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Aethelred The Unready - 978-1016

Key Facts about Aethelred The Unready

The title 'the Unready', or more accurately 'the Ill-Advised', given to Alfred's successor derives largely from the writer of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle who was an admirer of Alfred and disappointed in his successor. Aethelred was slow and ineffectual in dealing with the Danes, and the Viking invasions intensified during his reign despite his efforts to contain them by enlarging his navy.

Recent studies of Aethelred show that he was an able administrator and constructive in dealing with legal and financial matters of government. What he lacked was Alfred's warrior character and, despite a stand at the indecisive battle of Maldon, he found it difficult to protect his people from Danish attacks.

The idea of buying them off with money came from his adviser Archbishop Sigeric, and the method by which the money was raised is evidence of Aethelred's administrative skill.

The money was collected from towns and villages by Aethelred's tax collectors as protection money, not unlike the money or services paid by tenants to their lords under the feudal system.

Aethelred's patience with the Viking hordes must have worn thin by 1002, for he decided to deal with the invaders by a surprise coup. He ordered a massacre of all Danes on St Brice's Day (13 November) and many settlements were destroyed.

The main effect, however, was to destabilize the country and bring to the fore powerful lords, one of whom was Edmund Ironside. These lords created their private domains thus undoing all Alfred's efforts to create a unified kingdom.

Aethelred was forced into exile in Normandy with his wife Emma, but was recalled for an ineffective end to his reign. The end came with Sweyn Forkbeards arrival in England and the takeover of the English throne by Canute, a Danish king, on the death of Aethelred.

Sweyn ruled briefly as uncrowned king but soon died. Ethelred was brought back, but then he too died, on 23 April 1016, and was buried in Old St Paul's in London; the throne passed to his son, Edmund Ironside. Edmund was one of about six children by Ethelred's first wife, Elfled of Northumbria. He had three other children by his second wife, Emma of Normandy, including Edward, later known as Edward the Confessor.

Key Events during the Reign of Aethelred The Unready

978 - King Edward the Martyr is murdered at Corfe Castle; he is succeeded by Aethelred II (the Unready). Edward is revered as a martyr.

980 - The Danes raid England and succeed because of Aethelred's inability to unite the English.

988 - Dunstan dies and is succeeded by Athelgar as Archbishop of Canterbury.

990 - Athelgar dies and is succeeded by Sigeric Serio as Archbishop of Canterbury.

991 - Battle of Maldon. Byrhtnoth of Essex is defeated by the Danes under Olaf Tryggvesson.

994 - The Danish King Sweyn leads an attack on England. Archbishop Sigeric dies.

1012 - The Danes raid Kent, burning Canterbury Cathedral and murdering Archbishop Alphege.

1014 - Battle of Clontarf. Brian Boru, the Irish king, defeats Danish raiders. Sweyn Forkbeard dies at Gainsborough and is succeeded by his son Canute.

1016 - Aethelred dies and is succeeded by his son Edmund II, Ironside. Edmund and Canute fight for the kingdom.

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