Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sigebert (d.637?)

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SIGEBERT (d. 637?), king of the East-Angles, was brother of Earpwald, king of the East-Angles, and probably a stepson of Redwald [q. v.], Earpwald's father. He was driven into exile by Redwald's enmity, took refuge in Gaul, and remained there during Earpwald's reign. While he was there he was baptised, and became devout and learned. After the death of Earpwald, who was slain by a heathen named Ricbert about 627, East-Anglia relapsed into heathenism, and was apparently in a state of anarchy for three years, at the end of which Sigebert became king, in or about 631, and at once set about the conversion of his people. In this work he was greatly aided by Bishop Felix [see Felix, Saint], who perhaps came over with him from Gaul, and whose see he placed at Dunwich in Suffolk. He also received the Irish missionary Fursa [q. v.], and gave him land to build a monastery at Cnobheresburg, now Burghcastle, in Suffolk. During his exile he had become well acquainted with the monastic schools of Gaul, and with the help of Felix established a school for boys in his kingdom after their model, bringing masters and teachers for it from Canterbury. His religious feelings led him to resign his kingdom to his kinsman Egrice, who had previously governed part of it, to receive the tonsure, and to enter a monastery that he had founded, said to have been Bedrichsworth, the later Bury St. Edmunds. After some time the Mercians, under their king Penda [q. v.], invaded East-Anglia, and the people, finding themselves unable to repel the invasion, besought Sigebert to lead them; for he had beforetime been a strenuous warrior. Sorely against his will they took him from his monastery and made him march with them at the head of a fine army; but, mindful of his profession, he would not carry any arms save a rod. He and Egrice were slain, and his army was totally defeated, about 637. Bishop Stubbs notes that Pits says that some letters of Sigebert to Desiderius, bishop of Cahors (d. 655), were preserved at St. Gallen, and the statement is repeated elsewhere. There can, however, be no doubt that it is founded on a confusion between the East-Anglian king and Sigibert, king of Austrasia (reigned 638–56), two letters from whom to Desiderius are printed by Canisius in his ‘Antiquæ Lectiones,’ i. 646, 649. On the ground that Sigebert founded a school in East-Anglia, it was hotly debated between the champions of the antiquity of Oxford and of Cambridge in the sixteenth century whether he was the founder of the university of Cambridge.

[Bede's Hist. Eccles. ii. 15, iii. 18; Will. Malm. Gesta Regum, i. c. 97, Gesta Pontiff. p. 147 (both Rolls Ser.); Liber Eliensis, i. c. 1 (Anglia Chris. Soc.); Dugdale's Monasticon, iii. 98; Bale's Script. Brit. Cat. cent. i. 78; Pits, De Angliæ Script. p. 108; Tanner's Bibl. Brit. p. 672; T. Caius's Vindiciæ, pp. 296 sq.; Parker's Early Hist. of Oxford, pp. 25–37, 311 (Oxf. Hist. Soc.).]

W. H.