you?" Behold the head of the king called in reply, "Here I am, here, here!" Whenever anyone called the head answered, until by means of this, the men who were searching came upon it. And then they saw a miracle indeed, for there lay a gray wolf, and between his forepaws lay the head. The wolf was fiercely hungry, but by the command of God he touched not the head, but defended it from all other beasts.

The men gazed in wonder and thanked Almighty God for his marvels. Then they took up the holy head of the king and bore it home with them, and the wolf followed after just as if he were tame until they had come to the town, then he turned back and returned to the woods again.

by the Abbot Ælfric
(Translated by Eva March Tappan)

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: The Fall of the Monastery at Croyland  |  Next: What the Boy Alfred Saw in London
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.