Essex, Kingdom Of

ESSEX, KINGDOM OF, one of the kingdoms into which Anglo-Saxon Britain was divided, properly the land of the East Saxons. Of its origin and early history we have no record except the bare statement of Bede that its settlers were of the Old Saxon race. In connexion with this it is interesting to notice that the East Saxon dynasty claimed descent from Seaxneat, not Woden. The form Seaxneat is identical with Saxnot, one of three gods mentioned in a short continental document probably of Old Saxon origin. Bede does not mention this kingdom in his narrative until 604, the year of the consecration of Mellitus to the see of London. The boundaries of Essex were in later times the rivers Stour and Thames, but the original limits of the kingdom are quite uncertain; towards the west it probably included most if not the whole of Hertfordshire, and in the 7th century the whole of Middlesex. In 604 we find Essex in close dependence upon Kent, being ruled by Saberht, sister's son of Æthelberht, under whom the East Saxons received Christianity. The three sons of Saberht, however, expelled Mellitus from his see, and even after their death in battle against the West Saxons, Eadbald of Kent was unable to restore him. In the year 653 we find North-umbrian influence paramount in Essex, for King Sigeberht at the instance of Oswio became a Christian and received Cedd, the brother of St Chad, in his kingdom as bishop, Tilbury and Ythanceastere (on the Blackwater) being the chief scenes of his work. Swithhelm, the successor of Sigeberht, was on terms of friendship with the East Anglian royal house, King Æthelwald being his sponsor at his baptism by Cedd. It was probably about this time that Erconwald, afterwards bishop of London, founded the monastery of Barking. Swithhelm's successors Sigehere and Sebbe were dependent on Wulfhere, the powerful king of Mercia, who on the apostasy of Sigehere sent Bishop Jaruman to restore the faith. There are grounds for believing that an East Saxon conquest of Kent took place in this reign. A forged grant of Ceadwalla speaks of the fall of Kent before Sigehere as a well-known event; and in a Kentish charter dated 676 a king of Kent called Swebhard grants land with the consent of his father King Sebbe. In 692 or 694 Sebbe abdicated and received the monastic vows from Waldhere, the successor of Erconwald at London. His sons Sigeheard and Swefred succeeded him as kings of Essex, Sigehere being apparently dead. As the laws of Ine of Wessex speak of Erconwald as "my bishop," it is possible that the influence of Wessex for a short time prevailed in Essex; but a subsequent charter of Swefred is approved by Coenred of Mercia, and Offa, the son of Sigehere, accompanied the same king to Rome in 709. From this time onwards the history of Essex is almost a blank. In 743 or 745 Æthelbald of Mercia is found granting privileges at the port of London, and perhaps the western portion of the kingdom had already been annexed, for henceforward London is frequently the meeting-place of the Mercian council. The violent death of Selred, king of Essex, is mentioned in the Saxon Chronicle under the year 746; but we have no more information of historical importance until the defeat of the Mercian king Beornwulf in 825, when Essex, together with Kent, Sussex and Surrey, passed into the hands of Ecgbert, king of Wessex. After 825 we hear of no more kings of Essex, but occasionally of earls. About the year 870 Essex passed into the hands of the Danes and was left to them by the treaty between Alfred and Guthrum. It was reconquered by Edward the Elder. The earldom in the 10th century apparently included several other counties, and its most famous holder was the ealdorman Brihtnoth, who fell at the battle of Maldon in 991.

The following is a list of kings of Essex of whom there is record: Saberht (d. c.617); three sons of Saberht, including probably Saweard and Seaxred; Sigeberht (Parvus); Sigeberht II.; Swithhelm (d. c.664); Sigehere (reigned perhaps 664-689); Sebbe, son of Seaxred (664-694); Sigeheard (reigning in 693-694); Swefred (reigning in 693-694 and in 704); the two last being sons of Sebbe; Swebriht (d. 738); Selred (d. 746); Swithred, grandson of Sigeheard (succ. 746); Sigeric, son of Selered (abd. 798); Sigered, son of Sigeric (reigning in 823).

See Bede, Hist. Eccl., edited by C. Plummer (Oxford, 1896), ii. 3, 5; Saxon Chronicle (Earle and Plummer, Oxford, 1899), s.a. 823, 894, 904, 913, 921, 994; William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum, Rolls Series (ed. Stubbs, 1887-1889); Simeon of Durham, s.a. 746 (ed. T. Arnold, 1882) and appendix, s.a. 738; Florence of Worcester (ed. B. Thorpe, London, 1848-1849); H. Sweet, Oldest English Texts, p. 179 (London, 1885).

(F. G. M. B.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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