Thursday, November 04, 2010

Kent - Invicta - The Legend

No matter where you find yourself in Kent, you will come across the County's insignia - the white horse and invicta motto.

The stories behind these two ancient symbols of Kent are very intriguing and shrouded in legend.

The white horse is said to trace it's history back to the fifth century AD when Saxon mercenaries, lead by brothers Hengist and Horsa, landed in Kent at the behest of Vortigern, ruler of the Britons.

Vortigern wanted Hengist and Horsa and their warriors to aid him in his war with the Picts and Scots. The Saxons were fearsome warriors and very successful in battle. Vortigern is said to have rewarded them by granting them control of the Isle of Thanet in East Kent.

The Saxons, however, were extremely ambitious. Sensing weakness, they turned against Vortigern, eventually forcing him to cede the whole of Kent to them.

The white horse is said to have appeared on Hengist's battle flag and has remained a symbol of Kent to this day.

Now to the second part of the story - the Invicta legend.

Fast forward to 1067. The Normans under William the Conqueror have defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings and are marching on London.

According to tradition, close to the village of Swanscombe, William and his men were met by the Kentishmen lead by Archbishop Stigand and Egelsine, the Abbot of St Augustines.

Each of Kentishmen carried a bough giving the appearance of a moving forest descending rapidly on the Normans. At a given signal, the boughs were cast aside revealing the Kentishmen armed and ready for battle.

However, the Archbishop and Abbot met with William and assured him of their allegiance, provided he was willing to grant certain privileges to the people of Kent and to respect their ancient rights and traditions.

Not wishing to commit his forces to another major battle so soon after Hastings, William is said to have agreed to the request.

The word invicta, meaning undefeated or unconquered, was adopted as the motto of Kent.

The monument shown in the picture above can be found in the grounds of St Peter & St Pauls in Swanscombe and was erected in 1958.

If you have enjoyed reading this post, please feel free to leave a comment. They are always welcome.

Further reading from the archives ....

They Burned for their Beliefs

The Meopham Air Disaster - 21st July 1930

Visit to West Malling


  1. I've seen the sign and motto all over the place but it never occurred to me to wonder about the origins. Now I know. :) Fascinating. I especially like the moving forest story. I wonder if that's the inspiration behind the moving forest in Shakespeare's Macbeth.

  2. Hi Sheila - thanks for the comment. I forgot to mention Shakespeare's Macbeth in the post. I believe the invicta legend was indeed the basis for the moving forest. Should have remembered all this from O level English Lit at school really :-(


  3. Great story :)
    Archbishop Stigand was treated rather badly in the Bayeux Tapestry's history telling, so perhaps the Normans were not so pleased with the Kentishmen.

  4. Wow! This is fascinating! I am always very proud to tell people I live in Kent and I just love it here but I know I haven't even begun to learn about the history of Kent and of the British Isles too.

  5. As I ex-Kent Police Officer I was always proud to wear the 'Invicta' badge as part of my uniform. During liaison work for the Force I was interested to see that German colleagues from North Westphalia wear the a badge with what appears to be the 'Invicta' emblem. Is it possible historically that Hengist came from that part of Germany - are we linked historically? Derek Gallagher

  6. Hi Derek,

    Thank you for commenting. I'm pleased you found the post interesting.

    It is very possible there is a connection.

    Some of the Saxons who settled in Kent were supposed to have originated from North Germany.


  7. I came across this page after reading The White Horse a story in E Nesbit's Fairy Stories edited by Naomi Lewis. A delightful collection reflecting the England of the late 1800's. She plays with the White Horse legend combined with Appledore also in this county where she spent most of her life. Just fun following links!


  8. The men of Kent should have done battle with the invaders and wiped them out England would have been a better place today, but if these warriors allowed themselves to be led by christian churchmen it's no wonder they took the soft option. Victory or Valhalla!!!

  9. Proud to be a Man of Kent!

  10. how did my ancestors get the surname Kent

  11. As someone choosing to live in Kent I found the history fascinating. Just purchased a Kent Invicta flag and did not want to fly it without knowing what it all meant. Thank you for the information.

  12. Saw the crest on Blackfriars Bridge today and wondered about the significance of Invicta. Now I know ☺ Fascinating bit of history and thanks for satisfying my curiosity.