King Aethelred the Unready was born to King Edgar
and his wife Aelfthryth
. He was the couple’s second son, Edmund had been born in 965. Aethelred also had an older half-brother, Edward
who had been born in 962. His nickname, Aethelred the Unready was a pun on a spelling of his name Aethelraed. ‘Raed’ meant good counsel, unraed meant bad counsel. It is believed that his nickname was first used around a century after his death.
Aethelred’s elder brother, Edmund, died.
973 (11th May)
Aethelred’s father, King Edgar and his wife Aelfthryth were crowned at Bath by Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury
. This was a second coronation and it was held at this point in his reign because it was felt that he had reached the zenith of his Kingship.
King Edgar, received the submission of eight kings of the North, including the Kings of Scotland and Strathclyde at Chester. The submission of these kings strengthened his position enormously.
975 (8th July)
Aethelred’s father, Edgar died at Winchester. He was succeeded by his son from his first marriage, King Edward
975 (after July)
King Edward, was crowned by Archbishop Dunstan at Kingston upon Thames. Aethelred’s mother was unhappy that Edward had become King and believed that her son Aethelred should have been made King.
Aethelred’s mother and her faction continued to work against the rule of Edward.
978 (18th March)
King Edward was murdered at Corfe Castle in Dorset, when he was visiting his stepmother, Aelfthryth. It is believed that the assassins were acting on her behalf. Aethelred was proclaimed King.
978 (4th April)
Aethelred the Unready was crowned at Kingston upon Thames. Because he was still a child, his mother, Aelfthryth, acted as regent for her son.
There were Danish Viking
raids on Chester and Southampton.
There were Danish Viking raids on Devon and Cornwall.
There were Danish Viking raids on Dorset.
Aethelred came of age and took control of government. He chose a new set of younger advisers.
A son, Canute
, was born to the Viking leader Sweyn Forkbeard.
Aethelred married Aelfgifu
, daughter of Thored, earl of Northumbria
A son, Aethelstan, was born to Aethelred and Aelfgifu.
A son, Ecgbert, was born to Aethelred and Aelfgifu.
988 (19th May)
Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, died.
A son, Edmund
was born to Aethelred and Aelfgifu.
991 (10th August)
Battle of Maldon
Byrhtnoth of Essex was defeated by the Danish Vikings led by Olaf Tryggvason.
991 (late August)
Following the Viking victory at Maldon, Aethelred was forced to pay the Vikings £10,000 pounds (3.3 kg of silver) to make them leave Wessex alone. The payment was known as a Danegeld.
A daughter, Eadgyth, was born to Aethelred and Aelfgifu.
A daughter, Aelfgifu, was born to Aethelred and Aelfgifu.
A party of Viking raiders sailed up the River Thames and put London under siege. Aethelred was forced to make another Danegeld payment to make the raiders leave. This time the Viking leader Olaf Trygvasson, demanded £16,000 (5.3 kg of silver)
A son, Eadred, was born to Aethelred and Aelfgifu.
A son, Eadwig, was born to Aethelred and Aelfgifu.
A daughter, Wulfthryth, was born to Aethelred and Aelfgifu.
A son, Edgar, was born to Aethelred and Aelfgifu.
The Vikings left England. Aethelred began a series of raids on Strathclyde and the Isle of Man.
The Danish Vikings made a series of raids along the South coast.
Aethelred’s wife Aelfgifu died.
1002 (5th April)
Aethelred married Emma
the daughter of Richard, Duke of Normandy. The marriage was part of an alliance treaty with Normandy.
1002 (13th November)
St Brice’s Day Massacre
Aethelred the Unready ordered the massacre of all Danes living in England. He hoped that by ridding England of Danes he would minimise the risk of attack from within. A significant number of Danes were killed including the sister of Sweyn Forkbeard.
1002 (17th November)
Aethelred’s mother, Aelfthryth died at Wherwell Abbey.
Sweyn Forkbeard and a party of Vikings raided the South coast retaliation for the St Brice’s day massacre. They gained control of land from Exeter to Hampshire.
Aethelred had no choice but to pay the Danes to leave his land alone. The Danegled demanded was £24,000 (8kg of silver).
A son, Edward, was born to Aethelred and Emma at Islip, Oxfordshire. He would become known to history as Edward the Confessor
Sweyn Forkbeard destroyed the town of Norwich.
A son, Alfred, was born to Aethelred and Emma of Normandy.
Aethelred’s son from his first marriage, Ecgbert, died.
1005 (16th November)
Aelfric of Abingdon, Archbishop of Canterbury, died. He left his fleet of ships to the people of Kent. He also left his best ship to Aethelred.
A daughter, Godgifu, was born to Aethelred and Emma of Normandy.
Aethelred appointed Aelheah Archbishop of Canterbury.
Sweyn Forkbeard and the Vikings returned and made a series of raids on Kent and Sussex.
Aethelred was unable to raise sufficient forces to defeat the Vikings and so was forced to make another Danegeld payment to keep the Vikings away. The sum demanded was £36,000 (12 kg of silver).
Aethelred decided that he could not keep paying off the Danes and so decided to build a new fleet of ships.
A group of Vikings led by Thorkell the Tall made a series of devastating raids on the coast. Aethelred was unable to defeat the Vikings using his new ships because his Captain, Wulfnoth had taken 20 boats on a piracy mission. Another Captain, Brihtric, who had tried to stop Wulfnoth had run several ships aground.
The Danes invaded East Anglia. A battle was fought near Ipswich which left the Danes in control of the town.
1011 (29th September)
The Danish Vikings captured Canterbury and took Archbishop Aelheah prisoner.
Aethelred’s son, Edgar, died.
Aethelred’s son, Eadred, died.
1012 (19th April)
The Danish Vikings in Canterbury went on a drunken raid and murdered Archbishop Aelheah of Canterbury. The Viking leader, Thorkell the Tall, tried to stop the murder but was unsuccessful. He was so angry at his comrades that he defected and joined Aethelred’s forces.
Aethelred made another Danegeld payment of £48,000 (17 kg of silver) to stop the destruction being caused by the Vikings.
Lyfing was appointed the new Archbishop of Canterbury.
1013 (13th July)
Sweyn Forkbeard returned and was proclaimed King of the Danelaw.
Having conquered the majority of England, Sweyn Forkbeard proclaimed himself King of England. King Aethelred the Unready, his wife Emma and their three children fled to Normandy.
Aethelred’s son from his first marriage, Aethelstan, died fighting the Danes.
1014 (3rd February)
Sweyn Forkbeard died. He nominated his son, Canute
to succeed him.
Although the English nobles had accepted Sweyn as king they were not so keen to support his young son so called for Aethelred to return. The people of Lindsey declared their support for Canute.
Aethelred and his family returned to England. Aethelred made it clear that he was unhappy with the people of Lindsey for not supporting him.
Eadric of Mercia killed the two leading thegns of Lindsey in retaliation for their support of Sweyn Forkbeard’s son, Canute.
Determined to claim the English throne, Canute invaded England with a large Danish force.
1015 (late August)
Aethelred’s son Edmund, nicknamed Ironside
, married Edith, widow of one of the murdered thegns from Lindsey without his father’s permission or approval.
Edmund Ironside raised an army against his father. He was supported by the five towns of Danish Mercia – Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stamford.
1016 (early January)
Canute began attacking more regions of England. Edmund Ironside summoned an army but the men refused to fight without authorisation from King Aethelred. Aethelred duly summoned an army but after being warned that his son may betray him, he returned to London.
Canute took Northumberland then marched towards London.
Edmund Ironside marched to London to try to stop Canute from taking the city.
1016 (23rd April)
King Aethelred the Unready died. He had reigned for 37 years, longer than any Anglo-Saxon King. He was succeeded by his son, Edmund Ironside as King Edmund II
First published 2016; updated and re-published Jul 25 2020 @ 12:10 pm – Updated – Nov 16, 2022 @ 12:03 PM