|FROM DOT TO DOMESDAY||Early Medieval||The Birth of Nations: England|
According to tradition, the first Anglo-Saxon settlers were invited to Britain by King Vortigern.* Led by brothers Hengist and Horsa, they were employed as mercenaries – fighting off the predatory Picts and Scots. Bede provides a date of 449 for this so-called Adventus Saxonum (Coming of the Saxons). At the time, Kent was a British kingdom, but legend tells how Vortigern exchanged it for Hengist's beautiful daughter, over the head of Gwyrangon, the incumbent British ruler.
The main town of Anglo-Saxon Kent developed on the site of the Roman town of Durovernum Cantiacorum. It was called Cantwarabyrig (‘stronghold of the men of Kent’), now Canterbury. The kingdom's influence peaked under Æthelberht I (d.616). Æthelberht received missionaries sent by Pope Gregory I, and he became the first Christian Anglo-Saxon king. Canterbury, albeit by default, became the centre of the English Church. By the end of the 8th century Kent was firmly under Mercian control. In the aftermath of the decisive defeat of Mercia by Wessex (at the battle of Ellendun in 825), Kent surrendered to, and in the fullness of time was absorbed into, Wessex.
King of Kent
488 – 512 Oisc / ÆscSon of Hengist.
512 – 5 . . OctaSon of Oisc.
5 . . – 560 ? EormenricSon of Octa.
Bede says (‘HE’ II, 5) that Hengist's son was called Oeric, but he was known as Oisc, and was apparently regarded as founder of the ruling dynasty of Kent: “Æthelberht was the son of Eormenric, whose father was Octa, whose father was Oeric, surnamed Oisc, from whom the kings of Kent are wont to be called Oiscingas. His father was Hengist, who, being invited by Vortigern, first came into Britain, with his son Oisc”.* Hengist's brother, Horsa, is said to have died in battle against Vortigern (in 455 says the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’), leaving Hengist and his son Æsc (Bede's Oisc) in control of Kent. The ‘Chronicle’ reports that, in 488, “Æsc succeeded to the kingdom, and for 24 years was king of the Kentish people” , but it makes no mention of Oisc/Æsc's supposed son, Octa.
Octa figures briefly in the yarn spun by the ‘Historia Brittonum’ (§38),* where he is Hengist's son, not Oisc's son as stated by Bede. Octa and his cousin, Ebissa, were settled in the North, but after Hengist's death Octa “came from the sinistral part of the island [i.e. the North] to the kingdom of Kent, and from him have proceeded all the kings of that province, to the present period.” (§56)
Whilst Hengist, Oisc and Octa are characters in a story, Æthelberht's father, Eormenric (his name is only known from genealogies), is clearly a historical figure.
Barbara Yorke writes: “Eormenric's name reinforces the archaeological evidence for Frankish connections being of great importance in Kent by the middle of the sixth century; its first element ‘Eormen’ is rare in Anglo-Saxon nomenclature, but relatively common among the Frankish royal house and aristocracy.”
Eormenric had a daughter called Ricula – actually, Bede (‘HE’ II, 3) says only that she was Æthelberht's sister – who was married to Sledd, king of Essex. Indeed, Sledd may well have owed his position to Kentish support.*
560 ? – 616 Æthelberht I (St Ethelbert)Son of Eormenric.
According to an entry found only in Manuscript F of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, Æthelberht was born in 552. Manuscript F is relatively late (c.1100x1110), and its source for this snippet of information is not evident. It would make Æthelberht only eight-years-old when he succeeded to the kingdom, assuming it took place in 560, as is implied by Bede (‘HE’ II, 5). In this instance, however, Bede's dating is problematic, and Æthelberht's accession may well have been considerably later. All manuscripts of the ‘Chronicle’ agree that, in 568, Æthelberht was defeated by the West Saxon king, Ceawlin, and his brother Cutha, who “drove him into Kent; and slew two ealdormen at Wibbandune [unidentified], Oslaf and Cnebba.” This is the first recorded conflict between Anglo-Saxon kingdoms – it was probably over the control of Surrey – however, there are also chronological difficulties with the ‘Chronicle’ in its record of Wessex's beginnings, and it seems likely that it is dated much too early. At any rate, despite his apparently inauspicious start, Æthelberht went on to become “the third of the English kings who ruled over all the southern provinces that are divided from the northern by the river Humber and the borders contiguous to it”. (‘HE’ II, 5) Taking its cue from Bede, the ‘Chronicle’ lists him as the third Bretwalda. How and when Æthelberht achieved this accolade is not recorded, but the previous ruler so honoured was Ceawlin, who the ‘Chronicle’ indicates had been overthrown in 591.
In 596, Pope Gregory I (‘the Great’), “being moved by Divine inspiration”, says Bede (‘HE’ I, 23), despatched a team of missionaries “to preach the Word of God to the English nation”. Christianity had, of course, been introduced into Britain centuries earlier, before the end of Roman times, and it still flourished amongst the Britons in the West, but the Anglo-Saxon incomers had brought their pagan religion with them, and there had, apparently, been no attempt by the resident British clergy to convert them to Christianity.* And so it was that a band of monks, from the monastery of St Andrew, which Gregory had founded, led by Augustine, prior of the monastery, set off from Rome. They soon got cold feet, however: “when they had gone but a little way on their journey, [they] were seized with craven terror, and began to think of returning home, rather than proceed to a barbarous, fierce, and unbelieving nation, to whose very language they were strangers” (‘HE’ I, 23). Augustine was sent back to ask Gregory to cancel the mission. Gregory replied in a letter (quoted by Bede, ‘HE’ I, 23), dated 23rd July 596, in which he, in effect, told them to pull themselves together and get on with it: “Let not, therefore, the toil of the journey, nor the tongues of evil-speaking men, discourage you; but with all earnestness and zeal perform, by God's guidance, that which you have set about; being assured, that great labour is followed by the greater glory of an eternal reward. When Augustine, your Superior, returns, whom we also constitute your abbot, humbly obey him in all things; knowing, that whatsoever you shall do by his direction, will, in all respects, be profitable to your souls.”* In 597, probably in Spring, Augustine's party landed safely on the Isle of Thanet, Kent. “The powerful Æthelberht was at that time king of Kent; he had extended his dominions as far as the boundary formed by the great river Humber, by which the southern Angles are divided from the northern.” (‘HE’ I, 25).
In order to smooth the progress of his missionaries through Gaul, Gregory had equipped Augustine with letters of commendation, addressed to various worthies they were likely to encounter on their journey. Bede quotes one of Gregory's letters: “we have thought fit to send this letter to you, Brother, to inform you, that with the help of God we have directed thither, for the good of souls, the bearer of these presents, Augustine, the servant of God, of whose zeal we are assured, with other servants of God, whom it is requisite that your Holiness readily assist with priestly zeal, affording him all the comfort in your power.” (‘HE’ I, 24).
Bede apparently didn't have copies of all the letters that Gregory gave to Augustine. In his letter to the Frankish boy-kings Theuderic II of Burgundy and Theudebert II of Austrasia, preserved in the papal archives, Gregory writes: “Ever since Almighty God adorned your kingdom with orthodoxy in the faith, and made it remarkable among other nations for its integrity in the Christian religion, we have formed great expectations of you, because you desire your subjects to be completely converted to that faith, in which you, their kings and Lords, yourselves are. And so it has reached us that the English nation, by the mercy of God, desires earnestly to be converted to the Christian faith, but that the priests in the neighbourhood take no notice, and hang back from kindling the desires of the English by exhortations of their own.* To meet this need, therefore, we have arranged for the despatch of Augustine, the servant of God, the bearer of these presents, into those parts, whose zeal and earnestness are well known to us, along with other servants of God. We have also instructed them to take with them some presbyters from the neighbourhood, with whose help they may be able to find out what the English mean, and to assist them by their advice, as far as God may permit, in making up their minds. In order that they may present an effective and suitable appearance in this matter, we beseech your Highnesses (whom we greet with a father's love) that our missionaries may obtain your gracious favour. And because it is for the sake of souls, we beg that your power may defend and aid them, in order that Almighty God, who sees that in His cause you bestow your encouragements with an unstinting mind and with all your might, may direct your interests with His mercy, and after your earthly sovereignty may bring you to the kingdom of heaven.” (‘Register’ VI, 49). This letter, and a similar one to the boys' grandmother, Brunhild, provide the only indication that Gregory's mission was not the result of his “being moved by Divine inspiration”, as Bede had gathered, but rather that he was responding to the desires of “the English nation ... to be converted to the Christian faith”. Gregory's letter seems, perhaps, to indicate that he understood Theuderic and Theudebert to have authority in England – presumably in Kent, where his missionaries were headed. The interpretation of the letter, and Æthelberht's relationship with the Franks, is an ongoing subject of debate.
“On this island [Thanet] landed the servant of the Lord, Augustine, and his companions, being, as is reported, nearly 40 men. They had obtained, by order of the blessed Pope Gregory, interpreters of the nation of the Franks, and sending to Æthelberht, signified that they were come from Rome, and brought a joyful message, which most undoubtedly assured to those that hearkened to it everlasting joys in heaven, and a kingdom that would never end, with the living and true God. The king hearing this, gave orders that they should stay in the island where they had landed, and be furnished with necessaries, till he should consider what to do with them. For he had before heard of the Christian religion, having a Christian wife of the royal family of the Franks, called Bertha; whom he had received from her parents, upon condition that she should be permitted to preserve inviolate the rites of her religion with the Bishop Liudhard, who was sent with her to support her in the faith. Some days after, the king came into the island, and sitting in the open air, ordered Augustine and his companions to come and hold a conference with him. For he had taken precaution that they should not come to him in any house, lest, by so coming, according to an ancient superstition, if they practised any magical arts, they might impose upon him, and so get the better of him. But they came endued with Divine, not with magic power, bearing a silver cross for their banner, and the image of our Lord and Saviour painted on a board; and chanting litanies, they offered up their prayers to the Lord for the eternal salvation both of themselves and of those to whom and for whom they had come. When they had sat down, in obedience to the king's commands, and preached to him and his attendants there present the Word of life, the king answered thus: “Your words and promises are fair, but because they are new to us, and of uncertain import, I cannot consent to them so far as to forsake that which I have so long observed with the whole English nation. But because you are come from far as strangers into my kingdom, and, as I conceive, are desirous to impart to us those things which you believe to be true, and most beneficial, we desire not to harm you, but will give you favourable entertainment, and take care to supply you with all things necessary to your sustenance; nor do we forbid you to preach and gain as many as you can to your religion.” Accordingly he gave them an abode in the city of Canterbury, which was the metropolis of all his dominions, and, as he had promised, besides supplying them with sustenance, did not refuse them liberty to preach. It is told that, as they drew near to the city, after their manner, with the holy cross, and the image of our sovereign Lord and King, Jesus Christ, they sang in concert this litany: “We beseech thee, Lord, for Thy great mercy, that Thy wrath and anger be turned away from this city, and from Thy holy house, for we have sinned. Hallelujah.” ” (‘HE’ I, 25).
”From the Jutes are descended the people of Kent”, states Bede (‘HE’ I, 15). Frank Stenton: “there is no doubt that in the late sixth century the applied arts were practised in Kent with more general accomplishment than in any other English kingdom. It is also clear that the distinctive culture of Kent is closely related to that of the Frankish Rhineland, and that there are features in the later social and agrarian organization of Kent which seem to descend from a Frankish origin. These facts are most simply explained on the theory that the Jutes of Kent had lived in or on the fringe of Frankish territory for some time before their migration to Britain. It is at least suggestive that the only piece of evidence which throws any clear light on the relations of the continental Jutes with other peoples reveals them as the dependants, if unwilling dependants, of the Frankish monarchy. Between 561 and 584 Chilperic, king of Soissons, is described as the lord by conquest of a people known as the Euthiones,* who are shown by their name to have belonged to the same nation as the Jutes of Kent, and clearly represent the remnant of this nation which had not taken part in the migration to Kent. It was probably in order to bring their insular kinsmen into a more definite relationship to the Merovingian dynasty that at about this period Bertha, daughter of Chilperic's brother Charibert, king of Paris, was given in marriage to Æthelberht, king of Kent. In the sixth century the king of a small people who married into a great family became its dependant. None of the Frankish kings contemporary with Æthelberht would have regarded him as an equal.”
D.P. Kirby: “When Pope Gregory wrote to the Merovingian kings, Theuderic and Theudebert, concerning the mission of Augustine in 596 [see above], he understood that they wished their subjects to be converted to their faith, as if by this date certainly Frankish overlordship of some of the Anglo-Saxons was an acknowledged fact. That Bertha was accompanied to Kent by a Frankish bishop, Liudhard (HE I, 25), could be further evidence for this claim to overlordship if Liudhard was intended to represent the Frankish Church in Kent.” Frank Stenton, though, suggests that “The description [by Pope Gregory] of Theuderic and Theudebert as the lords of the people to whom Augustine was going may be the language of compliment rather than fact. There is no evidence that Æthelberht ever became, by a formal act, the man of any Frankish king.* But his treatment of Augustine and his companions is a good illustration of the conduct expected from an under-king towards strangers sent to him by his lord.” On the other hand, Collins & McClure argue that Gregory's phraseology doesn't actually mean that he saw “the English nation” (he nowhere mentions Kent or Æthelberht) as being subject to the Franks, but simply “suggests that he was adducing a parallel: all good rulers would by definition seek the true religion for their subjects. In practice, he was here not only providing a letter of introduction for Augustine and his companions and soliciting royal protection for them on their journey, he was also urging the young Frankish kings to take their own responsibilities as Christian rulers seriously.” Collins & McClure conclude: “Ultimately, this question of supposed Frankish overlordship remains at best ambiguous. If the Merovingians did claim it, the surprising thing is that by comparison with their treatment of other neighbours they did so in a way that was so sotto voce as to be inaudible.”
D.P. Kirby: “A Frankish presence or at least a marked cultural Frankish influence has long been detected in the archaeological record of southern England in the sixth century. Goldrich Kent was clearly engaged in luxury trade with the Franks and able to dominate the commercial life of south-eastern England, and it may well be that a personal link with the Merovingians through marriage was what made possible the political and military ascendancy of Æthelberht.” But Nicholas Brooks comments: “We cannot be sure how far the marriage enhanced his political prospects, since we do not know what other brides might have been available. Marriage to a West Saxon princess during the overlordship of Ceawlin might have been a far more ambitious act.”
Although they had received an encouraging welcome from Æthelberht, Augustine's team were still apprehensive: “being always ready to suffer any adversity, and even to die for that truth which they preached” (‘HE’ I, 26). The pagan Anglo-Saxons, however, clearly hadn't felt it necessary to destroy Canterbury's existing Christian buildings: “There was on the east side of the city, a church dedicated of old to the honour of St Martin, built whilst the Romans were still in the island, wherein the queen, who, as has been said before, was a Christian, was wont to pray. In this they [Augustine's party] also first began to come together, to chant the Psalms, to pray, to celebrate Mass, to preach, and to baptize, till when the king had been converted to the faith, they obtained greater liberty to preach everywhere and build or repair churches. When he [Æthelberht], among the rest, believed and was baptized, attracted by the pure life of these holy men and their gracious promises, the truth of which they established by many miracles, greater numbers began daily to flock together to hear the Word, and, forsaking their heathen rites, to have fellowship, through faith, in the unity of Christ's Holy Church. It is told that the king, while he rejoiced at their conversion and their faith, yet compelled none to embrace Christianity, but only showed more affection to the believers, as to his fellow citizens in the kingdom of Heaven. For he had learned from those who had instructed him and guided him to salvation, that the service of Christ ought to be voluntary, not by compulsion. Nor was it long before he gave his teachers a settled residence suited to their degree in his metropolis of Canterbury, with such possessions of divers sorts as were necessary for them.” (‘HE’ I, 26).
Barbara Yorke: “Although Æthelberht married a Frankish princess, albeit a not particularly prestigious one, the circumstances of Æthelberht's conversion suggest that he was at some pains to distance himself from too close an association with Frankish power. His Frankish bride Bertha, like the majority of the Franks, was Christian and came accompanied not by a mere chaplain, but by a bishop called Liudhard. Although Bede does not specifically say so, the intention was surely that Æthelberht would agree to consider conversion at Frankish hands as a condition of the marriage. Analogy with similar unions between Christian princesses and pagan kings from elsewhere within Europe and within Anglo-Saxon England support such an interpretation and suggest that for Æthelberht to have received conversion via the Frankish court would have been an explicit recognition that he was politically subordinate to Francia. By receiving conversion through Rome – and one of Pope Gregory's letters hints that Æthelberht had indicated a willingness to receive a papal delegation – Æthelberht effectively asserted his independence from Frankish control.”
Huw Pryce: “Admittedly, the king may have been reluctant to accept conversion from Frankish bishops in case this implied or facilitated political domination by their rulers; but his decision to request missionaries from the pope was no doubt driven to a significant degree by a desire to emulate the Christian kingship of his Frankish neighbours, while at the same time ensuring that this would be linked directly to the cradle of the Christian world in Rome. He may even have welcomed the opportunity presented by the mission of stressing the Roman character of his kingdom and thereby creating a new common English identity that could be shared by both the Anglo-Saxon elite and the population of Romano-British descent.”
At this point, Bede says that Augustine travelled all the way back to the south of Gaul: “to Arles, and, according to the orders received from the holy Father Gregory, was ordained archbishop of the English nation by Etherius, archbishop of that city.” (‘HE’ I, 27). However, one of Pope Gregory's surviving letters, written to Eulogius, patriarch of Alexandria, in July 598, indicates that Augustine had already been ordained by the time he arrived in Britain: “The English race, situated in the far corner of the world, has hitherto remained in unbelief, worshiping stocks and stones; but aided by your prayers I made up my mind (it was God who prompted me) to send a monk of my own monastery to them to preach. With my leave, he was made a bishop by the bishops of Germany, and, with their encouragement, reached that nation at the end of the world. And now letters have just arrived telling us of his safety and of his work. They show that he and those who were sent out with him shine amongst that nation with such miracles that they seem to imitate the mighty works of the Apostles in the signs which they display. And at Christmas last more that ten thousand English people, we are informed, were baptized by our brother and fellow-bishop. I tell you this that you may know not only what your words are doing in Alexandria, but also what your prayers are doing at the world's end.” (‘Register’ VIII, 29). Presumably Bede didn't have access to this letter – it is hard to believe that he would not have quoted the supposed number of converts (clearly “more that ten thousand” is an exaggeration) made at Christmas 597 – so, presumably, he inferred the time and place of Augustine's ordination from the materials he did have access to.*
At any rate, in 601: “Pope Gregory, hearing from Bishop Augustine, that the harvest which he had was great and the labourers but few, sent to him ... certain fellow labourers and ministers of the Word, of whom the chief and foremost were Mellitus, Justus, Paulinus, and Rufinianus, and by them all things in general that were necessary for the worship and service of the Church, to wit, sacred vessels and altar-cloths, also church-furniture, and vestments for the bishops and clerks, as likewise relics of the holy Apostles and martyrs; besides many manuscripts. He also sent a letter, wherein he signified that he had despatched the pall to him, and at the same time directed how he should constitute bishops in Britain.” (‘HE’ I, 29). Bede quotes Gregory's letter to Augustine, which is dated 22nd June 601. In a nutshell, Gregory's grand plan (which never came to fruition) was that there should be an archbishop in London and an archbishop in York, each having twelve bishops under him. The senior archbishop would be whichever of the two had been ordained first, but, in the meantime, Augustine would be the senior churchman in Britain for as long as he lived.*
With Æthelberht's assistance, Augustine held two meetings with British churchmen: “to persuade them to preserve Catholic peace with him, and undertake the common labour of preaching the Gospel to the heathen for the Lord's sake.” (‘HE’ II, 2). The first meeting was at an unknown location called “Augustine's Oak, on the borders of the Hwicce and West Saxons”. Presumably the second was at the same place, though Bede isn't explicit. At any rate, the British Church had operated in isolation for many years, and the upshot was that its clergy were unwilling to change their customs – a particular bone of contention being the method used to determine the date of Easter – or accept Augustine as their archbishop.
In another letter dated 22nd June 601, also quoted by Bede, Pope Gregory wrote to Æthelberht: “To the most glorious lord, and his most excellent son, Æthelberht, king of the English, Bishop Gregory. Almighty God advances good men to the government of nations, that He may by their means bestow the gifts of His loving kindness on those over whom they are placed. This we know to have come to pass in the English nation, over whom your Highness was placed, to the end, that by means of the blessings which are granted to you, heavenly benefits might also be conferred on your subjects. Therefore, my illustrious son, do you carefully guard the grace which you have received from the Divine goodness, and be eager to spread the Christian faith among the people under your rule; in all uprightness increase your zeal for their conversion; suppress the worship of idols; overthrow the structures of the temples;* establish the manners of your subjects by much cleanness of life, exhorting, terrifying, winning, correcting, and showing forth an example of good works, that you may obtain your reward in Heaven from Him, Whose Name and the knowledge of Whom you have spread abroad upon earth. For He, Whose honour you seek and maintain among the nations, will also render your Majesty's name more glorious even to posterity.” (‘HE’ I, 32).
“In the year of our Lord 604, Augustine, archbishop of Britain, ordained two bishops, to wit, Mellitus and Justus; Mellitus to preach to the province of the East Saxons, who are divided from Kent by the river Thames, and border on the Eastern sea. Their metropolis is the city of London, which is situated on the bank of the aforesaid river, and is the mart of many nations resorting to it by sea and land. At that time, Sæberht, nephew to Æthelberht through his sister Ricula, reigned over the nation, though he was under subjection to Æthelberht, who, as has been said above, had command over all the nations of the English as far as the river Humber. But when this province also received the word of truth, by the preaching of Mellitus, King Æthelberht built the church of St Paul the Apostle, in the city of London, where he and his successors should have their episcopal see. As for Justus, Augustine ordained him bishop in Kent, at the city of Dorubrevis, which the English call Hrofæscæstræ [Rochester], from one that was formerly the chief man of it, called Hrof. It is about 24 miles distant from the city of Canterbury to the westward, and in it King Æthelberht dedicated a church to the blessed Apostle Andrew, and bestowed many gifts on the bishops of both those churches, as well as on the bishop of Canterbury, adding lands and possessions for the use of those who were associated with the bishops.” (‘HE’ II, 3).
The creation of a diocese at Rochester is one of a number of hints tending to suggest that the kingdom of Kent had been formed from two pre-existing ‘peoples’.* Presumably during the 6th century, the eastern-Kentish people had annexed the territory of the western-Kentish, and, as a result, there was a dominant king, the nominal king of Kent, based in Canterbury, but there was also a subordinate king who ruled in West Kent, based in Rochester. Barbara Yorke, indeed, asserts that later forged charters “preserve a tradition” that Æthelberht's son, Eadbald, ruled alongside his father.
As well as his nephew, Sæberht (who, according to Manuscript E of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, had been “set as king” of the East Saxons by Æthelberht), Æthelberht persuaded/coerced Rædwald, king of the East Angles, to be “initiated into the mysteries of the Christian faith in Kent” (‘HE’ II, 15). This was hardly a successful conversion, however, since its only practical result would appear to have been that Rædwald had a Christian altar installed alongside the pagan altar in his temple.
Augustine had restored: “with the support of the king, a church, which he was informed had been built of old by the faithful among the Romans, and consecrated it in the name of the Holy Saviour, our Divine Lord Jesus Christ, and there established a residence for himself and all his successors [this is the beginning of Canterbury Cathedral]. He also built a monastery not far from the city to the eastward, in which, by his advice, Æthelberht erected from the foundation the church of the blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul, and enriched it with divers gifts; wherein the bodies of the same Augustine, and of all the bishops of Canterbury, and of the kings of Kent, might be buried [this is the beginning of St Augustine's Abbey].” (‘HE’ I, 33). On the 26th May of a year between 604 and 609 (Bede had no knowledge of which year) Augustine died, “and his body was laid outside, close by the church of the blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul, above spoken of, because it was not yet finished, nor consecrated, but as soon as it was consecrated, the body was brought in, and fittingly buried in the north chapel thereof ” (‘HE’ II, 3).
Laurence, another member of Pope Gregory's original band of missionaries (Gregory, incidentally, died in 604), succeeded Augustine as archbishop: “Laurence, being advanced to the rank of archbishop, laboured indefatigably, both by frequent words of holy exhortation and constant example of good works to strengthen the foundations of the Church, which had been so nobly laid, and to carry it on to the fitting height of perfection. In short, he not only took charge of the new Church formed among the English, but endeavoured also to bestow his pastoral care upon the tribes of the ancient inhabitants of Britain, as also of the Scots, who inhabit the island of Ireland, which is next to Britain. For when he understood that the life and profession of the Scots in their aforesaid country, as well as of the Britons in Britain, was not truly in accordance with the practice of the Church in many matters, especially that they did not celebrate the festival of Easter at the due time, but thought that the day of the Resurrection of our Lord ought, as has been said above [‘HE’ II, 2], to be observed between the 14th and 20th of the moon; he wrote, jointly with his fellow bishops, a hortatory epistle, entreating and conjuring them to keep the unity of peace and Catholic observance with the Church of Christ spread throughout the world... Also Laurence with his fellow bishops wrote a letter to the bishops of the Britons, suitable to his degree, by which he endeavoured to confirm them in Catholic unity; but what [little] he gained by so doing the present times still show. About this time, Mellitus, bishop of London, went to Rome, to confer with the Apostolic Pope Boniface [Boniface IV, pope 608–615] about the necessary affairs of the English Church. And the same most reverend pope, assembling a synod of the bishops of Italy, to prescribe rules for the life and peace of the monks, Mellitus also sat among them, in the 8th year of the Emperor Phocas, the 13th indiction, on the third of the Kalends of March [i.e. on the 27th of February 610], to the end that he also might sign and confirm by his authority whatsoever should be regularly decreed, and on his return into Britain might carry the decrees to the Churches of the English, to be committed to them and observed; together with letters which the same pope sent to the beloved of God, Archbishop Laurence, and to all the clergy; as likewise to King Æthelberht and the English nation.” (‘HE’ II, 4).
Bede reports (‘HE’ II, 5) that: “In the year of our Lord 616, which is the 21st year after Augustine and his company were sent to preach to the English nation, Æthelberht, king of Kent, having most gloriously governed his temporal kingdom 56 years, entered into the eternal joys of the kingdom of Heaven.”* Nothing could be clearer, Æthelberht died in 616, but Bede then adds: “King Æthelberht died on the 24th day of the month of February, 21 years after he had received the faith, and was buried in St Martin's chapel within the church of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, where also lies his queen, Bertha.”* Bede had earlier (‘HE’ I, 26) given the impression that Æthelberht was baptized shortly after Augustine's arrival in Kent, in 597, in which case, Æthelberht's death, twenty-one years later (assuming “received the faith” means baptized), would be in 618, not 616. Possibly this is just a slip-up on Bede's part.* If, though, Æthelberht had in fact already become a Christian in 595, before Augustine's arrival – after all, Bertha had brought Bishop Liudhard to Kent with her (presumably he died prior to the arrival of Gregory's missionaries) – Bede's numbers would be reconciled. Pope Gregory, however, wrote to Bertha (a letter not quoted by Bede), in June 601, criticizing her for her failure to convert her husband: “indeed it was your duty this long time past, by the excellence of your prudence, like a true Christian, to have predisposed the mind of our illustrious son, your consort, to follow the faith which you cherish, for the salvation of his kingdom and his soul; so that for him, and through him for the conversion of the whole nation, there might arise for you a worthy recompense in the joys of heaven. For since you, illustrious Lady, are, as I said, furnished with right faith, and are also instructed in letters, this ought not to have been a slow or a difficult task for you. And now that, by God's good pleasure, a fitting moment is come, be sure that you repair past neglect with interest by the help of Divine grace. Confirm therefore the mind of your illustrious consort in his attachment to the Christian faith by constant exhortation; let your care pour into him an increased love of God, and inflame his soul for the complete conversion of the race of his subjects” (‘Register’ XI, 35). This letter would certainly seem to rule out the possibility that Æthelberht had been converted before Augustine's arrival. Indeed, some interpreters have argued that it shows Æthelberht was still unconverted in 601. However, Pope Gregory's letter to Æthelberht, precisely dated 22nd June 601,* surely leaves no room to doubt that he had been baptized by then (see above). It is, moreover, difficult to imagine that the mass baptism at Christmas 597 could have taken place whilst the king himself remained pagan, so, on balance, it seems reasonable to suppose: that Æthelberht “received the faith” in 597 (as Bede suspected, though he didn't know for sure); Bede's remark that the king died “21 years after” is a careless error; that Bede believed Æthelberht died in 616.
A further implication of Bede's figures is that Æthelberht succeeded to the kingdom of Kent in 560.* A reign of fifty-six years, though plainly not impossible, is somewhat unlikely for this period. It is widely suggested, therefore, that Æthelberht lived, rather than reigned, for that length of time, in which case he would have been born in 560. As previously mentioned, an entry in Manuscript F of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ dates his birth to 552. The Frankish historian Gregory of Tours (c.539–594) says, after reporting Charibert's succession to his share of his father's kingdom in 561: “King Charibert married a woman called Ingoberg. He had by her a daughter, who eventually married a man from Kent and went to live there.” (‘DLH’ IV, 26). The daughter of Charibert and Ingoberg is presumed to be Bertha, and the “man from Kent” Æthelberht. Charibert had a roving eye, and soon cast Ingoberg aside in favour of one of her servants. It would seem reasonable, therefore, to date Bertha's birth to about 562, which would put her at marriageable age by 580. Gregory of Tours visited Ingoberg on her deathbed, and he notes that when she died, in 589: “She left a daughter, who had married the son of a king of Kent.” (‘DLH’ IX, 26). That Æthelberht was being described as “the son of a king of Kent”, presumably by his mother-in-law, in 589, suggests that, as far as Ingoberg knew at least, his father, Eormenric, was still ruling at that time.* Perhaps then, it is possible to suggest that, in round figures, Æthelberht was born about 560, was married to Bertha about 580 and became king of Kent about 590.*
Bede sums up Æthelberht's reign: “Among other benefits which he conferred upon his nation in his care for them, he established, with the help of his council of wise men, judicial decisions [i.e. a law-code], after the Roman model; which are written in the language of the English, and are still kept and observed by them. Among which, he set down first what satisfaction should be given by any one who should steal anything belonging to the Church, the bishop, or the other clergy, for he was resolved to give protection to those whom he had received along with their doctrine.” (‘HE’ II, 5). Æthelberht's law-code was drawn-up sometime after the arrival of Augustine. It still survives, albeit in a 12th century copy.*
Æthelberht's law-code was certainly issued between 597 and 616. Opinions vary, but the usual suggestion is that it belongs to around 603. The laws describe the fines payable for an offence in terms of two units: shillings and sceattas. For instance, item 5: “If one man slays another on the king's premises, he shall pay 50 shillings compensation.” Item 16: “If a man lies with a commoner's serving maid, he shall pay 6 shillings compensation; [if he lies] with a slave of the second class, [he shall pay] 50 sceattas [compensation] ; if with one of the third class, 30 sceattas.” It is evident from the laws that a shilling is worth twenty sceattas. Assuming a date c.603 for the law-code, the units probably refer to weights of gold, rather than to coins as such. The earliest type of English coins were, though, in production during the reign of Æthelberht's son, Eadbald, and were gold ‘shillings’.* In all likelihood, the Anglo-Saxons themselves never applied the term ‘sceattas’ to coins, but the word has been appropriated by numismatists to describe the silver coins that, in fact, superseded gold shillings.*
616 – 640 EadbaldSon of Æthelberht.
“But after the death of Æthelberht, the accession of his son Eadbald proved very harmful to the still tender growth of the new Church”, says Bede. Eadbald had refused to become a Christian and compounded this by marrying his father's widow (whose name is not recorded): “By both which crimes he gave occasion to those to return to their former uncleanness, who, under his father, had, either for favour or fear of the king, submitted to the laws of the faith and of a pure life. Nor did the unbelieving king escape without the scourge of Divine severity in chastisement and correction; for he was troubled with frequent fits of madness, and possessed by an unclean spirit. The storm of this disturbance was increased by the death of Sæberht, king of the East Saxons” (‘HE’ II, 5).
Sæberht, Æthelberht's Christian nephew, was succeeded by three sons who rejected Christianity and, subsequently, expelled Mellitus, bishop of London. It seems reasonable to suspect that their actions were as much to do with politics as religion. Christianity had been foisted on their father by his overlord, Æthelberht, and Mellitus had been installed in London by Æthelberht. So Sæberht's sons were, in effect, throwing-off Kentish domination. They could do this because Kentish supremacy collapsed with Æthelberht's death. The new power in southern England was the East Anglian king Rædwald. He had been baptized under Æthelberht's auspices, but simply worshipped Christ alongside pagan idols. At any rate, the ejected Bishop Mellitus travelled to Kent, to consult with Justus, bishop of Rochester, and Laurence, archbishop of Canterbury. Bede takes up the story: “with one consent they determined that it was better for them all to return to their own country, where they might serve God in freedom of mind, than to continue to no purpose among barbarians, who had revolted from the faith. Mellitus and Justus accordingly went away first, and withdrew into the parts of Gaul, intending there to await the event of things.” (‘HE’ II, 5). Laurence was about to follow, when he had a dream: “in the dead of night, the blessed chief of the Apostles appeared to him, and scourging him grievously a long time, asked of him with apostolic severity, why he was forsaking the flock which he had committed to him? or to what shepherd he was leaving, by his flight, Christ's sheep that were in the midst of wolves? “Hast thou,” he said, “forgotten my example, who, for the sake of those little ones, whom Christ commended to me in token of His affection, underwent at the hands of infidels and enemies of Christ, bonds, stripes, imprisonment, afflictions, and lastly, death itself, even the death of the cross, that I might at last be crowned with Him?” Laurence, the servant of Christ, roused by the scourging of the blessed Peter and his words of exhortation, went to the king as soon as morning broke, and laying aside his garment, showed the scars of the stripes which he had received. The king, astonished, asked who had presumed to inflict such stripes on so great a man. And when he heard that for the sake of his salvation the bishop had suffered these cruel blows at the hands of the Apostle of Christ, he was greatly afraid; and abjuring the worship of idols, and renouncing his unlawful marriage, he received the faith of Christ, and being baptized, promoted and supported the interests of the Church to the utmost of his power. He also sent over into Gaul, and recalled Mellitus and Justus, and bade them return to govern their churches in freedom. They came back one year after their departure, and Justus returned to the city of Rochester, where he had before presided; but the people of London would not receive Bishop Mellitus, choosing rather to be under their idolatrous high priests; for King Eadbald had not so much authority in the kingdom [of Essex] as his father, and was not able to restore the bishop to his church against the will and consent of the pagans. But he and his nation, after his conversion to the Lord, sought to obey the commandments of God.“ (‘HE’ II, 6).
The first Anglo-Saxon coins are gold shillings (frequently referred to as ‘thrymsas’), and normally they do not feature a king's name – indeed, it is not until the second half of the 8th century that it becomes common to find a king's name on coinage – but the issue pictured below (this example is in the British Museum, 12 mm diameter, 1.28 g) is believed to bear Eadbald's name. reverse is corrupt, but seems to include the name LONDENVS, i.e. London. The cross-on-globe motif, found on both sides of these coins, indicates that they were minted after Eadbald's conversion. That they were minted in London suggests that Eadbald managed to reestablish some kind of authority in the city.
Before the end of the 7th century gold shillings had become very debased. They were supplanted by silver coins, frequently, though inappropriately, called ‘sceattas’.*
The story of Eadbald's conversion is clearly the stuff of legend, and other evidence indicates that he remained pagan for a number of years after Mellitus and Justus returned to Kent. Presumably Eadbald was the son of Æthelberht's Frankish wife, Bertha, and according to tradition he married a Frankish princess, Emma, so perhaps it was Frankish diplomacy that persuaded him to allow the bishops to return and work under his protection, but, in the event, he didn't have the power to force Mellitus back on the East Saxons. As it happens, Mellitus was not out of a job for long. According to Bede's figures (‘HE’ II, 7), Laurence died and was buried on 2nd February 619. Mellitus succeeded him as archbishop of Canterbury. He died and was buried on 24th April 624. Justus then succeeded to the post. Bede quotes (‘HE’ II, 8) a letter written to Justus by Pope Boniface V. The letter is undated, but, since Boniface died on 25th October 625, it can be placed during the year-and-a-half following Justus' succession. It contains the following passage: “having received letters from our son King Aduluald, we perceive with how much knowledge of the Sacred Word you, my brother, have brought his mind to the belief in true conversion and the certainty of the faith. Therefore, firmly confiding in the long-suffering of the Divine clemency, we believe that, through the ministry of your preaching, there will ensue most full salvation not only of the nations subject to him, but also of their neighbours; to the end, that as it is written, the recompense of a perfect work may be conferred on you by the Lord, the Rewarder of all the just; and that the universal confession of all nations, having received the mystery of the Christian faith, may declare, that in truth ‘Their sound is gone out into all the earth, and their words unto the end of the world.’ We have also, my brother, moved by the warmth of our goodwill, sent you by the bearer of these presents, the pall, giving you authority to use it only in the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries; granting to you likewise to ordain bishops when there shall be occasion,* through the Lord's mercy; that so the Gospel of Christ, by the preaching of many, may be spread abroad in all the nations that are not yet converted.” In two other letters of Pope Boniface, quoted later by Bede, the name Eadbald appears in the form Audubald. The name Aduluald, in the above letter, is, however, a form of Æthelwald. Perhaps, then, this is evidence of joint rule in Kent. Perhaps this, otherwise unknown, King Æthelwald was the junior partner of Eadbald, ruling in West Kent, where Justus had previously been bishop. Or perhaps the likelihood is that Aduluald is simply a scribal error, and Pope Boniface is actually referring to Audubald, i.e. Eadbald.* Assuming that to be the case, however, the implication would seem to be that Eadbald had only lately been converted by Justus, in contradiction of the legendary tale that had him converted, before 619, by Laurence. As will be seen, the letters of Boniface quoted later by Bede, in which Eadbald is indisputably meant, also imply that he was converted considerably later than 619. Bede, though, says (‘HE’ II, 6) that Mellitus consecrated a church founded, at Canterbury, by Eadbald, in which case the king would appear to have adopted Christianity before 24th April 624.*
Bede reports (‘HE’ II, 9) that the pagan Northumbrian king, Edwin, asked, via emissaries, to marry Eadbald's sister, Æthelburh (“otherwise called Tata”). Edwin had previously spent many years as a wandering exile (during which time, incidentally, he had been married to a Mercian princess) so it doesn't seem unreasonable to suppose he was already familiar with the Kentish royal family. At any rate, Eadbald replied: “That it was not lawful to give a Christian maiden in marriage to a pagan husband, lest the faith and the mysteries of the heavenly King should be profaned by her union with a king that was altogether a stranger to the worship of the true God.” Edwin promised that: “he would in no manner act in opposition to the Christian faith, which the maiden professed; but would give leave to her, and all that went with her, men and women, bishops and clergy, to follow their faith and worship after the custom of the Christians. Nor did he refuse to accept that religion himself, if, being examined by wise men, it should be found more holy and more worthy of God. So the maiden was promised, and sent to Edwin, and in accordance with the agreement, Paulinus [who had come to Kent in 601, with Mellitus and Justus], a man beloved of God, was ordained bishop, to go with her, and by daily exhortations, and celebrating the heavenly Mysteries, to confirm her, and her company, lest they should be corrupted by intercourse with the pagans. Paulinus was ordained bishop by the Archbishop Justus, on the 12th of the Kalends of August [21st July], in the year of our Lord 625, and so came to King Edwin with the aforesaid maiden as an attendant on their union in the flesh. But his mind was wholly bent upon calling the nation to which he was sent to the knowledge of truth”. (‘HE’ II, 9).
Bede reproduces an undated letter from Boniface V to Edwin, encouraging the king to become a Christian, in which it says: “we suppose, since the two countries are near together, that your Highness has fully understood what the clemency of our Redeemer has effected in the enlightenment of our illustrious son, King Eadbald [Audubald], and the nations under his rule; we therefore trust, with assured confidence that, through the long-suffering of Heaven, His wonderful gift will be also conferred on you; since, indeed, we have learnt that your illustrious consort, who is discerned to be one flesh with you, has been blessed with the reward of eternity, through the regeneration of Holy Baptism.” (‘HE’ II, 10). Bede follows this letter with another one, also undated, from Boniface to Queen Æthelburh, in which the pope exhorts her to persuade Edwin to adopt Christianity: “we have been informed by those who came to acquaint us with the laudable conversion of our illustrious son, King Eadbald [Audubald], that your Highness, also, having received the wonderful mystery of the Christian faith, continually excels in the performance of works pious and acceptable to God; that you likewise carefully refrain from the worship of idols, and the deceits of temples and auguries, and with unimpaired devotion, give yourself so wholly to the love of your Redeemer, as never to cease from lending your aid in spreading the Christian faith. But when our fatherly love earnestly inquired concerning your illustrious consort, we were given to understand, that he still served abominable idols, and delayed to yield obedience in giving ear to the voice of the preachers. This occasioned us no small grief, that he that is one flesh with you still remained a stranger to the knowledge of the supreme and undivided Trinity. Whereupon we, in our fatherly care, have not delayed to admonish and exhort your Christian Highness, to the end that, filled with the support of the Divine inspiration, you should not defer to strive, both in season and out of season, that with the co-operating power of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, your husband also may be added to the number of Christians; that so you may uphold the rights of marriage in the bond of a holy and unblemished union.” (‘HE’ II, 11). Boniface's turns of phrase certainly imply that, at the time of writing – on the face of it, between 21st July 625 (when Paulinus was ordained, before he and Æthelburh embarked for Northumbria) and 25th October 625 (when Boniface V died)* – Eadbald had only recently converted to Christianity.*
According to Bede (‘HE’ II, 14), Edwin was eventually baptized on Easter Day 627. He is the fifth “of the English kings who ruled over all the southern provinces that are divided from the northern by the river Humber and the borders contiguous to it” (and, consequently, is the fifth Bretwalda listed by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’), but the marriage of Æthelburh and Edwin seems to have forged a ‘special relationship’ between Northumbria and Kent, since Bede adds a proviso, saying Edwin: “had the overlordship over all the nations who inhabit Britain, both English and British, except only the people of Kent” (‘HE’ II, 5).
In 633 Edwin's army was defeated, and he was killed, by the combined forces of the king of Gwynedd, Cadwallon, and Penda of Mercia: “The affairs of the Northumbrians being thrown into confusion at the moment of this disaster, when there seemed to be no prospect of safety except in flight, Paulinus, taking with him Queen Æthelburh, whom he had before brought thither, returned into Kent by sea, and was very honourably received by the Archbishop Honorius [successor to Justus at Canterbury] and King Eadbald. He came thither under the conduct of Bass, a most valiant thegn of King Edwin, having with him Eanflæd, the daughter, and Uscfrea, the son of Edwin, as well as Yffi, the son of Osfrith, Edwin's son [by his first wife]. Afterwards Æthelburh, for fear of the kings Eadbald and Oswald, sent Uscfrea and Yffi over into Gaul to be bred up by King Dagobert [of the Franks], who was her friend; and there they both died in infancy, and were buried in the church with the honour due to royal children and to Christ's innocents. He also brought with him many rich goods of King Edwin, among which were a large gold cross, and a golden chalice, consecrated to the service of the altar, which are still preserved, and shown in the church of Canterbury.”* (‘HE’ II, 20).
Edwin had become king thanks to the action of Rædwald, who, in 616, had defeated and killed the incumbent Northumbrian king, Oswald's father, Æthelfrith. Oswald and his brothers had lived in exile during Edwin's reign. After a year of chaos in Northumbria, following Edwin's death, Oswald secured his succession to the throne by defeating Cadwallon in battle. Oswald also succeeded Edwin as overlord of southern England (he is the 6th Bretwalda). Hence Æthelburh's fears for the safety of Uscfrea and Yffi. Eanflæd, daughter of Edwin and Æthelburh, later married Oswald's brother, King Oswiu. Æthelburh herself is said to have become founding abbess of the monastery at Lyminge.
“In the year of our Lord 640, Eadbald, king of Kent, departed this life, and left his kingdom to his son Eorcenberht” (‘HE’ III, 8). Frankish annals provide the precise day on which Eadbald was buried: Friday, 20th January (though, actually, in 640, a leap year, 20th January was a Thursday).
‘Historia Brittonum’ by J.A. Giles
Æthelberht's Laws by F.L. Attenborough
‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ by Benjamin Thorpe (adapted)
Pope Gregory I ‘Register of Letters’ by Arthur James Mason
Bede ‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’ by A.M. Sellar
Gregory of Tours ‘Decem Libri Historiarum’ by Lewis Thorpe
‘Historia Brittonum’ by J.A. Giles
Æthelberht's Laws by F.L. Attenborough
‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ by Benjamin Thorpe (adapted)
Pope Gregory I ‘Register of Letters’ by Arthur James Mason
Bede ‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’ by A.M. Sellar
Gregory of Tours ‘Decem Libri Historiarum’ by Lewis Thorpe
In the interests of clarity, the spelling of personal names, most of which are found in several forms, has been standardized. Those names which have survived into modern times are given their familiar spelling.
See: Dark Ages.
Except Manuscript E, which says 34 (xxxiiii) years.
Genealogies of later kings of Kent – Egbert I (r.664–673) in the ‘Historia Brittonum’ (§58) and Æthelberht II (r.725–762) in the so-called Anglian Collection – reverse Oisc and Octa, i.e. Octa is the son of Hengist, and Oisc is the son of Octa. Bede had previously (‘HE’ I, 15) said that Hengist and Horsa were “the sons of Wihtgisl, whose father was Witta, son of Wecta, son of Woden”. The Anglian Collection genealogy also switches round Hengist's father and grandfather relative to Bede.
The names of these ancestor-figures, who are the stuff of storytelling rather than history, appear in a variety of spellings and/or forms – for instance, Bede's Oisc is Æsc in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, Oese in Cotton Vespasian B vi, and Ossa in the ‘Historia Brittonum’.
Anglo-Saxon is a generic term for the Germanic immigrants and their descendants, but, according to Bede (‘HE’ I, 15), it was specifically Jutes who were the original settlers in Kent (also the Isle of Wight and the mainland opposite).
The intended recipient of this letter was Etherius, who was bishop of Lyon. Bede, though, wrongly identifies him as archbishop of Arles.
See: King of the East Saxons.
Oslaf in Manuscripts A, B and C. Oslac in E and F.
Today, Thanet is an island in name only, but in Bede's day: “On the east of Kent is the large Isle of Thanet, containing, according to the English way of reckoning, 600 families, divided from the mainland by the river Wantsum, which is about three furlongs (600 metres) in breadth, and which can be crossed only in two places; for at both ends it runs into the sea.” (‘HE’ I, 25).
According to Bede: “To other crimes beyond description ... they [the Britons] added this – that they never preached the faith to the Saxons or Angles who dwelt amongst them.” (‘HE’ I, 22).
In a paper entitled ‘Rome, Canterbury and Wearmouth-Jarrow: Three Viewpoints on Augustine's Mission’ (‘Cross, Crescent and Conversion’, 2008), Roger Collins and Judith McClure write:“The text of Gregory's letter can indeed be interpreted as suggesting that the monks were thinking of abandoning their quest, due to fears of what lay ahead, but it is not necessary to assume that this had anything to do with England. A recent event in Francia provides a better explanation for their fears. This was the death of the Frankish king Childebert II (575–596), ruler of the kingdoms of Burgundy and Austrasia, through which the greater part of the journey ahead of them would lie.* ... Childebert's sons Theudebert II and Theuderic II were aged ten and nine years old respectively at the time of his death, and so required regencies until they attained the legal age of majority at fourteen. The third Frankish kingdom, of Neustria, was controlled by a rival and hostile branch of the Merovingian dynasty; again represented by a child king, the twelve year old Chlotar II, under the tutelage of his mother Fredegund. As the Fredegar chronicle records, war broke out immediately upon the death of Childebert II ... So Bede may have been mistaken in thinking that it was the barbarity of the Anglo-Saxons that worried Augustine's monks.”
Gregory's letters suggest that Augustine's route took him to Marseilles (presumably by sea), and thence across Gaul to the Channel.
Gregory's phrase: “the neighbourhood” refers to the territory of the northern Franks. Gregory is accusing the Franks of the same shortcoming (i.e. not converting the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity) that Bede accuses the Britons of (‘HE’ I, 22).
Frank Stenton observes that, despite Bede's assertion, Æthelberht's laws: “show no sign of Roman influence. It is unlikely that they owed anything definite to any model ... The laws of Æthelberht were written in English and are of unique interest as by far the earliest body of law expressed in any Germanic language.”
Venantius Fortunatus, panegyric to King Chilperic (‘Carmina’ IX, 1), delivered in 580 at the synod of Berny-Rivière.
D.P. Kirby takes the argument further: “In a passage perhaps written in the early 580s, Gregory says only that Bertha married a man from Kent [‘DLH’ IV, 26]. On a second occasion, writing c.590–1, and recording his meeting with Ingoberg a few months before she died in 589, he says of her that she left one daughter, married to the son of a certain king in Kent [‘DLH’ IX, 26]... Gregory's earlier description of Bertha as married to a man of Kent, without reference even to the fact that her husband was the son of a king, indicates that at the time this was written Eormenric himself was not yet king.”
As previously mentioned, Bede was confused about Etherius' see, so perhaps he actually meant Lyon, not Arles. Either way, as noted by Collins & McClure: “Gregory is no help, merely telling Eulogius of Alexandria that the ordination had taken place in Germania, which in Roman provincial nomenclature would include neither Arles nor Lyon. It would, however, be perfectly applicable to the Frankish kingdom of Austrasia, through which the mission passed on its way to the coast, and the probability must be that it was there that Augustine was consecrated in the winter of 596/7, while en route to Kent.”
‘Anglo-Saxon Myths: State and Church 400–1066’ (2000), Chapter 3.
In a note, D.P. Kirby responds to this point: “It is true there is ‘no evidence that Æthelberht ever became, by a formal act, the man of any Frankish king’, but given the paucity of evidence generally this is not surprising.”
‘A Companion to the Early Middle Ages: Britain and Ireland, c.500–c.1100’ (2009), Chapter 10 ‘Conversions to Christianity’.
The pall or pallium: a white, scarf-like, vestment worn by the pope, and bestowed by him on archbishops as a symbol of delegated papal authority.
The territory of the Hwicce roughly equates to Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and western Warwickshire. In fact, there is a strong possibility that the kingdom of the Hwicce was created as a Mercian satellite, from existing Angle and Saxon groups, by Penda, king of Mercia, in the years after 628, which would mean that Bede is using the term anachronistically here. Be that as it may, perhaps Augustine's Oak should be located somewhere in the vicinity of Cirencester.
Martin Brett writes: “It has long been remarked that the archaeology and settlement of East Kent and West Kent show a marked division. In the more fertile east, with a long history of settlement, the characteristic grave-goods of the pagan Saxon period include the lavish jewellery once described as ‘Jutish’, with its closest English parallels in the Isle of Wight and its neighbouring coast. From the Medway westwards the evidence for early settlement is more restricted, and the closest parallels to its poorer grave-goods are found in Surrey, or even Essex, rather than eastwards.” (‘Faith and Fabric: A History of Rochester Cathedral 604–1994’, Chapter 1, 1996).
Gregory soon changed his mind. In a letter quoted by Bede (‘HE’ I, 30), dated 18th July 601, he instructs Mellitus to tell Augustine: “what I have long been considering in my own mind concerning the matter of the English people; to wit, that the temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed; but let the idols that are in them be destroyed; let water be consecrated and sprinkled in the said temples, let altars be erected, and relics placed there. For if those temples are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God; that the nation, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may remove error from their hearts, and knowing and adoring the true God, may the more freely resort to the places to which they have been accustomed. And because they are used to slaughter many oxen in sacrifice to devils, some solemnity must be given them in exchange for this, as that on the day of the dedication, or the nativities of the holy martyrs, whose relics are there deposited, they should build themselves huts of the boughs of trees about those churches which have been turned to that use from being temples, and celebrate the solemnity with religious feasting, and no more offer animals to the Devil, but kill cattle and glorify God in their feast, and return thanks to the Giver of all things for their abundance; to the end that, whilst some outward gratifications are retained, they may the more easily consent to the inward joys. For there is no doubt that it is impossible to cut off every thing at once from their rude natures; because he who endeavours to ascend to the highest place rises by degrees or steps, and not by leaps.”
Manuscript E of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ follows Bede, recording Æthelberht's death in 616 after a reign of 56 years, but also has another entry which places his accession in 565 and attributes him a reign length of 53 years, thereby placing his death in 618. In this case, however, it is suspected that the number 53 is the result of a scribal error (lvi=56, liii=53), and that the entry has simply been misplaced in 565.
At the end of the ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ (V, 24) is a chronological summary of events. Here too appears the statement: “In the year 616, Æthelberht, king of Kent, died.”
Bede's chronological summary (‘HE’ V, 24) clearly dates Pope Gregory's mission to 596, its arrival in Britain to 597, the despatch of Augustine's pallium and extra missionaries to 601, the conversion of the East Saxons by Mellitus to 604, Pope Gregory's death incorrectly to 605 instead of 604, and Æthelberht's death to 616. It doesn't, however, record the date of Æthelberht's baptism, which might suggest that Bede simply did not know it.
‘Decem Libri Historiarum’ (Ten Books of Histories), frequently called ‘Historia Francorum’ (History of the Franks).
There are a couple of flies in the ointment. Gregory of Tours makes the comment [‘DLH’ IX, 26]: “I think that she was in her seventieth year” about Ingoberg on her death. This would date Ingoberg's birth to about 520, which would make her round about forty-years-old when she married Charibert and, it has been assumed, gave birth to Bertha. Perhaps, then, Bertha had been born, out of wedlock, some considerable time before the suggested date of c.562. She would, therefore, have been marriageable well before 580. The impression given by Gregory, however, is that Charibert became king, married Ingoberg, had a daughter and cast Ingoberg aside in brisk succession. Perhaps Gregory's estimation of Ingoberg's age when she died was unflatteringly awry. Charibert died in 567. Bede says Æthelberht “had received [Bertha] from her parents” (‘HE’ I, 25). This, of course, would mean that Æthelberht and Bertha must have been married before 567. It is not unreasonable, though, to suppose that Bede was not being literal, and was just using a figure of speech – after all, he evidently didn't know who Bertha's parents were, just that she was “of the royal family of the Franks”.
Bertha died before Æthelberht, sometime after 601 (Pope Gregory wrote a letter to her in June of that year). Æthelberht remarried, but to whom is not known.
As things turned out, London never became an archbishop's seat, and it wasn't until 735 that York became a permanent archbishopric.
Justus ordained one Romanus as his replacement at Rochester.
Bede reproduces Pope Boniface's letters whole (as, indeed, he does other letters), as stand-alone items – he makes no attempt to integrate their contents into the narrative he derived from both written and oral English sources. He doesn't say so, but presumably he was aware of the contradictions they present. He must have felt that, as contemporary documents, they should be allowed to speak for themselves, and the reader draw his own conclusions. (Bede may not have known that Boniface died on 25th October 625. He places these last two letters after events belonging to 626, at which time Edwin was still pagan.)
Peter Hunter Blair writes: “Recalling how little we know of the history of south-eastern England in the first decades of the seventh century, we should be wiser to accept the evidence of the letter at its face value and to believe that Justus did in fact secure the conversion of an otherwise unrecorded king called Æthelwald.” On the other hand: “There can really be little doubt”, opines D.P. Kirby, “that the ‘Aduluald’ of the letter to Justus is a scribal error for ‘Audubald’.
D.P. Kirby: “The evidence suggests that the conversion of Eadbald, the founding of this church in Canterbury, the death of Mellitus and the election of Justus occurred in rapid succession over a very short span of time.”
It, perhaps, seems to be a tight window into which to fit the sequence of events that must have occurred: the journey to Northumbria and marriage of Edwin and Æthelburh; Paulinus' realization that Edwin is not going to be easily converted to Christianity; a message is sent to the pope to appraise him of the situation, and the pope composes his letters to Edwin and Æthelburh in response. According to Bede's narrative (‘HE’ II, 9), Æthelburh gave birth to a daughter, Eanflæd, on “the holy night of Easter Day [20th April 626]”, which again, though plainly not impossible, is a tight squeeze. Possibly Edwin and Æthelburh had in fact been married before 21st July 625.
Peter Hunter Blair suggests that Edwin and Æthelburh married in Kent, Edwin returned to the North alone – it was at this time that Boniface wrote to them – then Æthelburh and Bishop Paulinus followed on: “Sanctified tradition would prefer to represent her as the unspotted virgin rather than as the already wedded wife.”
D.P. Kirby, however, disagrees: “The balance of probability must be that when these letters were written, Æthelburh was residing with her husband among the northern Angles.” Dr Kirby's suggestion is more radical. He believes that the phraseology used by Boniface shows the letter to Justus (‘HE’ II, 8) was actually written after the letters to Edwin and Æthelburh: “In these letters the pope had literally just learnt from messengers of the success of the missionaries in Kent. In the letter to Justus he had heard from the king himself. The sequence of events seems to have been the conversion of the king and the sending of messengers to Rome, the writing of letters by the pope to Edwin and Æthelburh immediately after the arrival of the messengers from Kent, the receipt by the pope of a letter from Eadbald, and the sending of a papal letter with the pallium to Justus in c.624. Eadbald, therefore, was converted not long before c.624... it is difficult to see how Eadbald could have been a Christian when Edwin asked for the hand of Æthelburh. The pope was writing to Æthelburh on receipt of the news of Eadbald's conversion, by which time she was already married and resident in the north. The date of the marriage cannot now be determined except that it occurred before c.624. Paulinus was certainly not consecrated bishop of York as early as this... but there is no reason to suppose that Paulinus did not accompany her as her chaplain. If there is anything of substance in Bede's account of the marriage negotiations, therefore, it must have been the Church leaders in Kent, not the king, who dictated terms to Edwin”.
It just happened that the see of Rochester was vacant when Paulinus returned to Kent, its previous occupant, Romanus, having drowned whilst on an errand to Rome for Archbishop Justus, so Paulinus saw out the rest of his days – he died on 10th October 644 – as bishop of Rochester.
In the Introduction to ‘Medieval European Coinage, 1: The Early Middle Ages” (1986), Philip Grierson and Mark Blackburn explain that the word ‘shilling’ (scilling): “derives from a Germanic root meaning cut (Old Norse scilja) and implies a weight of gold cut from a ring or bar of precious metal.” Whilst ‘sceattas’: “seems to have had behind it initially the notion of something very finely divided (cf. shatter, scatter) and in a pre-coinage context meant a grain of gold ... Since Anglo-Saxon gold coins when they came to be struck do in fact weigh 20 grains [1.3 grammes] they can be identified with the shillings of the laws”.
See: Shillings and Pence.
“the 10th of the Kalends of July [22nd June], in the 19th year of the reign of our most religious lord, Mauricius Tiberius Augustus, in the 18th year after his consulship, and the 4th indiction.”
See: Anno Domini.
There are a small number of brief notes pertaining to Northumbria and Kent, written in the margins of Easter tables, surviving in seven manuscripts that were produced between c.740 and c.830 (though no one manuscript contains all the notes). Joanna Story has christened them ‘The Frankish Annals of Lindisfarne and Kent’, in her paper of the same name (‘Anglo-Saxon England 34’, 2005). The annals record the burial dates of a number of kings of Kent. For two of them, Bede provides an exact date of death. In these instances, the date of burial given in the annals is the day after the date of death given by Bede: Eorcenberht died in 664 on 14th July, and was buried on Monday 15th July; Hlothere died in 685 on 6th February, and was buried on Tuesday 7th February. The days of the week provided by the annals are appropriate to the dates.
‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’ (Ecclesiastical History of the English People).
A collection of Anglo-Saxon royal genealogies and regnal lists – found in four manuscripts, the oldest of which (British Library MS Cotton Vespasian B vi) was written in the early-9th century.
Roger Collins and Judith McClure, ‘Rome, Canterbury and Wearmouth-Jarrow: Three Viewpoints on Augustine's Mission’ (‘Cross, Crescent and Conversion’, 2008).
‘The Earliest English Kings’ (Second Edition, 2000), Chapter 2.
‘The Letters of Pope Boniface V and the Mission of Paulinus to Northumbria’ (1971), published in the compilation ‘Anglo-Saxon Northumbria’ (1984).
The, so-called, ‘Mildrith Legend’ – a diverse group of texts linked by some connection to Mildrith (St Mildred), the early-8th century abbess of Minster-in-Thanet.
‘Anglo-Saxon England’ (Third Edition, 1971), Chapter 2.
‘Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England’ (1990), Chapter 2.