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was not long before Ethelbert himself became their convert. After such an example, their success was as rapid as they could desire; for though Ethelbert declared that he would not compel any person to renounce his idols, and profess the new religion, having learnt from his teachers that the service of Christ must be voluntary, he gave notice, that the converts might expect his favour, as persons who had made themselves co-heritors with him of the kingdom of heaven.
Fortunately for the progress of Christianity, Ethelbert held at this time that pre-eminence over the other kings of the Heptarchy, which carried with it the title of Brætwalda : his authority was acknowledged as far north as the Humber. This gave him a wider influence than any of the Kings of Kent possessed after him: and, under his protection, the missionaries extended their endeavours into the neighbouring kingdoms. Sebert, his nephew, who reigned in Essex, was the second royal convert. London was the capital of his petty state, and soon after the conversion of its king, Ethelbert (who had previously founded a monastery at Canterbury) built a church there, in honour of the great apostle of the Gentiles, upon a rising ground, where, under the Romans, a temple of Diana had stood; and where successive edifices, each surpassing the former in extent and splendour, have retained the name of St. Paul's from that time to this. Redwald, the Uffinga' of East-Anglia, (as the kings of that province were called from Redwald's grandfather Uffa,) was the third king who professed the new religion. He became a convert when on a visit at the Brætwalda's court; but he was unable to introduce Christianity into his own kingdom on his return, because his wife, and the principal chiefs, adhered obstinately to their old idolatry; compromising, therefore, and perhaps hesitating between the two modes of belief, he set up an altar to Christ in a heathen temple, and mingled Christian prayers' with sacrifices to the Anglian idols. For this he has been severely censured; but if the concession proved that his knowledge was imperfect, and his faith weak, it prepared an easy way for the general reception of Christianity, when an attempt to have forced it upon the country might have ended in his expulsion from the throne. It was now brought face to face with the * Beda, 1. ii. c. 15. Thomas of Ely in the Acta SS. Jun. t. iv. p. 498.
idolatry of the Heathens; and the people, seeing it admitted to equal credit, were induced to inquire, and to compare, and choose between them. This was a slow, but necessary consequence : one which led to more immediate good incidentally resulted. Edwin, the rightful king of Deira, having been expelled in childhood from his kingdom, by Ethelfrith of Bernicia, was then a fugitive at Redwald's court. Ethelfrith, who had made greater conquests from the Britons than any other of the Anglo-Saxon conquerors, and was confident in his power, and elated with success, required Redwald to deliver up the exile, tempting him by three repeated embassies with large offers of silver and gold, and threatening war and destruction if he refused or demurred. The same infirmity of character which had made the Uffinga prevaricate in his religion, now nearly prompted him to the commission of an atrocious crime: moved not by avarice, but by fear, he promised either to put his guest to death, or to expel him. This resolution was taken at night-fall, and immediately communicated to Edwin by a faithful friend, who went to his chamber, called him out of doors, exhorted him to fly, and offered to guide him to a place of safety.
But Edwin would not again encounter the perpetual danger and anxiety of a wandering life. To fly, he said, would be a breach of confidence on his part; he had trusted to the Uffinga Redwald, who, as yet, had offered him no wrong; and if he were to be delivered up, better that it should be by the Uffinga himself than by an ignoble hand. And, indeed, whither could he betake himself, after having, for so many years, in vain sought an asylum through all the provinces of Britain ? Resolving therefore to abide his fate, whatever it might be, he sate down mournfully upon a stone before the palace, when a venerable person, in a strange habit, is said to have accosted him, and inquired wherefore he was sitting there, and keeping watch at an hour when all other persons were asleep? Edwin, somewhat angrily, replied, that it could be no concern of his whether he chose to pass the night within doors or without.
But the stranger made answer, that he knew the cause, and bade him be of good cheer, for Redwald certainly would not betray him; he assured him further, that he should regain his father's throne, and acquire greater power than any of the Anglo-Saxon Princes had pos
sessed before him; and he asked of him, in requital for these happy fore-tidings, that when they should be fulfilled he would listen to instructions which would then be offered him, and which would lead him into the way of eternal life. This Edwin readily promised: with that the stranger laid his hand upon the head of the royal exile, saying, When this sign shall be repeated, remember what has passed between us now, and perform the word which you have given! And then, according to Bede," he disappeared. By Catholic writers this is represented as a miraculous appearance; others suppose it to have been a dream; a more possible solution is, that the person in whom Edwin afterwards recognised the gesture and garb of the apparition, may actually have been in Redwald's court, though unknown to him, and that it was a real interview. This might be admitted without difficulty, if it were not that in books which abound with gross and palpable fables, whatever appears fabulous is, with too much appearance of probability, accounted so; and thus the writers who in one age impose upon the credulous multitude, provoke, in another, too indiscriminate an incredulity.
Redwald's nature was weak, but not evil; and on this occasion he was saved from guilt and infamy by the brave counsel of his wife. Animated by her he bade defiance to Ethelfrith, marched against him before the Northumbrian had collected the whole of his advancing army, gave him battle on the banks of the river Idel in Nottinghamshire, and defeated and slew him, though with the loss of his own son, Regner, in the battle. Edwin bore a conspicuous part in the victory; it gave him the united kingdoms of Deira and Bernicia, and it placed Redwald in the rank of Brætwalda, which after his death was assumed by Edwin. It led also to more lasting consequences. Edwin sought in marriage Edilburga, or Tata, (as she was also called,) a princess of Kent, daughter to Ethelbert, and sister to Eadbald, who had succeeded him. The new Oiscinga had cast off Christianity, because he was impatient of its restraints, and had chosen, together with the kingdom, to take unto himself the wife whom his father Ethelbert had wedded after Queen Bertha's death. The three sons of Sebert, his cousins, who had jointly inherited the kingdom of the East Saxons, encouraged by his example, expelled Mellitus, the
I L. ii. c. 12.
Bishop of London, because he would not admit them to the communion, while they refused to be baptized; and they restored the old idolatry in their dominions. Mellitus, therefore, and his companion Justus, repaired to Canterbury, to consult with Laurentius, the successor of Augustine, what might best be done. In their despair of effecting any good while circumstances were so unpropitious, they are said to have resolved upon abandoning the island, and Mellitus and Justus, in pursuance of this resolution, sailed for France. Laurentius gave out that it was his intention to follow them on the morrow, and he ordered his bed to be laid that night in the church of St. Peter and St. Paul. In the morning he went into the presence of Eadbald, and instead of taking leave on his departure, as was expected, threw off his habit, and exposed to the astonished King his back and shoulders bloody, and waled with stripes. Being asked who had dared maltreat him in that manner, he made answer that the Apostle Peter had appeared to him during the night, and punished him thus severely for his purpose of abandoning the flock which had been committed to his charge. It is added that Eadbald was struck with horror and compunction at what he saw and heard ; and in consequence of the effect thus produced upon his mind, he put away his father's widow, received baptism, and prohibited the old Saxon worship, ... which had been tolerated during Ethelbert's reign, but which, by Eadbald's authority in his own dominions, and his influence over the adjoining kingdom, was from that time for ever abolished in Kent and Essex. This story must be either miracle, or fraud, or fable. Many such there are in the history of the Anglo-Saxon, as of every Romish church ; and it must be remembered, that when such stories are mere fables, they have for the most part been feigned with the intent of serving the interests of the Romish church, and promulgated, not as fiction, but as falsehood, with a fraudulent mind. The legend which is here related is probably a wonder of the second class. The clergy of that age thought it allowable to practise upon the ignorance and credulity of a barbarous people, if by such means they might forward the work of their conversion, or induce them, when converted, to lead a more religious life. They may have believed themselves to be acting like pa
i Beda, 1. ii. c. 6.
rents, who deceive children for their good, when it would be in vain to reason with them. Whether they thought thus or not, it is certain that thus they acted; and it is not less certain, that a system which admitted of pious fraud opened a way for the most impious abuses.
Whether Eadbald was, in this instance, the dupe of Laurentius; or whether, being tired of his step-mother, and perhaps ashamed of his actions, yet more ashamed of exposing himself to the imputation of fickleness and infirmity of purpose, he had concerted with the prelate a scene which might account for, and justify, his sudden change of conduct; from that time he became a zealous supporter of the new religion; and when Edwin solicited his sister Edilburga in marriage, objected to giving her to a heathen. A stipulation, however, was made, as in the case of Queen Bertha, that she should be allowed the free exercise of Christianity for herself and her household; and Edwin declared that he would not hesitate to embrace that faith himself, if, upon due examination, it should be found holier, and worthier of the Deity, than the service of those gods whom he had hitherto worshipped after the manner of his fathers. When therefore the chosen Queen departed for the court of her intended husband, Paulinus, one of the last missionaries whom Gregory had sent to assist Augustine, was raised to the episcopal office on this important occasion, that he might accompany her, in the hope of becoming the Apostle of the Northumbrians. Gregory had selected fit men for the service to which they were appointed. Paulinus, instead of urging the King upon the subject of his meditated change, by which he might have offended and indisposed him, left it to time and opportunity, and the silent operations of his own active and meditative mind; and made it his chief business to preserve Edilburga and her attendants from becoming indifferent to their religion in a land of Heathens. He had thus obtained a character for prudence, as well as for talents, when an attempt to assassinate the King was made by an emissary of Cwichelm, King of Wessex, and Edwin was saved from certain death by the fidelity of one of his Thanes, Lilla by name, who, throwing himself between his royal master and the murderer, received the poisoned short sword in his own body. That
i Beda, 1. ii. c. 9.