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The Saxon Heptarchy - the Kingdom of Essex (East Seaxe)

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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 the Essex (East Seaxe) or the Kingdom of the East Saxons related to the other kingdoms of the Heptarchy, please read the introduction to the Saxon Heptarchy.

The Kingdom of Essex: Principal Towns and Boundaries

The kingdom of Essex was established as an independent Saxon Kingdom in 527.

The principal towns in the kingdom were:

The Kingdom covered the counties of Essex, Hertfordshire and Middlesex. The kingdom was bounded by:

  • To the north, the River Stour and the Kingdom of East Anglia (Ost Angelnen).
  • To the south, the Kingdom of Kent and the River Thames.
  • To the east, the coast and the North Sea.
  • To the west, the Kingdom of Mercia (Mittlere Angelnen).

The original population was made up of Germanic Jutes and Celtic Britons in equal proportions. The first king of Essex was Aescwine 527 - 587. Essex remained a kingdom until 812, when it became subordinate to Wessex.

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

  • The Middle Saxons - Essex, Hertfordshire and Middlesex.
  • Prior to the Roman invasion, the area was the territory of the Trinovantes in the east and the Catuvellauni in the west.

The Kingdom of Essex: A History

The establishment of the kingdom was by Aescwine in 527; the capital was London and the Royal palace was near what is now called Cripplegate.

King Saebert established the kingdom's first monastery in 606 in the area of St Paul's, the church (site) surviving the monastery. He was killed in a battle against the forces of King Cynegils of Wessex in 617, and is reported to have been buried in Westminster Abbey Church1 which was also founded by King Saebert.

This may not be the end of the story. In 2003 a Royal Saxon burial was discovered near Southend. It was in the village of Prittlewell, 39 miles south-east of London. Near the Saxon church of Saint Mary's there was a burial in a four-metre square, timber-lined chamber, originally covered with a barrow mound. Buried in a pagan style, the fact that the man was a Christian was shown by the two gold crosses on the body. It is speculated the grave could be that of King Saebert.

The first documentary evidence of the Kingdom of Essex is in the Venerable Bede's work the Ecclesiastical History of the English People written in 672. In this he noted the establishment of the Bishopric of London in 602, and the first Post-Augustinian2 Bishop Mellitus.

The Kingdom of Essex prospered until the reign of King Sigeric 758 - 798. He abdicated in 798, in favour of King Sigered. Shortly after this the Kingdom of Essex was annexed by the Mercian King Beornwulf. In 812, Sigered of Essex was demoted from a king to a duke by his Mercian overlords. The Mercian control of Essex was short and was ended when King Ecgbert of Wessex defeated the Mercian forces at the Battle of Ellendun in 825, and Beornwulf himself was killed while dealing with a rebellion in East Anglia.

In 870, King Alfred of Wessex entered into a treaty with the Danish King Guthrum. As part of the settlement of this (the Treaty of Wedmore), much of the territory that was the Kingdom of the Essex was given to the Danes as part of the Danelaw.

The Kings of Essex

  • Aescwine (527 - 587): He claimed descent from the God Saxnot; he reigned until his death in 587.
  • Sledda (587 - 604): He was persuaded to convert to Christianity by Aethelwald, king of East Anglia.
  • Saebert (604 - 616): Saebert was a convert to Christianity and reigned until his death in 616.
  • Sexred (616 - 617): He was a convert back to Saxon paganism; reigned until he was killed in a battle against the forces of Wessex in 617.
  • Sigeberht I the Little (617 - 653): Reigned until killed in a battle against the forces of Wessex in 653 AD.
  • Sigeberht II Sanctus 'the Good' (653 - 660): Saint Cedd was sent on a missionary errand to Essex to convert its people to Christianity. In 660, Sigeberht was murdered by his brothers Swithelm and Swithfrith.
  • Swithelm (660 - 664): He was persuaded to convert to Christianity by Aethelwald, king of East Anglia.
  • Sighere (664 - 683): He reigned until his death in 683.
  • Sebbi (664 - 694): Joint ruler with his brother until 683, after which time he ruled alone. He abdicated in 694 to enter a monastery in the area of St Paul's, London.
  • Sigeheard (694 - 709): He reigned until his death in 709 AD.
  • Swaebheard (695 - 709): Joint king with his brother Sigeheard; he abdicated and travelled with King Cenred of Mercia to Rome.
  • Offa (709): He also abdicated and travelled with Swaebheard and King Cenred of Mercia to Rome.
  • Swaefbert (709 - 746): He ruled along with Saelred of Essex (709 - 746) who appointed him provisional king in 715.
  • Svvithred (746 - 758): He reigned until his death.
  • Sigeric (758 - 798): He abdicated.
  • Sigered (798 - 825): In 812, Sigered was reduced from a king to a duke by his Mercian overlords. In 825, Mercia was defeated by King Egbert of Wessex and the kingdom of Essex became part of the Kingdom of Wessex.
1The site was just a church at this time. It was King Edgar who created the Abbey in 960, and Saint Dunstan was the first Abbot of the Benedictine monastery on Thorny Island, as it was then called.2There were 17 Augustinian Bishops of London: starting with Bishop Thean and ending with Bishop Theonus in 604.

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