Essex, kingdom of

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Essex, kingdom of. Essex was formed in the 6th cent. by Saxon settlers established to the north of the Thames estuary and east of the river Lea and London. The ruling dynasty claimed descent from an obscure Saxon deity, Seaxneat, rather than from Woden, and there are puzzles about the intensity of settlement with many early place-names but comparatively few archaeological sites and pagan cemetery sites apart from the important settlement at Mucking. In the early 7th cent. London was regarded as part of the kingdom (though subject to Kentish overlordship), and Mellitus, bishop of London, was forced to flee to the continent during the pagan reaction which followed the death of the East Saxon king Saeberht in 616. Final conversion to Christianity took place in the 650s under Bishop Cedd from Northumbria; the nave of his church at Bradwell-on-sea still survives. After Cedd's death episcopal authority passed to the bishop of London though political control of the city rested in other hands. Indeed, while retaining its own kings until the 9th cent., Essex played a minor role, particularly during the reigns of the powerful Mercian kings in the 8th cent. When dominance passed to the West Saxons after their victories over the Mercians in 825 and 829, the subordinate role of Essex was further emphasized, and from that point onwards it was governed by ealdormen not by kings. The boundary drawn up by Alfred and the Danes after 878 left Essex in the Danelaw, though there is no evidence of Danish settlement in depth. Essex was reabsorbed into the English kingdom in the early 10th cent. ( Colchester was reoccupied in 917), and played an important part in defence against later Viking attacks; the ealdorman Byrhtnoth was killed in the heroic battle at Maldon in 991. Ecclesiastical links with London and St Paul's remained strong, and the religious life of Essex was further enriched by the foundation of Waltham abbey (initially served by secular canons) by Harold Godwineson, late in the Anglo-Saxon period.

Henry Loyn