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The Saxon Heptarchy - the Kingdom of Kent

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The shield of the History, Philosophy and Spirituality faculty of the h2g2 University.The Saxon Heptarchy - Overview
Kingdom Of Mercia (Mittel Angeln) | Kingdom Of Wessex | Kingdom Of East Anglia (Ost Angeln) | Kingdom Of Northumbria (Nord Angeln)
Kingdom Of Sussex | Kingdom Of Kent | Kingdom Of Essex (East Seaxe)

To see how the Kingdom of Kent (The Cantwara) related to the other kingdoms of the Heptarchy, please read the introduction to the Saxon Heptarchy.

The Kingdom of Kent: Principal Towns and Boundaries

The kingdom of Kent was established as an independent Saxon Kingdom in 449.

The principal towns in the kingdom were:

  • Canterbury
  • Dover
  • Rochester

The Kingdom covered the counties of Kent. The kingdom was bordered by:

  • To the north, the River Thames and the Kingdom of the Essex (East Seaxe)
  • To the south, the coast and the English Channel.
  • To the east, the straights of Dover.
  • To the west, the Kingdom of Wessex.

The first king of Essex was Aescwine, who ruled from 527 - 587. Essex remained a kingdom until 812, when it became subordinate to Wessex.

The Saxon peoples that were part of the Kingdom of Kent were:

  • The Middle Saxons (Essex, Hertfordshire and Middlesex).
  • Prior to the Roman invasion, the area was the territory of the Cantwara.

The Kingdom of Kent: A History

Before the arrival of the Romans the area was originally the tribal homeland of the Cantiaci tribe. Kent was established as a kingdom in 449; it was the first Anglo-Saxon Kingdom. The original population was made up of Germanic Jutes and Celtic Britons in equal proportions. Called the first king of Kent, Hengist (449 - 488) was originally one of the leaders of a band of Jutish riders who settled in the area and became first the military elite and then rulers of the area. The transition to Jutish rule was not peaceful and two battles were fought - the Battle of Aylesthrep and the Battle of Creganford. Both resulted in defeats for the Britons; however Vortigern still remained as king of the Britons. There was an attempt at peace in 460 AD, but at the feast celebrating the peace the Britons were cut down in an event called, by Geoffrey of Monmouth, 'the Night of the Long Knives'. Vortigern escaped and continued in government but in 465 AD, at the Battle of Wippedsfleot, he was defeated and the British population fled.

Missionaries under the leadership of St Augustine arrived in 597 AD. By 616 AD, Athelbert I had become the first Christian king and the first to have written laws.

Wessex overran the kingdom in 686 AD and Caedwalla, king of Wessex, put his brother Mull on the throne. The people of Kent did not like this and Mull was killed in a revolt. Caedwalla pacified the kingdom again but the Mercian client king Oswine took the throne of a ravaged Kent.

There was period of joint rulers: Swæfheard; 687 - 688, Swæfberht 689, Oswine; 689 - 690, and Wihtred. King Wihtred was the most successful: he made peace with Wessex in 694, but had to pay blood money for King Mull's death.

King Offa of Mercia took the throne of Kent in 725 AD and it remained part of Mercia, apart for a period of 20 years that rebels held the kingdom after the battle of Otford in 776 AD. From 776 to 785 AD, Egbert II and Heaberht ruled. They were followed by Ealhmund and Eadberht III between 796 and 798. Eadberht was deposed after Kent was attacked and successfully taken by King Coenwulf of Mercia. King Eadberht was taken to Mercia and blinded by order of King Coenwulf.

Kent remained under the control of Mercia until it was taken as part of Wessex in 825. The kingdom was ruled by kings nominated by Wessex until it became part of the kingdom of England.

The Kings of Kent

The last independent king of Kent was Eadberht III Præn (796 - 798); his removal from the throne was the signal for the invasion of the kingdom by Coenwulf of Mercia. Kent would have stayed part of Mercia had the invasion not taken place. It remained a kingdom subordinate to Wessex until 860, when it finally became part of Wessex.

The original population of Kent was made up of Germanic Jutes and Celtic Britons in equal proportions. The Saxon peoples that were part of the Kingdom of Kent were the Cantwara, Canti or Kentish men.

The Kings of Kent

  • Hengst: 460 - unrecorded. He reigned until his death.
  • Horsa: Unrecorded. He reigned until his death.
  • Osic: Unrecorded. He reigned until his death.
  • Octa: Unrecorded. He reigned until his death.
  • Eormenric: Unrecorded. He reigned until his death.
  • Athelbert I: Unrecorded. to 616. He was the first Christian King of Kent, and he reigned until his death.
  • Eadbald: 616 - 640. He renounced Christianity but was later converted; built the first nunnery at Folkstone Abbey for Lady Eansworth1 and a Church at Canterbury.
  • Eorcenberht: 640 - 664. The first king to pass a decree outlawing Pagan worship.
  • Ecgberht I: 664 - 673. He reigned until his death.
  • Hlothhere: 674 - 675. He is the first king whose charters survive; he died in AD 685, after loosing a battle with his co ruler and successor Eadric.
  • Eadric: 675 - 686. He ruled with Hlothhere until he deposed him. He reigned until his death.
  • Mul: 686 - 687. He was killed in an uprising of the people of Kent as he was a brother of Caedwalla the king of Wessex and placed on the throne of Kent.
  • Swæfheard: 687 - 688, Swæfberht ; 689, Oswine; 689 - 690 , and Wihtred ; 690 or 691 - 725.
  • Aelfric: 725. He ruled with his brothers Aoelberht II and Eadberht I.
  • Eadberht I: 725 - 748. He ruled with his brothers Aoelberht II and Aelfric.

From this point Kent is a sub-kingdom of Mercia.

  • Aeoelberht II; 725 - 762. He ruled with his brothers Eadberht I and Aelfric.
  • Eardwulf, Eadberht II, Eanmund and Sigered; 762 - 764, the four brothers held the throne jointly for a short period.
  • Heaberht; 764 - 765. He ruled jointly with Ecgberht II, and died in 765 AD.
  • Ecgberht II; 765 - 779. He ruled jointly with Heaberht. He managed to keep King Offa of Mercia from taking over Kent completely; he died in 765 AD.
  • Ealhmund; 779 - 796. There is no record of the king after 784.
  • Eadberht III Præn; 796 - 798. Kent was attacked by King Cœnwulf of Mercia, Eadberht was deposed and taken to Mercia and blinded by order of King Cœnwulf.

The Mercian Kings of Kent

  • Cuored: 798 - 807. He reigned until his death.
  • Coenwulf: 807 - 822. He was also King of Mercia, and he reigned until his death.
  • Ceolwulf I: 822 to 823. He was King of Mercia, King of East Anglia and King of Kent. He was deposed by Beornwulf of Mercia.
  • Baldred : 822 - 825, deposed in 825 by Aeoelwulf of Wessex.

The Wessex Kings of Kent

  • Ecgberht III: 825 - 839, he reigned with his son until his death in 839 AD.
  • Ethelwulf: 825 - 858, he reigned with his father until 839 AD, then independently in Wessex until his death in 858 AD.
  • Ethelstan I: 839 to 851, son of King Aeoelwulf of Wessex and recorded as the king of he people of Kent, of the East Saxons, and the South Saxons and of Surrey. He reigned until his death in 851 AD.
  • Ethelbert III: 855 to 865. His reign was marked by the start of Danish raiding by the Norse King Ragnar Lodbrok (Ragnar Hairy-trousers). He reigned until his death in 865 AD.
  • Ethelred I : 865 to 871. The Norse attacks still persisted, and he was killed at the Battle of Merton 871.
1Later Saint Eansworth. She was the King's daughter.

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