Heritage > Rulers


Æthelred II "The Unready", 978-1013 / 1014-1016

Following the assassination of his brother, Edward, Ethelred II was propelled upon the English throne at the age of 10 years. The circumstance of his rise to power, as a pawn in the ambitions of others, did not alter throughout his 48 years of life.

The nickname of Unready is though to derive from the Saxon word meaning 'with no reputable policy' which can be taken as both accurate and ironic in that Ethelred is itself said to have meant 'noble policy'.

Ethelred was married twice. His first wife, Elfigfu of Mercia bore him no less than 11 children: Athelstan, Ecgbert, Edmund, Edred, Edwig, Edgar, Wulfhild, Edgyrth, Elfgifu and a further two other daughters whose names are not commonly recorded.

His second marriage, to Emma of Normandy, produced three children, Edward, Alfred and Goda.

All through his reign he was shackled by the fact that he could not fully trust the support of his generals, both military and political, at a time when the fearsome Danish invaders were a constant threat to the English. In an act of, what proved to be, futile appeasement Ethelred attempted to stem the Danish ambitions by paying what was known as Danegeld.

In 1009 the King of the Danes, Sweyn decided that as well as keeping the territory, and monies, he had taken from the English he would now pursue the whole country. Four years later, in 1013, Sweyn had overrun the country and Ethelred had fled to Normandy to seek protection from Emma's brother, Robert the Good.

This flight brings into the picture the grandson of Robert the Good, William, later to be known as William the Conqueror.

Sweyn died in 1014 and Ethelred reclaimed the English crown for a further 2 years before his death at the age of 48 in 1016.

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