St. Ethelbert, King of the East-Angles, Martyr
IN his childhood, after the hours of his studies, he stole away from his schoolfellows when they went to play, and spent most of the time allotted to recreation in prayer. He succeeded young his father Ethelred in his kingdom, which he ruled forty-four years, according to the maxims of a perfect saint. It was his usual saying, that the higher a station is in which a man is placed the more humble and benevolent he ought to be. And this was the rule of his own conduct. To secure the tranquillity of his kingdom by an heir, he was persuaded to marry; and having heard much of the virtue of Alfreda the daughter of Offa the powerful king of the Mercians, he thought of making her his royal consort. In this design he paid a visit to that king, who resided at Sutton-Wallis, on the river Lugg, four miles from the place where Hereford now stands. He was courteously entertained, but, after some days, treacherously murdered by Grimbert an officer of King Offa, through the contrivance of Queen Quendreda, that his kingdom might be added to their own. This happened in 793. He was privately buried at Maurdine or Marden; but his body being glorified by miracles it was soon after removed to a fair church at Fernley, that is, Heath of Fern, now called Hereford; which town had its rise from this church, which bore the name of St. Ethelbert when Wilfrid king of Mercia much enlarged and enriched the same. Quendreda died miserably within three months after her crime. Her daughter Alfreda devoted herself to God, and led a penitential solitary life at Croyland, amidst the fens. Offa endeavoured to atone for the sin of his queen by a pilgrimage to Rome, where he founded a school for the English after the example of King Ina, who had erected one in that city in 726, when he established the Peter-pence among the West-Saxons, which Offa on this occasion extended to the Mercians in 794. Egfrid the only son of Offa, died after a reign of some months, and the Mercian crown was translated into another family of the posterity of Penda. How sharp are the thorns of ambition! whereas virtue finds its peace and crown whether in adversity or in prosperity. See Harpsfield, Malmesbury, and Leland, Itiner. t. 8, p. 56, who quotes the Life of St. Ethelbert written by Giraldus Cambrensis; also by Osbert de Claro. 1
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume V: May.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866.