Monday, 23 May 2011
A Canny Deal by a Canny Princess at Minster in Thanet, Kent
The Isle of Thanet is now no longer an island, though its inhabitants still consider themselves to be distinct from the rest of Kent. It is only in the past three centuries that Thanet has ceased to be an island. Before that time a channel of seawater, known as the Wantsum, cut the island off from the mainland. See Route 9 The Vanished Wantsum for details of this vanished waterway.
The Thanet village of Minster originated as a village in Roman times built on a chalk spur that projected into the Wantsum. Enter the village from the north along the lane from the A299. Find the Bell Inn by continuing along the lane, bearing slightly left in the village centre.
From the Bell Inn, walk to the Minster that gives this village its name. The minster was originally a convent founded by St Ermenburga. Young Ermenburga was niece to King Egbert I of Kent. The details are hazy, but in 673 a nobleman named Thunor murdered Ermenburga’s two brothers, and King Egbert was widely held to be to blame for the killings. By way of compensation, Egbert offered Ermenburga the little village that stood on this site. She accepted, but demanded that she also get as much land as her pet hind would run round within a specified time. Egbert agreed and the deer was set loose. The hind proved to be very fleet of foot and Egbert was soon regretting his promise. Leaping on to his horse he set off to try to steer the running deer on to a shorter course. The horse shied, throwing the king into a water-filled ditch where he drowned. The hind then completed its run, having encircled 1,000 acres for Ermenburga.
Ermenburga promptly converted the land into the estate of a convent that she founded. The convent was sacked by Vikings in the 9th century so nothing of the original buildings remain standing. Most of the buildings to be seen today date to the 11th or 13th centuries. The parish church is of similar date, and was partly built with reused Roman bricks. A magnificent stained glass window depicts the story of Ermenburga, Egbert and the hind.
Whether there is any truth in the story or not is unclear. Certainly the the convent was founded by St Ermenburga with land donated by Egbert. The king did die in 673, though the circumstances are not clear. He was succeeded by his brother, Hlothere, who was murdered two years later by a nephew named Eadric. This Eadric was closely allied to the neighbouring Kingdom of Sussex, but he was killed in 688 by a cousin named Oswini who favoured an alliance to the East Saxons of Essex. Oswini was in turn ousted by Wihtred who was backed by the Franks. Turbulent times, obviously.