Anyone for Edmund? by Simon Edge – a Saint’s relics become a political issue in this contemporary comedy

Anyone for Edmund?

Simon Edge, Anyone for Edmund?, Lightning Books, 2020

The blurb describes this book as “a canonical comedy featuring a medieval patron saint, a tennis court and a Westminster spin doctor”. There is a tennis court in a corner of the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds, just under what was our bedroom window, and an archaeological dig was planned there this year as part of the Abbey’s millennium celebrations which should have taken place this month.

We know that the Shrine of St Edmund was the reason for the Abbey church and its pilgrimage trade, and that this all came to end when Henry VIII dissolved the Abbey. The monks left, the abbey church was destroyed, and the bones of Edmund disappeared. There are some in Arundel Cathedral but, if memory serves, they include part of a sheep and a cow. Logic has always said that if you want to hide the bones of your patron saint, the best place to quietly bury them would be in the monks’ graveyard – and archaeologists believe that is the area which was later used for tennis.

In this novel, the bones of Edmund are found. Edmund was once our patron saint, and Mark, an enterprising Westminster spin doctor, realises he could be just the saint to bring our fractured nation together in a post-Brexit world. George for England, Andrew for Scotland, David for Wales, Patrick for Ireland – and Edmund for all of us. There is one chapter where Mark edits Wikipedia to prove that Edmund had a Scottish mother, links with the Welsh Court and was a friend of Patrick. Once it is on Wikipedia, it must be true – and soon Edmund’s multi-culturalism is being reported as fact by all the major news organisations.

Mark’s boss is Marina Spencer, the Culture Secretary, and she represents the government at the service to rebury Edmund, this time in a shrine in the Cathedral. She is a little miffed as the seat she is given is in a gallery high on the north side of the crossing, and she can’t see a thing. I had a chuckle at this – when the Cathedral Chapter received the plans for the new crossing some fifteen years ago now, several of us asked what the point was to this gallery. At the end of the service she manages to get to the shrine itself, and Mark makes sure a press photographer gets a photo of her deep in prayer and adoration, which makes the front pages.

Very soon, almost indecently soon, Marina becomes Prime Minister, and starts to push for Edmund. Success follows success, but some opponents pay a terrible price. Mark begins to worry that there is a power at work which is more than just politics. He raises his fears, and is escorted from his office, sent for counselling and put on gardening leave. Is Edmund dealing with his 21st century enemies in the way he dealt with opposition in the 9th? Will his new found fame lead to him becoming Patron Saint, or is his power not appropriate in the modern world?

The book made me laugh out loud, it may me grimace at the workings of government, it took me back to Bury, and it has some great one-liners – “In extremis, there was solace to be derived from Antiques Roadshow” (that sounds like a text for lockdown). I only argued in one place – Bury’s railway station is described as “nondescript Victorian”, it is anything but!

The above is a review written by Northernvicar – I am posting it here to mark St.Edmund’s day on 20th November (yesterday) – he certainly seemed to enjoy it!

A Right Royal Face -Off by Simon Edge – Art, royalty and comedy in two centuries

Royal scandal, an argument between artists, a servant with an eye for detail, and a modern television programme’s discovery of a unique mutilated portrait. Frank, funny and sometimes disrespectful of the great artists, this is an amusing book full of very human concerns and comedy. Edge has recreated some characters; Thomas Gainsborough, the apparently deaf and less than brilliant Joshua Reynolds, an assortment of royalty and other historical characters , and created some modern characters who find themselves in a very modern dilemma. Art, portraits and rivalry are mixed with some obvious comedy as an artist tries to reconcile his painting with raising enough money for his challenging family, while maintaining his position as a superior artist. In the twentieth first century a second rate antiques programme’s researcher makes a discovery in deepest East Anglia which attracts attention for all the wrong reasons. With various accounts, including Thomas’ hapless progress, a servant who writes wide eyed accounts of life in an artistic household and the story of Gemma, who is trying to do the right thing in the twenty first century, this is a story to make the reader laugh at absurd situations, wince at the human problems presented, and accidentally learn a lot about eighteenth century painting. An unusual book, I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel of mixed fact and fiction, combined to great effect.


The book opens in the studio of Thomas Gainsborough attempting to paint a Duchess, who has courted scandal and is now officially the spouse of the Duke of Cumberland, whose minute investigation of the studio is causing problems. The veneer of royalty is wearing very thin as the Duke comments unfavourably on his brothers, another duke and the King himself. Not that he is any more polite about the abilities of the President of the Royal Academy, as it is generally known that he is technically deficient as a painter if politically more able. Thomas’ new footman, David, too terrified to go out after hearing dire warnings of the London Press gangs, writes an account of the household to his mother, as he will later tell of Thomas’ visit to the Academy and other notable places in London. In our own time, Gemma is working on a new television show that plays on the hopes of members of the public that they own real treasures, while really the Producers are hoping for spectacular junk. When a local woman brings in a family heirloom, Gemma is set on the trail of a painting that shocks and intrigues, but also represents televisual gold for the unprincipled powers that be. As Thomas struggles with a family with pretensions, David struggles with piglets, and Gemma struggles with East Anglian complications, this small book contains a multitude of well realised comic possibilities.


This unusual book will appeal to anyone who has spent time wondering at the stories behind television’s obsession with people’s antiques. It also gently imparts its thorough research into the artists of the eighteenth century and the commissions to paint an often dissolute royal family. With sheer comedy and a lot of ambition, this short novel combines excellent writing, seemingly effortless historical research and a great understanding of people to create a really enjoyable read.