precious little — and mostly tedious — history I learned at school was at
least enlivened by the sound of the words “Ethelred the Unready”. What a
1930 classic 1066 and All That, Sellar and Yeatman gave this sad King of
England (he reigned from 978 to 1016) a suitably paltry 119 words
(including chapter title). Here are 21 of them:
the Unready was the first Weak King of England and was thus the cause of a
fresh Wave of Danes.
and Yeatman might have added to their epic coverage that 1000 years later
Ethelred’s unpreparedness would become Baden-Powell’s inspiration for the
Boy Scouts. But how could they dare? It just isn’t correct. Nor is it a
fact that Ethelred was “unready”.
Ethelred’s nickname was actually “the Unredy”. Yes, another archaic bit of
English that over time got misinterpreted. It meant “redeless”, i.e.
without counsel. Ethelred’s mistake was to act without proper advice. In
his Heritage of Britain (1977), A. L. Rowse described him as “a kind of
Neville Chamberlain of the tenth century”.
confuse him with Etheldreda (c. 630-79). Refusing to consummate either of
her marriages, this lady took the veil and founded a monastery. Revered as
a virgin saint, she also became known as St. Audrey, unconsciously
providing the origin for the word “tawdry”. But that’s another story.
properly told history fantastic?