NameAethelred (Ethelred) II (The Unready) King of England
Birth968, Wessex, England
Death23 Apr 1016, London, England
BurialSt Pauls Cath, London, England
MotherAelfthryth of Devonshire (945-1002)
Misc. Notes

St. Dunstan predicted the slaughter of the English people that would take place during his reign because at his baptism, he peed into the font of holy water.

He became King when his older half-brother King Edward "the Martyr" was murdered while visiting him at Corfu Gate, Dorset. He was consecrated King before all the nobles of England at Kingston. The chief feature of his reign was the renewed excursions by the Danish raiders. A solution was adapted for controlling the Danes by paying them tribute, and though he was not the first to propose such a policy, the collection of Danegeld is indelibly associated with his name. The payments have been interpreted as weakness and military incapacity but most were made on the advice of councilors and though not a permanent solution because of the numbers of separate raiding parties, they did achieve intermittent respites.

The first payment followed a raid in 994. "Then the King and his councillors determined to send to them and promise them tribute and provisions, on condition that they should cease that harrying. And then they accepted that and the whole army came to Southampton and took winter quarters there; and they were provisioned throughout all the West Saxon kingdom and were paid 16,000 pounds of money.

Further sums were paid in 1001, 1004, 1007 (amounting to 36,000 pounds sterling silver), 1009, 1011, 1012 (48,000 pounds), 1013, and 1014. The long term effect was summed up sourly in the twelfth century: "And this infliction has continued to this present day, and, unless God's mercy interposes, will still continue, for we now pay to our kings, from custom, the tax which was levied by the Danes from intolerable fear." Ethelred's reputation is further underlined by reprisals which he took against the Danes on 13 November 1002, "and in that year, the King ordered to be slain all the Danish men who were in England - this was done on St. Brice's day - because the King had been informed that they would treacherously deprive him, and then all his councillors, of life and possess this kingdom afterwards". He described his action later: "A decree was sent tou by me, with the council of my leading men and magnates, to the effect that all the Danes who had sprung up in this island, sprouting like cockle amongst the wheat, were to be destroyed by a most just extermination."

However much he might try to defend his actions, his reward for this was the wrath of King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark whose sister had been a victim of the massacre.

By 1013, when Sweyn came to England with his son, Cnut, Ethelred's fortune had reached a low ebb. His wife had retreated with her sons to France and he followed her soon afterwards. Sweyn's death in 1014 brought a reprieve.

"Then all the councillors who were in England determined to send for King Ethelred and they said that no lord was dearer to them than their natural lord, if he would govern them more justly than he did before. Then the King said that he would be a gracious lord to them and reform all the things which they hated and during the spring King Ethelred came home to his own people and he was gladly received by them all." His reinstatement was brief. Cnut went home only to return in the summer of 1015. He made himself master of the old Danelaw by the time Ethelred died.

An uninspiring leader, his dealings with the Danes and with his northern domains were uniformly unsatisfactory, and his reign was marked with treachery. His nickname "unread" or "evil counsel" was often mistranslated "unready", aptly so. His reign witnessed notable artistic and literary achievements and generally efficient administration.

Called "The Unready" (i.e. without rede or counsel); tried to buy off Danish invaders led by Sweyn; finally assembled large navy but internal dissent undermined effective deployment; Encycl. Britannica, 1956 Ed. (1:275) states: "Weak, self-indulgent, improvident, he had pursued a policy of opportunism to a fatal conclusion." He reigned 979-1016.

References: [AR7],[Weis1],[RFC],[Paget1],[PlantagenetA],[CP]
Birthabt 968, Wessex, England
DeathFeb 1002, Winchester, England
Birth984, Normandy, France
Death6 Mar 1052, Winchester, Northumberland, England
BurialSt Martin's, Winchester, Hampshire, England
Marriage5 Apr 1002, Winchester Cathedral, England
ChildrenGodgifu (or Goda) (~1005-1055)
Last Modified 12 Jun 2012Created 4 Sep 2012 using Reunion for Macintosh