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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 5th, 2017, 12:36 PM   #1

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Why was Aethelred the Unready a bad king?


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?
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Old October 5th, 2017, 12:39 PM   #2
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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?
He lost his kingdom to the Vikings. Also the name "unready" had to be a historical one right? I understand "fat" and some other titles being endearing at the time, but was being "unready" ever really a good thing?
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Old October 7th, 2017, 12:48 PM   #3

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Because historical records aren't always right. He was called unready, but who says he was to blame? because some records which we cannot fully verify say so?
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Old October 8th, 2017, 10:00 AM   #4
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Because historical records aren't always right. He was called unready, but who says he was to blame? because some records which we cannot fully verify say so?
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.

Last edited by MAGolding; October 8th, 2017 at 10:06 AM.
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Old October 8th, 2017, 12:39 PM   #5

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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.
i'm questioning whether this analysis is fair or not. I don't believe it is.
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Old October 9th, 2017, 04:36 PM   #6

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Faced with so much treachery, he engaged in similar covert activity and betrayal of his own, which subsequently seems to have turned important people against him! Perhaps he was unlucky that his ideas and schemes never seemed to worked out. Perhaps he never managed to suss out why it was he lost support, why even his own son disobeyed him. How did he allow himself to get mixed up in two infamous murders at Oxford - two sons of Argrim, and leading thegns of the northern Danelaw ?! He doesn't seem to have been lacking in any readiness, just in a readiness to ignore possible or likely contingency - such as for example Cnut arriving back in England, with an invasion host, sooner or later!?
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Old October 10th, 2017, 01:24 AM   #7

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And he was unlucky enough to come to power at the height of the Viking raids, and thus some decisions made were, in hindsight, not in the best interests of the land.
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Old October 10th, 2017, 10:17 AM   #8

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Seems like a better epithet would be Aethelred the poor unlucky bastard.
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Old October 10th, 2017, 11:04 AM   #9

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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.
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Old October 10th, 2017, 11:47 AM   #10

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It's in Latin and written in Carolingian minuscule. I have no idea what it says though.
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