Ethelred the Unready

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Ethelred the Unready
King of England
Reign March 18, 978April 23, 1016
Born 968
Wessex, England
Died April 23, 1016
London, England
Buried Old Saint Paul's Cathedral
Predecessor Edward the Martyr (978)
Sweyn (1014)
Successor Sweyn (1013)
Edmund Ironside (1016)
Consort Ælfgifu
Father Edgar
Mother Ælfthryth

Ethelred II (c. 968April 23, 1016), also known as Ethelred the Unready (Old English Æþelred Unræd), was King of England (9781013, and 10141016). He was the son of Edgar, King of all England (959-977) and Aelfthryth. The majority of his reign (991–1016) was marked by a defensive war against Viking invaders.


[edit] Early life

According to William of Malmesbury, Ethelred defecated in the baptismal font as a child, which led St. Dunstan to prophesy that the English monarchy would be overthrown during his reign. This story is, however, almost certainly a complete fabrication.

Following the death of his father King Edgar and subsequent murder of his half-brother Edward the Martyr, Ethelred succeeded to the throne at about age ten.

[edit] Conflict with the Danes

England had experienced a long period of peace after the reconquest of the Danelaw in the first half of the 10th century. However, in 991 Ethelred was faced with a Viking fleet larger than any since Guthrum the Old's "Summer Army" a century earlier. This fleet was led by Olaf Trygvasson, a Norwegian with ambitions to reclaim the Danelaw for his country. After initial military setbacks including the defeat of his ealdorman Byrhtnoth at the Battle of Maldon, Ethelred was able to come to terms with Olaf, who returned to Norway to gain his kingdom with mixed success. While this arrangement won him some respite, England faced further depredations from Viking raids. Ethelred fought these off, but in many cases followed the practice of earlier kings including Alfred the Great in buying them off by payment of what was to become known as Danegeld.

Ethelred ordered the massacre of the Danes living in England on St Brice's Day (November 13) 1002 (as described in the chronicles of John of Wallingford), in response to which Sweyn Haraldsson started a series of determined campaigns to conquer England. In this he succeeded in 1013, forcing Ethelred into exile, but after his victory Sweyn lived for only another five weeks. In 1014, Canute the Great was proclaimed King of England by the fleet of Denmark but was forced out of England that year. Canute returned in 1015 and agreed to a division of England with Edmund Ironside, Ethelred's heir.

[edit] Death

In 1013, Ethelred fled to Normandy, seeking protection by his brother-in-law, Richard II of Normandy, when England was over run by Sweyn Haraldsson of Denmark and his forces. He returned in February, 1014, following the death of Haraldsson. Ethelred died on April 23, 1016, in London, where he was buried at St Paul's. He was succeeded by his son, Edmund II of England, who shared the kingship of England with Canute.

[edit] Nickname

Although many in later generations have found his nickname "The Unready" appropriate considering the Viking onslaught he faced, his contemporaries did not consider the moniker to indicate he was ill-prepared. Rather, the nickname derives from the Anglo-Saxon unræd meaning "without counsel", "poorly counselled" or "indecisive". This could also be interpreted as a pun on his name, Æþelræd, which may be understood to mean "noble counsel" in Old English.

[edit] Marriages and issue

Ethelred married first Ælflæd, daughter of Thored, the ealdorman of Northumbria, by whom he had four sons: Æthelstan Ætheling (died 1011), Edmund Ironside, Ecgberht Ætheling and Eadred Ætheling.

In 997, he remarried to Ælfgifu, daughter of Ælfhelm, Ealdorman of York, who gave him two sons, Eadwig Ætheling (killed 1017) and Eadgar Ætheling the Elder.

His third and final marriage, in 1002, was to Emma of Normandy, whose grandnephew, William I of England, would later use this relationship as the basis of his claim on the throne. They had two sons, Eadweard (later King of England and known now as Edward the Confessor) and Ælfred Ætheling.

He also had as many as eight daughters by his three marriages.

[edit] Legacy

Despite the steady stream of Viking attacks, Ethelred's reign was far from the disaster described by chroniclers writing well after the event. The quality of the coinage, a good indicator of the prevailing economic conditions, remained very high during his reign.[citation needed]

His formation of an investigative body charged with the duty of accusing no innocent person and sheltering no guilty one is credited as being the historical root of the grand jury.<ref name = "Florida Supreme Court">Grande Jury handbook of the Florida Supreme Court.</ref>

[edit] References

<references />

  • Ann Williams: Æthelred the Unready: The Ill-Counselled King. London: Hambledon Press, 2003. ISBN 1-85285-382-4
  • Clemoes, Peter. The Anglo-Saxons: Studies Presented to Bruce Dickins, 1959

[edit] External Links

Documentary - The Making of England: Aethelred the Unready

Preceded by:
Edward the Martyr
King of England
Succeeded by:
Preceded by:
King of England
Succeeded by:
Edmund II
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