James-A-Day: A Warning to the Curious

Isn't this a great drawing?

Oh boy, I think this is a great story!  It must be one of the most famous MRJ tales. 

Two scholarly gentlemen are taking a seaside holiday at Seaburgh (a lightly disguised Aldeburgh, in Suffolk), and meet another, younger man who is strangely anxious and relieved to have a bit of company.  This fellow is named Paxton and he has a weird tale to tell; he heard a local legend about ancient crowns buried on the coast to protect England from invasion.  Two are lost, but he managed to figure out where the third crown would be and actually discovered it.  Now he is haunted by the crown's guardian, and he must put the crown back.  Even so, he knows he has committed an unforgivable crime and he'll have to pay.

I just love ancient legends like this, so I hunted around a little for information about the crowns.  Did James make it up or does it have roots in reality?  I'm having a hard time finding solid information, actually; I might need to go on a proper librarian quest.  But several minutes of poking around on the Internet shows that indeed three crowns are the traditional insignia of East Anglia (gold on blue, as shown in the flag below).  There are a few mentions of three crowns that guard East Anglia--one in Norfolk, one in Suffolk and one in Essex--but most of them seem to feature this story as the evidence.  My book's notes claim that there is a legend not of crowns, but of "magical coins buried on the coast in Anglo-Saxon times" to prevent invasion, but I really can't find anything about that. 

A more convincing history for the three crowns insignia is given in saints' legends.  St. Edmund was King of the Angles in the 10th century and was tormented and killed by Viking invaders.  Eventually he became the patron saint of East Anglia.  His symbol is three crowns, for his kingship, his martyrdom and his virginity.  He is invoked against plague, and his feast day is coming up on November 20 so maybe do something fun for that.

Fictitious flag of East Anglia--designed 1900

I really like not only the legend of the crowns, but the idea of the guardianship being passed from father to son for so many years.  (I always enjoy stories like that.)  The last guardian died, but he's still keeping watch over his stewardship.

So what did you think of this one?


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