There were the chief mourners—Edwy and Edgar—and they followed the royal corpse, the latter greatly afflicted, and shedding genuine tears of sorrow—and the royal household. All the nobility of Wessex, and many of the nobles from Mercia and other provinces, were gathered together, and amidst the solemn silence of the vast crowd, Dunstan performed the last sad and solemn rites with a broken voice; while the archbishop—Odo the Good, as he was frequently called—assisted in the dread solemnity.
It was over; the coffin was lowered to the royal vaults to repose in peace, the incenses had ceased to float dreamily beneath the lofty roof,[xi] the various lights which had borne part in the ceremony were extinguished, the choral anthem had ceased, for Edred slept with his fathers.
And outside, the future king was welcomed with loud cries of “God save King Edwy, and make him just as Alfred, pious as Edred, and warlike as Athelstane!”
“Long live the heir of Cerdic’s ancient line!”
Thus their cries anticipated the decision of the Witan, and without all was noise and clamour; while within the sacred fane the ashes of him who had so lately ruled England rested in peace by the side of his royal father Edward, the son of Alfred, three of whose sons—Athelstane, Edmund, Edred—had now reigned in succession.
It must not be supposed that Edwy was as yet king by the law of the land. The early English writers all speak of their kings as elected; it was not until the Witan had recognised them, that they were crowned and assumed the royal prerogatives.
Edwy had followed Redwald’s advice: he had kept Elfric out of the way, and meant to do so until his coronation day. And meanwhile he condescended to disguise his real feelings, and to affect sorrow for his past failings when in the presence of Dunstan.
Yet he took advantage of the greater liberty he now enjoyed to renew his visits to the mansion up the Thames, and to spend whole days in the society of Elgiva. In their simplicity and deep love they thought all the obstacles to their happy union now removed. Alas! ill-fated pair!
Nothing could exceed in solemnity the “hallowing of the king,” as the coronation ceremony was termed in Anglo-Saxon times. It was looked upon as an event of both civil and ecclesiastical importance, and therefore nothing was omitted which could lend dignity to the occasion.
The Witan, or parliament, had already met and given its consent to the coronation of Edwy. It was not, as we have already remarked, a mere matter of course that the direct heir should occupy the throne. Edred had already ascended, while Edwy, the son of his elder brother, was an infant, not as regent, but as king; and in any case of unfitness on the part of the heir apparent, it was in the power of the Witan to pass him over, and to choose for the public good some other member of the royal house. The same Witan conferred upon Edgar the title of sub-king of Mercia under his brother.