Ethelbert Anglo Saxon King of Kent 552-616

 The  First English King to Convert to Christianity on the Arrival of St Augustine’s Mission to Kent

The reign of Ethelbert would be central to the adoption and conversion to Christianity across the British Isles. It also set an important precedent to how the role of the Monarch and the Church would be entwined which still continues in the UK to this day.

  • Bede cites Ethelberts line as “Ethelbert was son of Irminric, son of Octa, and after his grandfather Oeric, surnamed Oisc, the kings of the Kentish folk are commonly known as Oiscings. The father of Oeric was Hengist.” It was Hengist who it was believed was the earliest King of Kent.
  • He was the 1st English King to issue a written Law Code, it was a system of Fines, the essence of this see below.
  • 597 Ethelbert welcomed Augustine’s mission to Kent, according to Bede, he was only prepared to meet the mission in the open air for fear of their magic. Bede sights Ethelbert as the 3rd Bretwalda. He did not command his subjects to convert but within 4 years about 10,000 people had been converted.
  • Ethelbert was aware of the power of Pope Gregory, we assume by travel and trade but the specifics are not documented, it still remains a mystery as to why he was convinced to convert. Was this for spiritual or political and economic reasons or a combination thereof? His motivation is an intriguing aspect of his reign.
  • He used his power and position to spread Christianity to Essex and East Anglia.
  • Ethelbert endowed Augustine with favour, land and the basis for establishing the Church in Canterbury which was also Ethelbert’s main place of residence. Augustine became the 1st Archbishop It is mainly due to this geographic proximity that Canterbury is still, as a non-capital city,  of such great importance to the Church of England.
    • built the cathedral of Saint Andrew in Rochester and the monastery of Saint Peter and Saint Paul (which became Caterbury)
    • he also influenced the conversion of the East Saxons by encouraging the conversion of King Sabert of the East Saxons, and this enabled the 1st church of St Pauls to be established in London.
  • Ethelbert died  24 February 616,
  • His son took the crown “whose son and successor king Eadbald, in the beginning of his reign, being a Pagan, became an avowed enemy and persecutor of the Christians and their religion.” Later Eadbald converted and continued the process of spreading Christianity.


References and Resources for Ethelbert / Aethelbert

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