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Kent, kingdom of

Kent, kingdom of. Kent was founded, according to tradition, in the middle of the 5th cent. by two brothers of Jutish origin, Hengist and Horsa, who came to Britain to protect the native inhabitants against the Picts and Scots, turned against their paymasters, and won a kingdom for themselves. Archaeology and evidence from place-names (the name Kent itself, Dover, and the first element of Canterbury) and from later institutions tell a more complicated story involving some Romano-British survival and considerable variety of Germanic invaders from high-status leaders with splendid jewellery among their grave goods to poor and backward Germanic peoples. Kingship was not always unitary, and there were two clear-cut divisions within Kent along the Medway, the men of Kent and the Kentishmen. There are also vestiges of survival of Roman administrative divisions. Contact with the continent was never lost, and was intensified in the later 6th cent., especially after the marriage of Æthelbert (before 589) to a Frankish princess, Bertha. Under Æthelbert (d. 616), who was recognized as overlord by all the Germanic settlers south of the Humber, Kent reached the height of its political power, falling back later in the 7th cent. as overlordship passed briefly to East Anglia, and then to Northumbria. Æthelbert's chief claim to fame is his acceptance of Christianity, and with the help of the mission led by St Augustine he framed laws to accommodate the new church and also to lay down rules of social behaviour. Later Kentish kings followed this lawgiving precedent, especially Wihtred (c.690–725), whose laws had a very high social content, showing deep concern over marriage law, and rules concerning Christian oaths, an indication of the completeness of the conversion of Kent to the new faith. But politically Kent had no high aspirations, and was overshadowed in the 8th cent. by Mercia, and after 825 by Wessex. The West Saxon kings used Kent (and Surrey and Sussex) as a sort of appanage to be ruled as subkingdoms by West Saxon princes. There were no independent kings in Kent after 825, though Canterbury preserved its special prestige as the see of an archbishop.

Henry Loyn

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Kent, kingdom of

kingdom of Kent, one of the kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England. It was settled in the mid-5th cent. by aggressive bands of people called Jutes (see Anglo-Saxons). Historians are in dispute over the authenticity of the traditional belief that Hengist and Horsa landed in 449 to defend the Britons against the Picts and whether Hengist and his son Aesc subsequently turned against their employer, Vortigern. The Jutes, at any rate, soon overcame the British inhabitants and established a kingdom that comprised essentially the same area as the modern county of Kent. Æthelbert of Kent established his hegemony over England S of the Humber River, received St. Augustine of Canterbury's first mission to England in 597, and became a Christian. During the following century, Kent was periodically subjugated and divided by Wessex and Mercia and finally became a Mercian province under Offa. A Kentish revolt after Offa's death in 796 was put down. Conquered by Egbert of Wessex in 825, Kent was forced to acknowledge the overlordship of Wessex and became part of that kingdom. Although it suffered heavily from Danish raids, it remained one of the most advanced areas in pre-Norman England because of the archbishopric of Canterbury and because of its steady intercourse with the Continent. The metalwork and jewelry of Kent were distinctive and beautiful.

See J. E. A. Jolliffe, Pre-Feudal England: The Jutes (1933, repr. 1963); F. M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (3d ed. 1971).

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