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Æthelbert (d. 616), king of Kent (560–616) has a special importance as the king who welcomed the Christian missionaries led by St Augustine to England in 597. He exercised overlordship over all the English peoples south of the Humber, and as a direct result of his support the Christian mission was firmly established in the south-east, with bishoprics set up at his principal centre, Canterbury (where Augustine became the first archbishop), Rochester, and London. Sources suggest that he began his reign as early as 560 or 565, but it is likely that these dates refer to his possible date of birth and that his reign commenced in the late 570s or early 580s. At that stage Kent had firm contacts with the continent and sometime before 589 Æthelbert married Bertha, daughter of Charibert, a Frankish king of Paris. She was a Christian, and brought a Christian priest, the bishop Liudhard, with her. They practised their faith in a church on the site of St Martin's, east of the city wall: a fragment of the pre-Augustinian structure survives. Æthelbert allowed Augustine to preach, allotting him the church at St Martin's and a site in the city which became the cathedral church, and later a site for the monks outside the wall on which was built St Augustine's abbey, a burial place for kings and archbishops. The king was quickly converted, probably in 597, and many of his people with him. The new faith drew him into yet closer contact with Francia and ultimately with Rome, and provided him with literate servants. As a result the first extant Anglo-Saxon laws were drawn up, after the example of the Romans, making provision among other things for the incorporation of the Christian church into the social fabric of the kingdom. Æthelbert continued to exercise effective authority in the south-east but Kentish pre-eminence weakened after his death in 616, a perilous time both for his kingdom and for the Christian mission.
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