St. Ethelbert, King of Kent Born, 552; died, 24 February, 616; son of Eormenric, through whom he was descended from Hengest.
In the interval between Ethelbert’s defeat by Ceawlin and the arrival
of the Roman missionaries, the death of the Wessex king had left
Ethelbert, at least virtually, supreme in southern Britain, and his
baptism, which took place on Whitsunday next following the landing of
Augustine (2 June, 597) had such an effect in deciding the minds of his
wavering countrymen that as many as 10,000 are said to have followed his
example within a few months.
Thenceforward Ethelbert became the watchful father of the infant
Anglo-Saxon Church. He founded the church which in after-ages was to be
the primatial cathedral of all England, besides other churches at
Rochester and Canterbury. But, although he permitted, and even helped,
Augustine to convert a heathen temple into the church of St. Pancras
(Canterbury), he never compelled his heathen subjects to accept baptism.
Moreover, as the lawgiver who issued their first written laws to the
English people (the ninety “Dooms of Ethelbert”, A.D. 604) he holds in
English history a place thoroughly consistent with his character as the
temporal founder of that see which did more than any other for the
upbuilding of free and orderly political institutions in Christendom.
When St. Mellitus had converted Sæbert, King of the East Saxons,
whose capital was London, and it was proposed to make that see the
metropolitan, Ethelbert, supported by Augustine, successfully resisted
the attempt, and thus fixed for more than nine centuries the individual
character of the English church. He left three children, of whom the
only son, Eadbald, lived and died a pagan.
STUBBS in Dict. Christ. Biogr., s.v.; HUNT in Dict. Nat. Biogr.,
s.v.; BEDE, Hist. Eccl., I, II; GREGORY OF TOURS, Historia Francorum,
IV, IX; Acta SS.; BUTLER, Lives of the Saints, 24 Feb.
E. Macpherson (Catholic Encyclopedia)