Kingdom of Kent
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|Kingdom of the Kentish|
|Vassal of Mercia (764–769, 785–796, 798–825)
Vassal of Wessex (825–871)
The Kingdom of Kent.
|Languages||Old English, Latin|
The kingdom of the Kentish (Old English: Cantaware Rīce; Latin: Regnum Cantuariorum), today referred to as the Kingdom of Kent (Old Welsh: Ceint), was an early medieval kingdom in what is now South East England. It is said to have been founded at an unknown date in the 5th century by Jutes, members of a Germanic people from continental Europe, some of whom settled in Britain after the withdrawal of the Romans. It was one of the seven traditional kingdoms of the so-called Anglo-Saxon heptarchy, but it lost its independence in the 8th century when it became a sub-kingdom of Mercia. In the 9th century, it became a sub-kingdom of Wessex, and in the 10th century, it became part of the unified Kingdom of England that was created under the leadership of Wessex. Its name has been carried forward ever since as the county of Kent.
The origins of Kent are obscure, but the place-name is first attested in Greek as Kantion in fragments of the writings of Pytheas, as transmitted to posterity by later writers such as Strabo and Diodorus. In these early fragments, it referred to as one of the three corners of Britain, being the one nearest to Gaul and Germania. Julius Caesar invaded the area in 55 and 54 BC and, according to his own account, won a number of important battles, but was unable to consolidate his gains and returned to his campaign in Gaul without making any real conquests. Caesar referred to Cingetorix, Carvilius, Taximagulus and Segovax as all being kings of Cantium at the same time in 54 BC, suggesting it may have been divided between four tribes. Later kings of the area known from their coins include Dubnovellaunus, Vosenos, Eppillus, and Amminus.
The Romans conquered this part of Britain in AD 43, by which time Kent was fully under the control of the Catuvellauni tribe, whose heartlands lay north of the Thames in Hertfordshire and Essex. Opinion differs whether the Romans landed in Kent, Hampshire, or both; if they landed in Kent, it is likely that battles were fought at the River Medway, and then at the Thames, as the Romans marched inland towards the Catuvellauni capital at Colchester (Camulodunum). There is no record of further trouble in Kent under Roman rule, and it is unknown whether the people of Kent were involved in Boudicca's famous rebellion of AD 61. The four tribes of Kent were grouped together into a single civitas known as the Cantiaci, meaning "Kent-people", and their regional capital was at Durovernum, modern Canterbury, on the site of an Iron Age oppidum not far from an earlier hill fort at Bigbury Rings.
In Late Roman times, the Kentish coastline was part of what was known as the litus saxonicum or Saxon Shore. After the evacuation of the last Roman legions from Britain, the local tradition reported much later that a number of Jutish ships made landfall in Britain. The British ruling council offered them payment in return for federati service defending the realm in the north from the incursions of Picts and Scots. According to legend they were promised provisions and offered the island of Ruoihm (as originally spelt by Nennius) - now known as the Isle of Thanet - in perpetuity to use as a base for their operations. It is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that their leader, Hengist advised:
- Take my advice and you will never fear conquest from any man or any people, for my people are strong. I will invite my son and his cousin to fight against the Irish [the Scoti], for they are fine warriors.
Apparently the Jutes assaulted the enemy and brought much needed relief to the beleaguered Romano-British communities of the north. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth's fanciful Historia Regum Britanniae, the British king Vortigern married Rowena, the daughter of Hengist, with the civitas of the Cantiaci (Kent) as the bride-gift.
Gwrangon was king of Ceint in the time of Vortigern according to Nennius. The word 'king' may be misleading and it is more likely that the 'province' of the Cantiaci was ruled jointly by a civil governor (Gwrangon?) and a military governor, according to Roman custom, and that Hengist became the new military governor.
The establishment of inland barbarian bases rendered the extensive coastal forts of the Saxon Shore almost useless as the 6th-century British monk Gildas laments:
They sealed its [Britain's] doom by inviting in among them (like wolves into the sheep fold), the fierce and impious Saxons [sic] a race hurtful both to God and men, to repel the invasions of the northern nations. Nothing was ever so pernicious to our country, nothing was ever so unlucky. What palpable darkness must have enveloped their minds--darkened, desperate and cruel! Those very people whom, when absent, they dreaded more than death itself, were invited to reside, as one may say, under the selfsame roof.
The Jutes began making ever increasing demands for provisions from their hosts, who became increasingly divided and fractious. Each time the Britons threatened to withhold the supplies the Jutes threatened to break the alliance and ravage the country. Vortimir, Vortigern's son, assembled an army and attacked the Jutes. Catigern, one of Vortigern's sons, died at the Battle of Aylesford alongside Horsa, the Jutish co-ruler of Kent. The next year the Jutes were attacked again at the Battle of Crecganford and Vortimir was able to besiege Hengist upon Thanet. However shortly after Vortimir died.
A banquet is said to have taken place ostensibly to seal a peace treaty between the Britons and their Germanic foes, which may have involved the cession of modern-day Essex. The story tells that the "Saxons"—which probably includes Angles and Jutes—arrived at the banquet armed, surprising the British, who were slaughtered. This event was dubbed the Night of the Long Knives by Geoffrey of Monmouth and is the original event to bear that name. The only escapee from this slaughter was said to be Vortigern himself. The historical veracity of surviving accounts of this event and of persons involved in it is conjectural, as textual evidence is weak and only begins in the 7th century.
The British government under Vortigern unravelled, and civil war spread across the country. There was further action at the Battle of Wippedesfleot, but Kent was never recovered. From then on, the pacified territory of Ceint was known as Cantware, "dwellers in Kent", and its kings traced their lineage from Hengist.
Archaeologists, following J.N.L. Myres, detect in the post-Roman period two distinct principal pre-Christian cultures in Kent, identifiable by their heterogeneous grave goods. The poorer of these two cultures, still occasionally practicing cremation, shows affinities in its pottery and its brooches with the Saxons and Frisians. The other culture Myres distinguished by their wheel-thrown pottery of Frankish technique, and by the precious metals, garnets, glass, amethysts and other luxuries used in personal adornment. This second culture is also distinguished for its skill with metalworking techniques in enamel, niello and filigree, a skill unparalleled elsewhere in sub-Roman Britain. A critical unsolved problem in the early history is the relationship of these cultures, overlapping in time. One explanation, espoused by H.R. Loyn, posits that the Frankish material culture represents the remains of a richer culture of foederati and their successors, the poorer culture setting up farmsteads under the protection of a warrior aristocracy that expanded from a base in East Kent, the Isle of Thanet and Canterbury.
The first securely dateable event in the kingdom is the arrival of Augustine with 40 monks in 597. Maybe because Kent was the first kingdom in England to be established by the Germanic invaders, it was relatively powerful in the early Anglo-Saxon period. It is the only Anglo-Saxon kingdom to have had two bishops in the 7th century; even in modern Kent the eastern and western parts of the county have some cultural differences. As the only part of England not taken by force in the Norman invasion it has the Latin motto "Invicta".
Kent achieved its greatest power under Æthelberht at the beginning of the 7th century: Æthelberht was recognized as Bretwalda until his death in 616, and was the first Anglo-Saxon king to accept Christianity, as well as the first to introduce a written code of laws, in 616. He had relations with the Franks and his queen Bertha (a Christian) was a Frank. After his reign the power of Kent began to decline: by around 650 Kent seems to have been dominated by more powerful Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
In 686 Kent was conquered by Caedwalla of Wessex; within a year, Caedwalla's brother Mul was killed in a Kentish revolt, and Caedwalla returned to devastate the kingdom again. After this, Kent fell into a state of disorder. The Mercians backed a client king named Oswine, but he seems to have reigned for only about two years, after which Wihtred became king. Wihtred, famous for the Law of Wihtred, did a great deal to restore the kingdom after the devastation and tumult of the preceding years, and in 694 he made peace with the West Saxons by paying compensation for the killing of Mul.
The history of Kent following the death of Wihtred in 725 is one of fragmentation and increasing obscurity. For the 40 years that followed, two or even three kings typically ruled simultaneously. It may have been this sort of division that made Kent the first target of the rising power of Offa of Mercia: in 764, he gained supremacy over Kent and began to rule it through client kings. By the early 770s, it appears that Offa was attempting to rule Kent directly, and a rebellion followed. A battle was fought at Otford in 776, and although the outcome was not recorded, the circumstances of the years that followed suggest that the rebels of Kent prevailed: Egbert II and later Ealhmund seem to have ruled independently of Offa for nearly a decade thereafter. This did not last, however, as Offa firmly re-established his authority over Kent in 785.
After King Ealhmund presumably died shortly after witnessing a charter in 784, his son Egbert was driven out of Kent and into exile by Offa and Beorhtric. It is clear from charters that Offa was in control of Kent by 785. Rather than just acting as overlord of his new possession, he attempted to annex it or at least reduce its importance by creating a new diocese in Mercia at Lichfield, possibly because the archbishop of Canterbury Jænberht refused to crown his son Ecgfrith. Jænberht resigned a part of his bishopric and the pro-Mercian Hygeberht was chosen by King Offa to replace him “through enmity conceived against the venerable Jænberht and the Kentish people” according to Offa's eventual successor Coenwulf. In 796 Offa died, and in this moment of Mercian weakness a Kentish rebellion under Eadbert Praen temporarily succeeded. Offa's eventual successor, Coenwulf, reconquered Kent in 798, however, and installed his brother Cuthred as king. After Cuthred's death in 807 Coenwulf ruled Kent directly. Mercian authority was replaced by that of Wessex in 825, following the latter's victory at the Battle of Ellandun, and the Mercian client king Baldred was expelled.
In 892, when all southern England was united under Alfred the Great, Kent was on the brink of disaster. A hundred years earlier pagan Vikings had begun their raids on Britain—they first attacked Lindisfarne on the coast of Northumbria, killing the monks and devastating the Abbey. They then made successive raids further south until in the year 878 the formidable Alfred defeated them, later drawing up a treaty allowing them to settle in East Anglia and the North East. However, countrymen from their Danish homeland were still on the move and by the late 880s Haesten, a highly experienced warrior-leader, had mustered huge forces in northern France having besieged Paris and taken Brittany.
Up to 350 Viking ships sailed from Boulogne to the south coast of Kent in 892. A massive army of between 5000 and 10,000 men with their women, children and horses came up the now long-lost Limen estuary (the east-west route of the Royal Military Canal in reclaimed Romney Marsh) and attacked a Saxon fort near lonely St Rumwold's church, Bonnington, killing all inside. They then moved on and over the next year built their own giant fortress at Appledore. On hearing of this, resident Danes in East Anglia and elsewhere broke their promises to Alfred and rose up to join in. At first they made lightning raids out of Appledore, in one of these they razed to the ground a large settlement, Seleberhtes Cert (present-day Great Chart near Ashford); later, the whole army moved further inland and engaged in numerous battles with the English, but after four years they gave up. Some retreated to East Anglia and others went back to northern France. There they were the forebears of the Normans who returned in triumph less than two centuries later.
Unique aspects of Kent
The mixed cultures of its settlers in the fifth and sixth centuries, its connections with Frankish culture on the Continent—whether interpreted as trade merchandise, marriage gifts or ceremonial exchanges— and its early stabilization and independence as a kingdom continued to be reflected in several uniquely Kentish cultural features, "a constant theme in English social history", H. R. Loyn observed. The institutional evidence for Kent's uniqueness was marshaled by J. E. A. Jolliffe, who instanced the hamlet of free peasant cultivators, not the nucleated village, the inheritance pattern of kindred's common right called gavelkind, and the dominant landscape pattern of the uniquely Kentish lathes, each with its share in the forested Weald, four lathes of East Kent centred on Wye, Canterbury, Lympne and Eastry, and three in West Kent, administered from Rochester.
- Myres, The English Settlements, ch. 8 (Oxford), 1986.
- Loyn, Anglo-Saxon England and the Norman Conquest, 2nd ed. 1991:39-43.
- Loyn, Anglo-Saxon England and the Norman conquest, 2nd ed. 1991:40.
- Jolliffe, Pre-Feudal England: the Jutes (Oxford) 1933.
- Noted in Loyn 2001:43.
- Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
- Wade-Evans, A. W. (1938) Nennius’s History of the Britons.
- K. P. Witney, (1982), The Kingdom of Kent. Phillimore. ISBN 0-85033-443-8
- John Williams (editor), (2007), The Archaeology of Kent to AD 800. Boydell Press. ISBN 0-85115-580-4
- Sue Harrington, Stuart Brookes, (2010), The Kingdom and People of Kent, AD 40-1066: Their History and Archaeology. The History Press Ltd. ISBN 0-7524-5694-6