Ethelred (or Aethelred), the younger son of Edgar, became king at the age of seven following the murder of his half-brother Edward II in 978 at Corfe Castle, Dorset, by Ethelred's retainers.

For the rest of Ethelred's rule (reigned 978-1016), his brother became a posthumous rallying point for political unrest; a hostile Church transformed Edward into a royal martyr. Known as the Un-raed, 'redeless' or 'Unready' (meaning 'no counsel', or that he was unwise), Ethelred failed to win or retain the allegiance of many of his subjects. In 1002, he ordered the massacre of all Danes in England to eliminate potential treachery.

Not being an able soldier, Ethelred defended the country against increasingly rapacious Viking raids from the 980s onwards by diplomatic alliance with the duke of Normandy in 991 (he later married the duke's daughter Emma) and by buying off renewed attacks by the Danes with money levied through a tax called the Danegeld. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 1006 was dismissive: 'in spite of it all, the Danish army went about as it pleased'. By 1012, 48,000 pounds of silver was being paid in Danegeld to Danes camped in London.

In 1013, Ethelred fled to Normandy when the powerful Viking Sweyn of Denmark dispossessed him. Ethelred returned to rule after Sweyn's death in 1014, but died himself in 1016.


Ethelred II's position in the genealogical roll of the Kings of England © The British Library Board, Royal 14 B. VI