Hengist , a Jutish prince, founder of the kingdom of Kent, who is said to have died about 488, but whose very existence is doubted by recent historians. He was a reputed descendant of Woden or Odin, and in company with his brother Horsa, with 300 men in three vessels, landed in 449 on the British coast at Ebbsfleet, near Richborough, in the isle of Thanet. Finding the British chieftains in need of assistance against the Picts and Scots, the Saxons agreed to assist in repelling the northern invaders, and, having been reenforced by 1,300 of their countrymen, they defeated them with such slaughter as effectually put a stop to their incursions. Hengist and his brother, perceiving the feebleness of their employers, forthwith sent envoys to their native country, who returned shortly with an army of 5,000 men. They brought with them also Rowena, the daughter of Hengist, who acted as cup-bearer at a feast given by her father to Vortigern, the principal British king. Vortigern became enamored of the Saxon beauty, and demanded her in marriage, to which Hengist consented. The Britons, alarmed at these proceedings, intimated to their auxiliaries that the time was now arrived for their departure.
But Hengist and Horsa allied themselves with the northern tribes whom they had lately repelled, and made war upon the Britons, spreading havoc and desolation, according to the Venerable Bede, from the "East sea to the West." The Britons formed a more vigorous system of defence, and, having deposed Vortigern, marched under the leadership of his son Vortimer. Hengist and Horsa were defeated in three battles, Horsa was slain in action at Eaglesford, now Aylesford (455), and Hengist then withdrew to his native country. On the death of Vortimer, Hengist returned with his forces much augmented. He is represented as soliciting a treaty of peace with Vortigern, who had been restored to power among the Britons.
The latter, trusting in the honor of the Saxon, invited his people to a great feast at Stone-henge, where, at a signal from Hengist, a fearful massacre took place. The life of Vortigern was spared; but the result was the speedy conquest of the whole southern country. Meanwhile Ambrosius, a Briton of Roman descent, endeavored to reunite his countrymen. Hengist received large reenforcements, under the command of his brother Octa, and of Ebissa the son of Octa, who occupied Northumberland. He remained himself in the south, completing his conquests in a great battle at Crayford, in 457. The Britons fled in terror to London, having lost the flower of their warriors, and abandoned Kent. The kingdom which bore this name under Hengist is said to have consisted of the county so called, Middlesex, Essex, Sussex, and part of Surrey, though Sharon Turner restricts it to Kent proper. The victor established his court at Canterbury, and reigned about 30 years. The Britons meanwhile had made several desperate exertions to expel him. Their last effort (473) was conclusive of their destinies, as, suffering a more signal defeat than ever, they are declared to have fled from the Saxons as from fire.
The romantic character of the British tradition of Hengist and Horsa has been established by modern historians; and Lappenberg shows that the Anglo-Saxon stories on the subject are purely mythical.