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The Kingdom of Kent (Cantia regnum in Latin records) was a kingdom in what is now south east Englandmarker. It was 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 Merciamarker. In the 9th century it became a sub-kingdom of Wessexmarker, and in the 10th century it became part of the unified Kingdom of England which was created under the leadership of Wessex. Its name has been carried forward ever since as the county of Kentmarker.

Romano-British Ceint

The origins of Kent are obscure, but its boundaries are likely to correspond to the ancient tribal lands of the Brythonic Cantiaci tribe or Ceint after which the kingdom is named. Caesar referred to Cingetorix, Carvilius, Taximagulus and Segovax as kings of the four regions of Cantiacia. Later kings are known from their coins, including Dubnovellaunus, Vosenos, Eppillus, and Amminus.

The Kentish coastline was known as the Saxon Shore and was guarded by a series of very effective fortresses. After the evacuation of the last Roman legions from Britain 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 Thanetmarker - in perpetuity to use as a base for their operations. It is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles 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 barbarian bases inland 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 in to 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. Vortimer, Vortigern's son, assembled an army and attacked the Jutes. Vortimer died at the Battle of Aylesthrep alongside Horsa, the Jutish co-ruler of Kent. The next year the Jutes were attacked again at the Battle of Creganford.

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 escapees from this slaughter were said to be Vortigern himself and Saint Abban the Hermit. The historical existence of this event and of persons involved in it is conjectural, as textual evidence is weak and 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 Wippedsfleot, but Kent was never recovered. From then on, the pacified territory of Ceint was known as Cantware and its kings traced their lineage from Hengist.

Jutish Cantware

The first securely dateable event in the kingdom is the arrival of Augustine with 40 monks in 597. 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.

Kent achieved its greatest power under Æthelbert at the beginning of the 7th century: Æthelbert 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. 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 Merciansmarker backed a client king named Oswine, but he seems to have reigned for only about two years, after which Wihtred became king. 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 Saxonsmarker 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 Otfordmarker 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.

From 785 until 796, Kent was ruled directly by Mercia. 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 Wessexmarker 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 Lindisfarnemarker on the coast of Northumbriamarker, 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 Angliamarker 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 Francemarker having besieged Parismarker and taken Brittany.

Up to 350 Viking ships sailed from Boulognemarker 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, Bonningtonmarker, killing all inside. They then moved on and over the next year built their own giant fortress at Appledoremarker. 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, one razing to the ground a large settlement, Seleberhtes Cert(present-day Great Chartmarker near Ashfordmarker); 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.

References

Wade-Evans, A. W. 1938. Nennius’s History of the Britons.

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