Monday, April 23, 2007


King Ethelred II, known as "the Unready," died on this day in 1016 in London.

Ethelred's life did not begin auspiciously. At his baptism (around 968), he "made water in the font" (i.e. urinated), which St. Dunstan interpreted to mean that the English people would be slaughtered in his lifetime.

The half-brother of King Edward the Martyr, Ethelred assumed the English throne as a youngster following his half-brother's murder in 978 -- although there was widespread speculation that Ethelred was complicit in the crime. This fact made it more difficult for him to raise an adequate defense against the encroachment of the Danes in 980. He rashly ordered a general massacre of Danes in England on St. Brice's Day, 1002, resulting in the murder of the sister of Sweyn Forkbeard, the King of Denmark, who eventually conquered the island and forced Ethelred to flee in 1013.

Following Sweyn's death, Ethelred was reinstated to the throne, only to face a decisive onslaught by Sweyn's son Canute, resulting in the installment of Ethelred's son Edmund to the throne, and Canute's virtually certain accession, shortly before Ethelred's death.

Ethelred's well-suited nickname, "Unready," was derived from a play on his name: "Ethelraed" meant "noble counsel," to which was added "Unraed" meaning "no counsel" or "ill counsel." The epithet was later mistranslated as "Unready."

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