This was one of three Saxon kingdoms which developed in England south of the Thames; the other two were Sussex and Wessex. The story of Kent here is only brief for the moment. It was the earliest of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to be established. The traditional date of its beginning is 449 AD, nearly a hundred years before the establishment of Bernicia in the north. Kent, on account of its nearness to Gaul, had always had close trading and cultural relations with the continent. It became the most advanced, both materially and culturally of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. In its early days it was also the most powerful of them. Its greatest King, and its first to become really known in history, was Athelbert, 560-616. He was third in Bede’s list of Bretwaldas and he appears to have exercised some kind of suzerainty over all England south of the Humber river. He was also the first Anglo-Saxon King to commit to writing the laws and customs of his people, another indication of the relatively high degree of culture in this part of England. His marriage to the Christian Bertha, daughter of King Charibert of Paris, gave him some knowledge of and perhaps sympathy with the Christian religion and in 597 he received the mission of St. Augustine and forty monks with tolerance and friendliness. He later became a Christian and no doubt played his part as royal patron in the building of the well-known group of churches of Augustine’s time. These churches, of which only ruins or foundations remain, are usually considered the earliest of the Saxon churches.
They were certainly the earliest churches to be built in Saxon England, but they were not real Saxon churches; they were foreign churches built by foreign masons in a foreign style of the Orthodox church. They are interesting and important on account of their great influence on the style of architecture which developed in England in the Early Saxon period, i.e. up to the Danish invasion of 865-86. Augustine built three churches in Canterbury; his cathedral church of Christ church, within the city, and his monastic church of St Peter and Paul, and St. Pancras close to it, just outside the city wall. Others of the same group put up in the half century after Augustine’s passing were; St. Andrew’s at Rochester and St. Paul’s in London (nothing remains of this church) built by Athelbert in 604; St. Pancras, built by King Eadbald, Athelbert’s son and successor( 620 approximately), after his conversion to Christianity, he initially went back to Heathenism on being crowned King. St. Mary’s at Lyminge, the church of a nunnery founded in (633 approximately) by Athelberga, daughter of Athelberht and widow of Edwin of Northumbria; and St. Mary’s, Resulver (669 approximately). They were towerless.
Eadbald, the Heathen son of Athelbert and Bertha, succeeded Athelbert in 616 and reigned until 640. In the early, Heathen, years of his reign the church in Kent was almost extinguished. Eadbald accepted Christianity in around 620 but his earlier enthusiasm later became dulled. The church just lingered on until it was revived, revitalised and reorganised by the great Archbishop Theadore, 668-90. Under him Christian culture and influence spread throughout the entire country and his church became a national church. He also established a scriptorium at Canterbury, ruled over for two years by Benedict Biscop and then for forty by Theodore’s friend and close companion, Hadrian. The Canterbury scriptorium was of great cultural importance and influence throughout the entire saxon period. It influenced, as a source of inspiration through Biscop, the scriptoria which Biscop established at Jarrow and Monkwearmouth; through them it influenced Bede, and through Bede the later scriptorium at York. Apart from such indirect influence it was for centuries direct channel for interchange and artistic ideas between south-east England and the great western-continental centres of art and learning.
Theodore must have built churches in his own diocese of Kent, though nothing is known of them, he could have been responsible for the great church at Brixworth, Northamptonshire. The era of Theodore may be regarded as the high water mark of the influence of independent Saxon/Jute Kent. Politically it never exceeded, or even reached, the power of Athelbert, and after his time it became progressively less important as the power of first Northumbria and then Mercia steadily grew. It became a mere province of Mercia under Offa approx 762 and remained subordinate to that kingdom until both Mercia and Kent were Conquered by Egbert of Wessex in 825. After that it was no more than merely a part of England, though it remained culturally important and influential for centuries. In Edgars’ reign, for example the Kentish influence of the great monastic revival of St. Dunstan of Canterbury, with St. Athelwold of Winchester and St. Oswald of Worcester and York, were responsible.
With all this going on and with the church building in the pre-conquest Kent. There is very little left of this period now doubt due to the fact this area was an alley-way of culture and trade between England and France, to growing population resulting from increased prosperity, and its nearness to London. As population increased more and larger churches would be needed; the earlier Saxon/Jute ones would be added to altered, transformed, pulled down and rebuilt throughout the centuries. today there is only towered church of the Saxon-Jute period, that of St. Mary in Castro, Dover and the other church is St. Martin’s at Canterbury.
Kings of Kent
Aethelbert I, 560-616
First Anglo Saxon to be baptized.
Son of Aethelbert.
Son of Eadbald.
Ecgbert I, 664-673
Son of Earconberht.
Brother of Ecgbert (ruled with Eadric from 684).
Son of Ecgbert.
Mul, brother of Caedwalla of Wessex.
Appears to have ruled some during this period.
Son of Sebbi, King of the East Saxons.
Second son of Ecgbert.
Aethelberht II, 725-762
Son of Wihtred, possibly shared power with his brother Eadberht I,
Eadberht I, 725-748
Alric, brother of Aethelberht and Eadberht, no chartered evidence nor of his reign, possibly a sub-king.
Kent vassal Offa King of Mercia, 762-796
Eadberht II, ‘Praen’, 796-798
‘Praen’ meant priest leader of revolt against Mercia.
Became King of Kent by his brother Coenwulf of Mercia.
King of Kent with Mercian support who was driven out by Ecgbert of Wessex who became King in 825.
Saint Martin’s Church
Saint Mary in Castro (Garrison Church)
Dover Castle, Dover, Kent