Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wihtred

WIHTRED (d. 725), king of Kent, was the great-great-grandson of King Ethelbert (552?–616) [q. v.] He began his reign, after a period of disputed rule, probably about the end of 690 (Bede, Hist. Eccles. ap. Petrie, Mon. Brit. i. 242, 282). He seems to have shared his throne for some time with a certain Suæbhard or Waebberd (Bede, loc. cit. p. 255), whom Matthew of Westminster calls his brother (Flores Hist. i. 346). In 694 (Hen. Hunt. Hist. Angl. ib. p. 723) Ine [q. v.] led an expedition against Kent to avenge the death of his kinsman Mul, but King Wihtred succeeded in appeasing his wrath with a large money fine or wergild. It has been conjectured that the submissive attitude of Kent was due to the defeat of its allies, East-Anglia and Essex. Wihtred's reign was long, peaceful, and prosperous, extending over thirty-four years. He died on 23 April 725 (Bede, loc. cit. p. 282). Wihtred married Werburga and left three sons (ib.), who inherited his kingdom in succession.

Several extant charters attest Wihtred's loyalty and munificence to the church in Kent (Wilkins, Concilia, i. 56 seq.). The most famous of these is the so-called ‘Privilege of Wihtred’ securing freedom and independence to the churches and monasteries of Kent. This was confirmed by the king between 696 and 716 at a Kentish witan held at Baccanceld, probably Bapchild, near Sittingbourne in Kent (Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, iii. 238 seq.).

To Wihtred also we owe one of our earliest extant codes of law. It was drawn up at a ‘convention of great men’ held at Berghamstede or Bersted, near Maidstone, in the fifth year of the king's reign, and was chiefly ecclesiastical in character. It was still found necessary at the close of the seventh century to prohibit ‘offering to devils.’ The code also regulates the relations of the lords with the different classes of the unfree, and even condescends to enjoin the use of the horn by strangers when off the highways (ib. pp. 233 seq.).

[See, in addition to the chief authorities cited in the text, the Anglo-Saxon Chron. in Petrie's Mon. Brit. i. 327; Gaimar's L'Estorie des Engles, ib. p. 785; Henry of Huntingdon's Hist. Angl. ib. pp. 723–4; William of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum, pp. 23–4 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Thorpe's Ancient Laws and Instit. of England, i. 37–43; Green's Conquest of England, pp. 9, 21.]

A. M. C.-e.