Kent ancient and medieval personalities

A number of memorable characters have had an input in shaping Kent's history throughout the centuries, starting with its early tribal formations and continuing in a ceaseless organisational and social evolution. Some of them are remembered as heroes, others detested, whilst others regretted for their undeserved tragic fate.

Hengist and Horsa


Known for founding a form of social organisation which constituted a stepping stone in Kentish history, namely the Kingdom of Kent, these two brothers of Germanic origin are attested as having arrived in the area during the 5th century, as mercenaries contracted by Vortigern, who was king of the Britons. Vortigern allegedly required their services towards defeating his northern adversaries, the Scots and the Picts, around the year 449 AD, and allowed them to settle on the island of Thanet. Around 455 AD, according to written sources, they initiated an armed conflict with Vortigern, following which Hengist (alternatively spelled Hengest) emerged as a victor, his brother being killed in the process. Their Jutish army defeated Vortigern's in what is referred to as The Night of the Long Knives (or the Treachery of the Long Knives), after organising a meeting under false pretences. Historians refer to this event as the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain, and due to its very early incidence, its documentation often includes facts as well as myths.

St Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury

In the late 6th century, more precisely 595 AD, a missionary was sent from Rome by Pope Gregory I to convert the populations inhabiting England to Christianity. Together with an estimated number of 40 monks, a monastery prior belonging to the Benedictine order, later known as St Augustine, set sail for Kent. His arrival on the island of Thanet in 597 marked the beginning of the Christian religion in the region and the country, and it subsequently spread throughout the rest of the territory. When St Augustine arrived, Ken was being ruled by King Ethelbert, who was still practicing paganism. After settling in Kent, he founded the monastery of St Peter and Paul, which was in later times known as St Augustine's Abbey and to some degree survives to this day. According to written sources, his conversion campaign was very successful, although some historians infer that the number of newly converted Christians reported back to Rome was unrealistic. He died in 604, on the 26th of May, which remains his feast day in present times.

Odo the Tyrant

Although Kent had a rather privileged status after the Norman Invasion in 1066, it was mostly on a declarative level, as the county adopted the motto Invicta (not considering itself conquered by the Duke of Normandy). In practice, an attempt to keep Kent under strict control was made by William the Conqueror by appointing his step brother Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux, as Earl of Kent. The earl's behaviour and treatment of his subjects was so abhorrent that his ruling lasted a mere few months before the people rebelled against him. Sources attest that that he was a greedy, unscrupulous individual who persecuted the materially disadvantaged and seized lands unjustly for his own use or that of his family. For seizing expansive lands without any just cause, he was tried in 1067 and had to return a number of properties. He was later imprisoned in 1082 for planning a military operation in Italy and spent five years in prison, to be released by his brother on his deathbed, in 1087. Odo soon planned another treacherous endeavour, attempting to overturn the king and propel William's son towards leadership instead, through a rebellion. However, he failed, yet his life was spared and he was allowed to return to Normandy. He later died in 1097, leaving behind a legacy of contempt and negative portrayals.

Wat Tyler


Wat Tyler was born in 1325, in Maidstone, and was to become the leader of the Peasant's Revolt of 1381, which did not succeed yet made a bold statement regarding the need for human rights and people's willingness to fight against oppression. The event which triggered Wat Tyler's rebellion against authority was the indignant assault of his daughter by a tax collector, which cost the latter his life. His neighbours found inspiration in his courage and decided he had the leadership qualities they needed in order to organise an uprising. By joining another group of rebelling peasants lead by two priests, their number grew to an impressive estimated 100.000, who made their way to London and tried to overturn the king and his state apparatus. Wat Tyler was killed in battle on the 14th of June, during this struggle. King Richard then deceived the rebels by making a number of promises which soon proved to be utter lies, which shows that governance was maintained back then through the same methods as today and therefore little has been learned since.

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn, whose childhood home was Hover Castle in Kent, was Henry VIII's second wife, one of the six and with a particularly gruesome fate. When Henry VIII's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, failed to provide the king with a male heir to the throne, Henry began his affair with young aristocrat Anne Boleyn, after previously having an affair with her sister, Mary Boleyn. In his eagerness to marry Anne, Henry went through a long process of divorcing Catherine; as the Catholic church would not permit this divorce, the Anglican Church was soon established. Anne became queen of England on the 1st of June 1533, despite strong opposition from the king's trusted advisors. She was despised not only for displacing Catherine of Aragon but also for the religious turn the country had taken in order to make that marriage happen. During the three years she was queen, she had a very active participation in leading the country yet also failed to give birth to a son. Following the birth of her daughter Elizabeth, she had two still births, which was mainly the reason why accusations of adultery (including incest) and conspiracy to murder the king were brought against her. She was imprisoned in the Tower of London and very soon tried and beheaded.

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