St. Edmund was crowned King of East Anglia at the age of fifteen and reigned until his martyrdom at the hands of Viking invaders in 870 A.D. His rule was just and beneficent and he was known as a champion of the people.
Taken in battle, Edmund was tied to an oak tree and shot through with arrows until he bristled like a hedge-hog. He was thereafter decapitated and his head disposed in a thicket. When his soldiers finally located the severed head, a great wolf was found standing guard.
The Crown and Arrows symbolize Edmund’s royal reign and the manner by which he died . A secondary symbol associated with Edmund is a large howling wolf.
Edmund was the first patron saint of a united England (later replaced by St. George). His shrine at Bury St. Edmund’s was one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Europe, and was especially favored by the aristocracy. The Abbey of Bury St. Edmund’s became the largest Christian shrine in Europe north of the Alps after Cologne Cathedral.
Today St. Edmund’s Abbey lays in ruin, a victim of the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. One of the churches in the abbey walls (St. James’ Edmundsbury) now serves as the Cathedral for East Anglia, and the second (St. Mary’s) is the second largest parish church in England, offering some sense for the massive extent of the original complex.
The Crown and Arrows may be found throughout England and in the many parish churches and shrines dedicated to St. Edmund. Greene King Brewery, producing some of the most popular ales and IPAs in Britain, adopted the Crown and Arrow as their signature logo in 1799.