Beginnings

The power play between the Monarchy and the Church proved to be a recurrent theme throughout the first 750 years of Charing Archbishop’s Palace’s history.

As many an old tale starts, “To begin at the beginning”… So it was with the Archbishop’s Palace, when the lands on which it was later to stand became the focus of an unequal trial of strength between the last of the independent kings of Kent, Egbert II and Offa, king of Mercia, the most powerful of the seven English Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

Around 780, Egbert granted his Charing lands to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the monks of Christchurch Priory. By 786, Offa, on a campaign of Mercian expansion had become effective overlord of Kent and to extinguish any final hope of Kentish independence sought to acquire lands in the kingdom. For a number of reasons the archbishop’s manor at Charing was an ideal target.

Offa calculated that by confiscating these lands – as he did on the legal pretext that Egbert had transacted the grant through one of his ministers and not personally – he could subdue the Archbishop of Canterbury and make his capital, Lichfield not Canterbury, the seat of the supreme church in England.

In 787 Offa got his way. The archbishopric of Lichfield was established and Church power swung from Canterbury. But it didn’t last. In 796 Offa died and with him his vision of Mercian aggrandisement. Pope Leo III restored Canterbury’s supremacy and Archbishop Jaenbert set about recovering his lost lands.

In 799, Jaenbert’s powers of persuasion succeeded when Coenwulf, Offa’s near successor king of Mercia, granted a charter restoring the lands (which features the first written record of Charing as a place) to the archbishop and his antecedents, under 56 of whose control they remained until surrendered to Henry VIII by Archbishop Cranmer in 1545.

Main image: ‘Spirit Marks’ on the south wall of the former Great Hall – courtesy of Harold Trill