According to Bede, Seaxburh was the eldest daughter of Onna (HE III, 8).
Through her marriage to Eorconberht, King of Kent (640-64), she was to become the mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother of kings and saints.
Her children from the marriage include Ecgberht I, King of Kent (664-73), Hlothere, King of Kent (673-85), St Eorcongota [21st Feb], and St Eormenhilda [13th Feb].
Seaxburh’s daughter Eormenhilda married Wulfhere (son of the formidable Penda), king of Mercia (657-674), by whom she had a son, Coenræd, king of Mercia from 704 until his abdication and retirement to Rome in 709 (Bede HE V, 13, 19, & 24), and a daughter, St Wærburh. The latter is associated with several places including Ely and Chester.
Seaxburh’s son Hlothere died of wounds received in battle against his nephew Eadric (Ecgberht’s son) in 685.
Seaxburh’s grandson by Hlothere, later known as St Richard of Lucca, was the father of three saintly children: St Willibald (first Englishman to visit the Middle East and apostle of Bavaria), St Wynbald (or Winnibald) (apostle of Thuringia and Abbot of Heidenheim), and St Walburh (Abbess of Heidenheim). The latter’s feast day was on 1st May and her name came to associated with the pre-Christian spring festival of this date – hence it became known in Germany as Walpurgisnacht.
These and other royal and saintly descendants of the Wuffing princess Seaxburh can be seen in the genealogy below.
Although subsequent genealogical relations are uncertain, St Seaxburh’s line may have continued through to Ecgberht II of Kent, who ruled c.765-84, and Ealhmund, king of Kent c.785. The latter was the father of Ecgberht, king of Wessex (802-839), grandfather of Ælfred the Great. This would mean that Seaxburh would embody a genealogical link between the Wuffings and the West Saxon dynasty, from whom our present royal family is descended. For a discussion of other possible connections between the Wuffings and the West Saxon kings in the ninth century, see Chapter Six of my book on Beowulf.
During her time in Kent, Seaxburh became founding Abbess of Minster on Sheppey, Kent, the church of which still bears her dedication. In 679 she succeeded her sister Æthelthryth as Abbess of Ely. Bede relates that here she directed the translation of the body of Æthelthryth into a white marble sarcophogas obtained from the ruined Roman city of nearby Grantchester (Cambridge) which she enshrined at Ely (HE IV, 19)
Seaxburh passed away by about 700 [6th July] and was entombed close to her sister at Ely.
D.H.Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints (Oxford 1978)
D.P.Kirby, The Earliest English Kings (London 1991, 2000)
Barbara Yorke, Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England (London 1990)
© Copyright Dr Sam Newton, Blotmonaþ AD 2000