The Kingdom of Essex or Kingdom of the East Saxons was one of the seven traditional kingdoms of the so-called Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy) was founded around 500 AD and covered the territory later occupied by the counties of Essex, Hertfordshire and Middlesex.

Extent of the kingdomEdit

The kingdom was bounded to the north by the River Stour and Kingdom of East Anglia, to the south by the River Thames and Kent, to the east lay the North Sea and to the west Mercia. The territory included the remains of two provincial Roman capitals Colchester and London. The early kingdom included the land of the Middle Saxons, later Middlesex, most if not all of Hertfordshire and may at times have included Surrey. The modern English county of Essex maintains the historic northern and the southern borders, but only covers the territory east of the River Lee, the other parts being lost to neighbouring Mercia during the 8th Century. At times during the history of the kingdom several sub-kings within Essex appear to have been able to rule simultaneously.

History of the kingdomEdit

The kingdom of Essex produced relatively few Anglo-Saxon Charters and no version of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle. As a result, it is regarded as comparatively obscure. Saxon occupation of land that was to form the kingdom had begun by the early 5th century at Mucking and other locations. According to British legend (see: Historia Brittonum) the territory known later as Essex was ceded by the Britons to the Saxons following the infamous Brad y Cyllyll Hirion event which occurred c.460AD during the reign of High-King Vortigern.

The kingdom of Essex grew by the absorption of smaller sub-kingdoms. Among these sub-kingdoms were The Rodings - the people of Hrotha. The first recorded king, according to the East Saxon King List, was Æscwine to which a date of 527AD is given for the start of his reign. The earliest English record of the kingdom dates to Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, which noted the arrival of Bishop (later Saint) Mellitus in London in 604. After the death of Saebert in AD 616, Mellitus was driven out and the kingdom reverted to paganism. The kingdom reconverted to Christianity under Sigeberht II the Good following a mission by St Cedd who established monasteries at Tilaburg (probably East Tilbury, but possibly West Tilbury) and Ithancester (almost certainly Bradwell-on-Sea). Essex reverted to Paganism again in 660 with the ascension of the Pagan King Swithelm of Essex. He converted in 662 but in 665 Essex reverted to Paganism a third time under Sighere of Essex. This rebellion was suppressed by Wulfhere of Mercia who established himself as overlord.

A royal tomb at Prittlewell was discovered and excavated in 2003. Finds included gold foil crosses, suggesting the occupant was Christian. If the occupant was a king, it was probably either Saebert or Sigeberht (murdered 653 AD). It is, however, also possible that the occupant was not royal, but simply a wealthy and powerful individual whose identity has gone unrecorded.

Despite the comparative obscurity of the kingdom, there were strong connections between Essex and the Kentish kingdom across the river Thames which lead to the marriage of king Sledd to Ricula, sister of the king Aethelbert of Kent. For a brief period in the 8th century the kingdom encompassed the Kentish Kingdom to the South. However, by the mid 8th century much of the kingdom, including London, had fallen to Mercia and the rump of Essex, roughly the modern county, was now subordinate to the same. After the defeat of the Mercian king Beornwulf around 825 AD, the kingdom became a possession of the Wessex king Egbert.

Subsequent historyEdit

The Mercians continued to control parts of Essex and may have supported a pretender to the Essex throne since a Sigeric rex Orientalem Saxonum witnessed a Mercian charter after AD 825. During the ninth century, Essex was part of a sub-kingdom that included Sussex, Surrey and Kent. Sometime between 878 and 886, the territory was formally ceded by Wessex to the Danelaw kingdom of East Anglia, under the Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum. After the reconquest by Edward the Elder. the king's representative in Essex was styled an ealdorman and Essex came to be regarded as a shire.

See AlsoEdit