Bertha of Kent v. Edmund

And...we're back for a FULL WEEK of Saintly Sixteen action! Today Bertha of Kent takes on Edmund. Like a penitential chess match, it's queen vs. king.

On Friday, in the second matchup of this round, Florence Li-Tim Oi defeated Enmegahbowh 64% to 36% to advance to the Elate Eight.

Will the Lent Madness voting public be "blessed" with another episode of Monday Madness? Stay tuned to find out.

And in the meantime, go vote!

Bertha of Kent

Queen Bertha of Kent is a medieval silent influencer - her indelible marks on religion and society were not clearly visible until long after her death. Feasibly, without her prodding her husband the king, St. Augustine might not have been as successful in bringing Christianity to England, thereby changing the course of history.

Bertha, a Christian, was born in France around 539 CE; she married Ethelbert, a pagan, in 580, and moved to his home in Kent, England; she died about 602.

One of her lasting imprints is found in her beliefs, which swayed her husband, King Ethelbert, to convert from his pagan beliefs and gods. Centuries later, Ethelbert is known as the first Christian king of England.

While records of her actual words have not been unearthed, there is an array of what others have said about her. History tends to show her in the shadow of her husband; nonetheless, the church chronicles tell otherwise. Bertha is mentioned by some of the great messengers of her day: Bishop Gregory of Tours; the Anglo-Saxon scholar/historian the Venerable Bede; Pope Gregory the Great; plus all the references to her influence in numerous books through the ages.

Bertha’s marriage to Ethelbert is the main reason that anything is known about her early years in France. Gregory of Tours' comments about Bertha were fleeting, but noteworthy. His only mention of Bertha put her in relation to the men in her life, her father and her husband: “He [Charibert, her father] had a daughter who afterwards married a husband in Kent and was taken there.”

Venerable Bede acknowledged Bertha’s influence on the king: “The fame of the Christian religion had already reached Ethelbert as a result of his wife's faith.”

In 612, Bertha persuaded Ethelbert to welcome Augustine to Kent, thereby establishing her as a mover and shaker in Christian history. After Augustine was settled and was baptizing new Christians, Pope Gregory wrote a long letter to Bertha brimming with glowing praise: “For your good deeds are known not only among the Romans, who have prayed earnestly for your life, but also through diverse places, and have come even to the ears of the most serene prince at Constantinople.”

There are books about her, such as “Queen Bertha and Her Times” and the young adult book, “Bert & Bertha, King & Queen of Kent: A Love Story Maybe, Maybe Not.” A film, Saint Bertha Queen of Kent, was produced in 2014.

Thanks to Queen Bertha’s Trail and the14 bronze plaques directing the way through the city of Canterbury and the UNESCO World Site, she is mentioned in numerous historical references and travel guides.

Neva Rae Fox


Edmund, the King of East Anglia from around 855 until his death on November 20, 869, is remembered as Martyr for his death in defense of East Anglia from pagan Viking invasion in 868-869.

While markedly few historical facts of Edmund’s life and death are known, largely thanks to the victorious Vikings who destroyed evidence of his existence and reign, he was canonized by the church quite soon after his death – by the time East Anglia was absorbed by Wessex in 1918, a series of coins remembering Edmund had been minted – they are now known as St. Edmund pennies. Over 1800 specimens were found in the 19th century.

Edmund’s remains travelled as much, if not more, than the martyr and king himself. In 1010, his remains were moved to London to protect them for veneration and keep them away from the Viking pestilence. By 1013, they were moved again, this time to a town bearing his name to this day – Bury St. Edmunds – there to rest for ever.

Or so one would think. In the 17th century, a lawyer in Toulouse decided that Edmund’s remains had been taken from Bury as Louis VIII of France retreated after a defeat in Lincoln in 1217. Indeed, the records of the Basilica of Saint-Sernin in Tolouse show “St. Edmund” among the church’s relics in 1425. The relics are credited with saving Toulouse from the plague of 1628-1631; the remains were placed in a religquary, there to rest after much travel.

Or so one would think. By 1901, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, received relics from Saint-Sernin for inclusion in London’s Westminster Cathedral. Upon their arrival in England, they were housed in the Fitalan Chapel at Arundel Chapel in West Sussex. Never translated from Arundel to Westminster Cathedral, it was there the purported remains of Edmund were left to rest in peace.

Or so one would think. In 1966, three teeth, purportedly from some portion of Edmund’s relics, were given to a monastery in Berkshire, England. As of 1993, the vast majority of Edmund remained in West Sussex. Or at least, so one would hope.

David Sibley



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87 comments on “Bertha of Kent v. Edmund”

  1. So small a thing to bring her husband to conversion, and to encourage the bringing of Augustine to England. And yet so profound!

  2. Now the Palmer, Knight, and Prioress
    Might have never enjoyed their success:
    For the pilgrimage tale
    Would have strayed from the trail
    Without Bertha, who chose the address.

  3. I am so impressed by Bertha's ability to influence her husband from the grave that my vote goes to her. (There may be a typo in the write up which suggests Bertha died in 602 and persuaded her husband to welcome Augustine to Canterbury in 612.) Less frivolously, it's good to vote for a woman who influenced the powerful through her quiet steadfast faith.

    1. Since Augustine arrived in Kent in 597, and he died somewhere around 604 would seem that Aethelbert was somewhat tardy in his welcome!

    2. I too was tripped up by that as I read. I'd like to know the actual year Augustine came to England and when it was in Bertha's life.

      1. Wikipedia is your friend.

        His dates: c: 550 - Feb 24 616. Hers: c. 565 - 601

        "Æthelberht [=Ethelbert] was the son of Eormenric, succeeding him as king, according to the Chronicle. He married Bertha, the Christian daughter of Charibert I, king of the Franks, thus building an alliance with the most powerful state in contemporary Western Europe; the marriage probably took place before he came to the throne. Bertha's influence may have led to Pope Gregory I's decision to send Augustine as a missionary from Rome. Augustine landed on the Isle of Thanet in east Kent in 597. Shortly thereafter, Æthelberht converted to Christianity, churches were established, and wider-scale conversion to Christianity began in the kingdom. He provided the new church with land in Canterbury, thus helping to establish one of the foundation stones of English Christianity."

    3. I picked up the error of her death of”1602” as well. Later I found the article stated she and her husband welcomed Augustine in1612 to Canterbury 12 years after her death!!!!

  4. Sentence structure issue. "Feasibly, without her prodding her husband the king, St. Augustine ..." St. Augustine was not the king, right? Sorry to be so picky this morning.

  5. St. Bertha never ticked or tocked,
    but still medieval times she rocked,
    yet Edmund's reliquary gore
    has traveled, saintly, all the more.

  6. The date discrepancies in the write up for Bertha made me revert to the first bio to help alleviate my confusion. Once on a more understandable timeline, I found myself seeing the soft glove of a woman's influence may have made a larger impact on the spread of the Gospel than men at war.

  7. I'm actually voting for David Sibley this morning for his clever use of, "or so one would think"

  8. I wish we could get away from the Roman Catholic narrative of the "Christianization" of England/Britain. Aethelbert's conversion started the process of converting the Anglo-Saxon invaders from their Germanic, polytheistic religion to Catholic Christianity, but the Roman Empire had brought Christianity earlier. The Celtic Christianity that developed was vibrant and spreading with St. Patrick's Day a reminder of that evangelism. Pope Gregory was not only trying to "Christianize" the "pagan" Anglo-Saxons, but also seeking Roman Church hegemony over the Celtic (British) Church.

    Under this (non-Roman Catholic) narrative, Bertha doesn't seem so wonderful to me, as she was used as an agent of the spread of the power and influence of the Pope.

    1. I agree, St. Patrick and Celtic Christianity were established before Augustine and the church of Rome... Edmund gets my vote. This may be just one more in my long run of voting for the less popular choice, but... in all of these, one of two good people wins.

  9. I think Bertha has earned the right to move on if for no other reason than she had to carry the name Bertha her entire llife. Also, the marching band from my alma mater touts the largest bass drum in the country. Her name is Big Bertha.Whether the 2 are related is unknown, but both Bertha's are to be held in esteem for their individual contributions. Praise the Lord and Hook Em Horns

  10. Voting for Bertha, who brought Augustine to England...that is a big deal for the church! Also it is so typical that she got little recognition for her deeds, being a woman. I was feeling bad that she died so young...but then was confused by a reference to her inviting Augustine in 612, 10 years after the date given for her death. She was either some sort of magical person or there is a typo...I really suspect the latter. Way to go, Bertha!

    1. Reading the comments, I am getting the impression many people may be thinking the Augustine in question here is Augustine of Hippo, and are approving of Bertha for that reason. Augustine of Hippo might be on our minds since we voted on him not so long ago. But this is a different guy: when confusion might arise, the full title of Augustine of Canterbury might be more useful, even if long. Even so, as someone has remarked, Augustine was there not so much to "Christianize" the English of the day, as to introduce Roman (political via theological) hegemony to the Anglo Saxons and Franks (we're long pre-Charlemagne here...). Whence lies a very long tale, told in fits and starts by the presence of saints on our lists who were opposed to other saints on our list in times that leave very little documentary evidence.

  11. Voting mechanism is wonky today. Please check it, SEC. I tried to vote as usual and it didn’t seem to go through. So I tried again. Hope I don’t get banished to outer darkness!!!

    As to who I voted for. Bertha got my vote. Her efforts were acknowledged in the historical records like Venerable Bede, rather than on purportedly three teeth of Edmund.

    1. I had been mostly voting on Firefox on my iPhone as the entire site wouldn't load in Safari on my iPhone, and now Firefox isn't loading it either, but I'm at least able to read, vote, and comment on Safari on my MacBook (at least for now, Saint Isidore of Seville pray for me). I'd suggest trying to access the site to vote on a different device or using a different web browser if you only have the one device.

  12. Surely Edmund's canonization and the absorbtion of East Anglia by Wessex happened well before 1918? LOL

  13. I am all about Bertha! I identify with her fascination and admiration, awe of St. Augustine; call it whatever you want! In addition, I am in admiration of her influences that she had on her husband. Behind every great man is a greater woman! I am not a feminist. I do however subscribe to the persuasive influences that a lady has on a man. The strength of many women is their gentle, and quiet manner. Personally, I think it is easier to hear the words and message when it is said calmly and with minimal emotion! You rock Bertha!

  14. Especially in the final weeks of Lent Madness, I would have liked to know more about what Edmund did in his lifetime, rather than so much content on where his bones traveled. Fully 2/3rds of the write-up -- four out of six paragraphs -- deal with his mortal remains. Our faith teaches that what we do with our lives is what matters, not what remains of our bodies.

    1. Remember, Lent Madness is optional! It's the quirks and quotes round, so if there were no quotes (as David Sibley indicated in the beginning of his writeup), one has to go with quirks. You can always go back to the first round writeups for the history.

    2. Understood, but this round is called "Quirks and Quotes." I sometimes have to go back to the first round write-ups to refresh my memory of the details you are referencing.

  15. Everyone knows the Augustine who became the first archbishop of Canterbury isn't the same as Augustine of Hippo, right? They were 200 or so years apart. (I just detected a vibe of "Oooh, how did Bertha manage to land AUGUSTINE!" here. Makes me wonder if upon his arrival, Augustine experienced a supremely awkward moment where he realized he'd have to be perpetually explaining that he wasn't THAT Augustine.)

  16. Thanks for the laughing out loud writing about St. Edmund, David Sibley! Natheless, I voted for Bertha who seems to have been more active in promoting the faith.

  17. Another tough choice. However, I figured Bertha would be the favourite (who doesn't appreciate a good love story?) so I gave my vote to Edmund who should be restored to his former position as patron saint of England (as a proud Cymru I'm not about to root for any saint who kills dragons Edward III and his mediaeval romanticism notwithstanding!)

  18. Kudos to David Sibley on his writeup of Edmund! It was very entertaining, but I still had to go with Bertha.

  19. David Sibley’s write-up of St. Edmund was so very well done, I was torn in my vote (as I had voted for both candidates in the first round. However, I identify more with Bertha. And to both, Rest in Peace.

  20. It seems I’m better picking saints than basketball ball teams! No busted brackets here no that other one is toast! Hard to separate the English nobility but I’m going with the lady again! Besides, I’ve been identified as Daddy’s daughter, even after his death! and I call my big handbag Bertha. Sorry, Edmund, my grandfather with your moniker died before I was born!

  21. Poor Edmund. I'm reminded of the line from the Tin Woodsman to the Scarecrow after the Winged Monkeys were done with him: "Well, that's you all over!"

  22. I was fortunate to visit Bury St Edmunds during a church pilgrimage to Anglican sites in 2018. The church and its grounds are spectacular, steeped in the sacred.
    Anyone who visits Canterbury is impressed by Bertha's contributions which have been remembered and commemorated in statuary and pathway.
    I chose the living testimony of Berthas faith that inspired others while thoroughly enjoying the stories of Edmund's peripatetic remains.

  23. What accomplishments by Bertha, following the many women who quietly achieved much. I was inclined to vote for Edmund the namesake of my beloved father-in-law but ultimately being chopped up and transported around accomplished what? except for miracles attributed to his various parts, of which I have heard none.

  24. Just being picky - East Anglia was absorbed by Wessex in 918, not 1918 (only one digit out ...) and it's the Fitzalan (not Fitalan) Chapel at Arundel Castle.
    Now someone else can point out the other typos I've missed.