January 10, 1998


As the celestial odometer moves one year closer to the new millennium (and corporate computer mavens o. d. on antacids), it's time to take a look at another spanner, one of those, like the majority of us, who will live in two millennia.

In the year 968 England had been at peace for fourteen years, ever since Edred, violent grandson of Alfred the Great, had retaken Northumbria from the Danes. Edred died the following year, unmarried, and the throne passed to his nephew Edwig. The new king was a reputed womanizer and may have worn himself out, for he died four years later, in 959. Next in line was his brother Edgar, known as the Peaceable, for the quiet tenor of his reign, which lasted for 16 years.
The scene is set for our spanner. Born in 968 to Edgar and his second wife Elfthryth (queens in those days sound like they just stepped out of Lord of the Rings), Ethelred spent his early youth in a land at peace. That came to a sudden end, beginning with the death of his father, in 975. The crown passed to Edgar's son by his first wife, fifteen year-old Edward. The young king soon attempted to reform the monasteries, gaining powerful enemies, even within the royal family. He was murdered in 978 and Ethelred, now eleven, became king - second of the name.
He would need good counsel. Or, as they would say in those days, good "red(e)". He did not receive it, and it is for this reason that he is known as the Unready, not for a lack of military preparedness. As it turns out, he may have been too prepared.

Knowing that a young, inexperienced monarch now sat on England's throne, the Danes resumed their raids the following year. Ethelred paid protection money (known as Danegeld) to the enemy. As soon as they had agreed to halt their attacks, Ethelred would turn on them. They would make further excursions into England in retaliation. Ethelred would buy them off, then attack again. Meanwhile, as this irrational round robin was repeated again and again, the Danes would attack London, destroy Exeter, Norwich and Thetford, and sack Canterbury, killing its archbishop. Amidst these incursions, Ethelred slaughtered a large number of English Danes, including the sister of King Sweyn Forkbeard, in November of 1002. Not a good move. Eventually the people of London, tired of a king that had neglected them for too many years, threw in their lot with Sweyn, in 1012. Ethelred escaped into Normandy. Sweyn's death in 1013 prompted Ethelred's return. While Sweyn's son Canute was preparing an attack on London, Ethelred died there in April of 1016. Two of his sons rapidly followed suit and the crown passed to the third, Edmund Ironside. Before 1016 had ended, Ironside was murdered and Canute became England's first Danish king.

OUTRO: For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.


© 1998 David Minor / Eagles Byte