Domne Eafe

Domne Eafe

Domne Eafe (floruit late seventh century) (Saint Domneva) was, according to the Mildrith legend, a granddaughter of King Eadbald of Kent and the foundress of the double monastery at Minster-in-Thanet during the reign of her cousin King Ecgberht of Kent. The various versions of the Mildrith legend disagree as to whether Eafe or her sister Eormenburg was wife to King Merewalh of the Magonsæte and mother of Saint Mildrith, as do modern historians, while some instead say that Eafe and Eormenburg were two names for the same person.

Eafe appears as a witness or beneficiary in a number of Kentish charters dating from the late seventh century under the name Æbba. It is presumed that Domne Eafe represents a vernacular form of the Latin Domina Æbba or Æbbe, that is Lady Eafe.



According to the Mildrith legend, Domne Eafe's father was Eormenred, son of King Eadbald of Kent and the Francian princess Ymme. Her mother is called Oslafa. It is probable that Eormenred shared the kingship of Kent with his brother Eorcenberht, the senior king, and also that he predeceased Eorcenberht.[1]

The Mildrith legend records several children of Eormenred and Oslafa. Their sons Æthelberht and Æthelred were murdered during the reign of their cousin King Ecgberht of Kent. Their daughters are less certainly identifiable. Eormengyth, according to the legend, was buried in the countryside near to Minster-in-Thanet and was reckoned a saint in later Anglo-Saxon times.[2] The various versions of the Mildrith legend disagree as to whether Domne Eafe or her sister Eormenburg married Merewalh.[3] Some versions of the legend claim that Eafe was simply another name for Eormenburg. A charter from the reign of King Wihtred, son of Ecgberht, appears to include the names Eormenburg and Æbbe in a list of noble abbesses, but it is unclear whether they refer to one person or to two.[4]

Eafe was certainly related to King Oswine, who ruled part of Kent. The nature of the relationship is not certain, but it is presumed that he was her nephew.[5]

Mildrith legend

The Mildrith legend survives in varying forms in a number of manuscripts which date from the tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries. These include a life of Saints Æthelberht and Æthelred in the Historia Regum, compiled at Ramsey Abbey and perhaps to be associated with Byrhtferth, a life of Mildrith by Goscelin written to rebut the claims by St Gregory's Priory at Lyminge to possess the relics of Saints Mildrith and Eadburg, while the claims of St Gregory's are preserved in a manuscript held in Gotha.[6]

According to the Mildrith legend, Domne Eafe's brothers Saints Æthelberht and Æthelred were murdered either on the orders of their cousin King Ecgberht or by an over-zealous servant of the king. In order to quench the family feud which this kinslaying would have provoked, Ecgberht agreed to pay a wergild for the murdered princelings. The legend claims that Domne Eafe was offered as much land as her pet hind could run around in a single lap. The result was that she gained some eighty sulungs of land on Thanet on which to establish a dual monastery.[7]

It is thought likely that this account is considerably earlier than the date of the surviving manuscripts. It contains features, such as the establishment of a monastery in compensation for kinslaying—an analogous case is recorded by Bede in the case of the killing of King Oswine of Deira by King Oswiu of Bernicia—which would be out of place in a late text.[8] Circumstantial evidence would date the earliest version of the legend from the time of Saint Eadburg (died 751?), third abbess of Minster-in-Thanet.[9]

Charter evidence

A number of Kentish charters from the reigns of Oswine and Wihtred name Eafe, or rather Æbba, as witness or beneficiary of grants to Minster-in-Thanet. Rollason argues that these show that Minster-in-Thanet was the main beneficiary of Kentish royal patronage of monasteries, surpassing even St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury.[10]

While there is no surviving foundation charter from Ecgberht's reign, the original grant may have been oral rather than written.[11] Fifteen century historian Thomas of Elmham recorded an earlier charter which has now been lost in his history of St Augustine's, Canterbury. This dated from 678 during the reign of Egcberht's brother and successor Hlothhere.[12] The Rolls Series edition of Thomas's history includes as its frontispiece a map he drew showing Thanet and the course taken across the island by Eafe's pet hind, a route which followed a ditch and marked the boundary of Canterbury's estates on Thanet.[13]


  1. ^ Yorke, pp. 32, 33, table 1 & 35; Rollason, pp. 37–38.
  2. ^ Blair, The Church, pp. 232–233 & Blair, "Handlist", pp. 533–534, suggest that she may have been buried in a tumulus.
  3. ^ For Domne Eafe as Merewalh's wife, see Kirby, p. 36 & Rollason, p. 45, table; contra, Yorke, pp. 37, table 3 & 107.
  4. ^ For which see Blair, "Handlist", p. 503.
  5. ^ Kirby, p. 103.
  6. ^ For a complete list of manuscripts and texts, see Rollason, pp. 15–31.
  7. ^ For the legend, see Rollason, pp. 10–11 & 73–87.
  8. ^ Rollason, p. 33, notes that a version of the legend "was in existence by the second quarter of the eighth century"; Blair, The Church, p. 144, note 33.
  9. ^ Rollason, pp. 35–36.
  10. ^ Rollason, p. 35.
  11. ^ Rollason, p. 35.
  12. ^ Rollason, p. 34.
  13. ^ Rollason, pp. 10 & 67.


  • "Æbbe 3 (Female)". Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England. Retrieved 2009-12-06. 
  • "Eormenburg 1 (Female)". Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England. Retrieved 2009-12-06. 
  • Blair, John (2002), "A Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Saints", in Thacker, Alan; Sharpe, Richard, Local Saints and Local Churches in the Early Medieval West, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 495–565, ISBN 978-019-820394-0 
  • Blair, John (2005), The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-921117-3 
  • Kirby, D. P. (1991), The Earliest English Kings, London: Unwin Hyman, ISBN 0-04-445691-3 
  • Rollason, D. W. (1982), The Mildrith Legend: A Study in Early Medieval Hagiography in England, Leicester: Leicester University Press, ISBN 0-7185-1201-4 
  • Yorke, Barbara (1990), Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England, London: Seaby, ISBN 1-85264-027-8 

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