Æbbe (also known as Domne Eafe and Eormenburg), Princess of Kent


Æbbe was the daughter of Eormenred, a younger son of King Eadbald of Kent, and thus a niece of St Eanswythe.  The kingship of Kent passed from Eadbald to his son Eorcenberht and then in 664 to Eorcenberht’s son Ecgberht.  Æbbe was thus the cousin of the king.

It seems that Ecgberht did not feel secure in his throne and, depending on the version of the story, either procured, or at least connived at, the murder of his cousins Æthelred and Æthelberht, Æbbe’s brothers. The two murdered boys were initially buried in the royal hall at Eastry, but the story as recorded in the Kentish Royal Legend, is that the burial place was miraculously revealed by a heavenly light. Faced with the evidence of his crime, King Ecgberht under Kentish law had to pay a blood-price to the boys’ family, in this case their surviving sister Æbbe.

It was recorded that Æbbe claimed as the blood-price the amount of land that her tame hind could run around in a single lap. In the event, either through divine guidance, or because the hind went where Æbbe led it, she was able to claim an estate amounting to some 200 acres on the Isle of Thanet. There at Minster she founded an abbey dedicated to St Mary the Virgin the end point of the Royal Saxon Way. Æbbe and her pet deer still appear on the village badge of Minster.

Thomas of Elmham map of ThanetMap of Thanet showing the estate that belonged to Æbbe's abbey at Minster, illustrated in the early 14th Century by Thomas of Elmham in his History of St Augustine's Abbey (© Trinity Hall, Cambridge)

St Mary the Virgin, Minster-in-Thanet, founded as an abbey by Æbbe but now the parish church (© Rob Baldwin)

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