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Edwy the Fair or the First Chronicle of Aescendune A Tale of the Days of Saint Dunstan   By: (1836-1890)

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Edwy the Fair or the First Chronicle of Aescendune:

A Tale of the Days of Saint Dunstan,

by the Rev. A. D. Crake.


It has been the aim of the Author, in a series of original tales told to the senior boys of a large school, to illustrate interesting or difficult passages of Church History by the aid of fiction. Two of these tales "Aemilius," a tale of the Decian and Valerian persecutions; and "Evanus," a tale of the days of Constantine he has already published, and desires gratefully to acknowledge the kindness with which they have been received.

He is thus encouraged to submit another attempt to the public, having its scene of action in our own land, although in times very dissimilar to our own; and for its object, the illustration of the struggle between the regal and ecclesiastical powers in the days of the ill fated and ill advised King Edwy.

Scarcely can one find a schoolboy who has not read the touching legend of Edwy and Elgiva for it is little more than a legend in most of its details; and which of these youthful readers has not execrated the cruelty of the Churchmen who separated those unhappy lovers? While the tragical story of the fate of the hapless Elgiva has been the theme of many a poet and even historian, who has accepted the tale as if it were of as undoubted authenticity as the Reform Bill.

The writer can well remember the impression the tale made upon his youthful imagination, and the dislike, to use a mild word, with which he ever viewed the character of the great statesman and ecclesiastic of the tenth century, Dunstan, until a wider knowledge of history and a more accurate judgment came with maturer years; and testimonies to the ability and genius of that monk, who had been the moving spirit of his age, began to force themselves upon him.

Lord Macaulay has well summed up the relative positions of Church and State in that age in the following words: "It is true that the Church had been deeply corrupted by superstition, yet she retained enough of the sublime theology and benevolent morality of her early days to elevate many intellects, and to purify many hearts. That the sacerdotal order should encroach on the functions of the chief magistrate, would in our time be a great evil. But that which in an age of good government is an evil, may in an age of grossly bad government be a blessing. It is better that men should be governed by priest craft than by brute violence; by such a prelate as Dunstan, than by such a warrior as Penda."

The Church was indeed the salt of the earth, even if the salt had somewhat lost its savour; it was the only power which could step in between the tyrant and his victim, which could teach the irresponsible great irresponsible to man their responsibility to the great and awful Being whose creatures they were. And again, it was then the only home of civilisation and learning. It has been well said that for the learning of this age to vilify the monks and monasteries of the medieval period, is for the oak to revile the acorn from which it sprang.

The overwhelming realisation of these facts, the determination to set up the dominion of truth and justice which they held to be identical with that of the Church, as that was identical with the kingdom of God, supplies the key to the lives and characters of such men as Ambrose, Cyril, Dunstan, and Becket. They each came in collision with the civil power; but Ambrose against Justina or even Theodosius, Cyril against Orestes, Dunstan against Edwy, Becket against Henry Plantagenet each represented, in a greater or less degree, the cause of religion, nay of humanity, against its worst foes, tyranny or moral corruption.

Yet not one of these great men was without his faults; this is only to say he was human; but more may be admitted personal motives would mix themselves with nobler emotions. Self would assert her fatal claims, and great mistakes were sometimes made by those who would have forfeited their lives rather than have committed them, had they known what they were doing... Continue reading book >>

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