Aethelred the Unready (Aethelred II)

c. 968-1016

Aethelred II ruled as King of England from 978 until 1013, and again from 1014 until his death in 1016. He came to the throne at the age of 10 when his mother Aellthryth (Elfrida) murdered his half-brother, Edward the Martyr.

The unfortunate Aethelred ruled at a time when the Danes were making a concerted effort to sieze control of England. In the past, English rulers had dealt with the Danes by simply buying them off with a danegeld, a tribute of silver. Aethelred paid Danish invasion forces to leave at least 5 times during his reign, but they kept coming back for more.

On St Brice's Day in 1002 Aethelred ordered every Dane within his realm to be killed, a massacre that led to a fresh invasion of the Danes under Sweyn Forkbeard (Sweyn I). Sweyn siezed the throne in 1013 and Aethelred was forced to flee abroad to Normandy. However, Sweyn died the following year and Aethelred returned to rule for another three troubled years. Sweyn's son, Cnut (Canute) launched fresh attacks on England, and in 1016 Aethelred died in battle against Cnut, paving the way for the first Danish king of England to take the throne.

Aethelred is popularly known as Aethelred the Unready. However 'unready' does not mean ill-prepared, as you might think. The term comes from the Saxon term 'un raed', or, redeless, wihich loosely translates as 'without council'. So a more accurate moniker might be 'Aethelred the poorly advised'.

Time period(s): Saxon

Tags: Aethelred the Unready   Canute   Cnut   Sweyn   Danes   danegeld  

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