Sweyn Forkbeard and the Rise of the Cult of St Edmund
with Dr Sam Newton (Wuffing Education)
at the School of Music, Woodbridge School, Burkitt Road, Woodbridge IP12 4JH,
on Saturday 2nd February 2019.


Today is the 1005th anniversary of the sudden death of the Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard, victorious after his conquest of England, at his base at Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, on 2nd February 1014.  Whatever killed him, the story soon arose that he had been struck down by St Edmund, last of the Wuffing kings of East Anglia, whose cult had been growing since shortly after his martyrdom on 20th November 869.  The story that he had risen to bring down the great Dane was to lead to the flowering of the cult of one of England’s greatest royal saints.  Certainly Sweyn’s son and successor, Cnút the Great, made sure that he honoured St Edmund by building him a new shrine, which was consecrated on 18th October 1032, the anniversary of his kingdom-winning victory at the Battle of Assandún in 1016.

We shall reconsider these events and chart the rise of the cult of St Edmund, some of the legacy of which is still with us, in the light of contemporary Old and Middle English sources and art.

Provisional Programme

10.00 – 10.30:  Coffee on arrival

10.30 – 11.30:   King Sweyn the Conqueror of England

11.30 – 12.00:   Coffee break

12.00 – 13.00:   St Edmund in History and Legend

13.00 – 14.00:   Lunch break

14.00 – 14.45:   Cnút Sweynsson, St Edmund, and Edward

                        the Confessor

14.45 – 15.15:  Tea break

15.15 – 16.00:   The Cult of St Edmund

16.00:              Thanks and Close

About Dr Sam Newton

Sam Newton was awarded his Ph.D at UEA in 1991.  He published his first book, The Origins of Beowulf and the pre-Viking Kingdom of East Anglia, in 1993, and his second, The Reckoning of King Rædwald, in 2003.  He has published several papers, some of which are available on Academia – https://independent.academia.edu/SamNewton.  He has lectured widely around the country and contributed to many radio and television programmes, especially Time Team, for whom he worked for seven series.  He is a tutor for Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education, an accredited Arts’ Society lecturer, and a Director of the Wuffing Education Study-Day Partnership.

Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

  • Gransden, A. “The legends and traditions concerning the origins of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds” English Historical Review, 100 (1985), pp. 1-14.
  • Hart, C., The Danelaw (Hambledon 1992).
  • Hervey, F., (ed.) Corolla Sancti Edmundi: The Garland of St Edmund, King and Martyr (London 1907).
  • Howard, I., Swein Forkbeard’s Invasions and the Danish Conquest of England, 991-1017 (Boydell & Brewer 2003).
  • Lawson. M. K., Cnut: England’s Viking King (Tempus 2004).
  • Pinner, R., The Cult of St Edmund in Medieval East Anglia (Boydell Press 2015).
  • Ridyard, S., The Royal Saints of Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge 1988).
  • Rumble, A. (ed.), The Reign of Cnut: King of England, Denmark and Norway, Studies in the Early History of Britain Series, 10-26 (Leicester 1994).
  • Scarfe, N., “St Edmund’s Corpse: Defeat into Victory”, Suffolk in the Middle Ages (Boydell 1986), pp. 55-71.
  • Swanton, M. (editor & translator), The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Dent 1996; Phoenix 2000).
  • Whitelock, D., “Fact and Fiction in the Legend of St Edmund”, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology & History, 31 (1970), pp. 217-233.
  • Whittingham, A.B. Bury St Edmunds Abbey (English Heritage Guide, 2012) –based on Arthur Whittingham’s original article of 1951.
  • Young, F., “St Edmund, King and Martyr in Popular Memory since the Reformation”, Folklore 126 (2015), pp. 159–176.
  • Young, F., The Abbey of Bury St Edmunds: History, Legacy and Discovery (Norwich: Lasse Press, 2016)