The Jutish Settlers in Kent


The Jutish Settlers in Kent

The settlers in Kent are of a special interest from several points of view. Known as the Jutes since the beginning of our history, they can, without much difficulty, be traced as regards their origins to more than one of the ancient nations or tribes of Northern Europe, and as they alone of all the early colonists in the South of England adapted as the name of their kingdom its name in the Romano-British period, Cantium or Kent, we may reasonably look among them for a survival of some people from the Roman time. The name Gutae appears on an ancient runic monument in Scandinavia, about 400 A D being assigned to it by (Stephens 1) and one of the historians of the Goths tells us that Gothi, Getae, and Guthi are names for the same people, (Magnus2) so that there can be no doubt that Guthi, or Jutes, were of the same race as the Northern Goths. Under this name, as in the case as the Angles and Saxons, other tribal people also settled in Kent. Bede wrote of them all under the Jutish name, and as the later chroniclers copied from him, the name Goths ceased to be used for the most part in England, but not wholly so. Asser, for example, tells us that King Alfred on his mother`s side was descended from the Goths and Jutes of the Isle of Wight. The Kentish Jutes are also mentioned in early Northern literature by the name of AEscings.

Bede tells us that the Jutes under Hengist and Horsa came to Kent in three ships, and of this there was no doubt a tradition current at the time. As it bears a remarkable resemblance to a gothic tradition of older date, we may perhaps see it another gleam of light connecting the Jutes with the Northern Goths. The old Gothic story speaks of the migration of people of three tribes of that race from Scandinavia to the eastern side of the Baltic Sea. It tells us of Ostrogoths, Visigoths, and Gepidae, (Kemble3) who passed from their old homes in Scandinavia across the Baltic in three vessels. In this case it is clear that, as the migrating people were of three tribes, the traditional number was made to correspond to the number of the tribes. Similarly, in the Kentish tradition the number of vessels may have been repeated from age to age to the time of Bede, and have had its origin in people of three tribes having been among the settlers.


There is a similar tradition in reference in reference to Sussex, and another in which the invaders are said to have come in five ships for the conquest of Wessex, and these traditions may also denote separate tribal expeditions.

Kent possesses at the present time?, and has possessed from a time beyond the memory of man, a remarkable custom in its law of inheritance in cases of intestacy- i.e., the custom of gavelkind. The principal incidents of it are the partibility of the inheritance, the right of the widow or widower, the freedom from escheat for felony, and the infants right to `aliene by feoffment ` at the age of fifteen years. (4) It is a custom which is the most remarkable of all which are recognised by our common law, seeing that a whole country is thus marked off from the rest of England by a peculiar rule of inheritance. While primogeniture is the common law of succession in other parts of England, gravelkind, or partible inheritance, is the law in Kent. It has been the custom to divide lands and other property in the same way as in Kent on a considerable number of large and small manors in other parts of the kingdom, but with this important difference: the custom is presumed by law to exist in all parts of Kent unless it is proved that the lands were disgavelled or changed in their tenure, while outside that county it must be proved to have existed as an ancient custom. The proof is not required in Kent, but is required outside of it. Relatively to the whole county, however, the custom prevails on comparatively few manors out of the county.

All the available evidence tends to show that Kent was settled chiefly by Goths and Frisians under the Jutish name. It is most probable that its peculiar customs were introduced into part of England by the people who settled there, and were not a survival of old Celtic customs of the same kind. This could hardly have been the case, seeing that the word `wealh`, for a Welshman, does not occur in the ordinances of the Kentish Kings. Partible inheritance is a custom which was widely spread in the ancient world, and it is only by considering the other customs which were incidental to it in any country or locality, and by a comparison of these incidental customs with those in other countries localities, that its probable origin can be traced. As it existed in England, the custom was varied in many details. The partible inheritance or gavelkind of Kent, however, stands out distinct in some respects as the `custom of Kent`. It fifers from that which prevails in Wales in three essential points: In Kent only legitimate sons were entitled to a share of the inheritance, in Wales all sons claimed their shares ; in Kent daughters succeeded if there were no sons, in Wales they did not ; in Kent the widow was entitled to half her husband`s estate as dower, in Wales she had no such provision.

A parallel in custom may be found by comparing the law of Kent with the Jutish law of King Valdemar II. In the thirteenth century, both of which contain the provision that the son, in reference to the property of the deceased father, shall be considered of age in the fifteenth year. This usage, though on the one side in accordance with Danish laws, and on the other valid among the socman in other parts of England, is probably not derived from the Saxons, but is rather to be referred to theimmigration of the Jutes.(5) Such a comparison also assists the evidence, which tends to show that the numerous socmen were of Scandinavian rather than of Saxon origin. Among other early privileges of Kent was the custom of freedom from ordinary distress. There was a Kentish process of `cessavit`, under which, if a tenant with held from his lord his due rents and services, the custom of the country gave the lord a special process for the recovery of what was due to him.(6) A somewhat similar custom of freedom from ordinary distress prevailed in London in very early time, and in a few parts of the country. Where rents could not be recovered by the ordinary process of distress they were called `dry rents`. The value of the comparison of these customs become clear when it is remembered that the ancient Visigoth law prohibited distress,(7) and these Visigoth settlers in Western Europe probably brought it from their Northern home, As it was common alike to the Visigoths, the people of Kent, and those of London, it supports the evidence that the Jutes were mainly Goths, and that people of this race settled in sufficient numbers in Kent and in and around London to insure the continuance of one of their customary privileges.

The Kentish land tenure was also distinguished by the prevalence of family or allodial rights.(8) The land was more or less of the nature of family land, as it was in parts of Hampshire and other counties that can be connected with settlements of Goths or other people of Northern origin.

In the division of the father`s land by the custom of Kent, the youngest son appears to have been settled to the family hearth or homestead on making compensation to his brothers. This can also be traced among the Frisians.(9) Subject to the preference for the youngest in regard to the hearth, the partition by the gavelkind custom gave the eldest son the first choice of the gavelkind parts of the land.(10)

Another of the incidental customs of Kent was the widow`s right to half of her deceased husband`s estate. This has survived with other gavelkind customs until modern times. By the old common law of England, a widow, unless debarred by some local custom, received one-third of her husband`s estate as dower. In the case of the Sussex tenants on manors where borough-English survived, she was entitled to have for her life the whole of her husband`s lands. On some manors in various parts of England her dower was only a fourth. It is of interest to find that this provision for widows prevailed among the Goths. Olaus Magnus, writing of the ancient Goths, tells us that `among them a man gave a dowery for his bride instead of receiving one with her`. The earliest reference we have in England to the custom of the morning-gift. Or endowment of the wife, is in the early laws of Kent, and the oldest race to which a similar custom can be traced is the Goths.

That Kent was largely settled by Goths is proved by this evidence of the runic inscriptions which have been found within it. The most important of them are those discovered on two stones at Sandwich. These were fixed monuments, and the inscriptions must therefore be identified with the people who live near them. These monuments could not have been brought from Gothland or any other Northern land, as personal ornaments with old runic inscriptions could. Stephens( 11) says: `These are evidently heathen stones. Such stones would not have been erected after Kent was Christianized – say, A D 600 at latest. They could not have been raised over dead Vikings, for the High North by this time cast aside the old Northern stave, adopted the Scandinavian alphabet, or futhorc.` This opinion from a known great writer on runic monuments is valuable as showing that the runic letters on the Sandwich stones are old Northern Gothic, and not the later Scandian ; that these monumental inscriptions are pre-Christian, and consequently of a date not later than the end of the sixth century. This discovery, proves the settlement of Northern Goths on the east coast of Kent. As the runic monuments have been discovered chiefly in the east of the county, it was presumably there that the Goths mainly settled.

The people in some parts of Kent exhibit in many respects the typical Frisian race characters. Those observed in Friesland at the present time have been described by Lubach as `tall, slender frame; a longish oval, flat skull, with prominent occiput; a long, oval face, with flat cheek-bones:a long nose, straight or aquiline, the point drooping below the wings; a high under-jaw and a well-developed chin.(12) Many years ago Macintosh drew attention to somewhat similar features prevalent among the people of West Kent. He says: `The Jutian characters are prevalent about Tonbridge,` and are `a narrow face, very convex profile, head narrow, rather elongated, and very much rounded off the sides, very long neck, and narrow shoulders.`(13) These physical characters may still be observed in the county, and more particularly in the western parts.

The ancient Goths, one of the noblest of the old European races, have long since disappeared. Their identity has been almost entirely lost in the birth of new nations. If we seek for any remnants of the old stock, we shall findthem, such as they are, in the Dalecarlians of Sweden, among whom the custom of partible inheritance still survives. The Goths were the people most advanced in civilization of the nations in the Scandian peninsula, and we must trace to the parent Gothic stock many of the qualities of the present Scandinavia and the northern parts of Germany. They have disappeared, but the newer nations which sprang from them have preserved until our own time their love of liberty. If we trace it to its ultimate source, England is Gothic by birth, and Kent pre-eminantly so. The Kentish man`s liberty was his main characteristic in the Middle Ages- a Characteristic which has come from to him from the earliest Kentish settlers. Descended partly from Frisians- who were themselves, as the remnant of their ancient language shows, also of the old Gothic stock- and strongly marked by their love of freedom, the people of Kent preserved, through all the changes of the Anglo-Saxon period and the later powerful influences of feudalism, their free institutions, the relics of which, in the customs incidental to the gavelkind land tenure, have come down to our own time. There is, perhaps, no survival in the length or breath of England that is remarkable as this.

Under the laws of AEthelbert, the Kentish ceorl was a freeman, and we read of him later in the laws of subsequent Kings. It was the proudest privilege of birth in Kent in the Middle Ages that everyman so born, or whose father was so born, was free from those obligations of personal service which inferior tenants in other counties were bound to fulfil. The Kentish man was free to move, and if he went into another county and some lord of the manor claimed villien services from him, it was a good answer in law if he pleaded his father`s Kentish birth.(14) this privilege of personal freedom, which is now the birthright of every Englishman, was only the birthright of the people of one of our present counties in the period of the feudal domination-viz., the people of Kent. Many other people who were inferior tenants on manors elsewhere were more or less freemen. Their number collectively was great, but no other instance occurs of any county in which all the people born in it, or whose fathers were born in it, were personally free. In this respect there was, perhaps, only one other area of local government which could be compared to Kent with all its privileges, and that was the City of London. In London everyman from the earliest time was personally free if born there.

One of the general conclusions which an examination of the Anglo-Saxon relics found in England leads to is the similarity that many of them exhibit in design and ornamentation to those of early date, before the later so-called Viking period, which have been discovered in the Scandinavian peninsula-the home of the Northern Goths. From whatever source they acquired their knowledge of iron-working and its accompanying arts of metallurgy and gilding, the Goths certainly introduced this knowledge and art into the Scandian peninsula. These arts were much practiced by the Gauls until the fall of the Roman Empire, after which they were lost in the South; but as they had been acquired by the Goths of Scandinavia, they were preserved and developed by them in the North, where they were unaffected by the great wars which mark the decline and fall of the Empire in other parts of Europe.(15) These lost arts were thus recovered from the Goths, and were reintroduced into England by them. Some of the oldest English ironworks were those of the ancient Andredsweald forest district of Sussex and Kent. Among Anglo-Saxon relics there were well-known Kentish types, many examples of which have been found also in the Isle of Wight, South Hampshire, and other parts of England, in or near to which settlements of Goths can be traced.

The early laws of Kent appear to afford evidence of the survival in that state in the sixth century of descendants of some of the settlers introduced into Britain from the continent before the end of the Roman occupation. Such settlers in various parts of the Empire were known as Laeti. In Kent these people were called Laetas. This is a fact of interest and importance, for these Laetas of Kent in King AEthelbert`s time were probably descendants of some of the Burgundians, Alamans, or others, who were settled in Britain by Probus and some of his successors, as already mentioned. Their number and influence in Kent must have been considerable, as special provision was accorded to them in one of the laws of AEthelbert-viz., that which says, `If anyone slays a Laet of the highest class let him pay 80 shillings, if he slay one of the second class let him pay 60 shillings, and if of the third, let him pay 40 shillings.` (16)In considering, therefore, the possibility of the survival elsewhere in England of any descendants of the tribes introduced into Britain by the Roman Emperors, the evidence that in Kent some descendants of these people survived increases the probability that in other parts of the country, such as along the so-called Saxon shore, similar descendants of the barbaric settlers of the time of the Empire who had not been absorbed in the Celtic population may also have survived until the same period. In connection with the early settlement of Kent, this reference to the Laetas in the laws of AEthelbert is more historical value than the story of Hengest and Horsa. In the early history of France the Laeti are known as soldiers of the Empire, or their descandants.

There is, another view by which the Laetas of Kent maybe regarded. They were, as mentioned, of three classes, and were protected by AEthelbert`s laws by three degrees of fine or wergild, in case any of them should be killed-the higher the class, the higher the fine. The name Laetas may have been used to denote freemen of this early time, as the name Laeti was on the continent. In the early laws of Scandinavia we read of three classes of men who had obtained their freedom-ie., who had become freemen-and they were also protected by fines or wergelds in the same proportion as those connected with the Laetas of Kent-viz., 80, 60, and 40 ores of silver.(17) The highest class of these was man whose great-grandfather had also been a freeman, called in Scandinavia a Leysing. As the evidence concerning the Jutes connects them with Scandinavia, this system or freemen of Kent may have been a Northern custom introduced into that part of England by them. The people so classed may therefore have been in part introduced by the Juted, and in part have been descendants of the older Teutonic settlers introduced into Britain by the Romans, and for administrative purposes classed under this system.

That Frisians were largely represented among the settlers in Kent is generally allowed. The traces of Frisians in Kent, as elsewhere, maybe looked for under the tribal designations by which people of that race were known, or called themselves. Bede mentions of Hunni as one of the tribes which the people of England in his time were known to have descended, and these can be indentified with the Frisian tribe known as Hunsings.The name Hunesbiorge occurs in a Kentish charter,(18) and Honinberg Hundred is mentioned in Domesday Book. Brocmen and Chaucians, and other Frisians of tribal names now lost, were probably represented among the settlers in Kent under the name of Jutes. Of these Jutes, the Goths were probably the most numerous, seeing that name adopted for the Kentish people generally was a modified form of Gutae, a name for their race.

The traditional freedom of the people of this country, and the still older traditional freedom of the Frisians, confirm the other evidence, anthropological as well as philological, which connects Kent with ancient Friesland. The old laws of the Friesans declare `that the race shall be free as long as the winds blow out of the clouds and the world stands.`(19)

The Frisians, with the Batavians of what is know Holland, came under the dominion of Charlemagne, who confirmed their laws and left them their native customs.(20) The personal freedom of the people of Kent was their most highly prized birthright, derived from their tribal ancestors, and has been commemorated by Dryden in the following lines referring to that country :

`Among the English shires be thou surnamed the free, and foremost ever placed when they shall numbered be.`

The last line, about being placed first, refers to another remarkable Kentish custom or claim-viz., that being marshalled in the van of the national army when being led to war. This claim was one of the warlike privileges of the men of Kent, and was recognized throughout the period of their early history. As will be shown later on, it was a claim which was recognized and allowed to Kentish settlers in another part of England.

There may have been more than one Baltic homeland of the Jutes, and Witland, east of the Vistula, may have been one of them. Wulfstan, in narrating his voyage up the Baltic to King Alfred, says that Witland(21) was east of the Vistula, and appertained to Eastrum or Eastland. The old form of the w in Witland is uu, and in this form Uuitland is close in sound to Juteland. It would, from this and other evidence, appear not improbable that Eastmen may have settled among the Jutes in Kent.

The remarkable collection of ancient skulls that formerly existed at Hythe were believed by some who examined them to have been the remains of men who fell in battle. Knox,(22) who examined the min 1860, thought that a large number of them were of the Celtic type, and the remainder of Anglo-Saxon type. Two of the sulls he believed to be those of Lapps. Another observer found broad skulls as well as long ones among them.(23) To account for the broad skulls, we must suppose either a survival in this part of Kent of descendants of the broad-headed men of the bronze age-for the later Celts were not of this type-or the arrival with the long-headed Teutonic invaders of some broad-headed race.

In Romney Marsh and the neighbouring of the weald, Beddoe`s observations show that the darker hues(24) prevail among the people, and it is near the coast of Romney Marsh that the Doomsday place Blachemenestone-now Blackmanstone-is situated. Such a name is unlikely to have been given a place on the coast from a survival of dark Celtic people there. As a coast place, it is far more probable that it got its name from dark-haired settlers. This was the country of the tribe known in Saxon time as the Merscwara, and it must be concluded that, whether these people were partly of Celtic descent or not, there was probably some ethnological differences between them and the people in other parts of Kent. Two designations- `Men of Kent` and `Kentish Men`-have come down to our time. They are certainly old, the former being the designation of the people in the east around Canterbury, and he later that of those in the west of the county. The traditions relating to these names for Kentish people are apparently as old as the time of the settlement. The inhabitants of the eastern part of the county were certainly called `Men of Kent,` and those in the west part `Kentish Men.` In one of the early charters the words `provincial orientalis Cantiae,` or province of East Kent, occur.(25) The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us, under the year 858, that the Danes fought with the Men of Kent (mid Cantwarum). Under the year 865, it states that they made peace with the Men of Kent. Under the year 902, we read of the Danes and the Cantwara, or Men of Kent. Similarly, in the same Chronicle we have some references to the West Kentish people. Under the year 999, we read of the Danish army going along to Rochester, and of the `Cenisce fyrd`, or Kentish military array, which is also mentioned as the `Weast Centingas,` or West Kentish men. Under the year 1009, the same Chronicle mentions the East Centingas, or people of East Kent. There appears, consequently, to be no doubt that the provinces of East and West Kent were well known in Saxon time, and little doubt that these correspond with the diocesan divisions, or Dioceses of Canterbury and Rochester. As the runic monuments, which must be assigned to the Goths, have only been found in East Kent, it is possible that the two ancient divisions of Kent were ethnological divisions, and mainly, perhaps, between Goths in the east and Frisians in the west.

If further evidence were wanted to prove the settlement of Goths in Kent, it could be found in the earliest money that was used. Sceatts and scillings are mentioned in the Kentish laws, the sceatt being a small silver coin of a value somewhat equivalent to the later penny. In a fragment of Mercian law which has survived sceatts are also mentioned.(26) In the early Northumbrian metrical translation of the Book of Genesis, which is ascribed to Caedmon in the seventh century, the word sceat is used for the passage in which Abraham declares he would take `neither sceat ne scilling` from the King of Sodom. Sceats and scillings are mentioned in one of the Northern Sagas-`The Scald`s Tale`-so that sceatts must have been known in the North of Europe, the original home of the Goths. That the coin was in use among the people of this race is shown by its name in the translation of the Gospels made in the fourth century by Bishop Ulphilas for the Maeso-Goths, who had migrated from the North and settled near the lower course of the Danube. In the passage `Show me a penny,` the Latin word denarius is translated skatt in two instances. Its occurrence in the Kentish laws thus points to Goths, and the use of a similar name in Mercia and Northumbria indicates a Gothic influence.

From the evidence that has been stated, the Scandinavian origin of the Jutes appears to be conclusive, nd this is supported by the early monetary currency in the Kentish Kingdom. The Kentish shilling differed grestly from those of Wessex and Mercia. It was much more valuable, and the weight of a Roman ounce of silver, or 576 wheat grains.(27) this was the same as the Scandinavian ora,(28) which was divided into smaller silver coins, eachone-third of its weight and value, called the ortug, weighing 192 grains of wheat. This latter was of the same weight and value as the Greek stater f the Eastern Empire.(29)

In Kent, therefore, we find that the earliest shilling, which was worth 20 sceatts, or 1 ounce of silver, was the equivalent also of 3 Byzantine stators. Consequently, in this monetary equivalence we see on the one hand evidence of the Scandinavian connection of the Kentish Jutes or Goths, and on the other evidence of the Eastern commerce between the Goths of the Baltic regions and the Greek merchants of the Eastern Empire. In its monetary system and reckoning the kingdom of Kent seems to have been peculiar from the first,(30) and to have continued peculiar for centuries, for its shilling was exactly equal in value to two of the small gold coins, known as tremisses, in circulation in North-East Frisia in Charlemagne`s time,(31) the ratio between gold and silver at that time being 1 to 12. The evidence that Kent was occupied by mainly Goths and Frisians appears, therefore, to be established by the monetary systems of these ancient nations. Which point to ancient commercial intercourse between them and Kent, or to racial affinity. This commercial connection between the Goths and Frisians is also supported by the earliest knowledge we have of the wergelds, or fines for slaying a freeman, paid to his kindred by Goths of the ~Isle of Gothland and by the East Frisians. It was 160 gold solidi, or shillings, in the case of each of these tribal people.(32)

As regards the shapes of villages and settlements, Kent affords examples, apparently, of both the isolated homestead system, which maybe ascribed to Frisians, and of the collected homestead plan. The lone farmhouses in the county, which are called tons-such as Shottington, Wingleton, Godington, and Appleton-maybe regarded as venerable monuments of the settlements in these instances having been by families and not larger communities.

The influence of Kent in the origin of the old English race has been under-estimated. This early Kingdom was a limited area, with no hinterland for expansion and for the settlement near it of its surplus population. As time passed on, its limits were found too circumscribed to accommodate the increasing number of its people, and colonies were sent out. We can trace some of these Kentish colonial settlements, as will be shown in other counties/kingdoms, in some of the southern and western counties, in Essex, and in the upper parts of the Thames valley.


1 Stephens, G., `Old Northern Runic Monuments,` iii. 397

2 Magnus, J., `hist. de omn. Goth. Reg,.` ed. 1554, p. 15.

3 Kemble, J,M., `Saxon in England,` i. 16.

4 Elton, C. I., and Mackay, H. J. H., `Law of Copyholders,` 1893, p. 8.

5 Lappenberg, `hist. Anglo-Saxon kings,` ed. 1884, i., 123, 124.

6 Elton, C. I., `Gavelkind,` p, 196.

7 Maine, Sir H., `Early Institutions,` 269,270.

8 Robertson, E, W., `Scotland under her Early kings,` ii. 264.

9 lbid., ii. 266

10 Lambarde, W., `Customs in gavelkind : Perambulation of Kent,` 1570, ed. 826, p. 519.

11 Stephens, G., loc,cit., i. 363.

12 Beddoe, J., `Races of Britian,` p. 40

13 Trans. Ethnological society, vol. i., p. 214.

14 Lambarde, W., loc. Cit., p. 511.

15 Starkie-Gardner, J., `Ironwork,` p. 37.

16 Laws of Aethelbert, 26.

17 Seebohm, F., `Tribal Customs in Anglo-saxon Law,` 485,486.

18 Cart. Sax., ii. 202

19 Monumenta Germaniae, and `Laws of the Frisians,` quoted by Rogers, J.E. Thorold, `Holland,` p. 4.

20 Rogers, J. E. Thorold, `Holland,` pp. 4,5.

21 King Alfred`s `Orosius,` edited by Sweet, H., p. 20.

22 Archaeologia Cantiana, xviii. 333-336.

23 lbid., 334.

24 Beddoe, J., `Races in Britain,` 256.

25 Codex Dipl., No. 256.

26 Seebohm, F., lo. Cit., 445.

27 Seebhm, F., loc. Cit., 448, 449.

28 lbid., 233.

29 ibid., 233.

30 seeholm, F., loc. cit., p.422.

31 ibid., 454, 455.

32 ibid., 231, 232.

Taken from the book = Origin of the Anglo-Saxon Race.

Author= J.W.Shore.