Sæberht of Essex

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King of the East Saxons
Reignc. 604 – c. 616
Successorhis three sons
another son
MotherRicula, sister of King Æthelberht of Kent

Sæberht, Saberht or Sæbert[1] (d. c. 616) was a King of Essex (r. c. 604 – c. 616), in succession of his father King Sledd. He is known as the first East Saxon king to have been converted to Christianity. The principal source for his reign is the early 8th-century Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum by Bede (d. 735), who claims to have derived his information about the missionary work of Mellitus among the East Saxons from Abbot Albinus of Canterbury through the London priest Nothhelm, later Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 739).[2] Other sources include the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, an East Saxon genealogy possibly of the late 9th century (British Library MS Add. 23211), and a handful of genealogies and regnal lists written down by Anglo-Norman historians.


The genealogies and regnal lists are unanimous in describing Sæberht as the son of Sledd, who may have been regarded as the founder of the East Saxon dynasty.[3] According to Bede, Sæberht's mother was Ricula, a sister of King Æthelberht of Kent.[4] Bede omits the names of Sæberht's three sons, who succeeded him[5] but two, Sexred and Sæward, are named in the genealogy of MS Add. 23211.[6]

Conversion and succession[edit]

In 604, the Gaulish churchman Mellitus was consecrated by Augustine[7] as bishop in the province of the East Saxons, which had a capital at London, making him the first Bishop of London.[8] Bede tells that Sæberht converted to Christianity in 604[5][9] and was baptised by Mellitus, while his sons remained pagan.[10] Sæberht then allowed the bishopric to be established. The episcopal church which was built in London was probably founded by Æthelberht, rather than Sæberht, though a charter which claims to be a grant of lands from Æthelberht to Mellitus is a forgery.


Both Æthelberht and Sæberht died in 616, leaving the Gregorian mission without strong patrons.[11] Sæberht's pagan sons drove Mellitus from London.[12] According to Bede's explanation, this happened because Mellitus refused the brothers' request for a taste of the sacramental bread.[11] Later medieval legend claimed that Sæberht and his wife Ethelgoda had founded the original abbey building at the site of the present Westminster Abbey, and that they had been buried in the church.[13] In the reign of Henry III their supposed remains were transferred into a tomb which the king had especially erected for them close to the entrance of the Royal Chapels.[14] There is however, no genuine evidence to support this tradition.[13][15]

Prittlewell burial[edit]

In 2003 a high-status Anglo-Saxon tomb was discovered at Prittlewell in Essex. The artefacts found were of such a quality that it is likely that Prittlewell was a tomb of one of the Kings of Essex and the discovery of golden foil crosses indicates that the inhabitant was an early Christian. As the evidence points to an early seventh century date, Sæberht is considered the most likely candidate for the burial,[16][17] although other possibilities such as his Christian grandson Sigeberht the Good, or an unknown individual of high status, cannot be ruled out.[18][19]


  1. ^ His name is alternatively written as Saebert, Sabert or Sebert.
  2. ^ Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, Book 2, chapters 3, 5 and 6.
  3. ^ Yorke, "The Kingdom of the East Saxons", pp. 15-6.
  4. ^ Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum. Book 2, chapter 3.
  5. ^ a b Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum.
  6. ^ Yorke, "The Kingdom of the East Saxons", p. 4.
  7. ^ Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 219.
  8. ^ Brooks Early History of the Church of Canterbury p. 11–13a
  9. ^ Hindley, Geoffrey A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons: The beginnings of the English nation New York: Carrol & Graf Publishers 2006 ISBN 978-0-7867-1738-5 p. 33-36
  10. ^ Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum; Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (MSS A,B and C) s.a. 604.
  11. ^ a b Brooks "Mellitus (d. 624)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  12. ^ Hindley A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons p. 36
  13. ^ a b Mason, Emma (1996). Westminster Abbey and its people, c.1050-c.1216. Boydell & Brewer. p. 2.
  14. ^ Thornbury, Walter (1878). Old and New London. 3. London. pp. 431–450. Retrieved 25 January 2011.
  15. ^ Jenkyns, Richard (2004). Westminster Abbey. Harvard University Press. p. 10.
  16. ^ Channel 4 Time Team, Prittlewell Southend, The name of the king
  17. ^ Holland, Jennifer S., 2005, "Crossing Over," National Geographic "Geographica," March 2005
  18. ^ Blair, I., Barham, E., and Blackmore, L. (2004). My Lord Essex. British Archaeology 76: 10-17, Online text
  19. ^ "MoLAS": MoLAS Report Archived 2009-01-19 at the Wayback Machine, Museum of London


  • Bede, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, ed. and tr. Colgrave, Bertram; Mynors, Roger AB (1969). Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-822202-5. III.22, pp. 280–5.
  • Higham, N.J. The Convert Kings. Power and Religious Affiliation in Early Anglo-Saxon England. Manchester, 1997.
  • Kirby, D.P. The Earliest English Kings. London, 1991.
  • Yorke, Barbara. "The Kingdom of the East Saxons." Anglo-Saxon England 14 (1985): 1-36.
  • Yorke, Barbara. Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England. London, 1990.
  • Thornbury, Walter. Westminster Abbey: Chapels and royal tombs', Old and New London: Volume 3 (1878), pp. 431–450.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hirst, S. and S. Lamb. The Prittlewell Prince: The Discovery of a Rich Anglo-Saxon Burial in Essex. London, 2004.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
King of Essex
c. 604 – c. 616
Succeeded by
Sexred, Saeward,another