FROM DOT TO DOMESDAY Early Medieval The Birth of Nations: England
ESSEX
Essex – the kingdom of the East Saxons – was, according to Roger of Wendover at any rate, founded in 527. It seems likely that by about 600 the East Saxons had absorbed the Middle Saxons (Middlesex, but also including modern-day south-eastern Hertfordshire). London was its chief town. During the second half of the 7th century, Essex came under Mercian domination. Following their defeat by the West Saxons, at the battle of Ellendun in 825, Mercian supremacy came to an end. Subsequently, Essex was absorbed into Wessex.
Late in 2003, a team from the Museum of London Archaeology Service excavated a rich Anglo-Saxon chamber grave (a wood lined ‘room’ beneath an earth mound) at Prittlewell, Southend. As the timbers decayed, so the mound collapsed into the chamber. Although there is no longer any trace of the occupant, from the type and richness of the grave goods, it is suggested that it may well have been a king of Essex. The surviving objects suggest a burial date in the early-7th century. Further, some items (for instance, two gold-foil crosses and a gold belt buckle which may have doubled as a reliquary) seem to indicate that the ‘king’ was, to some extent at least, Christian – the presence of grave goods being ‘just in case!’  It has been suggested, therefore, that a suitable candidate for the grave's occupant would be Sæberht, the first king of Essex to be converted to Christianity.
527 ? – 587 ?  Erkenwine / Æscwine
Henry of Huntingdon says (‘HA’ II, 19) that: “The kingdom of Essex, that is the East Saxons, was founded, as far as we can collect from old writers, by Erkenwine.”  Henry places that comment between events that the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ dates to 527 and 530. Roger of Wendover echoes him, but pins the founding of Essex firmly to 527.
Henry and Roger say Erkenwine was the father of Sledd. The name of Sledd's father is given as Æscwine in a late-9th century genealogy of Offa son of Sigehere (British Library Additional Manuscript 23211), and also in a genealogical table of the East Saxon kings found in a collection of various lists and genealogies prefixed to the ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis’ of Florence of Worcester. The two other East Saxon genealogies in BL Add. MS 23211 (of Swithred and Sigered) suggest that it was actually Sledd who was regarded as the founder of Essex, and William of Malmesbury states (‘GR’ I §98): “First, then, Sledd, the tenth from Woden, reigned over them [the East Saxons]”.*
Actually, with just one exception (Offa son of Sigehere), the known kings of Essex have names beginning with ‘S’. The name-elements Erken (Eorcen) or Æsc are, though, connected with the Kentish royal family. Conceivably, Æscwine/Erkenwine was not Sledd's father at all, but a Kentish sub-king who ruled the East Saxons – the establishment of Sledd's dynasty in Essex does seem to be thanks to the royal family of Kent – who, later, was inadvertently included in the genealogies.*
Be that as it may, Roger of Wendover says that Erkenwine was still ruling in 586, and places his death in 587. Although not impossible, it is somewhat improbable that one king could reign for sixty years.
587 ? – 597 ?  Sledd
Son of Æscwine.
Roger of Wendover: “In the year of grace 587 ... died Erkenwine, king of the East Saxons, and was succeeded by his son Sledd, the tenth from Woden, who reigned ten years.”  Sledd was married to Ricula, daughter of Eormenric, king of Kent. Roger of Wendover dates the birth of Sæberht, their son and Sledd's successor, to 589.*
597 ? – 616/7  Sæberht
Son of Sledd.
Manuscript E of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ says (s.a. 604) that Sæberht was “set as king” in Essex by, his uncle and king of Kent, Æthelberht.
In 597, Augustine (St Augustine of Canterbury) had arrived in Kent to begin his mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. Bede notes that: “The powerful Æthelberht was at that time king of Kent; he had extended his dominions as far as the boundary formed by the great river Humber, by which the southern Angles are divided from the northern.”* (‘HE’ I, 25).  In due course, Æthelberht had been converted and was baptized. A mission was sent to Essex, and Sæberht followed his uncle/overlord's example. Bede: “In the year of our Lord 604, Augustine, archbishop of Britain, ordained two bishops, to wit, Mellitus and Justus; Mellitus to preach to the province of the East Saxons, who are divided from Kent by the river Thames, and border on the Eastern sea. Their metropolis is the city of London, which is situated on the bank of the aforesaid river, and is the mart of many nations resorting to it by sea and land. At that time, Sæberht, nephew to Æthelberht through his sister Ricula, reigned over the nation, though he was under subjection to Æthelberht, who, as has been said above, had command over all the nations of the English as far as the river Humber. But when this province [Essex] also received the word of truth, by the preaching of Mellitus, King Æthelberht built the church of St Paul the Apostle, in the city of London, where he [Mellitus] and his successors should have their episcopal see.” (‘HE’ II, 3).
It was the intention of Pope Gregory I, ‘the Great’ (590–604), who had ordered Augustine's mission to Britain, that London would become one of two archbishoprics, the other being York. The senior archbishop would be whichever had been ordained first (see Bede ‘HE’ I, 29). As things turned out, London didn't become the southern archbishop's seat, and it wasn't until 735 that York became a permanent archbishopric.
The Anglo-Saxon trading settlement, Lundenwic, developed west of the city walls of Roman London. In the magazine ‘British Archaeology’ (Issue 44, May 1999), John Schofield, of the Museum of London, writes: “Within the city itself, however, evidence remains meagre from the collapse of the Roman administration in 410 until the late Saxon reoccupation under King Alfred in the 9th century.  The extent to which the city was occupied during these intervening centuries, with its great Roman buildings slowly crumbling, remains one of London's – as yet – great unsolved mysteries.  By 410, the built-up area within the town walls had already contracted greatly in size. Parts had been cleared of buildings and were already covered by a horizon of dark silts (often described as ‘dark earth’) suggesting that land was converted to arable and pastoral use or abandoned entirely. The dark earth may have started forming in the 3rd century.”  The walls would have ensured that the city remained a place of refuge – indeed, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ (MS A) reports that in 457, following a defeat by the Anglo-Saxons: “the Britons then forsook Kent, and in great terror fled to London.”  The founding of St Paul's by Æthelberht is the first building work recorded inside the walls after the end of Roman rule. Dr Schofield: “Its remains presumably underlie the present Wren church and churchyard, though any fragments beneath the cathedral would now be very badly damaged; and no Saxon remains of this period have been identified in excavations either here or elsewhere in the city. The building of a cathedral does not necessarily imply the continuation of settlement, as it was papal policy to establish cathedrals in former Roman towns whatever their level of population.”
Bede (‘HE’ II, 5) dates Æthelberht's death to 24th February 616. He implies that Sæberht's death was soon afterwards. Following the deaths of the two Christian kings there was a pagan resurgence.
616/7 – 623 ?  Seaxred, Sæweard (and Seaxbald ?)
Sons of Sæberht.
Bede says (‘HE’ II, 5) that Sæberht “left three sons, still pagans, to inherit his temporal crown”, but he does not name them. The late-9th century genealogy (BL Add. MS 23211) of Swithred names one son as Seaxred, whilst the genealogy of Offa, son of Sigehere, names another as Sæweard. It is possible that Seaxbald – whom Bede notes (‘HE’ III, 22) was the father of, the later king of Essex, Swithhelm – was the third son of Sæberht.
Bede reports that the three brothers: “immediately began openly to give themselves up to idolatry, which, during their father's lifetime, they had seemed somewhat to abandon, and they granted free licence to their subjects to serve idols. And when they saw the bishop [Mellitus, bishop of London], whilst celebrating Mass in the church, give the Eucharist to the people, filled, as they were, with folly and ignorance, they said to him, as is commonly reported, “Why do you not give us also that white bread, which you used to give to our father Saba (for so they were wont to call him), and which you still continue to give to the people in the church?” To whom he answered, “If you will be washed in that font of salvation, in which your father was washed, you may also partake of the holy Bread of which he partook; but if you despise the laver of life, you can in no wise receive the Bread of life.” They replied, “We will not enter into that font, because we know that we do not stand in need of it, and yet we will be refreshed by that bread.” And being often earnestly admonished by him, that this could by no means be done, nor would any one be admitted to partake of the sacred Oblation without the holy cleansing, at last, they said, filled with rage, “If you will not comply with us in so small a matter as that which we require, you shall not stay in our province.” And they drove him out and bade him and his company depart from their kingdom.” (‘HE’ II, 5).  Mellitus apparently became archbishop of Canterbury in early February 619 (‘HE’ II, 7), prior to which he had spent a year in Gaul. It would seem, then, that his expulsion from London cannot be later than January 618.
Bede depicts the actions of Sæberht's sons in purely religious terms, but it is easy to envisage them as a reaction against Kentish domination, which Christianity and Mellitus represented, as much as a reaction against Christianity itself. Be that as it may, the brothers: “did not continue long unpunished in their worship of devils. For marching out to battle against the nation of the Gewisse [Wessex], they were all slain with their army. Nevertheless, the people having been once turned to wickedness, though the authors of it were destroyed, would not be corrected, nor return to the unity of faith and charity which is in Christ.” (‘HE’ II, 5).
It is possible that the dispute with Wessex concerned the control of Surrey. The name Surrey (Sudergeona) means ‘southern district’, so presumably it originated as an adjunct of the Middle Saxons, to its north, across the Thames.
After Æthelberht's death, overlordship of the southern English was acquired by Rædwald, king of the East Angles. He had been baptized during Æthelberht's time, but simply worshipped Christ alongside pagan deities. At any rate, according to Bede, Æthelberht's successor in Kent, his son Eadbald (who, like Sæberht's sons, was pagan at the time of his succession, but, unlike them, eventually became a Christian), made an attempt to reinstate Mellitus: “but the people of London would not receive Bishop Mellitus, choosing rather to be under their idolatrous high priests; for King Eadbald had not so much authority in the kingdom [i.e. in Essex] as his father, and was not able to restore the bishop to his church against the will and consent of the pagans.” (‘HE’ II, 6).  By Bede's own numbers, Eadbald's failed attempt to reinstall Mellitus in London must have occurred before February 619, at which time Mellitus became archbishop of Canterbury. The implication of Bede's narrative would seem to be that Sæberht's sons were killed before that, i.e. in 618. However, Bede may have run events together in order to directly link the brothers' punishment (their violent deaths) to their crimes (the rejection of Christianity and expulsion of Bishop Mellitus). Indeed, Roger of Wendover places their deaths in 623.
It would appear that by the end of his reign, in 640, Eadbald had succeeded in regaining some degree of authority in London, since he minted coins there.
623 ? – pre 653  Sigeberht I ‘Parvus’ (the Little)
Son of Sæweard ?
Bede (‘HE’ III, 22) simply provides his name – “Sigeberht surnamed The Little” – to distinguish him from his successor, also called Sigeberht, who was the real subject of Bede's interest. Nothing else is known about Sigeberht the Little.*
pre 653 – 6 . .  Sigeberht II ‘Sanctus’ (the Saint) / ‘Bonus’ (the Good)
Son of Sæweard ? *
Sigeberht was persuaded to become a Christian by, his friend, the Northumbrian king, Oswiu. In about 653, on one of his frequent visits to Northumbria, Sigeberht, and his retinue, was baptized by Finan, bishop of Lindisfarne. Bede relates (‘HE’ III, 22) that Sigeberht: “having now become a citizen of the eternal kingdom, returned to the seat of his temporal kingdom, requesting of King Oswiu that he would give him some teachers, to convert his nation to the faith of Christ, and cleanse them in the fountain of salvation. Wherefore Oswiu, sending into the province of the Middle Angles [the east Midlands],
The chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall, Bradwell-on-Sea, Essex.  Built of recycled Roman materials, straddling the line of the west wall of the Roman Saxon Shore Fort of Othona (Bede's Ythancæstir), this church was almost certainly founded by Bishop Cedd.
summoned the man of God, Cedd, and, giving him another priest for his companion, sent them to preach the Word to the East Saxons. When these two, travelling to all parts of that country, had gathered a numerous Church to the Lord, it happened once that Cedd returned home, and came to the church of Lindisfarne to confer with Bishop Finan; who, finding that the work of the Gospel had prospered in his hands, made him bishop of the nation of the East Saxons, calling to him two other bishops to assist at the ordination. Cedd, having received the episcopal dignity, returned to his province, and pursuing the work he had begun with more ample authority, built churches in divers places, and ordained priests and deacons to assist him in the Word of faith, and the ministry of Baptism, especially in the city which, in the language of the Saxons, is called Ythancæstir [Bradwell-on-Sea], as also in that which is named Tilaburg [Tilbury]. The first of these places is on the bank of the Penta [Blackwater], the other on the bank of the Thames. In these, gathering a flock of Christ's servants, he taught them to observe the discipline of a rule of life, as far as those rude people were then capable of receiving it.”
At some indeterminate time after Cedd had returned to Essex – “no small time”, says Bede – Sigeberht was murdered by two brothers, relatives of his, and, according to Bede, when asked why they had killed Sigeberht, the brothers replied that: “they had been incensed against the king, and hated him, because he was too apt to spare his enemies, and calmly forgave the wrongs they had done him, upon their entreaty.”  Bede then goes on to explain that, in fact, Sigeberht's death was divine retribution. In earlier times, Sigeberht had dined at the house of one of his killers when forbidden to do so, because the man had been excommunicated for being unlawfully married. On his journey home, Sigeberht was met by Cedd: “The king, beholding him, immediately dismounted from his horse, trembling, and fell down at his feet, begging pardon for his offence; for the bishop, who was likewise on horseback, had also alighted. Being much incensed, he touched the prostrate king with the rod he held in his hand, and spoke thus with the authority of his office: “I tell thee, forasmuch as thou wouldest not refrain from the house of that sinful and condemned man, thou shalt die in that very house.” Yet it is to be believed, that such a death of a religious man not only blotted out his offence, but even added to his merit; because it happened on account of his piety and his observance of the commands of Christ.” (‘HE’ III, 22).
6 . . – 664  Swithhelm
Son of Seaxbald. Co-ruler of Swithfrith ?
6 . . – 66 .  Swithfrith ?
Son of Seaxbald ? Co-ruler of Swithhelm ?
Bede says (‘HE’ III, 22) that Sigeberht II: “was succeeded in the kingdom by Swithhelm, the son of Seaxbald”.*  He adds that Swithhelm was baptized by Cedd, bishop of the East Saxons, at Rendlesham – “royal township” of the East Angles – and that Æthelwald, king of the East Angles, stood as Swithhelm's godfather, which circumstance very much suggests that Æthelwald had secured overlordship of Essex. Bede implies that Swithhelm died around the time that “a sudden pestilence” struck in 664.
A King Swithfrith, otherwise unknown, appears in a charter (S1246) as donor of a foundation gift to the double monastery (i.e. one having communities of both men and women) of Barking. The foundation date of Barking is not precisely known, but the early 660s seems likely.
The monastery of Barking, in Essex, was founded at the instigation of one Eorcenwald (who was also the founding-abbot of the monastery of Chertsey, in Surrey) for his sister Æthelburh.* According to Bede, who quotes extensively from a no longer extant work concerned with the “many miracles” performed at Barking, the monastery there was up-and-running at the time of the plague of 664 (‘HE’ IV, 7).
Barbara Yorke has made the attractive suggestion that Swithhelm and Swithfrith were the brothers who, as Bede reported, killed Sigeberht II.
664 – 688 ?  Sigehere
Son of Sigeberht. Co-ruler of Sæbbi.
664 – 694  Sæbbi (St Sebbi)
Son of Seaxred. Co-ruler of Sigehere. *
Bede reports that : “the Kings Sigehere and Sæbbi, though themselves subject to Wulfhere, king of the Mercians, governed the province of the East Saxons after Swithhelm” (‘HE’ III, 30).*
In 664: “a sudden pestilence depopulated first the southern parts of Britain, and afterwards attacking the province of the Northumbrians, ravaged the country far and near, and destroyed a great multitude of men.” (‘HE’ III, 27).
Cedd, bishop of the East Saxons, was a victim of the plague of 664. He died in a monastery he had founded in Northumbria (at Lastingham, North Yorkshire).
When Essex: “was suffering from the aforesaid disastrous plague, Sigehere, with his part of the people, forsook the mysteries of the Christian faith, and turned apostate. For the king himself, and many of the commons and nobles, loving this life, and not seeking after another, or even not believing in any other, began to restore the temples that had been abandoned, and to adore idols, as if they might by those means be protected against the plague. But Sæbbi, his companion and co-heir in the kingdom, with all his people, very devoutly preserved the faith which he had received, and, as we shall show hereafter, ended his faithful life in great felicity.” (‘HE’ III, 30).
It would appear that Sigehere and Sæbbi did not rule Essex jointly, but that each of them independently ruled a territorial division of the kingdom. At this time, the natural divisions of Essex would have been the East Saxon heartland and the Middle Saxon province.
Wulfhere despatched his bishop, Jaruman, to restore Sigehere's territory to Christianity. Jaruman: “acted with much discretion, as I was informed by a priest who bore him company in that journey, and had been his fellow labourer in the Word, for he was a religious and good man, and travelling through all the country, far and near, brought back both the people and the aforesaid king to the way of righteousness, so that, either forsaking or destroying the temples and altars which they had erected, they opened the churches, and gladly confessed the Name of Christ, which they had opposed, choosing rather to die in the faith of resurrection in Him, than to live in the abominations of unbelief among their idols. Having thus accomplished their works, the priests and teachers returned home with joy.” (‘HE’ III, 30).
Probably in 666, Wine, bishop of Winchester, was expelled from Wessex by, its king, Cenwalh. Wulfhere sold the bishopric of London to him. The monastery of Chertsey was founded, also probably in 666, under the aegis of Egbert, king of Kent, indicating that he had overlordship of Surrey at that time. Round about the time of Egbert's death, 673, however, one Frithuwald was granting land to Chertsey (S1165), in the capacity of sub-king (subregulus) of Surrey, under Wulfhere. It seems reasonable to suppose that it was Egbert's death that provided the opportunity for Wulfhere to take control of Surrey.
Mercia's fortunes suffered a setback when, probably in 674, Wulfhere was defeated by Ecgfrith, king of Northumbria. In fact, although his position is not acknowledged by Bede, and the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ doesn't grant him the title Bretwalda, it seems likely that Wulfhere had, indeed, become overlord of all the English kingdoms south of the Humber. The army that fought Ecgfrith contained forces from all of southern England.* Wulfhere's defeat loosened his grip on power. In 675 he is reported fighting against the West Saxons (‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’), and in the same year he died.
In about 675, by which time Bishop Wine had died, Eorcenwald, the founding-abbot of Chertsey, was appointed bishop of London by the archbishop of Canterbury.
The law-code of Hlothere and Eadric, successors to Egbert, shows that the Kentish kings had, at the least, commercial interests in London. Bede reports (‘HE’ IV, 12) that, in 676, Wulfhere's successor, Æthelred: “ravaged Kent with a hostile army”.  No reason is given for the attack, but it may, in part anyway, have been intended to discourage Kentish influence in London, and Surrey too.
According to Roger of Wendover, Sigehere died in 683, but, as we shall see, this would appear to be too early. In 686, as reported by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, Kent was ravaged by Cædwalla, the newly established king of Wessex. Cædwalla evidently installed his brother, Mul, as king of Kent. Mul was burned to death by Kentish rebels in 687, and Cædwalla, once more, assailed Kent. In 688, however, perhaps realizing he was fatally ill, Cædwalla abdicated. During this brief period, it seems likely that Cædwalla had also established himself as overlord of Essex.
Cædwalla definitely secured control of Surrey. He granted land for the foundation of a minster at Farnham (S235), and he granted an estate in Battersea to the monastery of Barking (S1246) – which suggests that he was overlord of Essex too. This is also indicated by a grant made to Barking by a kinsman of Sæbbi, called Œthelred (S1171), which has West Saxon witnesses.
A charter of Cædwalla's is witnessed by Sigehere (S233) and refers to Sigehere's conquest of Kent. It would seem, then, that Sigehere had aided Cædwalla, and, maybe, during the brief period of Cædwalla's reign, he ruled in Kent. In 689, though, Sæbbi's son, Swæfheard, appears as co-ruler of Kent, alongside Oswine, a member of the Kentish royal family. Both of these kings acknowledged Æthelred of Mercia as their overlord (S10 and S12).* So, perhaps, whilst Sigehere had thrown in his lot with Cædwalla, Sæbbi had been unimpressed, and, when Cædwalla abdicated, he and Æthelred took the opportunity to turn the situation to their own advantage. Sigehere would have been removed from power, both in Kent and Essex, at this time – certainly, nothing more is heard of him. Æthelred appears, from charters, to have had authority in London and Middle Saxon territory, but not in the East Saxon heartland.
Wessex would seem to have retained the overlordship of Surrey. Eorcenwald, bishop of London (whose diocese included Surrey, and whose death was probably in 693), assisted Ine, Cædwalla's successor in Wessex, to compose his law-code. Ine acknowledged the “advice and instruction ... of Eorcenwald, my bishop”.  But in 693 Æthelred of Mercia was in a position to confirm a grant of land in Battersea, originally made by Cædwalla, to Barking (S1248).
Bede quotes a number of stories from a book (which itself no longer exists) concerned with miracles that took place at the monastery of Barking. He rounds off his extracts: “At that time, as the same little book informs us, Sæbbi, a very devout man, of whom mention has been made above, governed the kingdom of the East Saxons. His mind was set on religious acts, frequent prayer and pious fruits of almsgiving; he esteemed a private and monastic life better than all the wealth and honours of his kingdom, and he would have long before left his kingdom and adopted that life, had not his wife firmly refused to be divorced from him; for which reason many were of opinion and often said that a man of such a disposition ought rather to have been made a bishop than a king. When he had spent 30 years as a king and a soldier of the heavenly kingdom, he fell into great bodily infirmity, of which he afterwards died, and he admonished his wife, that they should then at least together devote themselves to the service of God, since they could no longer together enjoy, or rather serve, the world. Having with much difficulty obtained this of her, he went to Wealdhere, bishop of London, who had succeeded Eorcenwald, and with his blessing received the religious habit, which he had long desired. He also carried to him a considerable sum of money, to be given to the poor, reserving nothing to himself, but rather coveting to remain poor in spirit for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven.    When the aforesaid sickness increased, and he perceived the day of his death to be drawing near, being a man of a royal disposition, he began to apprehend lest, when in great pain, at the approach of death, he might commit anything unworthy of his character, either by word or gesture. Wherefore, calling to him the aforesaid bishop of London, in which city he then was, he entreated him that none might be present at his death, besides the bishop himself, and two of his own attendants. The bishop having promised that he would most willingly grant his request, not long after the man of God composed himself to sleep, and saw a consoling vision, which took from him all anxiety concerning the aforesaid uneasiness; and, moreover, showed him on what day he was to end his life. For, as he afterwards related, he saw three men in shining garments come to him; one of whom sat down by his bed, whilst his companions who had come with him stood and inquired about the state of the sick man they had come to visit, and he said that the king's soul should quit his body without any pain, and with a great splendour of light; and told him that he should die the third day after. Both these things came to pass, as he had learnt from the vision; for on the third day after, at the ninth hour, he suddenly fell, as it were, into a light slumber, and without any sense of pain he gave up the ghost.    A stone coffin had been prepared for his burial, but when they came to lay him in it, they found his body a span longer than the coffin.* Hereupon they chipped away as much of the stone as they could, and made the coffin about two inches longer; but not even so would it contain the body. Wherefore because of this difficulty of entombing him, they had thoughts either to get another coffin, or else to shorten the body, by bending it at the knees, if they could, so that the coffin might contain it. But Heaven interposed and a miracle prevented the execution of either of those designs; for on a sudden, in the presence of the bishop and Sigeheard, who was the son of that same king and monk, and who reigned after him jointly with his brother Swæfred, and of no small number of men, that coffin was found to fit the length of the body, insomuch that a pillow might even be put in at the head; and at the feet the coffin was 4 inches longer than the body. He was buried in the church of the blessed teacher of the Gentiles [St Paul's, London], by whose doctrine he had learned to hope for heavenly things.” (‘HE’ IV, 11).
694 – 7 . .  Sigeheard
Son of Sæbbi. Co-ruler of Swæfred.
694 – 7 . .  Swæfred
Son of Sæbbi. Co-ruler of Sigeheard.*
70 . – 709  Offa
Son of Sigehere. Sub-king ?
Bede says (‘HE’ IV, 11) that Sigeheard and Swæfred succeeded their father, Sæbbi, after the latter's reign of thirty years, which means they came to the throne c.694. Swæfred features in a charter dated 704 (S65), and another which cannot be properly dated (S1787). Sigeheard features in a charter of 704x709 (S1785). When their reigns ended is not known.
Æthelred, king of Mercia, was succeeded in 704 by his nephew, Cenred. Like his uncle, Cenred seems to have had overlordship of London and the Middle Saxons, but not of the East Saxon heartland.
A letter from Wealdhere, bishop of London, to Berhtwald, archbishop of Canterbury, written in 704 or 5, tells of disputes between Ine, king of Wessex and “the rulers of our country”, a phrase which could include Cenred as well the East Saxon kings. A peace treaty had been arranged – the East Saxons agreed not to shelter West Saxon exiles, Ine agreed not to carry out his threats – and Wealdhere was keen to attend a council at Brentford to settle the matter.
Barbara Yorke asserts that: “The cause of the dispute must almost certainly have been control of Surrey, and Brentford, which was chosen as the site of a meeting to resolve the disputes, would have been on the borders of Surrey and the main East Saxon kingdom. It seems likely that it was shortly after the letter was written that Surrey was detached from the London diocese.”  Surrey became part of the diocese of Winchester, Wessex.
William of Malmesbury states (‘GR’ I §98) that Sæbbi's sons: “Sigeheard and Swæfred reigned after him. On their decease, Offa, the son of Sigehere, governed the kingdom for a short time”.*  However, charters indicate that Offa's reign overlapped with Swæfred's,* so it could have overlapped with Sigeheard's also. Further, it may be, as argued by Barbara Yorke, that Offa was a lower ranking ruler than Sigeheard and Swæfred. Bede calls him “Offa, king of the East Saxons” in the heading for Chapter 19 of ‘HE’ Book V, but in the text says that Offa was “a youth of a most pleasing age and comeliness, and greatly desired by all his nation to have and to hold the sceptre of the kingdom”, which would seem to be saying that, though the East Saxons were looking forward to his accession, Offa was not yet a full king. On the other hand, Offa's is one of the East Saxon royal genealogies to have been preserved in, the late-9th century, BL Add. MS 23211, and he is rex (king) in a charter granting land in Hertfordshire to Bishop Wealdhere (S1784). The water is further clouded by a charter (S64) which records the grant of land (now, in Warwickshire; then, in the territory of the Hwicce) to the church of Worcester, by an Offa. As it has survived (in 11th century cartularies), the charter calls this Offa rex Merciorum (king of Mercia), but later he is referred to as subregulus (sub-king). The charter's witness-list is chronologically incompatible with, the famous, Mercian Offa, but it is compatible with the East Saxon Offa. It is generally supposed that the Offa inadvertently titled “king of Mercia” is actually Offa of Essex. On the assumption that this identification is correct, J.R. Maddicott points out: “although a case has been made for seeing him as sub his two putative East Saxon partners, it is perhaps more likely that he was under-king to a Mercian overlord.”  Whatever his exact status, it is possible that Offa had an Hwiccian mother, whose estates would have enabled him to make the grant – he certainly seems to have had close connections with Cenred. In 709, both men abdicated. They travelled to Rome, where they spent the rest of their lives as monks. Bede says that Offa “quitted wife, and lands, and kindred and country, for Christ and for the Gospel”.* Offa is the last East Saxon king mentioned by Bede.
7 . . – 738  Swæfberht
Symeon of Durham (‘HR’), s.a. 738, notes that “Swæfberht, king of the East Saxons, died.”  Swæfberht does not feature in any surviving genealogy or charter.
709 ? – 746  Selered
Son of Sigeberht.*
According to the ‘Chronicon’ memorandum and William of Malmesbury, who have no knowledge of Swæfberht, Selered succeeded Offa and reigned for the whole 37/38 years up to his death, which the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ reports s.a. 746: “In this year King Selered was slain.”
If it is Selered's name which appears, without a title, in the witness-list of a charter from 716/17, of the Mercian king Æthelbald, Selered's reign may have overlapped with that of Swæfberht (S87). Bede notes (‘HE’ V, 23) that, in 731, the time he was writing, all provinces south of the Humber: “with their several kings, are subject to King Æthelbald.”  The freedom with which his charters show Æthelbald operating in the province of the Middle Saxons and London, indicate that ownership of those territories finally passed from Essex to Mercia during his reign.
746 – after 758  Swithred
Son of Sigemund.
The ‘Chronicon’ memorandum and William of Malmesbury say that Swithred succeeded Selered. Swithred's pedigree (BL Add. MS 23211) shows him to be the son of, the otherwise unknown, Sigemund, and grandson of King Sigeheard.*
Florence of Worcester, s.a. 758, records that: “At this period Swithred was king of the East Saxons”.
7 . . – 798  Sigeric
Son of Selered. Died after 798.
In 757 Æthelbald had been murdered. Mercian overlordship of the southern kingdoms apparently died with him. Offa emerged from a civil war as the new king of Mercia, and he began the process of reestablishing Mercian supremacy. How Essex fared during Offa's reign is not known. There can be no certainty that an East Saxon king continued to rule. Soon after Offa's death in 796, however, the East Saxon dynasty reappears. Manuscript F of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ has an entry which states, s.a. 798, “Sigeric, king of the East Saxons, went to Rome.”  Possibly Sigeric, with the title dux, had witnessed a charter of Ecgfrith, Offa's successor, in 796 (S151).
798 ? – 826 ?  Sigered
Son of Sigeric.
Sigered is the final East Saxon king whose pedigree has survived in BL Add. MS 23211. He figures in the witness-list of two charters of, Mercian king, Cenwulf, dated 811 (S165; S168), in which he is titled rex, but just a year later his status has been downgraded to subregulus (S170). He also appears as subregulus in a charter of, Cenwulf's successor, Ceolwulf, dated 823 (S187).*
 
Following his victory over Beornwulf of Mercia, in 825, Egbert of Wessex despatched a force into Kent. The incumbent ruler (Baldred, apparently a Mercian appointee) was driven off. Kent, Essex, Sussex, and also Surrey, then submitted to Egbert. These provinces formed an eastern sub-kingdom of Wessex. Egbert went on to expel Wiglaf, king of Mercia, in 829. He appears to have overreached himself, however, and Wiglaf was soon restored. In a charter dating from after this restoration (S1791) there figures a minister of Wiglaf, called Sigeric, who is styled “king of the East Saxons”. This raises the possibility that, for a short period, Mercia managed to reassert its supremacy of Essex. However, this was just a blip, and in 860 the eastern sub-kingdom was integrated into Wessex.
 
Translations:
Roger of Wendover ‘Flores Historiarum’ by J.A. Giles
‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ by Benjamin Thorpe (adapted)
Symeon of Durham ‘Historia Regum’ by Joseph Stevenson
Bede ‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’ by A.M. Sellar
Henry of Huntingdon ‘Historia Anglorum’ by Thomas Forester
Florence of Worcester ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis’ by Thomas Forester
William of Malmesbury ‘Gesta Regum Anglorum’ by John Sharpe, revised by Joseph Stevenson
In the interests of clarity, the spelling of personal names, most of which are found in several forms, has been standardized. Those names which have survived into modern times are given their familiar spelling.
The Museum of London Archaeology Service (MoLAS) is now Museum of London Archaeology.
Henry of Huntingdon first produced his ‘Historia Anglorum’ (History of the English) around 1130. He then revisited the work – revising and extending – several times before his death. The final version concludes with the accession of Henry II in 1154.
Though William of Malmesbury claims that Sledd was “the tenth from Woden”, the genealogical table of the East Saxon kings prefixed to the ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis’, and the genealogy of Offa son of Sigehere in BL Add. MS 23211, both show the East Saxon kings to be descended from one Seaxnet, who seems to be the tribal god of the Saxon people.
Seaxnet's great-great-great-great-grandson is named Offa, and this Offa is presented as the father of Æscwine. Offa is also the name of an ancestor-figure of the founding dynasty of Mercia. He equates to the hero of legend, Offa of Angeln (the Continental Anglian homeland), mentioned in the Old English poems ‘Widsith’ and ‘Beowulf’.* The apparent presence of an Anglian hero in the East Saxon pedigree may well be the result of later Mercian overlordship (genealogies were manipulated for political reasons).
It is Barbara Yorke who makes the suggestion that Æscwine (or Erkenwine) was a Kentish sub-king who was later (“through a confusion of regnal list and genealogy”) mistakenly inserted into the East Saxon genealogy, but she then adds: “or perhaps, like Offa, he should be seen as symbolizing foreign overlordship.”
Æthelberht is the third king that Bede lists as having achieved overlordship of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms south of the Humber, and, consequently, is the third Bretwalda listed by the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’.
In the late-9th century genealogy of Offa, son of Sigehere (BL Add. MS 23211), a Sigeberht is shown as the son of Sæweard. However, given that Sæweard and his brothers must have been quite young when they were killed, it would, perhaps, seem most likely that it was Sigeberht II who was Sæweard's son. The genealogy of Sigered, in the same source, has a Sigeberht, son of Sigebald, but he appears too late to be either Sigeberht I or Sigeberht II. In the ‘Chronicon’ memorandum, however, Sigeberht I (the Little) is said to be the son of Sæweard, whilst Sigebald is given as father of Sigeberht II (called ‘Saint’ in the memorandum). William of Malmesbury (‘GR’ I §98) goes further, adding that Sigebald, father of Sigeberht II (called ‘the Good’ by William), was the brother of Sæberht. Actually, Seaxa figures as the brother of Sæberht in both Sigered's pedigree and the ‘Chronicon’ genealogical table (whereas Sigebald is three generations later), and it is popularly suggested that Seaxa could be the father of Sigeberht the Little.*
Incidentally, Roger of Wendover follows William of Malmesbury in naming Sigeberht II ‘the Good’.
Eddius Stephanus ‘Vita Sancti Wilfridi’, Chapter 20.
Their names might tend to suggest that Eorcenwald and Æthelburh were members of the royal family of Kent. Barbara Yorke has, however, argued that it is more likely they were members of the East Saxon royal family, not in the direct male line, whose names were the result of the earlier marriage link between the dynasties of Kent (Æthelberht's sister, Ricula) and Essex (Sledd).
In the late-9th century genealogy of his son Offa (BL Add. MS 23211), Sigehere is shown as the son of Sigeberht, who, in turn, is the son of Sæweard. As discussed earlier, this Sigeberht is, perhaps, more likely to be Sigeberht II, ‘the Saint’. In the same source's genealogy of, the later king, Swithred, Sæbbi is shown as the son of Sæweard's brother, Seaxred. Sæbbi was, therefore, a generation older than Sigehere. The ‘Chronicon’ memorandum and William of Malmesbury say Sæbbi was the son of Sæweard. The ‘Chronicon’ memorandum adds more confusion, calling Sæweard the son of Sigeberht the Saint.
An interpolation in Manuscript E of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, added onto its entry dated 656, tells of the foundation of the monastery at Medeshamstede (Peterborough). It incorporates details from a charter of Wulfhere, dated 664, in which Sigehere and Sæbbi feature as witnesses. The charter (S68 in Sawyer's catalogue) is, however, a post-Conquest forgery.
Available online: The Electronic Sawyer.
Not a fake as such, S233 appears to be a composite document, compiled from a number of charters.
Sæbbi's “stone coffin” would, no doubt, have been a reused Roman sarcophagus.
Swæfred and Offa both make grants to Wealdhere, bishop of London (S65; S1784). Swæfred makes one to Wealdhere's successor, Bishop Ingweald (S1787).
The Hwicce, a Mercian sub-kingdom, roughly equates to Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and western Warwickshire.
According to William of Malmesbury and the ‘Chronicon’ memorandum, Offa didn't have a wife. It was his fiancée, Cenred's aunt, Cyneswith who persuaded him to accompany Cenred, and also Bishop Ecgwine of Worcester, to Rome. Since the saintly Cyneswith's father, Penda, died on 15th November 655, she would have been at least fifty-three years-old at the time she is supposed to have persuaded Offa, the “youth of a most pleasing age and comeliness”, to abdicate and devote himself to Christ.
‘London and Droitwich, c.650–750’ (‘Anglo-Saxon England 34’, 2005).
The ‘Chronicon’ genealogical table and memorandum, and William of Malmesbury, have no record of Swithred's father, Sigemund, and are unaware that he was Sigeheard's grandson.* In the ‘Chronicon’ memorandum and William of Malmesbury, Swithred is the last East Saxon king named. Whereas the memorandum says that “after his death, the kingdom of Essex had very few kings of its own” (the genealogical table in the ‘Chronicon’ features the next two kings), William, erroneously, makes Swithred the last East Saxon king, and has him expelled by Egbert of Wessex.
According to Roger of Wendover's dating, Sæberht would have been only eight years old when he succeeded his father. Regardless of the year that Sæberht did become king (which must have been by 604), subsequent events suggest that he would have been nearer eighteen than eight in 597.
In the ‘Chronicon’ memorandum and William of Malmesbury, Swithhelm is said to be the brother of Sigeberht the Saint – i.e. by the reasoning of their common source his father was Sigebald, and not Seaxbald as stated by Bede. In fact, neither Seaxbald nor Swithhelm, himself, feature in the East Saxon pedigrees of BL Add. MS 23211.* As previously mentioned, there is a popular notion that Seaxbald was the, otherwise unnamed, third son of Sæberht.
Curiously, in the place where Swæfred's name should be in the ‘Chronicon’ genealogical table, are the letters ‘V V’.
The ‘Chronicon’ memorandum expresses the same opinion.*
As previously discussed, Selered's father cannot be Sigeberht II as is claimed by William of Malmesbury and the ‘Chronicon’ memorandum.
S151 is of doubtful authenticity.
For more, see: The Electronic Sawyer.
Dux (plural: duces), in the Late Roman Empire, was the title of a high-ranking military commander, and is the source of the modern English word ‘duke’. The equivalent in Anglo-Saxon terminology was ‘ealdorman’, from which the modern term ‘alderman’ is derived.
Sigered with the title dux features in charters of the Mercian kings Cenwulf, Ceolwulf, Beornwulf and Wiglaf. It is possible that, in some instances, this is the same Sigered, however, since S187 is witnessed by both Sigered subregulus and Sigered dux, it is by no means certain.
Bede clearly states (‘HE’ II, 5) that Æthelberht died in 616, but he then makes a comment which implies that it was in 618.
See: Kings of doubtful title, or of foreign origin.
‘The kingdom of the East Saxons’ (‘Anglo-Saxon England 14’, 1985) and ‘Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England’ (1990).
In the miscellany that precedes the ‘Chronicon ex Chronicis’ proper, the material relating to kings of the East Saxons comprises two elements:
One: a genealogical table, which displays graphically both the succession and genealogy of the kings – it, more or less, combines the pedigrees now found in BL Add. MS 23211 (not all of Swithred's pedigree is incorporated) with information given by Bede. Presumably, a regnal list was also used, since four kings beyond those referenced by Bede are placed in order of succession.
Two: a memorandum – a potted history written alongside the table, which is, more or less, a verbalization of the information presented by the table, mixed with detail mainly taken from Bede.*
William of Malmesbury's ‘Gesta Regum Anglorum’ Book I §98, though not identical, is very similar to the East Saxon memorandum in the ‘Chronicon’ miscellany, indicating the use of common source material.
‘Gesta Regum Anglorum’ (Deeds of the Kings of England).
‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’ (Ecclesiastical History of the English People).
‘Historia Regum’ (History of the Kings).
There are similar presentations for other kingdoms. Click Here to see, in a separate window, page 49 of Oxford, Corpus Christi College MS 157 – showing the East Angle kings on the left and the East Saxon kings on the right. This is a large (5000 KB) image on the University of Oxford website.
s.a. = sub anno = ‘under the year’.
‘The kingdom of the East Saxons’ (‘Anglo-Saxon England 14’, 1985).
‘Widsith’ (meaning ‘far-traveller’) is named from the work's supposed speaker, a fictional itinerant poet. It survives in the Exeter Book (Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501), which was copied-out, by a single scribe, in the late-10th century, and contains the largest existing collection of Old English poetry.
The epic poem ‘Beowulf’ is named after its monster-fighting hero. The story is set in the 6th century, but the sole extant manuscript (British Library MS Cotton Vitellius A xv) was copied-out, by two scribes, around the year 1000. At what stage between those dates the work was originally composed is the subject of scholarly debate – as, indeed, is the antiquity of ‘Widsith’.
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