Hidden historical heroines (#36: Eormenburg)

domneSaint Eormenburg (late 7th century) is a mythohistorical figure from Kentish royal legend, a granddaughter of the great Kentish king Eadbald (616-640). She is also known as “Domne Eafe”, which is probably a vernacular corruption of the Latin Domina (Lady) Æbbe.

Eormenburg’s two brothers – Æthelberht and Æthelred – were fostered by their elder cousin, the then Kentish king, Egbert. It is probable that Eormenburg’s father (Eormenred) had once shared kingship with his brother (Egbert’s father), and so his two sons were afforded respect and deference after his death. However, someone working for Egbert murdered the two boys in his fear that they would grow to prove themselves rivals to his master. He concealed the corpses under the ‘throne’ in the palace, however his crime was soon discovered.

Aghast at the crime that had been carried out in his name, and concerned that it may spark a blood feud, Egbert offered reparations to the boys’ sister. Eormenburg was married to Merewalh, a junior king of the Magonsæte, a western cadet kingdom of Mercia thought to have been located in Herefordshire and Shropshire; she would have made a dangerous enemy. Egbert offered her as much land as her pet doe could run in one single lap and as a result, Eormenburg became owner of the Isle of Thanet. Eormenburg used this land to found a rich and successful monastery – one that housed both monks and nuns – and became its first abbess; her daughter, Mildred, became its second.

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