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What is a 'Man of Kent' and a 'Kentish Man'?

Map Of Kent

If you find yourself reading this article, chances are you’ve probably already heard the terms a ‘Man of Kent’ and a ‘Kentish Man’, but have absolutely no idea what they mean…

In reality, today it isn’t something you’d typically hear often, but in Medieval England it was a much more common term that perhaps led to the way you were thought of in terms of your status as well as where in Kent you lived. But where did this strange term come from, and does it hold any significance today?

Celtic Origins

Romans Landing in Britain in 54/55AD
A Depiction of The Romans Landing in Britain in 54/55AD under Julius Caesar

The County of Kent is full to the brim with ancient connections that are overlooked every single day in the words we use. Take the name of the county ‘Kent’, for example, which comes the celtic ‘Cantiaci’ tribe that lived here over 2000 years ago before the Roman conquest in 43AD. Julius Caesar may not have conquered Britain, but his voyages in 55 and 54BC noted that Kent was the most civilised part of Britain, inhabited by the ‘Belgae’ tribe of Northern France.  Almost 100 years later, The Romans would return under Emperor Claudius in 43AD to complete their task of conquering Britain, with cities like Canterbury becoming integral to their Empire.

400 years later… the Roman Empire was collapsing fast and with the added threat of Atilla the Hun, all Roman legions based in Britain were ordered to return to Rome and defend the core of the empire. This is where our story begins…

Hengist and Horsa

Hengist and Horsa
The Arrival of the Saxon Brothers Hengist and Horsa in Kent

When the Romans left Britain, England was left incredibly vulnerable to invading parties like the Scoti and Pict tribes raiding from modern day Scotland & Ireland. 

Whilst we will never be able to 100% certify the truth, The Anglo Saxon Chronicle tells us that two Germanic brothers named Hengist and Horsa met with the tyranical warlord of The Britons called Vortigern. In return for their paid protection, they were paid in land and granted an island on the south east coast of England; today known as Thanet.

A Kingdom is Born

British Invasions
Anglo-Saxon Invasions and where they settled in England

The brothers Hengist and Horsa landed near the seaside town of Ramsgate in 448AD. Once the marauding Scots were sent packing, there was soon a dispute between the mercenaries and Vortigern, resulting in the battle of Aylesford where Horsa was killed and Hengist would found the Kingdom of Kent with his son (or grandson.. conflicting sources!) Oisc. From the late 5th Century, Kent would go on to become the strongest and most prosperous kingdom until it fell under Mercian and Wessex rule in the 8th, 9th and 10th Centuries.

Many other Germanic tribes would later settle all accross the country and eventually give its name to the land; Angeland… or as its spelt today… England!

William The Conqueror

The Battle of Hastings

By the 11th Century, Britain had come to see multiple kings from Saxon Kings of Wessex like Alfred The Great, to Scandinavian Kings like King Canut. Allegiances would often be temporary or negotiated, leading to the inevitable battles that we came to see after the death of Edward The Confessor on the 5th January 1066.

We all know what happened in the run up to Christmas Day 1066, where King William was crowned William I in Westminster Abbey, but do we know what happened in Kent? 

Legend has it that, possibly on his way to Dover to return to his native Normandy, William was prevented from passing unhindered through East Kent by representatives of the Men of Kent. Symbolically they are said to have held out a branch or a sword, and told William to choose – treaty or war.

In opting for the branch he is understood to have offered both the Men of Kent and the Kentish Men the retention of certain rights and customs if in return they would accept him as their King…

We are finally getting somewhere to answer the question!

Invicta

The Kent Invicta Crest

Today, Kent has the very proud nickname of ‘Invicta’; which in Latin means ‘unconquered’. It’s often learnt that King William had problems entering the City of London, and had to force his authority in Yorkshire through a brutal military campaign known as ‘The Harrowing of the North.’ However, was Kent subject to such atrocities and suppression or did they have more autonomy over their governance?

Despite the county being granted to William’s half brother Odo, it does seem that there was a fine line between where Kent was under Norman rule and where they kept their own rules. 

Gavelkind

The Kent Invicta Monument in Swanscombe
The Kent Invicta Monument in Swanscombe

The first thing you see when you read this heading is that it’s probably a typo! ‘What on earth is Gavelkind?!’ I hear you say… well my dear friends, Gavelkind is the answer to the question what makes a Man of Kent.

Today the border between Kentish Men and Men of Kent is often seen as The River Medway, and this is a fairly accurate borderline. The Kentish Men were West of the river and therefore closer to London and Norman rule. They believed that when a nobleman died, his lands and fortune would be granted to his eldest son; this is known as ‘Primogeniture’. 

However, East of The Medway District we have the original fiery red headed celts from the coast, who were reluctant to being overuled by any Roman, Saxon, Viking or Norman Kings. These people believed in dividing the inheritance of a man’s land equally amongst all sons; this is known as ‘Gavelkind’. 

What About Today?

Kent The Garden of England

So we’ve established one of the main reasons for separating Men of Kent and Kentish Men aren’t just to do with geography, but deep rooted laws that date back over 2000 years. Indeed, only the Irish and Welsh Celts shared similar ‘Gavelkind’ laws, where the Norman presence was less imposed.

Incredibly, Gavelkind in Kent lasted all the way up until The Administration of Estates Act in 1925! This was much later than Welsh law which was encorporated into English Law in 1535.

So whether you are a Kentish Man or a Man of Kent, you have a proud heritage that dates back to pre-Roman Britain, and a strong defiance and identity that has lasted the ages.

If you’d like to visit Kent and learn more about its fascinating history, why not book a private tour with one of our expert tour guides?

Kings of Kent
& Kentish Kings


Hengest c.455-488
Aesc alias Oeric Oisc 488-512
Octa 512-540 
Eormenric 540-560
Aethelbert I 560-616
Eadbald 616-640
Earconbert 640-664
Ecgbert I 664-673
Hlothere 673-685
Eadric 685-686
Mul 686-687
Interregnum 687-688
Oswine 688-690
Wihtraed 690-725
Aethelbert II 725-762
Eanmund 762-764
 
Sub-Kings under Mercian Rule

Heabert 764-765
Ecgbert II 765-772

Under Direct Mercian Rule 772-776

Sub-Kings under Mercian Rule

Ecgbert II 776-785 (again)
Ealhmund 784-785 (joint)
Ecgbert II (again) 784-785

Under Direct Mercian Rule 785-796

Kentish Rule


Eadbert Praen 796-798

Mercian Sub-King

Cuthred 798-807

Under Direct Mercian Rule 807-823

Mercian Sub-King

Baldred 823-824

Wessex Sub-Kings

Aethelwulf 824-839
Aethelstan 839-851
Aethelbert 851-860

Kent merged with the Kingdom of Wessex in 860

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