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The History of Kent

Copyright Kent Past 2010

Kings of Kent

Vortigern
Hengest
Oisc
Octa
Eormenric
Aethelberht
Eadbald

Eorcenberht
Ecgberht
Hlothhere
Eadric
Mul
Swaefberht, Oswine and Swaefheard
Wihtred


Vortigern is considered to have invited the Saxons into Britain. His importance and the role he played are shrouded in myth, with a lack of hard historical facts.

According to the legend, which has grown over the centuries, influenced by Messrs’ Gildas, Bede, Geoffrey of Monmouth and co, Vortigern has become the King who invited Hengist and his brother Horsa into Britain to fight the Picts. In 455AD, the Saxons turned against Vortigern in a battle at Aylesford, where Horsa was killed.

Vortigern was probably a military or administrative overlord for the south of Britain. It is questionable whether he was individually or even largely responsible for inviting the Saxons onto these shores. However, it is reasonable to assume he had some contact with Saxon mercenaries.

It is most likely that the Britons held a council to decide the best way of dealing with the incursions in the North. A decision was taken to solicit a band of Saxon mercenaries to fight the Picts. Although, this may now seem to have been a mistake, it was in-line with other post-Roman provinces, and the alternative was to be overrun by the barbarians.

Vortigerns death is unknown, however, according to Welsh legend; he spent his remaining years in that land, while the Kingdom of Kent was being formed.


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Hengest and his brother Horsa, together with three ships are said to have landed in Ebbsfleet, at the invitation of Vortigern. Their purpose was to fight the Picts on behalf of the Britons.. This is generally agreed to be the start of the Saxon invasion of Britain.

Having beaten the Picts, it is said, the brothers turned on the Britons. During the ensuing battles, Horsa and Vortigern’s son Vortimer, were killed. Finally, the Saxons prevailed and achieved a foothold, which quickly spread.

It is not known exactly when or where either brother died, or the circumstances of their deaths.


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Oisc, is credited with having established the kingdom of Kent, and, therefore, was effectively its first king. His reign lasted for 28 years from 488AD, following the death of his father, Hengest.

Oisc had travelled to Britain, with his father, employed by the Britons, as mercenaries, to fight the Picts.

In 487AD, Oisc was sent to the north in support of their fight against the Britons. On hearing the news in 488, of the death of his father, he hastily returned to Kent to claim the throne.

Unlike his father, Oisc had no desire to expand the territory, and settled to increasing the strength and prosperity of the Kingdom of Kent.

Oisc died in 516AD


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Octa ruled Kent from 516AD. There is some debate as to the exact relationship between Hengest, Oisc and Octa, although according to the historian Bede, Octa was the son of Oisc, who, in turn, was the son of Hengest.

Little is known of Octa’s rule, which appears to have been uneventful, with the disturbances between Saxons and Britons, taking place to the West and North of the country.

Octa died in 543.


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Eormenric reigned as King of Kent, following the death of his father Octa in 543.

It is unclear exactly when he died, although Gregory of Tours infers he was still alive in 589. It has been suggested that Eormenric shared the throne with his son Aethelberht, which would go some way to explain the confusion.


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Aethelberht became King of Kent following the death of his father King Eormenric in 580/590AD. It is thought he influenced many other Kingdoms. He was the first Saxon king to convert to Christianity.
       He was married to Bertha, the Christian daughter of Charibert, king of the Franks, probably before taking the throne. This built an alliance with the most powerful state, at the time, in Western Europe. Berthas influence with Aethelberht was perhaps a deciding factor for Pope Gregory I when sending Augustine as a missionary from Rome.
       Augustine arrived in Kent in 597AD, and shortly afterwards Aethelberht converted to Christianity. Churches were established, and a wide-scale conversion to Christianity followed. Aethelberht provided land for the new church in Canterbury, at what became known as St Augustine's Abbey.
       

Aethelberht’s code of laws for Kent, believed to be the earliest written in any Germanic language, incorporated a system of fines. Kent was rich, had strong trade with the continent and, it is thought Aethelberht instituted control of trade. For the first time, Anglo-Saxon coins were being circulated, in Kent, during his reign.

Aethelberht was canonised, as were his wife and daughter for their role in establishing Christianity among the Anglo-Saxons.

Aethelberht died 24 February 616.....
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Eadbald succeeded his father Aethelberht as King of Kent in 616. The decision to uphold his pagan beliefs came as a setback for the sprouting Christian church.

Eadbald married his father’s second wife upon Aethelberht’s death. It was probably around 624 that Eabald was converted to Christianity by either Justus or Laurentius. Upon converting, he separated from his wife, as dictated by the church. His second wife Emma was perhaps a Frankish princess. Emma gave him two sons, Eormenred and Eorcenberht, together with a daughter Eanswythe.

Although Eadbald was not as influential as his father had been, Kent was strong enough to remain independent of Edwin of Northumbria. Eadbald engineered the marriage of his sister Aethelburg to Edwin to strengthen the ties between the two kingdoms. This continued until the reign of Oswald.

Upon the death of Edwin, in around 633, Aethelburg escaped to Kent, sending her children to the court of King Dagobert I in Francia for safety.

Eadbald died in 640.


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Eorcenberht was King of Kent following his father King Eabalds death in 640. Legend suggests that his elder brother Eormenred was passed over by Eabald in favour of Eorcenberht.

It is thought that he was the first king to require all pagan idols to be destroyed and that Lent should be observed. Although, the documents have not survived it has been proposed that these orders were written down similar to the law codes of Aethelberht. Deusdedit was appointed the first Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury, by Eorcenberht, following the death of Honorius in 655.

He was married to Seaxburh of Ely and daughter of King Anna of East Anglia. Their two sons Ecgberht and Hlothhere would both become kings consecutively. Their two daughters Eorcengota and Ermenilda were both later canonised.

Eorcenberht died 14 July 664.


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Ecgberht ruled Kent following the death of his father King Eorcenberht in 664. His mother Seaxburgh was regent, and; therefore, it must be assumed Ecgberht was still a child when coming to the throne.

His court had many ecclesiastic and diplomatic contacts. He supplied an escort to Abbot Adrian of Canterbury and Archbishop Theodore while they were traveling in Gaul.

Legend tells that to secure the line of Eorcenberht he had two of his uncle Eormenred’s sons, Aethelred and Aethelberht killed. He was then required to pay a wergild for each, to their sister Domne Eafe.

He died 4 July 673.


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Hlothhere became king upon the death of his brother King Ecgberht in 673.

Following a disagreement with the Mercian King Aethelred, Mercia invaded Kent in 676. The Mercian’s caused a lot of destruction, with Rochester being laid waste and even monasteries and churches were ransacked. However, Hlothhere survived the attack and continued to rule jointly with his nephew Eadic, son of Ecgberht I.

Hlothhere had a disagreement with Eadric who was exiled. In 685, Eadric returned having raised an army of South Saxons and defeated Hlothhere.

Hlothhere died in battle on 6 February 685.


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Eadric was the son on King Ecgberht I and became king following the death of his uncle King Hlothhere, whom he defeated in battle, with the aid of the South Saxons. Eadric had ruled Kent jointly with King Hlothhere, until his exile.

Eadric had only ruled for 18 months when Kent was attacked by Caedwalla and the West Saxons.

Eadric died on 31 August 686.


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Mul ruled Kent following his brother’s defeat of King Eadric in 686. Following Eadrics defeat, Mul and Caedwalla, ravaged Kent.

Mul, whose name literally means mule, and was probably a nickname that stuck, was a member of the House of Wessex.

In 687 Mul and 12 others were burnt at the stake, in retaliation Caedwalla ravaged Kent again.

In coming to terms with, Caedwalla’s successor, Ine, in 694, the people of Kent paid him a large sum, because they had killed Mul.

Mul died in 687.


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Swaefberht, Oswine and Swaefheard jointly ruled Kent following the deah of Mul.

It was not unusual to have multiple kingships particularly in Wessex from where Swaefberht came.


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Wihtred claimed the throne in 690, as being the rightful heir. He was a direct decedent of King Eadbald, his father being King Ecgberht I, and his brother King Eadric.

Early in his reign, he delivered a code of laws, known as Textus Roffensis, which have been preserved until this day. The rights of the church are at the forefront of the laws, with punishments for pagan worship and irregular marriages.

Although Wihtred’s reign produced few recorded incidents, he was described by Bede as having ‘freed the nation from foreign invasion by his devotion and diligence’.

King Wihtred died on 23 April 725.


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