Æthelred, king of England

Æthelred, 965?–1016, king of England (978–1016), called Æthelred the Unready [Old Eng. unrœd=without counsel]. He was the son of Edgar and the half-brother of Edward the Martyr, whom he succeeded. Æthelred began his reign under a cloud of suspicion because of the murder of Edward. He was a weak king, but his efforts to resist the Danes, who resumed their raids on England in 980, were also considerably hampered by the frequent treachery of his commanders. In 991 he began paying tribute to the Danes, which he raised by the Danegeld, but his tributary status did not prevent the Danes from returning. In 997 they came not only to raid but to remain and plunder the rich realm until 1000. A massacre of Danes in England in 1002 (possibly on the king's orders) provoked another major raid (1003) led by the Danish king Sweyn. Æthelred tried to defend his kingdom; in 1002 he married Emma, sister of Richard II, duke of Normandy, perhaps in an attempt to gain an ally; in 1007 the army was placed under a single commander; by 1009 a navy had been built, but many of its commanders took to piracy. A severe harrying (1009–12) by the Danes left England disorganized, and when the Danish king Sweyn returned in 1013 to conquer, he was well received in the Danelaw, and London capitulated with little resistance. Æthelred fled to Normandy. Upon Sweyn's death in 1014, Æthelred's restoration was negotiated in the first recorded pact between an English king and his subjects. Sweyn's son, Canute, withdrew, but he returned with a powerful army in 1015. War was in progress when Æthelred died in Apr., 1016. His son Edmund Ironside was declared his successor, but after concluding a treaty with Canute, he died in November. Æthelred's heirs were restored to the throne only with Edward the Confessor.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: British and Irish History: Biographies