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Saebert of Essex

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Title: Saebert of Essex  
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Subject: Augustine of Canterbury, Kingdom of Essex, Æthelberht of Kent, History of London, Rædwald of East Anglia, Saxons, Waltham Abbey Church, Eadbald of Kent, Royal Saxon tomb in Prittlewell, Prittlewell
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Saebert of Essex

Sæberht
King of the East Saxons
Reign c. 604 – c. 616
Died 616
Predecessor Sledd
Successor Seaxred
Father Sledd
Mother Ricula, sister of King Æthelberht of Kent

Sæberht, Saberht or Sæbert[1] (d. c. 616) was a King of Essex (r. c. 604 – c. 616), in succession of his father King Sledd. He is known as the first East Saxon king to have been converted to Christianity.

The principal source for his reign is the early 8th-century Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum by Bede (d. 735), who claims to have derived his information about the missionary work of Mellitus among the East Saxons from Abbot Albinus of Canterbury through the London priest Nothhelm, later Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 739).[2] Other sources include the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, an imperfectly preserved genealogy possibly of the late 9th century (London, BL MS Add. 23211) and a handful of genealogies and regnal lists written down by Anglo-Norman historians.

Family

The genealogies and regnal lists are unanimous in describing Sæberht as the son of Sledd, who may have been regarded as the founder of the East Saxon dynasty.[3] According to Bede, Sæberht's mother was Ricula, a sister of King Æthelberht of Kent.[4]

Bede omits the names of Sæberht's sons,[5] but one name is given in the genealogy of MS Add. 23211 as Saweard.[6]

Conversion and succession

In 604, the Gaulish churchman Mellitus was consecrated by Augustine[7] as bishop in the province of the East Saxons, which had a capital at London, making him the first Bishop of London.[8]

Bede tells that Sæberht converted to Christianity in 604[5][9] and was baptised by Mellitus, while his sons remained pagan.[10] Sæberht then allowed the bishopric to be established. The episcopal church which was built in London was probably founded by Æthelberht, rather than Sæberht, though a charter which claims to be a grant of lands from Æthelberht to Mellitus is a forgery.

Death

Both Æthelberht and Sæberht died in 616, leaving the Gregorian mission without strong patrons.[11] Sæberht's pagan sons drove Mellitus from London.[12] According to Bede's explanation, this happened because Mellitus refused the brothers' request for a taste of the sacramental bread.[11]

Later medieval legend claimed that Sæberht and his wife Ethelgoda had founded Westminster Abbey, and that they had been buried in the church.[13] In the later Middle Ages, a tomb was even erected for them close to the entrance of the Royal chapels.[14] There is however, no genuine evidence to support this tradition.[13][15]

Prittlewell burial

In 2003 a high-status Anglo-Saxon tomb was discovered at Prittlewell in Essex. The artifacts found were of a quality that it is likely that Prittlewell was a tomb of one of the Kings of Essex and the discovery of golden foil crosses indicates that the inhabitant was an early Christian. As the evidence points to an early seventh century date, Sæberht is considered the most likely candidate for the burial,[16] [17] although other possibilities such as his Christian grandson Sigeberht the Good, or an unknown individual of high status, cannot be ruled out.[18][19]

References

Sources

  • Bede, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, ed. and tr. III.22, pp. 280–5.
  • Higham, N.J. The Convert Kings. Power and Religious Affiliation in Early Anglo-Saxon England. Manchester, 1997.
  • Kirby, D.P. The Earliest English Kings. London, 1991.
  • Yorke, Barbara. "The Kingdom of the East Saxons." Anglo-Saxon England 14 (1985): 1-36.
  • Yorke, Barbara. Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England. London, 1990.
  • Thornbury, Walter. Westminster Abbey: Chapels and royal tombs', Old and New London: Volume 3 (1878), pp. 431–450.

Further reading

  • "Sæberht 1 (Male)." Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England.
  • Hirst, S. and S. Lamb. The Prittlewell Prince: The Discovery of a Rich Anglo-Saxon Burial in Essex. London, 2004.
Preceded by
Sledd
King of Essex
c. 604 – c. 616
Succeeded by
Seaxred

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