The Kingdom of Kent was a kingdom of Jutes in southeast England and was one of the seven traditional kingdoms of the so-called Anglo-Saxon heptarchy.

Romano-British Ceint

The origins of Kent are obscure but the boundaries of the realm are likely to correspond to the ancient tribal lands of the Brythonic Cantiaci tribe or Ceint after which the kingdom is named. Caesar referred to Cingetorix, Carvilius, Taximagulus and Segovax as kings of the four regions of Cantiacia. Later kings are known from their coins, including Dubnovellaunus, Vosenos, Eppillus, and Amminus.

About thirty years after the evacuation of the last Roman legions from Britain in around 446 a number of Jutish buccaneers fresh from pillaging Frisia made landfall on the shores of Kent. This whole stretch of coastline was then known as the Saxon Shore and was guarded by a series of very effective fortresses. News of their arrival was conveyed to the British ruler who gave them a message to take back to their leaders offering them payment in return for federati service defending the realm in the north from the incursions of Picts and Scots. According to legend they were promised provisions and offered the island of Ynys Ruym - now known as Thanet - in perpetuity to use as a base for their operations. It is recorded in the Kentish Chronicle that Hengist advised;

"Take my advice and you will never fear conquest from any man or any people, for my people are strong. I will invite my son and his cousin to fight against the Irish [the Scoti], for they are fine warriors"

The offer was conveyed to Hengist and accepted. Between 446 and 449 the Jutes assaulted the eastern strongholds of Pictavia and brought much needed relief to the beleaguered Romano-British communities of the north. In approximately 450 Vortigern married Rowena the enchanting daughter of Hengist who demanded the whole of the Cantiaci civitas as the bride-gift. Vortigern was so enchanted by Rowenna that he agreed to the Jutish demands in what what was to be an enormous tactical disaster. The establishment of barbarian bases inland rendered the extensive coastal forts of the Saxon Shore almost useless as the 6th Century British monk Gildas Sapiens laments;

"They sealed its [Britain's] doom by inviting in among them (like wolves in to the sheep fold), the fierce and impious Saxons [sic] a race hurtful both to God and men, to repel the invasions of the northern nations. Nothing was ever so pernicious to our country, nothing was ever so unlucky. What palpable darkness must have enveloped their minds-darkened desperate and cruel! Those very people whom, when absent, they dreaded more than death itself, were invited to reside, as one may say, under the selfsame roof."

Unlike other areas of sub-Roman Britannia, the civitus of Cantiacia was handed over in entirety to Hengist and Horsa. Gwrangon was king of Ceint in the time of Vortigern the High King of Britain. According to Nennius, Vortigern took away his kingdom and gave it to Hengist; but Nennius is regarded as an untrustworthy source. The word 'king' is also misleading and it is more likely that the 'province' of the Cantiaci was ruled jointly by a civil governor (Gwrangon?) and a military governor, according to classic Roman institutions. Hengest became the new military governor.

According to the sources the Jutes now began making ever increasing demands for provisions from their hosts who became increasingly divided and fractious. Each time the Briton's threatened to withhold the supplies the Jutes threatened to break the alliance and ravish the country. By 456 the situation had deteriorated so much that Vortimer - Vortigern's own son - assembled an army and against his father's wishes attacked the Jutes. The Jutes were victorious and Vortimer died at the Battle of Aylesthrep alongside the Jutish co-ruler of Kent - Horsa. The next year the Jutes were attacked again by rebel Britons and again repulsed them at the Battle of Creganford.

In circa 460, according to Geoffery of Monmouth, a banquet took place in modern-day Wiltshire ostensibly arranged to seal a peace treaty between the Britons and their Germanic foes which may have involved the cession of modern-day Essex. As told, the story claims that the "Saxons"—which probably includes Angles and Jutes—arrived at the banquet armed, surprising the British, who were slaughtered. This event was dubbed the Night of the Long Knives by Geoffrey and is the original event to bear that name. The only escapees from this slaughter were said to be Vortigern himself, and Saint Abban the Hermit. The historical existence of this event or persons involved in it is conjectural as textual evidence is weak and begins in the 7th century.

By 465 the British government under Vortigern was rapidly beginning to unravel and civil war was spreading across the country. At around this time the local Cantiaci population of Ceint took matters into their own hands and revolted against their new masters. They were cut down at the Battle of Wippedsfleot and the remaining Romano-British population fled into the Wealden forest or by sea for exile in Gaul. The pacified territory of Ceint was from now on known as Cantware and thus the first piece of what was to become England was established.

Jutish Cantware

The first securely datable event in the kingdom is the arrival of Augustine with 40 monks in 597. Because Kent was the first kingdom in England to be established by the Germanic invaders it was able to become relatively powerful in the early Anglo-Saxon period.

Kent seems to have had its greatest power under Æthelbert at the beginning of the 7th century: Æthelbert was recognized as Bretwalda until his death in 616, and was the first Anglo-Saxon king to accept Christianity, as well as the first to introduce a written code of laws. After his reign, however, the power of Kent began to decline: by the middle of the century, it seems to have been dominated by more powerful Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

In 686, Kent was conquered by Caedwalla of Wessex; within a year, Caedwalla's brother Mul was killed in a Kentish revolt, and Caedwalla returned to devastate the kingdom again. After this, Kent fell into a state of disorder. The Mercians backed a client king named Oswine, but he seems to have reigned for only about two years, after which Wihtred became king. Wihtred did a great deal to restore the kingdom after the devastation and tumult of the preceding years, and in 694 he made peace with the West Saxons by paying compensation for the killing of Mul.

The history of Kent following the death of Wihtred in 725 is one of fragmentation and increasing obscurity. For the 40 years that followed, two or even three kings typically ruled simultaneously. It may have been this sort of division that made Kent the first target of the rising power of Offa of Mercia: in 764, he gained supremacy over Kent and began to rule it through client kings. By the early 770s, it appears Offa was attempting to rule Kent directly, and a rebellion followed. A battle was fought at Otford in 776, and although the outcome was not recorded, the circumstances of the years that followed suggest that the rebels of Kent prevailed: Egbert II and later Ealhmund seem to have ruled independently of Offa for nearly a decade thereafter. This did not last, however, as Offa firmly re-established his authority over Kent in 785.

From 785 until 796, Kent was ruled directly by Mercia. In the latter year, however, Offa died, and in this moment of Mercian weakness a Kentish rebellion under Eadbert Praen temporarily succeeded. Offa's eventual successor, Coenwulf, reconquered Kent in 798, however, and installed his brother Cuthred as king. After Cuthred's death in 807, Coenwulf ruled Kent directly. Mercian authority was replaced by that of Wessex in 825, following the latter's victory at the Battle of Ellandun, and the Mercian client king Baldred was expelled.

In 892, when all southern England was united under Alfred the Great, Kent was on the brink of disaster. A hundred years earlier pagan Vikings had begun their raids on these shores—they first attacked Lindisfarne on the coast of Northumbria killing the monks and devastating the Abbey. They then made successive raids further south until in the year 878 the formidable Alfred defeated them, later drawing up a treaty allowing them to settle in East Anglia and the North East. However, countrymen from their Danish homeland were still on the move and by the late 880s Haesten, a highly experienced warrior-leader, had mustered huge forces in northern France having besieged Paris and taken Brittany.

Up to 350 Viking ships sailed from Boulogne to the south coast of Kent in 892. A massive army of between five and ten thousand men with their women, children and horses came up the now long-lost Limen estuary (the east-west route of the Royal Military Canal in reclaimed Romney Marsh) and attacked a Saxon fort near lonely St Rumwold's church, Bonnington, killing all inside. They then moved on and over the next year built their own giant fortress at Appledore. On hearing of this, resident Danes in East Anglia and elsewhere broke their promises to Alfred and rose up to join in. At first they made lightning raids out of Appledore (one razing a large settlement, Seleberhtes Cert, to the ground - now present day Great Chart near Ashford) later the whole army moved further inland and engaged in numerous battles with the English, but after four years they gave up. Some retreated to East Anglia and others went back to northern France. There they were the forebears of the Normans who returned in triumph less than two centuries later.

Most of lands of the kingdom are within the bounds of the traditional County of Kent.


Wade-Evans, A. W. 1938. Nennius’s History of the Britions.

See also

Kings of Kent