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It has been well said that our national history is made up of local history, and that our knowledge of the history of England as a whole will be all the better if we learn something of the way in which the English kingdoms were formed. This will help us to understand the relation which our modern divisions bear to the ancient ones. These modern divisions are named counties and shires, and we call one Kent and another Stafford- shire. In the latter instance, we note the affix shire^ while in the former there is not this special ending. Let us endeavour to find out the reason for this difference, and we shall then be in a better position to understand the origin of the county of Kent in the early days of our history.

Look carefully at a map of England and make a list of the divisions that end in shire. It may at once be said that these are portions or shares of a larger division. Thus Staffordshire was once a part of Mercia, one of the great kingdoms in early English days. Again Berkshire and Gloucestershire were formerly parts of Wessex, another English kingdom. Now look at the map and pick out the divisions that do not end in shire. Of these it may generally be said that they are the survivals of the old English kingdoms, which have kept their former extent and in some cases their original names.

Perhaps we could not take two better counties than Sussex and Kent to illustrate this fact. Both these counties were originally kingdoms and have retained their boundaries and names from the earliest times when the Saxons and Jutes came to settle in England.

The history of England tells us that our English forefathers divided our land into several kingdoms, of which Kent and Sussex were two; so that, for fourteen hundred years, these two counties have kept the names that they now bear. That is a very remarkable fact, and one of the deepest interest for us who are going to read about the geography of Kent. History and geography have a very close connexion at times, and here the one subject helps to illustrate the other.

The very word Kent has a history that carries us back to a period before the invasion of Julius Caesar. While most of our present English counties have English names, Kent stands almost alone in bearing one of Keltic origin. This fact bears witness to its antiquity, and leads us to understand that there is much in a name. Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Sussex and Middlesex are all good English words, whose meaning is evident at a glance. But with Kent the case is entirely different, and one has to learn a good deal of history to know how it got its name and why it has kept its name.

Pytheas, who lived about 350 B.C., was one of the earliest explorers who visited our land, and he mentions Cantion as one of the places he visited. Ptolemy, who flourished about 150 A.D., and was one of the greatest of ancient geographers speaks of Cantium, which may be said, roughly, to be represented by the modern Kent. In those early times we may safely say that the Kelts were living in England, and so it comes about that Kent is derived from Caint, a Keltic word meaning the open country, and was given to the long slip of land lying along the sea-shore and the Thames.

In the English Chronicle, Caint becomes Cantwara land and Cent, and in the Domesday Book it is written Chenth. In later histories it takes the form Kent, as you see it on the map of England at the present time. There is one other fact of interest that may be mentioned. Kent has two cathedral cities Canterbury and Rochester and this probably arose because, in early English times, it was subdivided into two kingdoms East and West Kent. Canterbury was the capital of East Kent, and its name Cant-wara-byrig means "the town of the men of Kent." The Archbishop of Canterbury signs his name Cantuar, which is simply a contraction of Cantuariensis the Latinised title of the See.

SOURCE: Bosworth, George. Cambridge; University Press. 1909

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This webpage was last updated Wednesday, 08-Oct-2014 13:40:40 MDT