Ethelred and Etheldreda
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Ethelred and Etheldreda

Fizzgig shares with us some further info on, not only Ethelred the Unready, but also Etheldreda, virgin saint.

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From the Back Verandah — Fizzgig


The editor has passed to me a communication from occasional Bikwil correspondent jeneric.

Commenting on my column in Issue 17 (January, 2000) about Ethelred the So-called Unready, jeneric writes:

"Ethelred" means "good counsel" (perhaps it should be spelt Ethelraed??) so the "Un-raed" or "lacking counsel" tag was a snide little bit of wordplay by the authors of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (who seem to have been pretty hostile to poor old E the U).

(jeneric quotes the source of this information as Frank McLynn's 1066 — the Year of the 3 Battles.)

Thanks, jeneric, and while we’re adding to our knowledge of old England, allow me to continue my discussion on that other Ethel, the virginal abbess Etheldreda (or “Etheldrida”).

After her death in 679 she became known as St. Audrey (a corruption of “Etheldrida”) and the patron saint of the isle of Ely, which is where she had founded her monastery. An annual fair was later instituted at her shrine there, and among the goods sold were cheap jewellery and showy lace. The latter, apparently, was already known as “St. Audrey’s lace” because in her vain youth Etheldrida was well-known to have worn such adornments.

Hence the word tawdry, first as an abbreviation for the lace itself (“Let us buy some tawdries”), then eventually in the pejorative adjectival sense we know today.

Harlish Goop reminds us, however, that, although the sale of laces at the annual fair

. . . did not give the article its name, it doubtless made it more widely known, and [subsequently] led to the production of cheap and showy forms for the ”country wenches” . . ., which at length gave to tawdry its later connotation. (OED)

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