Ethelred the Unready
[ Issue 17 ]

Emily Bronto is without doubt an admirer of Ethelred the Unready

Bikwil will always sing the praises of Ethelred the Unready

Ethelred the Unready

You can tell that Fizzgig is quite taken with Ethelred the Unready (not to be confused with Etheldreda).

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From the Back Verandah — Fizzgig

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The 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 name!

In their 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:

Ethelred the Unready was the first Weak King of England and was thus the cause of a fresh Wave of Danes.

Sellar 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”.

You see, 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”.

Don’t 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.

Ain’t properly told history fantastic?

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