The Martyr and the Mother: Political Rhetoric in the Minority Rule of Æthelred II

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract

Abstract

King Æthelred II ‘the Unready’ (978-1013/1014-16) reigned for 38 years, longer than any other Anglo-Saxon king. However, Æthelred’s remarkable longevity as King of the English is often lost within the narrative of a reign infamous for political discord driven by a fractious nobility and a resurgence of viking aggression. A narrative that portrays a king ill-equipped to face these challenges, whose strategic decisions failed to arrest the conquests of the Danish kings Sweyn (1014) and Cnut (1016), and who is more often characterised as irresolute than resilient. Nonetheless, that Æthelred reigned for four-decades despite the fraught political milieu in which he operated does speak to a certain resilience, a trait which, this paper proposes, finds its origins in Æthelred’s rise to power. It was the assassination of Æthelred’s half-brother King Edward ‘the Martyr’ (795-798) that broughtÆthelred to the throne, aged only 10-12 years. Of the murder, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle declares that the ‘English race had not done a worse deed than this’ –it was an inauspicious start to the young ætheling’s reign, though there is no implication of Æthelred’s involvement in his brother’s death. Most contemporary accounts place blame upon a conspiracy of nobles, with later renditions of the tale accusing Æthelred’s mother, Ælfthryth. The shifting nature of the narrative is not incidental, but rather theaspect of the resilience of Æthelred’s reign that this paper will explore: a conscious appropriation of Edward’s death to augment the legitimacy of his successor’s rule.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019
EventResilio ergo Regno: Resilience, Continuity and Recovery at Royal Courts -
Duration: 25 Jun 2019 → …

Conference

ConferenceResilio ergo Regno: Resilience, Continuity and Recovery at Royal Courts
Period25/06/19 → …

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