Ever since the Romans had left their most far flung territory in 410 AD, the lands had been overrun with invading Angles, Saxons and Jutes. These pagan forces overwhelmed the Christian population and by 580 AD, the seven kingdoms (also referred to as the Heptarchy) were ruled by pagan kings who could ‘trace’ their descent back to the King of the Gods – Woden. All this would soon change, however, with the arrival of king Æthelberht of Kent’s new wife Bertha.
…Or would it? Bertha of Kent, also known as Saint Bertha, is often credited for bringing Christianity to Kent and to England as a whole but it is hard to understand how much of an immediate impact that she had. Bertha was the daughter of the Merovingian king Charibert and his first wife Ingoberga. Bertha was also the granddaughter of Saint Clotilde who, whilst well remembered for her piety and charity, also commanded her sons to go to war with her brother in revenge for her parents’ supposed murder. The granddaughter may well have inherited the grandmother’s strength and fortitude.
Bertha arrived in Kent with her chaplain Luidhard in 580, quickly settling into her role as the Kentish queen. An old Roman church was restored for the use of her and her household which was dedicated to St. Martin of Tours just outside of Canterbury. St. Martin’s still exists to this day and the church, along with Canterbury Cathedral and St. Augustine’s Abbey, has been made an UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the constant Christian worship that has taken place within its walls for over a thousand years. That is a major part of Bertha’s legacy, if she had not been in Kent when the mission led by Saint Augustine in 597 AD, it’s highly likely that London would have become the centre of Christianity in England. If St. Augustine had even made it that far without Bertha’s help, as some historians believe that it was because of Bertha’s presence in Kent which influenced the Papacy sending him there, although Kent also had much more significant ties with the Continent than the rest of the Heptarchy did even before Bertha arrived. It was only after Saint Augustine arrived, however, that Æthelberht converted to Christianity.