Bury St Edmunds



Bury St Edmunds was one of the great East Anglian towns in the medieval era, based around the abbey of St Edmunds. Bury was the administrative centre for West Suffolk until 1974, and has remained the second town of Suffolk since the county was unified as an administrative area.


Beodriceworth was a settlement on this site in Saxon times, 'worth' meaning a homestead, so "Beotrix's homestead". Sigeberht, the Christian king of East Anglia in the period 630 AD - 640 AD is reported to have founded a monastery on the site. Sigeberht is thought to have been a step-son of the great East Anglia king Raedwald, whose remains and riches are probably those found at Sutton Hoo.


Edmund was king of the East Angles in the period 855 AD to 869 AD, when he was martyred by Viking invaders. The battle at which he was captured and then killed with arrows was probably near Thetford; about 25 years later his remains were taken to Beodriceworth. Miracles were associated with St Edmund, including the story that Sweyn Forkbeard was struck dead whilst threatening to attack what had then become known as St Edmund's Bury. His son, King Cnut (Canute), founded an order of Benedictine monks at Bury, and a new church building was begun in 1032.


Such was the popular devotion to St Edmund that the great abbey grew up, becoming the largest in Europe. Pilgrims travelled to Bury St Edmunds from far and wide. It was at meeting in the abbey that a group of barons committed themselves, in 1214 AD, to make King John accept the terms they had drawn up in Magna Carta. The town motto,"Shrine of a king, cradle of the law" is based upon the two links, with St Edmund and this meeting of the barons.


Abbot Baldwin was particularly influential in the late 11th century, as Bury grew in importance. He laid out new streets and encouraged craftsmen to come to the town. As with many towns of pilgrimage, the visitors brought money and businesses grew up to meet their various needs - with hospitals, hostels and the sale of religious ephemera. At the same time, Norfolk and Suffolk grew in their importance for the keeping of sheep for wool, and Bury was a major centre for wool processing through fulling and weaving.


The abbot controlled the town in medieval times, and resentment of the power of the church finally led to a riot in which a mob from the town broke through the abbey gates and sacked the abbey. This event in 1327 was followed by further violence in 1381 during the Peasants' Revolt, when the Prior was beheaded as he fled the monastery.


The reign of King Henry VIII brought the dissolution of the monasteries, Bury St Edmunds abbey being sold for