Essex

EngliscHeritage

Essex

The origin of Essex – the Kingdom of the East Saxons is obscure. The area was colonised by Saxons perhaps from Kent possibly about the mid-sixth century and its later associations were with Kent, not as might have been expected with its near neighbour to the north, East Anglia. An illustration of this may be the rarity of round towers in Essex compared with the large number of such towers in East Anglia. The kingdom expanded westwards, absorbing the Middle Saxons of what is now Middlesex and part of Hertfordshire and from the early seventh century London was its most important town. The first attempt to Christianise the area was made by King Athelbert of Kent who persuaded his nephew Saberht of Essex to be baptised.

Athelbert built a church in London supposedly on the site of the present St. Paul’s. Mellitus, one of Augustine’s monks, was appointed bishop in 604. The attempt was hardly more than a gesture. On the passing of Saberht 616 approx Mellitus was driven from the area and did not return. A more successful attempt to introduce Christianity was made some forty years later when King Oswui/Oswy of Northumbria persuaded the East Saxon King, Sigberht, to accept Christianity and to receive Cedd, a brother of the better known Chad, as bishop of the area in 655 approx. Cedd was a real missionary bishop with no fix seat; he travelled about the area making converts. Shortly before he returned home to Northumbria in 664 to quietly pass on, he built the church of St. Peter on the wall at Bradwell juxta Mare, the Saxon Ythancaester, near the Roman fort of Othona. A great part of this church is standing today. Being a towerless church, it may be said that architecturally it is a member of the Kentish group of early churches, with apse, north and south porticus and western porch; unlike the Kentish churches it had the Northumbrian feature, due doubtless to Cedd, of relatively long and high nave.

Essex, though one of the seven kingdoms of the Saxon Heptarchy, was never one of the big three, nor did ever produce a Bretwalda. It lost its independence rather soon after reaching its maximum expansion. It became subordinate to Wulfhere of Mercia 665 approx and under the great Offa was hardly more than a mere province of Mercia. It submitted to Egbert of Wessex in 825, became a part of the Danelaw after Alfred’s peace with the Danish Guthrum in 886, and was finally reconquered by Edward ‘the Elder’ in 911-17; after which it became merely a part of Anglo-Saxon England under an Ealderman.

Its history is undistinguished; it produced, so far as is known, no great men. Two nunneries, at Barking and St. Osyth, and a foundation at West Tilbury, were founded in the mid-seventh century, and a monastery at Waltham Cross by Earl Harold, later King Harold, in 1060. No traces of these now exist. There are twenty-two churches which are pre-conquest or contain pre-conquest fragments. Six have towers of the late eleventh century. These are; Holy Trinity, Colchester; Little Bardfield, 6 miles NE. of Great Dunmow; Corringham, 6 miles NE of Tilbury; Steeple Bumpstead, 9 miles E. of Saffron Walden; West Mersea, 8 miles S. of Colchester; and Tollesbury, 7 miles ENE. of Maldon.
Kings of Essex
(East Saxons)
Saeberht, 604-616
Son of Sledd, mother Ricula sister of Aethelberht I of Kent.

Seaxred & Saeweard, 616-617
Eldest sons of Saeberht who ruled jointly.

Sigeberht I ‘Parvus’(Little), 617-c650
Son of Saeward.

Sigeberht II ‘the Good’, 650-660
Son of a certain Sigebald, murdered by two members of court.

Swithhelm, 660-664
Son of Saexbald.

Sighere, 664-688
Son of Sigeberht I who jointly ruled with

Sebbi, 664-694 abdicated
Son of Seaxred.

Sigeheard & Swaefred, 694-704 / 709
Sons of Sebbi who jointly ruled after their father retired to a monastery.

Offa, son of Sigehere
Who may have been associated in the Kingship of the previous Kings but he abdicated in c709 to go to Rome in monks habit.

Swaefberht, 709-738
Succeeded after the abdication of Offa.

Selered, 738-746
Reputed son of Sigeberht II.

Swithred, 746-passing (not known)
A son of one Sigemund and great-grandson of Sebbi.

Sigeric I, not known-798
Son of Selered, thought to have abdicated to go to Rome.

Sigered, 798-825
Son of Sigeric I succeeded when his father went to Rome also became a sub-king to Mercia when it invaded in 823.

Sigeric II, 825-839
By this time he was a ‘Minister’ to Wiglaf of Mercia.

Essex Churches
Church of Saint Peter-on the-Wall
Bradwell on sea, Essex