Domne Eafe

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Domne Eafe (or Saint Eormenburg, also Domneva, Domne Éue, Æbbe, Ebba; floruit late 7th century) was, according to the Kentish royal legend, a granddaughter of King Eadbald of Kent and the foundress of the double monastery at Minster-in-Thanet during the reign of her cousin King Ecgberht of Kent.

The oldest version of the legend, Stowe 944, is explicit that Eafe and Eormenburg was the same person;[1] others[which?] identify Eormenburg as a sister of Eafe's.[2]

Domne Eafe appears as a witness or beneficiary in a number of Kentish charters dating from the late 7th century, under the name "Æbbe", and it is presumed that "Domne Eafe" represents a vernacular corruption of Latin "Domina Æbbe", that is, "Lady Æbbe".[3]


According to the legend, Domne Eafe's father was Eormenred, son of King Eadbald of Kent and Emma of Austrasia. Her mother is called Oslafa. It is probable that Eormenred shared the kingship of Kent with his brother Eorcenberht, the senior king, and also that he predeceased Eorcenberht.[4]

The legend records several children of Eormenred and Oslafa. Their sons Æthelberht and Æthelred were murdered during the reign of their cousin King Ecgberht of Kent. Their daughters are less certainly identifiable. Eormengyth, according to the legend, was buried in the countryside near to Minster-in-Thanet and was reckoned a saint in later Anglo-Saxon times.[5][6]

A charter from the reign of King Wihtred, son of Ecgberht, appears to include the names Eormenburg and Æbbe in a list of noble abbesses, but it is unclear whether they refer to one person or two.[7]

Domne Eafe was certainly related to King Oswine, who ruled part of Kent. The nature of the relationship is not certain, but it is presumed that he was her nephew.[8]

The legend[edit]

Main article: Kentish royal legend

The legend survives in varying forms in a number of manuscripts which date from the tenth,[citation needed] eleventh and twelfth centuries (and later copies). These include a life of Saints Æthelberht and Æthelred in the Historia Regum, compiled at Ramsey Abbey and perhaps to be associated with Byrhtferth, a life of Mildrith by Goscelin written to rebut the claims by St Gregory's Priory at Lyminge to possess the relics of Saints Mildrith and Eadburg, while the claims of St Gregory's are preserved in a manuscript held in Gotha.[9]

According to the legend, Domne Eafe's brothers Saints Æthelberht and Æthelred were fostered by king Ecgberht, and were murdered by the king's reeve, called Thunor, either on the king's command or on his own initiative. In order to quench the family feud which this kinslaying would have provoked, Ecgberht agreed to pay a wergild for the murdered princelings. The legend claims that Domne Eafe was offered as much land as her pet hind could run around in a single lap. The result was that she gained some eighty sulungs of land on Thanet as weregild, on which to establish a dual monastery.[10]

It is thought likely that this account is considerably earlier than the date of the surviving manuscripts. It contains features, such as the establishment of a monastery in compensation for kinslaying—an analogous case is recorded by Bede in the case of the killing of King Oswine of Deira by King Oswiu of Bernicia—which would be out of place in a late text.[11] Circumstantial evidence would date the earliest version of the legend from the time of Saint Eadburg (died 751?), third abbess of Minster-in-Thanet.[12]

Charter evidence[edit]

A number of Kentish charters from the reigns of Oswine and Wihtred name Domne Eafe, or rather "Æbbe", as witness or beneficiary of grants to Minster-in-Thanet. Rollason argues that these show that Minster-in-Thanet was the main beneficiary of Kentish royal patronage of monasteries, surpassing even St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury.[13]

While there is no surviving foundation charter from Ecgberht's reign, the original grant may have been oral rather than written.[14] The 15th century historian Thomas of Elmham recorded a later charter, which has now been lost, in his history of St Augustine's, Canterbury. This dated from 678, during the reign of Egcberht's brother and successor Hlothhere.[15] The Rolls Series edition of Thomas's history includes as its frontispiece a map that he drew showing Thanet and the course taken across the island by Domne Eafe's pet hind, a route which followed a ditch and marked the boundary of Canterbury's estates on Thanet.[16]


  1. ^ Þonne wæs Sancte Eormenbeorge óðer naman Domne Éue, héo wæs forgyfen Merwale Penda[n] sunu cyningces, & þǽr hí begéaton Sancte Mildburge, & Sancte Mildryðe, & Sancte Mildgyðe, & Sancte Merefin. likewise Cotton Caligula A. xiv, Þonne wæs eormenburh & oðre naman domne eafe & eormengyð & æðelred & æðelbriht wæron eormenredes bearn, and Lambeth Palace 427, fol. 211., Þonne wæs sancte Eormenburge oðer nama Domne Eue, heo wæs forgifen Merwale
  2. ^ For Domne Eafe as Merewalh's wife, see Kirby, p. 36 & Rollason, p. 45, table; against, Yorke, pp. 37, table 3 & 107.
  3. ^ "Æbbe 3 (Female)". Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England. Retrieved 2009-12-06.  Also Rollason, e.g. pp. 39–40, where the name is given as "Æbba".
  4. ^ Yorke, pp. 32, 33, table 1 & 35; Rollason, pp. 37–38.
  5. ^ Blair, The Church, pp. 232–233 & Blair, "Handlist", pp. 533–534, suggest that she may have been buried in a tumulus as mixing Christian and Pagan rites was common at this time as per Pope Gregory's instructions.
  6. ^ Eormengyth was the sister of Æbbe and Eormenburh. She was married to King Centwine of Wessex who ruled from 676-685AD but became abbess as a widow possibly back in Kent (c.695-705AD) in succession to her sister. Her daughter Bugga a corrospondant of Boniface, replaced her as abbess.
  7. ^ For which see Blair, "Handlist", p. 503.
  8. ^ Kirby, p. 103.
  9. ^ For a complete list of manuscripts and texts, see Rollason, pp. 15–31.
  10. ^ For the legend, see Rollason, pp. 10–11 & 73–87.
  11. ^ Rollason, p. 33, notes that a version of the legend "was in existence by the second quarter of the eighth century"; Blair, The Church, p. 144, note 33.
  12. ^ Rollason, pp. 35–36.
  13. ^ Rollason, p. 35.
  14. ^ Rollason, p. 35.
  15. ^ Rollason, p. 34.
  16. ^ Rollason, pp. 10 & 67.


  • "Æbbe 3 (Female)". Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England. Retrieved 2009-12-06. 
  • "Eormenburg 1 (Female)". Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England. Retrieved 2009-12-06. 
  • Blair, John (2002), "A Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Saints", in Thacker, Alan; Sharpe, Richard, Local Saints and Local Churches in the Early Medieval West, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 495–565, ISBN 978-0-19-820394-0 
  • Blair, John (2005), The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-921117-3 
  • Kirby, D. P. (1991), The Earliest English Kings, London: Unwin Hyman, ISBN 0-04-445691-3 
  • Rollason, D. W. (1982), The Mildrith Legend: A Study in Early Medieval Hagiography in England, Leicester: Leicester University Press, ISBN 0-7185-1201-4 
  • Yorke, Barbara (1990), Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England, London: Seaby, ISBN 1-85264-027-8