Timelines to Visualize History

A Project by the Department of Medieval English Literature and Historical Linguistics, University of Düsseldorf

Begin End Event Description Keywords Related Events
978 1016

Æthelred and the Return of the Vikings

Æthelred's long reign is usually regarded as an unlucky one. He struggled with massive Viking raids, paying large amounts of tribute, as well as with treachery and desertion due to his 'bad rule'. His nickname the Unræd (un-counsel) suggests that he was ill-advised by his counsellors. He fled to exile in 1013, when the Danish King Swein invaded the country, only to be asked to return and rule the English in 1014 after Swein died.

Being suspected to have been involved in his brother Edward's murder in 978, Æthelred became king in 978. His very long reign (978-1016) is usually regarded as an unlucky one since the king struggled with recurring Viking raids and was ill-advised. Æthelred concluded a treaty with duke Richard II of Normandy in 991 and later, in 1002, Æthelred intensified Anglo-Norman relations by marrying Richard's sister Emma.

The heroic poem The Battle of Maldon praises the resolute, loyal, but futile resistance of ealdorman Byrhtnoth and his men against a lager Danish army which systematically ravaged along the south-west coast from Essex to Hampshire in 991. The Vikings were paid off, a treaty was signed, but then broken or simply neglected by other groups of Scandinavian raiders; Olaf Tryggvasion who had concluded the peace treaty of 991 raided in England again in 994.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports time and time again about similar treachery of nobles who deserted the king and his armies, evidently because of the king's 'bad rule'. At the end of the year 1013, when the Danish King Swein had conquered England, Æthelred fled to Normandy into exile, thus leaving England to Swein who was then acknowledged as king of all England until his death a few months later. The Danish were prepared to acknowledge Swein's son Cnut as king, but the English decided to send for Æthelred asking him to be their king again, provided that he reigned them more justly than he did before. The fact that the English magnates imposed conditions on their king in return for their promise of loyalty was in itself extraordinary. Æthelred returned and managed to drive off the young and inexperienced Cnut, temporarily. When Æthelred died in 1016, then for a short time, his son Edmund was made king in London and when Edmund died later that year, Cnut was finally acknowledged as king of all England.
History, Old English Period, Political, Vikings, Kings + Rulers