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St. Edwin

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(Æduini.)

The first Christian King of Northumbria, born about 585, son of Ælla, King of Deira, the southern division of Northumbria; died 12 October, 633. Upon Ælla's death in 588, the sovereignty over both divisions of Northumbria was usurped by Ethebric of Bernicia, and retained at his death by his son Ethelfrid; Edwin, Ælla's infant son, being compelled until his thirtieth year to wander from one friendly prince to another, in continual danger from Ethelfrid's attempts upon his life. Thus when he was residing with King Redwald of East Anglia, Ethelfrid repeatedly endeavoured to bribe the latter to destroy him. Finally, however, Redwald's refusal to betray his guest led in 616 to a battle, fought upon the river Idle, in which Ethelfrid himself was slain, and Edwin was invited to the throne of Northumbria. On the death of his first wife, Edwin, in 625, asked for the hand of Ethelburga, sister to Eadbald, the Christian King of Kent, expressing his own readiness to embrace Christianity, if upon examination he should find it superior to his own religion. Ethelburga was accompanied to Northumbria by St. Paulinus, one of St. Augustine's fellow missionaries, who thus became its first apostle. By him Edwin was baptized at York in 627, and thenceforth showed himself most zealous for the conversion of his people. In instance of this, Venerable Bede tells how, at their royal villa of Yeverin in Northumberland, the king and queen entertained Paulinus for five weeks, whilst he was occupied from morning to night in instructing and baptizing the crowds that flocked to him. By Edwin's persuasion, moreover, Eorpwald, King of East Anglia, son of his old friend Redwald, was led to become a Christian. In token of his authority over the other kings of Bretwalda, Edwin used to have the tufa (a tuft of feathers on a spear, a military ensign of Roman origin) borne publicly before him, and he received tribute from the Welsh princes. Under him the law was so respected, that it became, as the Venerable Bede attests, a proverb that "a woman might travel through the island with a babe at her breast without fear of insult". St. Edwin was slain on 12 October, 633, in repelling an attack made on him by Penda, the pagan King of Mercia, who, together with the Welsh prince Cadwallon (a Christian only in name), had invaded his dominion. Perishing thus in conflict with the enemies of the Faith, he was regarded as a martyr and as such was allowed by Gregory XIII to be depicted in the English College church at Rome. His head was taken to St. Peter's church at York, which he had begun. His body was conveyed to Whitby. Churches are said to have been dedicated to him at London and at Breve in Somerset.

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