Michael Linton's Bayeux Tapestry: 1066 - A Medieval Mosaic and Puzzles
QUEENS OF ENGLAND
BEFORE THE NORMAN CONQUEST.
TAGGARD & THOMPSON,
This electronic edition
was prepared by
Michael A. Linton, 2007
QUEENS OF EDWIN "THE GREAT" AND OSWY.
Marriage of Ethelburga to Edwin—Paulinus—His zeal—The Life of Edwin attempted—A daughter, Enfleda, born—She is dedicated by her father to God—Pope Boniface—His letters—Coiffi, the priest—His famous speech and act—Edwin becomes a Christian—Hilda first appears—Numerous converts in Northumberland—Edwin's progresses—The Tufa—Edwin killed in battle against Penda—Eadfrid murdered—Ethelburga seeks protection with her brother, the King of Kent, accompanied by Paulinus—She sends her sons to France: they die there—She founds a nunnery, and takes the veil—Her acts of charity—The Danes—Enfleda demanded in marriage by Oswy—The voyage and the jars of oil—The marriage—Enfleda builds the Monastery of Tinemouth—Wilfred—Enfleda's daughter dedicated to God—Caedmon, the poet—The Synod at Whitby—The mother and daughter—The spirit of the Abbess.
THIS lady who, unlike the generality of her sex, became renowned for taciturnity, and Enfleda, her daughter, were Queens of Northumberland. Their history being intimately connected, it has been thought better to unite the record of their lives.
Ethelburga "Tate," or "the Silent," was the daughtor of Ethelbert and his pious Queen Bertha, and was educated in the Christian faith. Ethelburga's beauty and virtues were destined to atone to Edwin the Great, King of Northumberland, for his many troubles.
Edwin was twenty-three years of age when he mounted the throne, and at the time when he married Ethelburga, was in his thirty-first year. Quenburga, whom he had espoused when very young, had not lived to behold her husband reinstated in his rights: she died while he was an exile, leaving two sons, Osfred and Edfred.
It was about the year 624 that Edwin sent ambassadors to the court of Kent, to demand the hand of the Princess Ethelburga. Her parents were dead; but their son Eadbald sat upon the throne, and Edwin was most desirous to strengthen himself by an alliance with him. Eadbald gave his consent to his sister's marriage; but not without making certain stipulations, which were rendered necessary by Edwin's being a follower of Paganism. As Ethelburga was a Christian, her brother required that she should be allowed to follow that religion without restriction, and be permitted to have her own ministers to officiate. Edwin, on receiving this answer by his ambassadors, undertook that he would not in any way whatever oppose the Princess in her religious exercises, but would, on the contrary, permit her, and all whom she might bring with her, to follow their faith according to the principles of Christianity. More than this, he declared that he would himself embrace that doctrine, if, on examination by means of wise men appointed for the purpose, it should prove more holy and worthy of God than his own. On this, Ethelburga was promised to Edwin, and Paulinus, "a man beloved of God," ordained bishop, that he might accompany the royal bride into Northumberland. [The first Abbot of Bardney, named Deda, according to Bede, described Panulinus as tall of stature, a little stooping, his hair black, his visage meagre, his nose slender and aquiline, his aspect both venerable and majestic.] It was hoped that this excellent prelate, by his daily exhortations, and exercising the mysterious offices of the faith, would not only confirm the hearts of the Princess and her attendants, but prevent their becoming corrupted by the society of the Pagans. [Bede.]
The marriage of Ethelburga, the Christian, to the Pagan King, Edwin, was solemnised at the royal city of York, A.D. 625. [Hutchinson, Harding.]
It was on Easter Sunday, in 626, the year following, that an attempt was made on the life of Edwin, by a person in the employ of the King of Wessex. Eumer—for so the man was called-under pretence of conveying a message, obtained admittance to the royal presence, when, drawing his dagger, he rushed on the King. The faithful Lilla, one of Edwin's officers, perceiving his master's danger, interposed his own body, and received the wound, which had been dealt so violently that the dagger, after piercing Lilla, even wounded Edwin; before, however, the assassin could repeat the blow, he was despatched by the royal attendants. [Hume.]
Scarcely had the grateful King returned thanks to the gods for his own preservation, when Paulinus appeared with the welcome tidings that his Queen Ethelburga had just been safely delivered of a daughter, its birth supposed to have been hastened by the alarm of the recent event. Paulinus immediately gave thanks to Christ for both these joyful occurrences, and upon that, strove to persuade the King that through his prayers to the Saviour, Ethelburga had been enabled to bring forth her child in safety. Edwin, delighted with the words of the priest, and the happy tidings of which he had been the bearer, promised, that in case God would grant him life and victory over the King who had armed the hand of an assassin against him, he would renounce the worship of idols. As an earnest of this promise, he delivered over his newly-born daughter to Paulinus, to be forthwith consecrated to the service of Christ. Enfleda—for that was the name bestowed on the royal infant—was the first baptized of the Northumbrian nation. The solemn rite was performed on Whitsunday, and twelve other members of the royal family were baptized with the little princess. [Bede.]
Malton, in Yorkshire, was the birthplace of Enfleda, and the scene of Edwin's escape from the dagger of Eumer. The King had a royal villa at this place, where he was at that time residing. Brompton, a village between Malton and Scarborough, was another royal residence of the Kings of Northumberland. [Allen's History of York.]
As soon as Edwin recovered from his wound, which was at first alarming, he marched against the West Saxons, and having defeated his enemies, put to the sword all those who had sought his life. [Hutchinson and Burke.] His consort, emulating the glory of her mother Bertha, had, in the meantime, left no argument untried which could influence her husband to adopt the Christian faith, and extended the same care towards his Northumbrian subjects. [Hume.] Pope Boniface, learning the exertions made by Ethelburga for the propagation of the doctrines of Christ, encouraged the undertaking, by himself addressing a letter to Ethelburga, exhorting her to persevere in her holy purpose; he sent, at the same time, a letter to her royal husband. Of these letters, both of which are preserved by Bede, we select that addressed to Ethelburga, who was the undoubted means of introducing the faith into Northumberland.
"The copy of the letter of the most blessed and apostolic Boniface, Pope of the city of Rome, to Ethelburga, King Edwin's Queen.
"To the illustrious lady, his daughter, Queen Ethelburga, Boniface, Bishop, servant of the servants of God. The goodness of our Redeemer has, with much providence, offered the means of salvation to the human race, which he rescued by the shedding of his precious blood, from the bonds of captivity to the devil: so that making his name known in divers ways to the Gentiles, they might acknowledge their Creator by embracing the mystery of the Christian faith, which thing, the mystical regeneration of your purification, plainly shows to have been bestowed upon the mind of your highness by God's bounty. Our mind, therefore, has much rejoiced in the benefit of our Lord's goodness, for that he has vouchsafed, in your conversion, to kindle a spark of the orthodox religion, by which He might the more easily inflame in His love the understanding, not only of your glorious consort, but also of all the nation that is subject to you. For we have been informed by those who came to acquaint us with the laudable conversion of our illustrious son, King Eadbald, that your Highness also, having received the wonderful sacrament of the Christian faith, continually excels in the performance of works pious and acceptable to God; that you likewise carefully refrain from the worship of idols, and the deceits of temples and auguries, and having changed your devotion, are so taken up with the love of your Redeemer, as never to cease lending your assistance for the propagation of the Christian faith. And our fatherly charity having earnestly inquired concerning your illustrious husband, we were given to understand, that he still served abominable idols, and would not yield obedience or give ear to the voice of the preachers. This occasioned us no small grief, for that part of your body still remained a stranger to the knowledge of the supreme and undivided Trinity. Whereupon we, in our fatherly care, did not delay to admonish your Christian Highness, exhorting you, that with the help of the Divine inspiration, you will not defer to do that, which, both in season and out of season, is required of us; that with the co-operating power of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, your husband also may be added to the number of Christians, to the end that you may thereby enjoy the rites of marriage in the bond of a holy and unblemished union. For it is written, 'they shall be in one flesh.' How can it be said, that there is unity between you, if he continues a stranger to the brightness of your faith, by the interposition of dark and detestable error? Therefore, applying yourself continually to prayer, do not cease to beg of the Divine mercy the benefit of his illumination; to the end, that those whom the union of carnal affection has made in a manner but one body, may, after death, continue in perpetual union, by the bond of faith. Persist, therefore, illustrious daughter, and to the utmost of your power, endeavour to soften the hardness of his heart, by insinuating the Divine precepts; making him sensible how noble the mystery is which you have received by believing, and how wonderful is the reward, which, by the new birth, you have merited to obtain. Inflame the coldness of his heart by the knowledge of the Holy Ghost, that by the abolition of the cold and pernicious worship of Paganism, the heat of Divine faith may enlighten his understanding, through your frequent exhortations; that the testimony of the Holy Scripture may appear the more conspicuous, fulfilled by you, 'The unbelieving husband shall be saved by the believing wife!' For to this effect you have obtained the mercy of our Lord's goodness, that you may return with increase the fruit of faith, and the benefit intrusted in your hands; for through the assistance of His mercy, we do not cease, with frequent prayers, to beg that you may be able to perform the same. Having premised thus much, in pursuance of the duty of our fatherly affection, we exhort you, that when the opportunity of a bearer shall offer, you will,—as soon as possible, acquaint us with the success which the Divine power shall grant by your means, in the conversion of your consort, and of the nation subject to you; to the end, that our solicitude, which earnestly expects what appertains to the salvation of you and yours, may, by hearing from you, be set at rest; and that we, discerning more fully the brightness of the Divine propitiation diffused in you, may, with a joyful confession, abundantly return due thanks to God, the giver of all good things, and to St. Peter, the prince of the apostles."
This letter finishes with a trait of friendliness somewhat singular, and no doubt agreeable to the female receiver:— "We have, moreover, sent you the blessing of your protector, St. Peter, the prince of the apostles, that is, a silver looking-glass, and a gilt ivory comb, which we entreat your glory will receive with the same kind affection, as it is known to be sent by us."
The letter of Pope Boniface to Edwin was, in like manner, accompanied by presents: these were, "a shirt with one gold ornament, and one garment of Ancyra, [Ancyra or Angora, a city of Galatia, spoken of by Pliny and Strabo, formerly the seat of the Gauls. It was there that the particular kind of cloth made of goats' wool was dyed, and underwent the process called camlet, which "gave it its water colour."] named in the epistle. Edwin had, in the first instance hesitated to embrace the new doctrine, but the efforts of Ethelburga were destined to be crowned with success. The King had promised her that he would examine the foundations on which the new faith rested, and that if he found them satisfactory he was willing to become a convert.
Accordingly, he held several conferences with Paulinus, canvassed the arguments he proposed with the wisest of his counsellors, retired frequently from company, to resolve in solitude that all-important question, and at length came to the desired conclusion.
A year had passed in anxious deliberation on the truth, when, "attended by Paulinus, Edwin entered the great council, requested the advice of his faithful Witan, and exposed to them the reasons which induced him to prefer Christianity to the worship of paganism. Coiffi, the high priest of Northumbria, was the first to reply, whose faith was shaken by repeated disappointments. He attempted to prove the futility of the pagan religion by his own misfortunes, and avowed his own resolution 'to listen to the reasons, and examine the doctrine of Paulinus.' He was followed by an aged thane, whose discourse offers an interesting picture of the simplicity of the age. 'When,' said he, 'O King, you and your ministers are seated at table, in the depth of winter, and the cheerful fire blazes on the hearth in the middle of the hall, a sparrow, perhaps chased by the wind and snow, enters at one door of the apartment and escapes by the other. During the moment of its passage it enjoys the warmth; when it is once departed, it is seen no more. Such is the nature of man. During a few years his existence is visible; but what has preceded or what will follow it, is concealed from the view of mortals. If the new religion offer any information on subjects so mysterious and important, it must be worthy of our attention.' To these reasons the other members assented. Paulinus was desired to explain the principal articles of the Christian faith; and the King expressed his determination to embrace the doctrine of the missionary. When it was asked, who would dare to profane the altars of Woden, Coiffi accepted the dangerous office. Laying aside the emblems of the priestly dignity, he assumed the dress of a warrior, and, despising the prohibitions of the Saxon superstition, mounted the favorite charger of Edwin. By those who were ignorant of his motives his conduct was attributed to temporary insanity. But disregarding their clamours, he proceeded to the nearest temple, and bidding defiance to the gods of his fathers, hurled his spear into the sacred edifice. It stuck in the opposite wall; and, to the surprise of the trembling spectators, the heavens were silent, and the sacrilege was unpunished. Insensibly they recovered from their fears, and, encouraged by the exhortations of Coiffi, burnt to the ground the temple and the surrounding groves." [Bede.]
Alcuin has celebrated the fame of Coiffi in his poem on the Church of York.
The King, now changed in heart as well as doctrine desired to receive the rite of baptism, which was performed with much solemnity during the festival of Easter, at the Church of St. Peter, in York, Paulinus himself officiating. On this great occasion, which took place A.D. 627, many Northumbrians, both of the nobility and meaner classes, received the same rite. Of the number was Hilda, a young Saxon girl of royal birth, being great-niece of Edwin: then she was fourteen years of age only, but she lived to become one of the most distinguished characters of her time.
The simple church whose interior was the scene of this imposing spectacle, so new and interesting in a nation of unbelievers, at the time was constructed of wood, but was afterwards re-edified with stone by the King, who made it a cathedral, constituting Paulinus archbishop of the see.
Crowds now began daily to flock to Paulinus to receive the baptismal rite, and it is on record of that venerable prelate that, being at one time staying with the King and Queen at Yeverin, in Northumberland, he was employed for six-and-thirty days, from morning till night, in instructing the throng that pressed forward to receive the new doctrine, whom he baptized in the river Glen. Churches and oratories were as yet unbuilt, and thus, as among the primitive Christians, rivers were brought into use by Paulinus, especially the Swale, as at the royal mansion in the neighborhood of that river Paulinus most commonly resided with the King. [Lives of the Saints.] Edwin is also said to have dwelt at Auldby, about six miles from the city of York. Christianity had now fairly dawned on Northumberland.
The Roman altars and temples had been laid in the dust, and a general indifference to religion prevailed at the time when Saxon mythology was introduced; and this was now supplanted by the pure doctrine of a revealed religion, which quickly spread, and with such good effect throughout the north, that it is said, a woman and her infant might have passed, without danger or damage, from sea to sea, [Howel.] so rare had acts of injustice become.
Having procured peace with the other Kings, his contemporaries, Edwin employed himself in progresses through his own territories, for the redress of the injured—enacting just laws for the public protection. He carefully repaired the roads throughout Northumberland, making them safe and commodious; and so minutely did the King regard the comfort of his people, that every spring by the way-side was provided with a bowl, for the refreshment of travellers. [Hutchinson.]
Thus, by his nobleness and intrepidity of character, Edwin became renowned as the greatest Prince of the Saxon Heptarchy. "His dignity," says Bede, "was so great throughout his dominions, that his banners were not only borne before him in battle, but even in time of peace: when he rode about his cities, towns, or provinces, with his officers, the standard-bearer was wont to go before him. Also, when he walked along the streets, that sort of banner which the Romans call Tufa, and the English Tuf, was, in like manner, borne before him." This was a globe, or a tuft of feathers, fixed on a spear.
It was unfortunate for Northumberland to lose so good a monarch in the zenith of greatness. After a reign of seventeen years' duration, Edwin, in the forty-eighth year of his age, perished in battle against Penda, King of Mercia, together with Osfred, his youngest son by Quenburga: Eadfrid, the eldest-born, afterwards imploring the protection of Penda, who was his relative, was murdered by him in violation of his oath. [Lingard. Hume, Hutchinson. The remains of Edwin were interred at Streaneshalch, or Whitby, which became the repository of those of the different members of the Royal Family.—Howel.]
Edwin had four children by Ethelburga; two of whom only survived him, Ulkfren and Enfleda. The claims of these children of Edwin were set aside in favour of Eanfrid and Osric, of whom the former took possession of Northumberland, and the latter of Deira; while the people, strange to say, after such an example, on losing their Christian King, reverted to a state of paganism.
Ethelburga adopted the alternative which alone remained for safety to herself and family. Taking with her, her children, and Uffi, the son of Osfred, who was now an orphan, she determined to seek the protection of Eadbald, King of Kent, her brother, who had married Emma, a, French princess. Accordingly the Queen placed herself and family under the protection of Bassus, a faithful chieftain, and fled by sea into Kent, A.D. 627, where the royal fugitives were honourably received, first by Honorius, and afterwards by Eadbald himself; who bestowed on Paulinus, the faithful friend and adviser of his sister, who accompanied her on this occasion as in all others, the see of Rochester, in which he passed the remainder of his days; bequeathing to the church there, at his death, the pall which he had received from the Roman Pontiff. [Mac Cabe.] A great number of precious ornaments, which had belonged to King Edwin, were conveyed by Paulinus into Kent at the same time; among them were a large golden cross and a golden chalice, consecrated for the service of the altar, which were preserved in the Church of Canterbury. [Bede.]
Ethelburga retained her daughter with her, but fearing her sons' safety insecure in this country, sent them together to the court of her relative, King Dagobert, in France, where they afterwards died. When she first arrived from Northumberland, Eadbald had presented her with some land in Kent, where the royal widow founded a nunnery, afterwards dedicated to the honour of the Virgin Mary and St. Mildred, one of the later abbesses. This was the first founded of the three celebrated Kentish monasteries; the second, at Folkstone, being built by Enswitha, daughter of Eadbald; and the third, at Minster, in Thanet, by Queen Dompena, in A.D. 664. [Phillipotts.] Ethelburga's was founded in 633, [Smith's Notes on Bede.] when the amiable Queen exhibited to the English people the novelty of a Christian widow taking the veil,—a step which, from her high example, afterwards became customary amongst the Queens of the Anglo-Saxons. [Hutchinson, Leland.]
From this time till her death Ethelburga devoted herself wholly to acts of charity; and when snatched from the world, she was interred in the nunnery of which she had been the foundress. That edifice, afterwards converted to a monastery at a later period, suffered much from the rapacity of the Danes, by whom it was rifled no less than three times in the space of thirty years, during the ninth century: it came at last to the see of Canterbury. [Camden, Dugdale, Butler.] The memory of St. Edwin the Great was honoured till the time of Henry VIII.; and a small church in London, near Newgate, some have conjectured was named after St. Ewen, or Andoeni. [It stood at the north-east corner of Warwick-lane.]
Oswy, and his brother Oswin, meantime had divided between them the Northumbrian monarchy, the former governing in Bernicia, the latter in Deira. [Holinshed.] It is not certain whether Ethelburga was yet alive when an embassy arrived at the court of Eadbald from the former of these princes, demanding the hand of her daughter, the Princess Enfleda, in marriage. The account of this embassy is very interesting, and characteristic of the times. Oswy commissioned Utta, "a man of great gravity and sincerity," who was much esteemed for his good qualities and truthfulness of character, to become his ambassador into Kent. Utta was commanded to travel by land to his destination, but to return home by sea; on which account he addressed himself to Aidan, Bishop of the Church of Deira, during the reigns of Oswy and Oswin, beseeching his prayers for the prosperity of his voyage. Aidan blessed Utta and his companions, and commended them to the protection of Heaven, delivering to Utta, at the same time, some jars of hallowed oil, with these words: "I foresee that whilst you are at sea, a sudden tempest will come upon you; remember to cast into the troubled waters the oil that I give you, and speedily the tempest shall be assuaged, and the sea be calmed, and you shall have a prosperous voyage." All these things were fulfilled according to the prophecy. Enfleda and her train had to encounter a tempest on their way to Northumberland, the account of which is given by Bede, who had been told the story by one who had it from Utta's own mouth. [Hutchinson's Durham, Biog. Brit.]
Eadbald had, as we have seen, not only the honour of giving his sister Ethelburga in marriage to Edwin, but afterwards of bestowing her daughter Enfleda on Oswy. It is necessary to mention here the relationship which existed between King Oswy and the Princess of Kent. Edwin, father of Enfleda, was brother of Acha, wife of Ethelfred the Wild, and therefore uncle of her son Oswy. Thus, Enfleda and Oswy were first cousins; at the time of her marriage, which took place A.D. 642, the Princess was only in her sixteenth year, while Oswy was about thirty. She was fortunate in her match, for he was one of the most interesting princes of whom we read in the history of the Saxon Heptarchy.
Treading in the footsteps of her illustrious mother and grandmother, Enfleda distinguished herself not only by the patronage she afforded to religious men, but by the religious edifices she founded. Not long after her arrival in Northumberland, Oswin, her husband's brother and partner in the government, was slain at Gilling, near Richmond, in Yorkshire; and the Queen built a monastery on the spot, which we learn was completed before the year 659, the Abbot of which, Trumhere, was afterwards made Bishop of the Mercians. No trace of the edifice now remains, it having been entirely destroyed, A.D. 897, by the Danish chiefs, Hinguar and Hubba. [Dugdale, Tanner.]
Trumhere, who was the third bishop in Mercia, was an Englishman, and related to Queen Enfleda. He had been instructed and ordained in Scotland, and Oswy, at the solicitation of his Queen, had granted him the place where Oswin had been slain, on which he built the Abbey of Ingethlingum Gilling, of which he himself became Abbot; whether this was the same edifice raised under Enfleda's patronage, or one adjacent, does not appear. [Holinshed.]
The Monastery at Tinemouth was likewise built by Enfleda, in commemoration of St. Oswin, [The death of Oswin, with which Oswy appears to be chargeable, from the lines cited, is said to have taken place in 651. He is described as having been "tall and handsome in person, affable in manners, and courteous to rich and poor," which caused him to be "beloved by all."— Holinshed.] whose shrine was there preserved.
"Queen Enfled, that was King Oswy's wife.
King Edwin, his daughter, full of goodnesse,
For Oswyn's soule a minster, in her life,
Made at Tynemouth, and for Oswy causeles
That hym so bee slaine and killed helpeles;
For she was kin to Oswy and Oswyn,
As Bede in chronicle dooeth determyn."—Harding.
Enfleda bestowed her royal patronage on one who was destined to attain the greatest celebrity; this was Wilfrid, a Northumbrian, who, when very young, came to York, where Oswy held his court. On his arrival he was introduced to Queen Enfleda, who, seeing the youth, then only fourteen, was handsome, polite, and in every respect of a promising appearance, offered him a situation at court. This was worth the acceptance of Wilfrid, but he modestly declined the favour, telling the Queen that his disposition induced him to seek for retirement. On which Enfleda, pleased with that declaration, promised to use every means in her power to facilitate the execution of his design. She accordingly placed him under the care of a chief officer of the King's household, who was engaged to go to the Monastery of Lindisfarne, with the intention of entering that religious community. The isle of Lindisfarne, on the coast of Northumberland, was the episcopal seat of Aidan, an Irishman, and a Culdee of Iona, who had been sent for by Oswald, who bestowed it on him as an episcopal see, and in person attended his ministry. When Aidan preached, as he did not perfectly understand the Anglo-Saxon tongue, the King was interpreter; for during his exile in Ireland he had learnt the language of that island. Aidan's preaching was recommended by his practice. Bede says: "He was a man of the greatest modesty, piety, and moderation; having a zeal for God, but not fully according to knowledge, for he kept the Lord's Day of Easter according to the custom of his country." Under this famous prelate Wilfrid passed some years in study, and the exercise of Christian piety, at the end of which time his observation leading him to discern errors in the Church of the Scots, he resolved to visit Rome, for the purpose of learning the rites of the Church in that city. Having obtained the consent of the brethren, and taken leave of the Abbot of Lindisfarne, Wilfrid repaired to his friend and patron, Queen Enfleda, and acquainted her with his design. The resolution of the youth pleased that royal lady, who accordingly sent him into Kent, where her cousin Ercombert had succeeded to the throne of Eadbald, and requested that King to send him to Rome in an honourable manner.
The request of Elfleda was attended to, and Wilfrid was accompanied on the occasion of his journey by another youth, Benedict, or Biscop, who also desired to visit the city of the apostles; this pair afterwards make a great show in Anglo-Saxon history. [Lives of the Saints, Bede.]
Enfleda had borne her husband a daughter, called Elfleda, who, when only a twelvemonth old, was dedicated, by a vow of King Oswy, to serve God in a state of perpetual virginity. On the occasion of the sanguinary battle of Winwidfield, near Leeds, Oswy vowed, prior to the engagement, that if God would grant him the victory, he would not only so consecrate his infant child to His service, but would also build a monastery to His honour. The day was gained by Oswy; King Penda, his enemy, with many nobles, fell on the field, and the vow was duly performed. To signalize his gratitude; Oswy commenced, in the year 657, building the famous double monastery of Whitby, then called Streaneshalch from a watch-tower or light-house which stood on the cliff on the eastern side of the harbour; it was situate on a bold and precipitous shore. The monastery was designed for monks and nuns of the Benedictine order, though Malmesbury says it was for women only, and the King invited the celebrated St. Hilda to undertake the government of the double community. [Allen, Butler.] This royal lady the sister of Hereswide, Queen of the East Angles, who was noted for her exceeding piety and great goodness, had been invited by St. Aidan to come over from France, on the death of her sister, and had settled in a small nunnery on the river Were; she remained there one year, at the end of which she was made Abbess of the numerous society congregated in the Monastery of Hartlepool. From this place, at the end of several years, she was called, by the message of King Oswy, to superintend the Monastery of Whitby. This religious foundation, which was built by Oswy, and dedicated to St. Peter, always bore the name of its first Abbess, so great was the veneration in which St. Hilda was held by the people there.
The princess Elfleda, agreeably to her father's vow, had been professed a nun in the monastery where Hilda at that time resided; but on the holy Abbess removing to Streaneshalch, went thither also, and first becoming a novice, ruled afterwards over the establishment. [Holinshed, William of Malmesbury.]
Caedmon, the great poet of the Anglo-Saxons, owed his first patronage to the Abbess Hilda, and the earliest specimens of literature of that era were produced ill the Abbey of Whitby. Bede says: "There was in this house a brother, who, when he heard verses out of Scripture, would, with much sweetness and humility, turn them into English poetry." The books of the convent were in the Latin tongue, used also in the greater part of the service; but Caedmon rendered the Scriptural subject into the vernacular tongue. This man was only a neat-herd, and he dreamt that a stranger came to him and bade him compose a song. He replied, "I cannot;" but the command was repeated, and a subject, "the creation of all things," given. The wondering cow-herd awoke at dawn of day, and proceeded to the steward of the household of the Abbess Hilda, to relate this wonderful dream, and the verses he had in his sleep composed. This person conducted him to the presence of the venerable Abbess, who was surrounded by scholars and learned men; he was ordered to repeat his verses. He did so, to the delight of his attentive audience. His powers of poesy were found to be no dream, but a waking reality; and Hilda earnestly encouraged him to continue to compose his poems in his native Saxon tongue, to assist him in which efforts she transferred the peasant to the school of her convent, and diligently and unremittingly superintended his education. This was no mean alteration in the fortunes of Caedmon, for the school of Hilda was the nursery of the great men of her times. Six of her scholars subsequently were elevated to the episcopal chair: Bosa, John of Beverley, and the second Wilfrid, filled successively the See of York; Hedda became Bishop of Wessex, and Tatfrith and Ostforus Bishops of Worcester. [Bede.]
At the time that Hilda was Abbess of Whitby, [Allen's York.] a famous synod was held there, to fix the time for the celebration of Easter; great differences having previously existed in the British Church on the subject of Easter, which was kept by the British after the manner of the Eastern Church, on the fourteenth day after the full moon, on whatever day of the week it happened, and not on Sunday, as we at this day observe it. [The best account of the Easter controversy will be found in Dr. Smith's Appendix to Bede's Ecclesiastical History, No. 9.]
The following interesting account of this memorable council is extracted from the late Dr. Lingard's invaluable work on the Anglo-Saxon Church:
"Oswy and his people followed the Scotch missionaries, but Queen Enfleda, who had been educated in Kent, and Oswy's son Alchfred, who attended the lessons of St. Wilfrid, adhered to the practice of the Romish Church. Thus, Oswy saw his own family divided into opposite factions, and the same solemnities celebrated at different times within his own residence. Desirous to procure uniformity, he summoned the champions of each party to meet him at Whitby, and to argue the merits of their respective customs in his presence, A.D. 664. On the one side stood Agilbercht, a Gallic prelate, at that time Bishop of Winchester, who chanced to be on a visit to the King; with Romanus, the chaplain of Queen Eanfled; Wilfrid, the chaplain of Prince Alchfred; and Jacob, a deacon, who had remained in Northumbria ever since the flight of Paulinus. On the other, were ranged Colman, the Bishop of Lindisfarne; Cedd, who had been ordained by the Scots Bishop of the East Saxons; the Abbess Hilda, and the Scottish clergy. Both Agilbercht and Colman, as foreigners, were but imperfectly acquainted with the vernacular language. Agilbercht, therefore, placed the defence of his cause in the hands of Wilfrid; but Colman would not accept the services of a substitute, and Cedd was appointed his interpreter,—an office which he discharged to the satisfaction of all parties.
"The King, after a short preface on the benefit of uniformity, called upon Colman to begin. He alleged, in defence of the Scottish custom, first, the example of St. John the Evangelist, who was said, in books, to have kept Easter on the fourteenth day of the lunar month; second, on the Paschal canons of Anatolius, which ordered it to be kept on the same day; and on the practice of Columba, and his successors in the isle of Iona, by whom he (Colman) had been educated, and appointed Bishop of Northumbria. Wilfrid, in answer, said, that Colman was in error with respect to St. John, who, at a time when condescension was requisite, kept the Pasch at the same time with the Jews, on the fourteenth day, whether it were a Sunday or not; whereas, the Scots kept it only on that day, when it happened to fall on a Sunday; neither could he appeal to the Paschal canons of Anatolius, for Anatolius followed a cycle of nineteen years, which the Scots did not; a manner of reckoning, by which he never kept the Pasch till the fourteenth day was begun; whereas the Scots often kept it before the thirteenth day was ended. With respect to the practice of the Abbots of Iona, an obscure isle in the Scottish sea, their authority ought not to prevail against that of the universal Church, and the decree of the great Council of Nice.
"Colman rejoined that these abbots were holy men, who could not be supposed to have done wrong; to which Wilfrid replied, that, cut off as they were, by their situation, from the rest of the world, they might be excused under the plea of ignorance; but that, if Colman and his clergy, now that they knew the decrees of the Apostolic See, or rather of the universal Church, refused to conform, they would undoubtedly sin. Columba might have been a great man, but Peter was a greater, on whom our Lord had built his Church, and to whom he had given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. At these words Oswin, who had hitherto been silent, exclaimed, 'Colman, is it so?' Receiving an answer in the affirmative, he resumed with a smile, 'Who then is the greater in heaven, Columba or Peter?' All replied, 'Peter.' 'Then,' said the King, 'will I obey the decrees of Peter; for if he, who has the keys, shut me out, who is there to let me in?' The bystanders applauded the witticism; and the conference broke up. The result was, that Hilda and Cedd, and several of the Scottish clergy, passed over to the party of Wilfrid; and Colman, after a short interval, taking with him his own adherents, and about thirty natives, returned to his parent monastery in the Isle of Iona. [Colman, a monk of Iona, and successor of Finan as Bishop of Lindisfarne, disliking Oswin's decision against the British mode of keeping Easter, threw up his bishopric, and returned to Ireland, where he built two monasteries. He wrote a book in defence of his own opinion relative to the keeping Easter, another on the ecclesiastical tonsure, and an exhortation to the inhabitants of the Hebrides.]
"The conference at Whitby established harmony in the Anglo-Saxon Church, but the Picts, Scots, and Britons, maintained their opinion for many years after. In 701, Adamnan, Abbot of Iona, who had adopted the Roman method during his visit to the court of Alfred of Northumberland, reclaimed the northern tribes. In 710, Naitan, King of the Picts, after consulting Ceolfred, Bishop of Wearmouth, ordered the Roman computation to be followed throughout his dominions; but it was not till 715 that the monks of Iona, whom Adamnan could not convert, yielded the point to the arguments of Egbert, an Anglo-Saxon missionary. Elfod, Bishop of Bangor, established the Catholic computation of Easter, in North Wales, in the middle of the eighth century, and still later, in 777, in South Wales, from which time no more controversies have arisen on that subject." [Lingard; Antiquity of Anglo-Saxon Church.]
This celebrated council derives no small interest from the fact of its having united, in a view to obtain an insight into the truth, so many of the most celebrated individuals of that age.
Oswy died A.D. 670, his reign having lasted twenty-eight years, and was interred in Streaneshalch monastery, with truly regal solemnity. The widowed Queen, retiring to that place, which contained the last remains of her beloved husband, assumed the religious habit, having determined, like her mother, Queen Ethelburga, to pass the remainder of her life in the exercises of religion. The next ten years from that time, the royal mother and daughter resided together among the holy sisterhood, over which St. Hilda presided. In 680, that pious Abbess departed this life in her sixty-sixth year, after having passed through a long and trying illness, when the Princess Elfleda was elevated to the situation left vacant by her loss, the Queen continuing still to reside with her daughter.
As late as 1776, it was an opinion entertained there, that Hilda rendered herself at times visible, on particular occasions, in the Abbey of Streaneshalch, or Whitby, where she so long presided. At a particular time of the year, in the summer months, at ten or eleven in the forenoon, the sunbeams fall in the inside of the northern part of the choir; and it is then that the spectators, who stand on the west side of Whitby churchyard, so as to see the most northerly part of the abbey, past the north of Whitby Church, imagine they perceive in one of the highest windows there, the resemblance of a woman arrayed in a shroud. Though we are certain this is only a reflection, caused by the splendour of the sun's beam, yet report says, and it is constantly believed among the vulgar, to be an appearance of Lady Hilda, in her shroud, or rather in her glorified state. [There is a tradition concerning the snake-stones which abound at Whitby, that the place was formerly infested by snakes, which, being driven over the cliff by Lady Hilda, lost their heads in the fall, and by her prayers were afterwards transformed into stones. —Allen's York.]
The Abbess Elfleda, was highly esteemed by St. Theodore of Canterbury, and by St. Cuthbert, from whom she received frequent visits; and on such occasions, it was her custom to entertain her visitors at her own table: this appears from an account given by the venerable Bede. Other authorities inform us, that the Abbess would often go abroad to make her own visits, and mingle with her own relatives. The brothers of Elfleda received her visits and sought her counsels. King Alfred, the youngest of these princes, was watched over by her on his death-bed; and afterwards we find the excellent Abbess striving to reconcile Archbishop Wilfrid and the party which was opposed to him. Elfleda was, indeed highly esteemed by the great men of her times, and Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, in a letter addressed to her, designates her "the wisest lady." Eddius, in his Life of Wilfrid, says, "that by her wise counsels, Elfleda was ever the best adviser and comforter of the whole province; and she did much service during the minority of Osred, her nephew, by her exertions for the promotion of peace."
Under the care of Elfleda, many missionaries and scholars were sent forth from the establishment.
The 51st Letter in the Collection of St. Boniface, is addressed to an abbess abroad, named Adolana, by "Elfled, handmaiden of the ecclesiastical household," who commends to her care another abbess, her own pupil, who from infancy had desired to visit Rome, and requests her to give such information as might be useful respecting the journey thither. The letter had apparently been consigned to the care of Boniface, on one of his journeys to the imperial city.
Queen Enfleda, on her death, was interred at Streaneshalch, in the Church of St. Peter, where rested the remains of Kings Edwin and Oswy, and many other distinguished persons of those times. Elfleda died at the age of forty, and was likewise interred in that edifice. The revenues of Streaneshalch had been greatly augmented by the royal daughter of Oswy and Enfleda, and the monastery continued to flourish till the year 867, when that part of England was laid waste by the Danes, and it was altogether annihilated, "so that the very name was lost in its ruins, and the place remained desolate till near the time of the Norman Conquest, when a few huts being erected in the place where the town had formerly stood, it took the name of Presteby, [Allen's Hist. of York.] because it was in the neighbourhood of the ancient residence for monks, and after that was called Whiteby or Whitby, [This famous monastery is familiar to the lovers of romantic lore, as the scene of part of Sir Walter Scott's beautiful poem of Marmion, the allusions in which, relating to this celebrated pile and its rulers, and the learned notes attached, may satisfy even the most severe antiquary; few could be more instructed in the mystery of the craft than the poet, who has rendered interesting and classical every spot named in his writings.] a word signifying "the white dwelling" or "town."