Ethelbert, king of Kent, born about 545, ascended the throne in 560, and died in 616. As the representative of Hengist, he claimed superiority among the Saxon states, but was twice defeated in the early part of his reign by Ceaw-lin, king of Wessex. About 589 he had acquired the dignity of bretwalda, or leading chief of the Anglo-Saxons, Ceawlin being deposed by his subjects, and dying a few years later. The most remarkable event of his reign was the introduction of the Christian religion into Britain. His queen Bertha, a daughter of Charibert, king of Paris, professed this faith, and through her it had already become somewhat known to the king and to a portion of the people, when in 596 a company of Italian and French monks, sent by Pope Gregory the Great, under the conduct of Augustin, landed on the isle of Thanet. They were received by the king beneath an oak, the sacred tree of the druids, where it was supposed any magical spell would be without influence; and after a conference he gave them permission to preach without molestation, though he himself had then no intention of abandoning the gods of his fathers. The queen prepared a residence for the new apostles, and in 597 Ethelbert received the sacrament of baptism, and his example was followed by 10,000 of his subjects.
About 600 he issued the earliest remaining code of Anglo-Saxon laws, consisting of 89 enactments, relating principally to the amount of pecuniary fines payable for various transgressions.
Ethelbert, third king of the Anglo-Saxons, son of Ethelwulf, died in 865 or 866. He inherited in 857 all the kingdom excepting Wes-sex, and on the death of his brother Ethelbald in 860 possessed himself also of that portion. During his reign the Northmen sacked the city of Winchester, landed on the isle of Thanet, pillaged a part of Kent, and appeared in North-umbria under Ragnar Lodbrog.