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Medieval and Byzantine History Medieval and Byzantine History Forum - Period of History between classical antiquity and modern times, roughly the 5th through 16th Centuries


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Old October 13th, 2017, 11:47 PM   #11

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Originally Posted by SufiMystic View Post
Sorry, this history is really not my area. Can somebody explain why aethelraed was so bad? Did he faced opposition from the church? Was he tyrannical? Was he ineffective? I read something on Wiki about him and it says he wasn't so bad, he just had a bad situation. He also produced new laws, like this one:

I can't read it and I have no idea what language or script it is in. It looks like some kind of strange Greek text.

Click the image to open in full size.
He is considered bad for a number of reasons. The Norse started to raid again, and he apparently didn't do much about it. He recognised there were traitors in his midst, and killed one of them who was Norse. But then he killed lots of Norse on St. Brice's Day, which in turn got the king of Denmark (Sweyn Forkbeard) to launch an invasion of England.

He didn't seem to contain this invasion much, and had to flee England for Normandy, leaving the kingdom to Sweyn. Sweyn died soon after, and the English Witan or ruling council invited him back. He died two years after that, though his son King Edmund Ironside eventually lost to Sweyn's son Cnut, albeit aided by English treachery.

The normal picture is that Aethelred was a bad and weak king, but I don't believe this is true. Or at least, my hunch tells me it's not. He may have made some mistakes, but it's not as clear cut to say he didn't provide any resistance, so he must be bad.

As for the law, it's in Latin as the other poster said. But the names beneath are those who witnessed the charter. Aethelred himself and other members of his Witan all signed it, to give it legitimacy. It's like today if the British Queen gives Royal Assent to a Bill, or the US President signs off a Bill from Congress.
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Old November 13th, 2017, 03:49 PM   #12

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I think the reality of it is more complex than he was incompetent, and not as good as Athelstan, Edmund, or his father Edgar the Peaceful.

By his time, there was less distinction between English/Anglo-Saxon and Norse. It was over 100 years after the Great heathen Army invaded, and a couple of decades after Erik Bloodaxe was defeated by his great uncle (King Eadred). Bloodaxe had both English and Norse supporters in Jorvik, so English and Norse had started to all be "English" and get along.

And his son, Edmund Ironside, lost the Battle of Assundun since an English earl sided with Cnut. So was it because things weren't as black and white as they were in Alfred the Great's time? Did he appear indecisive because he knew there were many traitors, and a lot more than Alfred, Athelstan, or Eadred would ever have faced when they battled the Norse?
There seems to be a major problem in the monastic world the moment Edgar died! And which is portrayed as a problem facilitated by Aethelred. But if for instance land sales had been coerced from persons by the abbot of Ely, under Edgar's canopy, then things are being evened up somewhat under Aethelred.
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Old November 14th, 2017, 05:55 AM   #13

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The bad council came from Eadric Streona, who started life as minor Mercian hard man.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eadric_Streona

The assignation of Elfhelm of York sent the Danish Five Boroughs into Sweyn's camp, Cnut marrying his daughter, Ælfgifu of Northampton.
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Old November 15th, 2017, 09:35 AM   #14
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Aethelred means "Noble counsel". His nickname unraed means "evil counsel", "bad plan", "folly". So Aethelraed unraed means "Noble counsel, no counsel", or Aethelred the "ill advised", or "unprepared", or "indecisive".

The nickname unraed is first recorded in the 1180s, more than 160 years after he died.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%86thelred_the_Unready

To find out what contemporaries thought of him, find out when the sections of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle dealing with his reign were written, and see what they says about him.

Of course it is certain that Aethelred was unready when he became king aged about 11 in 978.

And if by "bad" one means evil, then Aethelred did commit at least one evil deed, the St. Brice's Day Massacre.

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i'm questioning whether this analysis is fair or not. I don't believe it is.
I don't know if the medieval chroniclers were fair to Aethelred. But it is certainly always fair to say that any massacre was an evil deed. Anyone who wants to be remembered as a good persons needs to have a strict no massacres policy.

Last edited by MAGolding; November 15th, 2017 at 09:37 AM.
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Old November 15th, 2017, 09:43 AM   #15

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^ Sure, but some of the other kings were also guilty of acts of barbarity; as are most nations, tribes etc at some point across the past. Fortunately not so many were lead into genocide.
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Old November 16th, 2017, 01:50 AM   #16
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Well he paid some big Danegeld's and then it seems after many years, he tried to slaughter the local Danes. It seems he decided to punish the local Danes for what the foreign ones had done to him.
This was a man who despite what ever successes, missed out on the larger picture. Indeed in the long run, he probably was a fool.
He was in there for a while, so had a sort of talent (or maybe just good luck). But then his failings caught up with him.
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Old November 16th, 2017, 04:45 AM   #17

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^ Perhaps he was a twinge naive: reckoning a promise never to return made juicy with a baptism and a load of cash, ought to have settled things. And it did work initially, for three years.

However, even King Alfred made such payments. Which were a traditional strategy going way back. Perhaps no one (had read Gildas at that time) entrusted with responsibility and power is necessarily capable enough, of learning from, what we already know, in order to make better decisions.
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Old November 16th, 2017, 05:44 PM   #18

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Speaking of misnomers, Edgar the Peaceful!!

But this is exactly the value that monikers serve historians, it leads us to know how the figure was perceived. I don't think it matters if he was ever called "Unready" by his contemporaries or not until historians of a few generations later. What matters is that we now can conclude Edgar was a popular ruler, and Aethelred II was not.

Personally I tend to believe the clever pun of wise counsel-evil counsel was too hard to pass up for later chroniclers, and then the modern interpretation of "unready" caused modern history students to view his reign through that lens.

I think we all know that we can scrutinize any ruler and point out things they were not ready for.
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Old November 17th, 2017, 01:48 AM   #19

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Thorkell the Tall of the Jomsviking turned out to be the most loyal supporter of Æthelred.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorkell_the_Tall
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Old November 17th, 2017, 11:26 AM   #20

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Speaking of misnomers, Edgar the Peaceful!!

But this is exactly the value that monikers serve historians, it leads us to know how the figure was perceived. I don't think it matters if he was ever called "Unready" by his contemporaries or not until historians of a few generations later. What matters is that we now can conclude Edgar was a popular ruler, and Aethelred II was not.

Personally I tend to believe the clever pun of wise counsel-evil counsel was too hard to pass up for later chroniclers, and then the modern interpretation of "unready" caused modern history students to view his reign through that lens.

I think we all know that we can scrutinize any ruler and point out things they were not ready for.
The advantage of contingency, would allow for cognitive dissonance and keeping your options open.
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