The Kingdom of Essex was never an important kingdom1; it never produced any of the Bretwaldas2 and it hardly figured in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles3. Yet strangely it managed to survive into the mid-9th Century unlike many of the other small kingdoms. In the Tribal Hidage4, it is assessed at 7000 hides - the same as the South Saxons (Sussex), the Wocensætna (or Wreocensæte), the Westerna (or Magonsæte) and the Hwinca (or the Hwicce). The Kings of Essex did not always acknowledge an overlord, and when they did it seems that the overlord had no direct authority in Essex proper as the surviving charters are not witnessed by that overlord. Although never an important kingdom, at various times in its independent history Essex had control over Middlesex, Surrey, West Kent and parts of Hertfordshire. The East Saxon kings had an alliance, although sometimes an uneasy one, with the kings of Mercia from at least around 664 and perhaps before up to the mid-9th Century, perhaps extending beyond the independent history of Essex.
Most of the information about the East Saxon royal house comes to us from Bede5. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles only mention six kings, and only a few East Saxon charters survive. The pedigrees of three kings exist in a West Saxon manuscript. The East Saxon royal genealogy is unique of all Anglo-Saxon royal pedigrees because the Kings of Essex claimed descent from the god Seaxnet and not Woden6 as is more usual. Christianity took a while to be established in Essex; Sæberht was the first king to be baptised in around 604 but on his death the kingdom lapsed back into paganism and remained so until circa 653. It lapsed back into paganism again in around 664 for a short while.
Most of the dates for the East Saxon kings are unknown or are estimates.
Æscwine - also known as Eorcenwine. He was reputedly the founder of the kingdom in 527 and apparently reigned until 587. If he was a historical figure rather than a mythical figure, then his name would imply a Jutish (Kentish) origin. His length of reign is, however, suspiciously long.
Sledd - son of Æscwine. He is said to have begun his reign in 587 and is usually considered to be the true founder of the kingdom. He married Ricula who was the sister of King Æthelberht I of Kent7. London may well have been his capital. The date of his death is unknown but it was probably before 604. He had at least two sons: Sæberht and Seaxa.
Sæberht - son of Sledd. He was reigning at some time before 604 and died in 616. He was the first East Saxon king to embrace Christianity, probably at the behest of his uncle Æthelbert of Kent. Æthelberht is said to have established him on the throne which implies that there may have been a dynastic dispute, perhaps against Seaxa. Sæberht's palace may have been in Cripplegate, London, where a royal residence has been located. It was in his reign that Mellitus became the first Bishop of London. He is attributed with the foundation of Westminster Abbey in 616 and is buried there; his 'tomb' can still be seen. Also in Westminster Abbey there is a 15th Century statue of him in the Henry V Chapel. He had at least three sons: Sæweard, Seaxred and possibly Seaxbald.
Sæweard - son of Sæberht. Ruled from 616 to about 623 jointly with his brothers. On accession he was a pagan and reacted not only against Christianity but also against Kentish overlordship. Eadbald, the new king of Kent, could not secure overlordship of Essex. Sæweard, with his brothers, expelled Mellitus from London. He was killed in battle against the West Saxons, possibly over a border dispute in Surrey. He had one known son: Sigeberht.
Seaxred - son of Sæberht. Ruled jointly with his brothers. The fact that he and his brothers agreed to expel Mellitus implies a committee rule rather than each brother ruling in different parts of the kingdom, although the latter cannot be ruled out. He was killed alongside his brothers in around 623. He had one son: Sæbbi.
Seaxbald - he was the possible third son of Sæberht. He ruled jointly with Sæweard and Seaxred. Killed with his brothers against the West Saxons. He is believed to have had two sons: Swithhelm and Swithfrith.
Sigeberht I - known as 'Parvus' (the Little or Small). His father is unknown but he may have been descended from Seaxa, brother of Sæberht, or he may have been the son of Sæweard. His reign may have started in 623 and he died around 653. Like his predecessors, he was a pagan. It was during his reign that Penda, King of Mercia8, was dominating the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, although there is no evidence of Penda having any influence in Essex. He may have had one son: Sigehere.
Sigeberht II - known as 'Sanctus' (the Good). This Sigeberht may have been the son of Sæweard, but there is no written evidence for this. He was reigning from around 653 to circa 660. He was the first Christian king for at least 37 years. He was baptised in 653 by Bishop Finán at King Oswiu of Northumbria's court (at Ad Murum). It was in his reign that St Cedd arrived and founded Ythancæstir (Bradwell-on-Sea) amongst other churches. Sigeberht II was murdered, possibly by Swithhelm and Swithfrith because, according to Bede, 'he was too ready to pardon his enemies'9. He may have had one son: Sigehere.
Swithhelm - son of Seaxbald. He reigned from 660 to around 664. A pagan when he became king he was baptised at Rendlesham (Suffolk)10 by St Cedd with King Æthelwald of East Anglia acting as his Godfather. This may imply that the East Angles exercised some degree of overlordship over the East Saxons. He died around the time of the great plague of 664. He may have been buried at Rendlesham - the royal residence of the Kings of East Anglia.
Swithfrith - possible son of Seaxbald. He may have been responsibly, along with his co-ruler Swithhelm, for the murder of Sigeberht II. He is attributed with the foundation of Barking monastery in 660. Bede implies that he died before Swithhelm but the date is unknown.
Sigehere - son of Sigeberht (either I or II). He reigned from 664 to around 688. During the plague of 664 he and his people apostatised. King Wulfhere of Mercia sent Bishop Jaruman to 'Correct their error and recall the province to the true faith' as Bede reports. Jaruman was successful. Sigehere married St Osyth, who founded the monastery at Cicc (now called St Osyth) after she fled from the king when he was hunting. Osyth may have been of the Hwiccan11 royal house or Sigehere may have married a princess from the Kingdom of the Hwicce earlier or later as his son was a sub-king of the Hwicce. In 686 he invaded West Kent, with the aid the King Cædwalla of Wessex12, and until his death in around 688 was King of West Kent. He is known to have ruled Essex proper. He had at least one son: Offa.
Sæbbi - son of Seaxred. Saint. He ruled from 664 to 694. He is known to have ruled the Middlesex area. He was renowned for his piety and it is said that he should have been a bishop or abbot rather than a king. It was in his reign that the Strood causeway to Mersea Island was built. Unlike his co-ruler Sigehere, he remained true to the faith during the plague of 664. He abdicated to become a monk but died shortly afterwards. Bede devoted an entire chapter to Sæbbi (Book IV chapter II of his Ecclesiastical History). Many wonders and miracles are associated with his death. He had at least three sons: Swæfheard, Sigeheard and Swæfred.
Swæfheard - son of Sæbbi. He wasn't King of Essex but was King of West Kent under the overlordship of his father. Some sources say he was joint king with Sigehere in 686 whilst others say he became King of West Kent in 688. He ruled jointly with two natives of Kent - Oswine and then Wihtred. He signed his last charter in 692 but may have been king up to 694. His fate is unknown.
Sigeheard - son of Sæbbi. He reigned from 694 to and unknown date. He may have been associated with kingship before his father's death as he attested a charter in 690 with the title of King. In 704 or 705 there was a state of estrangement between Sigeheard and Swæfred (his co-ruler) and King Ine of Wessex. A council in Brentford in 705 resolved this, the outcome of which is unknown. In the period 700-710 he is known to have been ruling in Middlesex without reference to his brother Swæfred. He had one son: Sigemund.
Swæfred - son of Sæbbi. Ruled jointly with Sigeheard from 694 to an unknown date. Like his brother he may have been associated with kingship before his father's death. He is found in the period 700-710 ruling Essex without any reference to Sigeheard.
Offa - son of Sigehere. Saint. Ruled from an unknown date until 709 jointly with Sigeheard and Swæfred. Although he signed some charters with the title of King he should probably be seen as a sub-king. He granted land in Hemel Hempstead as King and also gave land as sub-king in the Kingdom of the Hwicce. He abdicated (or he may have been deposed) in 709 and journeyed to Rome in the company of King Coenred of Mercia, who may also have been deposed. He is the last East Saxon king to be mentioned by Bede. His name is only one of three which doesn't begin with an 'S'. His pedigree is preserved in a West Saxon manuscript. He is nothing to do with the Offa who built the Dyke on the Welsh border - that was Offa of Mercia who died in 796.
Oethelred - described as a 'kinsman' of Sæbbi. His exact position is unknown but he should probably be considered a sub-king (possibly of Surrey) since he was able to grant land. His rule seems to be from the late 680s to the period 700x710 as he witnesses Swæfred's charters along with Offa. It is in one of his charters that the East Saxons are first mentioned by name.
Saba - His exact status, like Oethelred, is unknown but should probably be seen as a sub-king. He witnessed charters of Swæfred (700x710). His area of rule is unknown.
Swæfberht - of unknown parentage but may have been a son of either Swæfheard of Swæfred. He began his reign at an unknown date although he may have replaced Offa in 709. He was probably subject to Mercian overlordship. He died in 738.
Selered - son of Sigeberht who was descended from Seaxa, Sæberht's brother. He may have reigned jointly with Swæfberht. The Laud and Parker Chronicles state that he was slain in 746, although the actual circumstances are unknown. He had at least one son: Sigeric I.
Swithred - son of Sigemund and grandson of Sigeheard. He reigned from 746 to and unknown date, although 762 as been put forward. His pedigree survives in a West Saxon manuscript.
Sigeric I - son of Selered. He reigned from around 762 to 798. He witnessed a charter of King Ecgfrith of Mercia. He abdicated to go to Rome. He is the last East Saxon king mentioned by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. He had at least one son: Sigered.
Sigerid - He reigned from 798 to about 829. He is often considered the last native king of Essex. He appears in two charters of King Coenwulf of Mercia in 811. The Mercians seem to have reduced his status from King to 'Dux' (sub-king) thereafter. He was deposed by King Ecgberht of Wessex in around 82913. He possibly had one son: Sigeric II.
Sigeric II - possible son of Sigered. He reigned from around 829 to possibly 855. He appears as 'minister' of King Wiglaf of Mercia between 829 and 837. He marks an end to an independent Essex. How he managed to reign when the West Saxon kings allowed no sub-kings in the territory is unknown.