People, Places, Dates

History and Archaeology are full of important people, places and dates. Here are some of the most important people, places and dates in the History of Essex.
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Famous People

Saint Osyth

Saint Osyth was the daughter of a Saxon King, whose father built a priory of which she became prioress. When Viking raiders attacked the Priory, they were unable to make her yield to them. Legend says that they cut off her head, but she picked it up and carried it as far as her church, to die on the doorstep; although in actual fact it seems more likely that they slit her throat, giving her time to get to the church.

Many stories of saints who were “martyrs”, meaning that they died for their faith, have similar miracles attached to their deaths. St. Osyth’s bones were sacred relics and were believed to have special powers; at one point it is believed that the bones caused paralysis in a Bishop who was threatening the rights of the church and priory.


Bishop Cedd

The Saxons followed a pagan religion worshipping many different gods. Britain had already been Christianised under the Romans but when the Saxons came it seems that many people went back to a pagan way of life. Missionaries were sent to Saxon Kings and nobles to attempt to convert them, and many Saxon Kings went on to found monasteries and churches.

Bishop Cedd came to Essex around 654 AD on a mission to Christianise the East Saxon peoples. He built the oldest standing church in Essex, St. Peter-on-the-Wall, at Bradwell on Sea, about this time. His mission was eventually successful and the East Saxons soon began building churches and priories of their own.

Important Places

St. Peter-on-the-Wall, Bradwell on Sea

This chapel was built in 654 AD by Bishop Cedd, supposedly to form the base for his mission to Christianise the East Saxons. The chapel still stands, and you can see in its walls fragments of Roman brick and tile. These fragments, and the dedication of St. Peter-on-the-Wall, are evidence that the chapel stands within what was once the Roman fort of Othona.

Important Events

The Coming of the Saxons

From the end of the Roman period onwards, Britain began to be colonised by new groups of people, generally identified as the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, three Germanic tribes. Eastern and South East England soon saw evidence of their arrival. Essex’s name comes from the Kingdom of the East Saxons, while today’s East Anglia was home to the Eastern Angles. They brought with them different ways of house building, different burial practices, different pottery and even a different style of art.

Archaeologists are divided about the size, scale and nature of the invasion, and even what happened to the natives who were living in places where these people settled. Partly this is because there is nowhere near as much information on this period as there is on the Roman period. The Saxon period used to be known as the Dark Ages because of the lack of information, and especially the lack of historical documents.


The Battle of Maldon

Of all the Viking attacks in Western Europe, those against Britain were the most savage and the most unremitting. The major Viking expedition which reached England in AD 991 pillaged Folkestone, Sandwich, and Ipswich before it was confronted at Maldon by a force of East Saxons led by Ealdorman Brihtnoth. The Vikings had established themselves on Northey Island, linked to the Essex mainland by a causeway submerged except at low tide. The crossing was blocked by the East Saxons. Brihtnoth, needing to defeat the Vikings or risk them taking to their ships and continuing to raid the coast, agreed to let them across to engage in battle.

In a bloody encounter, with heavy casualties on both sides, Brihtnoth was killed and the Vikings were victorious. The battle began the process which led to Anglo-Saxon England becoming incorporated for a quarter of a century into a Scandinavian empire. In its aftermath, the English sought to buy peace with a payment of £10,000. The main source for the battle is a contemporary poem, The Battle of Maldon, one of the finest battle poems in English literary history.

In 991 the landscape was very different from that of today. The shoreline was firm and the land dry. The channel between the mainland and Northey Island was only half its present width. Sea-level rise over the last 1,000 years led first to flooding, then to the reclaiming of the land by means of a sea wall by 1822. Mud has accumulated on the seaward side, so that the creeks now present give a misleading impression of the nature of the battlefield in 991.


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