Addendum to Kent (Part Two)


Letter of Æthelberht II to Archbishop Boniface

To the most holy Archbishop Wynfrith, called Boniface and worthily adorned with the pontifical insignia, Æthelberht, king of Kent, sends greeting in the Lord of lords.
Some years ago, the venerable Abbess Bugga, after a visit to the holy places in the city of Rome for the purpose of offering prayer, returned thence to this, her native land, and to the convent of holy women which she had formerly governed wisely under the law of the Church. At her invitation I had a conference with her in which, among other matters of importance, she called to my especial attention that while you were both at Rome and eagerly engaged in making frequent visits to the shrines of the Holy Apostles, you had given her permission to speak familiarly with Your Gracious and Indulgent Holiness about her own affairs. She further advised me that, impelled by our blood relationship, she had by the earnest solicitation of her prayers obtained from Your Paternity in my behalf the boon that just as she, who was present, received your wholesome precepts and was strengthened by the blessing of your prayers, so I too, though absent and personally unknown to you, through your wonted kindness might be enriched by that same gift, so necessary to me, even as though I had been present. When she told me that you had surely promised to do this, I cannot easily state in words what joy and comfort it brought me. I was so much the more rejoiced – as is wont to happen – because she brought me so precious a gift so suddenly and without expectation.
Wherefore it seems proper and useful that I should address Your Holiness, widely famous as you are, through a friendly letter and by the words of trusty messengers. For this I can imagine no more fitting opportunity than just now when we have here certain clerics of Your Excellence who were sent hither into Britain by you as wise and trustworthy agents and are now anxious, with God’s help, to return as soon as possible to your gracious presence. It is, therefore, an especial pleasure to me to send the bearer of this letter, the monk Æthelhun, under the protection of the aforementioned men of yours, to deliver into your friendly hands these greetings and requests.
In the first place we declare that all with one accord render abundant thanks to Almighty God who has given you of His grace so plentifully that He has turned a countless multitude of the heathen away from their ancient error of idolatry to the standard of Christian faith through the word and works of your mission. We still pray for greater things with God’s help, in the confident hope that He who began the work through you will not fail to carry it on from day to day to even greater results.
By the bearer of this letter I am sending to Your Reverence with my devoted affection a few little gifts: a silver, gold-lined drinking cup weighing three pounds and a half and two woolen cloaks. We are not sending these gifts with the purpose or expectation of receiving any earthly profit or return; but rather on bended knees begging of you what is far more necessary, that in these evil days of manifold and unexpected troubles and in this world so filled with scandals you will deign to aid us with the frequent support of your prayers. And with this same object, may your reverend affection have ever in mind to urge on others so far as you can by command or persuasion, not only so long as you know that I am still in this mortal life, but after my death if you shall survive me.
Having thus briefly mentioned these things, there is one other favour which I desire to ask and which, from all I hear, will not be very difficult for you to grant, namely to send me a pair of falcons of such cleverness and courage that they will without hesitation attack cranes and, having caught them, will bring them to earth. We ask you to procure these birds and send them to us since there are very few hawks of this kind in our country – that is, in Kent – which produce such good offspring, of quick intelligence, combative, and capable of being tamed, trained, and taught for the above-mentioned purpose.
Finally, I pray you to reply to my letter and be so kind as to let me know whether the things I am sending have duly arrived.
May divine grace give Your Holiness long life to pray for us.
Which monastery Bugga presided over is not known, though it was evidently a double monastery in Kent. (A double monastery has separate communities of men and women. All known examples in England were headed by an abbess.)
Boniface corresponded with Abbess Bugga and, indeed, her mother, Eangyth (who was Bugga’s predecessor as abbess of the same monastery). Bugga, in this instance anyway, is short for Haeaburg (Heahburh). She died around 760.