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Remains of Anglo-Saxon princess discovered in Kent


Coin of Eadbald of Kent (public domain)

The remains of Princess Eanswith, also written as Eanswythe or Eanswide, have been discovered hidden inside the wall of a church in Kent. Historians say that the bones and teeth that were found are almost certainly those of the 7th century Princess and saint.

Dr Andrew Richardson, from the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, told the BBC: “It now looks highly probable that we have the only surviving remains of a member of the Kentish royal house, and of one of the earliest Anglo-Saxon saints.” The teeth and bones have been carbon-dated to the mid-7th century. Her bones show very little sign of injury, only a potential stress fracture in one foot bone and two damaged finger bones. An isotopic analysis will be carried out to reveal more about her life.

Her remains were moved several times after her death, and she was probably placed inside the wall to prevent the destruction of her relics. They were rediscovered in 1885, but they had no way of identifying the remains. A group of local historians began their quest to have the bones identified three years ago.

Eanswith was the daughter of Eadbald, who ruled as king of Kent from 616 to 640. Eanswith refused to marry a pagan King and became a nun instead. It is believed that she founded and became the abbess of what was probably England’s first nunnery. Eanswith life was to be short – she was probably still in her early 20s when she died, possibly of the bubonic plague. At least five miracles were attributed to her.

She is the patron saint of Folkestone and her feast day is celebrated on 12 September.