ÆTHELBERHT, king of Kent, son of Eormenric, probably
came to the throne in A.D. 560. The first recorded event of
his reign was a serious reverse at the hands of Ceawlin of
Wessex in the year 568 (Chronicle) at a place called Wibbandune.
Æthelberht married Berhta, daughter of Charibert, king of Paris,
who brought over Bishop Liudhard as her private confessor.
According to Bede, Æthelberht's supremacy in 597 stretched
over all the English kingdoms as far as the Humber. The nature
of this supremacy has been much disputed, but it was at any
rate sufficient to guarantee the safety of Augustine in his conference with the British bishops. Æthelberht exercised a
stricter sway over Essex, where his nephew Saberht was king.
In 597 the mission of Augustine landed in Thanet and was received at first with some hesitation by the king. He seems to
have acted with prudence and moderation during the conversion
of his kingdom and did not countenance compulsory proselytism.
Æthelberht gave Augustine a dwelling-place in Canterbury, and
Christ Church was consecrated in 603. He also made grants to
found the see of Rochester, of which Justus became first bishop
in 604, and his influence established Mellitus at London in the
same year. A code of laws issued by him which is still extant
is probably the oldest document in the English language, and
contains a list of money fines for various crimes. Towards
the close of his reign his pre-eminence as Bretwalda was disturbed by the increasing power of Rædwald of East Anglia.
He died probably in 616, and was succeeded by his son Eadbald.
See Bede, Hist. Ecc. (Plummer) i. 25, 26, ii. 3, 5; Saxon Chronicle (Earle and Plummer), s.a.568.
Written by Frederick George Meeson Beck, M.A.
Fellow and Lecturer of Clare College, Cambridge