Book 2, Chapter 2, 597 AD to 827 AD – Ethelbert of Kent – Continued
The next noteworthy event of this troublous and stormy period was the amalgamation of the kingdoms Bernicia and of Deira by Edwin, under the title of Northumbria, which occurred A.D. 617. Ethelfrith, king of the former state, usurped the latter during the infancy of Edwin, who became an exile in Wales, but afterwards bring assisted by the king of East Anglia, he overcame and slew Ethelfrith in a fierce battle on the east bank of the Idel in Nottinghamshire, after which he united both the kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira under his sway. Having solicited in marriage a daughter of Ethelbert, king of Kent, she was refused unless Edwin would allow her the free exercise of the Christian religion, and would promise to examine it for himself. To the first condition he readily assented, but the second he contrived to evade for some time, until an attempt to assassinate him by an emissary of the pagan king of Wessex, and the safe delivery of his Christian wife, were urged as reasons by the Roman bishop who accompanied her, why Edwin should no longer delay a profession of faith.
This he promised to do if he returned successful from an impending expedition against the king of Wessex, and this proving so, after some further delay the leading men were summoned for conference, and after Paulinus, the bishop, had made a statement and an exhortation, Coifi, the high priest of their idols, as the first in rank, spoke first, ” You see, 0 king I what is now preached to us. I declare to you most truly what I have most certainly experienced, that the religion which we have hitherto professed contains no virtue at all, and as little utility. No one of all your court has been more attentive than I have been to the worship of our gods, and yet many have received far richer benefits, far greater honours, and have prospered more in all that men transact or pursue, than I have. But if these gods had been of any real worth, would they not in preference have assisted me who have never neglected them? If then on due inquiry, you shall perceive that these new things which are preached to us will be better and more efficacious, let us hasten to adopt them without any delay.” The next speaker discovered a mind unusually enlarged for a people hitherto so unaccustomed to intellectual investigations.
“The present life of man, 0 kings seems to me, if compared with that after period which is so uncertain to us, to resemble a scene at one of your wintry feasts. As you are sitting with your ealdormen and thegns about you, the fire blazing in the centre, and the whole hall cheered by its warmth, and while storms of rain and snow are raging without, a little sparrow flies in at one door, roams around our festive meeting, and passes out at some other entrance. While it is among us, it feels not the wintry tempest. It enjoys the short comfort and serenity of its transient stay, but then, plunging into the winter from which it had flown, it disappears from our eyes. Such is here the life of man. It acts and thinks before us, but, as of what preceded its appearance among us we are ignorant, so are we of all that is destined to come afterwards. If, then, on this momentous future, this new doctrine reveals anything more certain or more reasonable, it is in my opinion entitled to our acquiescence.”
The issue of the conference was a determination to embrace the new religion, and in order to set the example. Coifi, the high priest called for a horse, which it was not lawful for a pagan priest to ride, and for a lance, and having mounted the horse, he hurled the lance within the sacred enclosure of the idol temple, thereby profaning it. Most of the assembly was speechless with horror at this bold act, which to them appeared most impious, and expected that instant death would follow such profanity, but seeing Coifi remain unharmed, they obeyed his exhortations to set the temple on fire, and thus, amid great popular excitement, the old heathen superstition passed away.
Chapter 2, Ethelbert of Kent
Union of Bernicia and Deira, as Northumbria
Chapter 2, Kings Alfred and Ethelbald
Chapter 2, King Egbert
Chapter 2, Invasion of the Northmen
Categories: Book 2