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The Kingdom of Essex or Kingdom of the East Saxons ( ) was one of the seven traditional kingdoms of the so-called Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was founded around 500 AD and covered the territory later occupied by the counties of Essex, Hertfordshiremarker and Middlesexmarker.

Extent of the kingdom

The kingdom was bounded to the north by the River Stourmarker and Kingdom of East Angliamarker, to the south by the River Thames and Kentmarker, to the east lay the North Seamarker and to the west Merciamarker. The territory included the remains of two provincial Roman capitals Colchestermarker and Londonmarker. The early kingdom included the land of the Middle Saxons , later Middlesex, most if not all of Hertfordshiremarker and may at times have included Surrey. The modern Englishmarker county of Essex maintains the historic northern and the southern borders, but only covers the territory east of the River Lee, the other parts being lost to neighbouring Merciamarker during the 8th Century .

History of the kingdom

The kingdom of Essex produced relatively few Anglo-Saxon Charters and no version of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle. As a result, it is regarded as comparatively obscure. Saxon occupation of land that was to form the kingdom had begun by the early 5th century at Mucking and other locations. According to British legend (see: Historia Brittonum) the territory known later as Essex was ceded by the Britons to the Saxons following the infamous Brad y Cyllyll Hirion event which occurred c.460AD during the reign of High-King Vortigern.

The kingdom of Essex grew by the absorption of smaller sub-kingdoms. There are a number of suggestions for the location of these sub-kingdoms including:
  • the Rodingsmarker - the people of Hrotha ,
  • the Pago, (Hemel Hempsteadmarker)
  • Vange - marsh district (possibly stretching to the Mardyke)
  • Denge
  • Ginges .


At times during the history of the kingdom several sub-kings within Essex appear to have been able to rule simultaneously . They may have exercised authority over different parts of the kingdom. The first recorded king, according to the East Saxon King List, was Æscwine to which a date of 527AD is given for the start of his reign. The earliest English record of the kingdom dates to Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, which noted the arrival of Bishop (later Saint) Mellitus in London in 604. Æthelberht (King of Kent and overlord of southern England according to Bede) was in a position to exercise some authority in Essex shortly after 604, when his intervention helped in the conversion of King Saebert of Essex, his nephew, to Christianity. It was Æthelberht, and not Sæberht, who built and endowed St. Pauls in London, where St. Paul’s Cathedral now stands. Bede describes Æthelberht as Sæberht’s overlord.BedeStenton, Anglo-Saxon England, p. 109. After the death of Saebert in AD 616, Mellitus was driven out and the kingdom reverted to paganism. This may have been the result of opposition to Kentish influence in Essex affairs rather than being specifically anti-Christian.

The kingdom reconverted to Christianity under Sigeberht II the Good following a mission by St Cedd who established monasteries at Tilaburg (probably East Tilburymarker, but possibly West Tilburymarker) and Ithancester (almost certainly Bradwell-on-Seamarker). Essex reverted to Paganism again in 660 with the ascension of the Pagan King Swithelm of Essex. He converted in 662, but died in 664. He was succeeded by his two sons, Sigehere and Sæbbi. A plague the same year caused Sigehere and his people to recant their Christianity and Essex reverted to Paganism a third time. This rebellion was suppressed by Wulfhere of Mercia who established himself as overlord. Bede describes Sigehere and Sæbbi as "rulers … under Wulfhere, king of the Mercians".Kirby, The Earliest English Kings, p. 114. Wulfhere sent Jaruman, the bishop of Lichfieldmarker, to reconvert the East Saxons.

A royal tombmarker at Prittlewell was discovered and excavated in 2003. Finds included gold foil crosses, suggesting the occupant was Christian. If the occupant was a king, it was probably either Saebert or Sigeberht (murdered 653 AD). It is, however, also possible that the occupant was not royal, but simply a wealthy and powerful individual whose identity has gone unrecorded .

Despite the comparative obscurity of the kingdom, there were strong connections between Essex and the Kentish kingdom across the river Thames which led to the marriage of king Sledd to Ricula, sister of the king Aethelbert of Kent. For a brief period in the 8th century the kingdom encompassed the Kentish Kingdom to the South. However, by the mid 8th century much of the kingdom, including London, had fallen to Merciamarker and the rump of Essex, roughly the modern county, was now subordinate to the same. After the defeat of the Mercian king Beornwulf around 825 AD, the kingdom became a possession of the Wessexmarker king Egbert.

Subsequent history

The Mercians continued to control parts of Essex and may have supported a pretender to the Essex throne since a Sigeric rex Orientalem Saxonum witnessed a Mercian charter after AD 825. During the ninth century, Essex was part of a sub-kingdom that included Sussex, Surrey and Kent. Sometime between 878 and 886, the territory was formally ceded by Wessex to the Danelawmarker kingdom of East Angliamarker, under the Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum. After the reconquest by Edward the Elder. the king's representative in Essex was styled an ealdorman and Essex came to be regarded as a shire.

List of Kings of the East Saxons (Essex)

The dates, names and achievements, like those of most early rulers in the Heptarchy, remain conjectural. The dynasty claimed descent from Woden via Seaxnēat. The list of kings may omit whole generations.

Reign Incumbent Notes
527 to 587 Aescwine ÆSCVVINE CENFVSING ESTSEAXNA CYNING

ÆSCVVINE REX SAXONVM ORIENTALIVM
587 to ante 604 Sledda SLEDDA ÆSCVVINING ESTSEAXNA CYNING

SLEDDA REX SAXONVM ORIENTALIVM
ante 604 to 616/7 Saebert SÆBRYHT SLEDDING ESTSEAXNA CYNING

SÆBRYHT REX SAXONVM ORIENTALIVM
616/7 to 617 Sexred SEXRED SÆBRYHTING ESTSEAXNA CYNING

SEXRED REX SAXONVM ORIENTALIVM
Joint king with Saeward; killed in battle against the West Saxonsmarker
616/7 to 617 Saeward SÆVVARD SÆBRYHTING ESTSEAXNA CYNING

SÆVVARD REX SAXONVM ORIENTALIVM
Joint king with Sexred; killed in battle against the West Saxonsmarker
617 to ante c.653 Sigeberht the Little SIGEBRYHT SÆVVARDING ESTSEAXNA CYNING

SIGEBRYHT PARVVS REX SAXONVM ORIENTALIVM
c.653 to 660 Sigeberht the Good SIGEBRYHT SÆVVARDING ESTSEAXNA CYNING

SIGEBRYHT SANCTVS REX SAXONVM ORIENTALIVM
Saint Sigeberht; Saint Sebbi (Feast Day 29 August)
660 to 664 Swithelm SVVIÞELM ESTSEAXNA CYNING

SVVIÞELM REX SAXONVM ORIENTALIVM
664 to 683 Sighere SIGHERE SIGEBRYHTING ESTSEAXNA CYNING

SIGHERE REX SAXONVM ORIENTALIVM
Joint-king with Sebbi
664 to c.694 Sebbi SEBBI ESTSEAXNA CYNING

SEBBI REX SAXONVM ORIENTALIVM
Joint-king with Sighere; abdicated in favour of his son Sigeheard
c.694 to c.709 Sigeheard SIGEHEARD SEBBING ESTSEAXNA CYNING

SIGEHEARD REX SAXONVM ORIENTALIVM
Joint-king with his brother Swaefred
c.695 to ante c.709 Swaefred

(Swaebheard)
SVVÆFRED SIGEHEARDING ESTSEAXNA CYNING

SVVÆFRED REX SAXONVM ORIENTALIVM
Joint-king with his brother Sigeheard
709 Offa OFFA SIGEHERING ESTSEAXNA CYNING

OFFA REX SAXONVM ORIENTALIVM
Abdicated
c.709 to 746 Saelred

(Swebert)
SÆLRED SIGEBRYHTING ESTSEAXNA CYNING

SÆLRED REX SAXONVM ORIENTALIVM
Probably joint-king with Swaefbert
c.715 to 738 Swaefbert SVVÆFBRYHT ESTSEAXNA CYNING

SVVÆFBRYHT REX SAXONVM ORIENTALIVM
Probably joint-king with Saelred
746 to 758 Svvithred SVVIÞRED SIGEMVNDING ESTSEAXNA CYNING

SVVIÞRED REX SAXONVM ORIENTALIVM
758 to 798 Sigeric SIGERIC ESTSEAXNA CYNING

SIGERIC REX SAXONVM ORIENTALIVM
Abdicated
798 to 812 Sigered SIGERED SIGERICING ESTSEAXNA CYNING

SIGERED REX SAXONVM ORIENTALIVM
812 to 825 SIGERED DVX SAXONVM ORIENTALIVM Rank reduced by Mercianmarker overlords
c.825 Merciamarker defeated by Egbert of Wessex, sub-kingdom of Essex subsumed into Wessexmarker


Sigered was the last king of Essex, and he ceded the kingdom to Egbert of Wessex.

Spelling of King's Names

There are a number of variations of the spelling of the names of the Kings listed above. This was a time when spellings varied widely, even within a document. Amongst these variations are the preference between þ and ð (both "th" - voiced or unvoiced depending on adjacent letters).

The character '7' was used as the ampersand '&' in contemporary Anglo-Saxon writings. The era pre-dates the emergence of forms of writing accepted today, notably minuscule, and the letters 'W' and 'U'. Where W was followed by U this was generally rendered as 'VV' (which was also used for 'W' alone).

Sources

  • Kings, Rulers and Statesmen, Clive Carpenter, Guinness Superlatives Ltd
  • Rulers and Governments of the World, Vol1, Earliest Times to 1491, Martha Ross


Notes




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