Alfred the Great and Ethelred the Unready. Two Anglo-Saxon Kings and their Actions against the Viking Threat

Bachelor Thesis, 2010
46 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Reign of King Alfred the Great
2.1 The General Situation in Wessex
2.2 The Viking Threat during King Alfred’s Reign

3. The Reign of King Ethelred the Unready
3.1 The General Situation in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom
3.2 The Viking Threat during King Ethelred’s Reign

4. Actions against the Viking Threat
4.1 Military Strategies
4.1.1 Alfred’s Military Strategies
4.1.2 Ethelred’s Military Strategies
4.2 Political Actions
4.2.1 Alfred’s Political Actions
4.2.2 Ethelred’s Political Actions
4.3 The Role of the Church and Learning in the Fight against the Vikings
4.3.1 The Role of the Church and Learning during Alfred’s Reign
4.3.2 The Role of the Church and Learning during Ethelred’s Reign

5. The Kings’ Legacies
5.1 The Cult of Alfred the Great
5.2 The Bad Reputation of Ethelred the Unready

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In the long list of English rulers there is only one king who achieved to be honored with the epithet the Great. Alfred the Great is known today as one of the most successful kings of England and has become a national hero. The role of the national failure, however, has been ascribed to King Ethelred II, who is known as Ethelred the Unready. Both kings ruled in Anglo-Saxon times, their reigns are only about one hundred years apart and both had to face the same enemy: the Vikings from Scandinavia. Although it seems as if the two kings ruled under the same prerequisites, their reigns had very different outcomes and they have opposing reputations today.

Simon Keynes, professor of Anglo-Saxon at Cambridge University, has described the image we have today of Alfred the Great and Ethelred the Unready as follows: “[There is a] contrast between Alfred’s resolute defiance, leading inexorably to victory, and Æthelred’s feeble resistance, leading inevitably to defeat.”[1] Keynes’s and other scholarly opinions suggest that Alfred the Great and Ethelred the Unready had opposing personalities and took very different actions against the Viking invaders.

King Alfred, who ruled the kingdom of Wessex from 871 to 899, is today remembered and glorified as a great Christian king, who defeated the Vikings, who continuously invaded and plundered England in the second half of the ninth century. Apart from great military and political achievements, Alfred also stands for educational reform and is credited for having laid the foundations for what was to become the Anglo-Saxon kingdom. King Ethelred ruled this kingdom from 978 to 1016. Today, he is seen as a weak and powerless king, who did not manage to fight off the Vikings who were attacking the Anglo-Saxon kingdom during his reign, especially at the beginning of the eleventh century. He is accused of having lost control over his kingdom and having handed it over to the Vikings without developing a coherent strategy of defense.

In order to find out how and why King Alfred and King Ethelred acquired such different reputations and whether they are justified, one has to have a close look at their reigns and especially at the actions they took to keep the Viking invaders from plundering and conquering their kingdom. The word Viking is a “term of convenience applied indiscriminately by modern scholarship to the inhabitants of the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Sweden, and Norway)”.[2] These Vikings “attacked England in the ‘First Viking Age’ (c. 780-900) and the ‘Second Viking Age’ (c. 980-1066),”[3] so both, King Alfred and King Ethelred, had to face the enemies from Scandinavia. The kings’ personal success or failure was and will be judged according to their performances in the wars against these invading forces. That is why, one has to examine Alfred and Ethelred’s actions against the Viking threat in order to find out whether today’s assumptions about the two kings’ leadership abilities are justifiable.

Fortunately, there are a number of primary sources which provide information about the lives and reigns of King Alfred the Great and King Ethelred the Unready. What scholars know about King Alfred and his actions is derived from a whole range of different sources.[4] Most important is a biography of the king called The Life of King Alfred. This text was written in 893 by Asser, a contemporary of the king, who wrote in Latin. The biography deals with King Alfred’s life starting with his birth, but ending abruptly, leaving out the king’s actions in the 890s until his death. Part of The Life of King Alfred is based on the annals of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which is another important source for Alfred’s reign. The Chronicle was written by one or more anonymous chroniclers who possibly worked at the king’s court.[5] This text deals with the political and military developments during Alfred’s reign and contains some information about the king himself.[6] In addition, scholars can gather information from the body of texts that were produced by the king himself or members of his court. The literary texts of Alfred’s translation program, his will and his treaties and charters provide valuable insight into Alfred the Great’s personal ideas and ideologies. Lastly, coins and archeological excavations offer important information about King Alfred the Great and his times.[7] Since there are quite a lot of contradictory sources regarding the life of King Alfred, scholars have created different and controversial pictures of one and the same historical figure.

The picture we have of King Ethelred the Unready is derived from the annals of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle dealing with his reign, which were mostly composed after Ethelred’s death. The Latin Chronicles of the Anglo-Norman writers William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon originate from the twelfth century and present a very partial and biased picture of the king. The Encomium Emmae Reginae, which was written by a contemporary Norman or Flemish writer to honor Ethelred’s wife Queen Emma of Normandy, is mostly subjective and one-sided as well. King Ethelred himself left several law codes and charters, which provide very useful information about the laws and customs and the leading men of his time.[8] Most of these sources were written after the reign of King Ethelred the Unready, so they were influenced by the historical events which marked the end of his reign and led to the takeover of the Vikings in 1016. Thus, one has to be very careful when interpreting the different sources and trying to create a picture of King Ethelred.

The problems arising from the source materials about Alfred and Ethelred’s reigns cannot be denied, so a critical assessment of the sources is indispensable. In order to find out how Alfred the Great was able to be so successful and why Ethelred the Unready failed in most of his attempts to bring the Vikings under control, it is important to think critically and to study the kings’ reigns in detail.

In fact, there are several works of scholars of Anglo-Saxon history, which provide an insight into the rules of Alfred the Great and Ethelred the Unready. In the past two decades, there have been several attempts to revise the traditional stories and opinions about the two kings, especially Ethelred’s bad reputation. Among the most important of these scholars dealing with or comparing both kings are Simon Keynes, Richard Abels and Ryan Lavelle. In various publications they have tried to re-evaluate the kings’ achievements and the problems Alfred and Ethelred had to face. Their works show that it is very important to handle the existing sources with care and scepticism. One has to be aware of the problematic state of source material, because the authors of the primary sources might have been biased.

Despite these problems, which will be a central theme in this work, the following text aims at presenting detailed accounts of King Alfred the Great and King Ethelred the Unready’s struggles against the Viking invaders in order to allow for a direct comparison of their actions. Certainly, this work can make no claims of providing a comprehensive and complete picture of the kings’ personalities and their reigns. It is rather meant to present an overview, which can be used as a basis for an evaluation and reassessment of Alfred and Ethelred’s legacies. Some of the most important and valuable information from the aforementioned primary and secondary sources will be used in order to trace back and understand today’s public opinion about Alfred the Great and Ethelred the Unready and separate it from possible contemporary opinions about the two kings.

In order to achieve this aim, it is necessary to consider Alfred and Ethelred’s reigns and their actions against the Vikings in a wide context. Therefore, this work will first give a general overview of Alfred and Ethelred’ s reigns. The Viking threat will play an important role in this overview, so the text will describe the actions which the rulers took to resist the invaders from Scandinavia. Consequently, the military strategies, political actions and the role of religious ideas and learning will be considered in detail in order to point out the characteristics of each king’s policies and the differences between Alfred’s and Ethelred’s proceedings. All these explanations will be based on the contemporary sources and the studies which have been published by Keynes, Abels and a number of other experts of Anglo-Saxon history. Certainly, the annals of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle will play an important role in the descriptions of Alfred and Ethelred’s reigns. This work will refer to Dorothy Whitelock’s translation of the Chronicle, mainly because Keynes and Lapidge prefer to use it in their edition of Alfred the Great’s contemporary sources.[9]

Occasionally, the accounts of Alfred and Ethelred’s reigns will refer to the two kings’ reputations, so, as mentioned before, this aspect will be one of the central themes of this text. However, at the end of this work a separate chapter will deal with the kings’ legacies. The origins and development of Alfred and Ethelred’s modern reputations will be explored in great detail. As mentioned before, the legacies of Alfred the Great and Ethelred the Unready are deeply rooted in the measures they undertook against the Vikings. However, the last chapter will also explain other influences on the kings’ reputations in order to find out whether the epithets the Great and the Unready are fair and historically justifiable.

2. The Reign of King Alfred the Great

2.1 The General Situation in Wessex

Alfred the Great came to the throne in April 871. He succeeded his older brother King Ethelred I, who died after a battle against Viking invaders at Ashdown. Although Ethelred I had two sons, there existed an agreement which ruled that Alfred should succeed his older brother. Therefore, he was regarded as the lawful heir to the throne.[10] Alfred was only 22 when he became king, but he had already profited from his friends’ and family’s wisdom. He had visited Pope Leo IV in Rome and the court of the Frankish king Charles the Bald, so he was influenced by continental thoughts, especially by Carolingian ideas.[11] As a child, he had memorized many psalms and prayers, so his education was greatly influenced by teachings from the Bible. These religious beliefs influenced Alfred’s ideas about how to lead and govern his people and his general concept of kingship.

When Alfred succeeded to the throne in Wessex, all the English kingdoms were in a precarious situation as they were being threatened by Viking raids. The Vikings had been attacking Wessex and the other kingdoms during the past decades. The people of Wessex had already lost a great number of men in the fights against the invaders and were frustrated and exhausted. Therefore, King Alfred had to prevent his people from giving up and from changing sides. In his fight against the Vikings, he could not take support from all English people for granted.[12] Alfred had to create English national solidarity. During his reign he did so by establishing friendly relations with the leaders of other kingdoms and by severely punishing conspirators and traitors.

To retain control over all parts of his own kingdom, he had to delegate important political tasks to his governors, the so called ealdormen.[13] Traditionally, the West Saxon kings always relied on the thegns, members of the nobility, who had to swear loyalty to the king before entering into the king’s personal service. From their thegns the kings chose men for other offices, for example the reeves and the ealdormen. Reeves acted on the king’s behalf in different fields of duty, such as the collecting of dues and peace-keeping. The ealdormen were chosen carefully by the kings and had responsibilities in the individual shires. They derived their authority directly from the king and were answerable to him. Reeves and ealdormen had tasks in all kinds of spheres, for example in the pursuit of thieves or the operation of justice and the calling of local meetings.[14]

In addition to the Viking attacks, the king had to face several other problems at the beginning of his reign. Alfred had to deal with the claims of Ethelred’s sons, who asked for their share of the royal inheritance. Besides, King Alfred was very worried about the bad state of learning and education and the moral and religious decline in Wessex. He knew that his kingdom needed an extensive reform program to return to a state of religious morality. However, the king, despite being so young, often lacked the physical ability to deal with all these problems, because he suffered from a strange illness, which impaired him in his everyday life.[15] Today, it is difficult to reconstruct which illness Alfred suffered from or whether he was sick at all.

In spite of all these impairments and the very difficult general situation in his kingdom, Alfred is said to have laid the foundations for the future kingdom of all England by reorganizing the government, the finances, the tax system and the military. James Campbell points out that “charters from six different archives all give him the title ‘King of the English’, or something like it”[16] and Henry R. Loyn describes Alfred as “an active positive body”.[17] The reasons for these praising words will be explored later in this work in the context of King Alfred’s actions against the Viking invasions.

2.2 The Viking Threat during King Alfred’s Reign

These Viking invasions started in the year 793, when a group of Viking invaders sacked the monastery of Lindisfarne, which was located on an island off the north-east coast of England. This attack marked the beginning of an era of Viking attacks and invasions all over England, which continued well into Alfred’s lifetime. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records all the Viking activities during his reign; from 866 on it contains reports about the “micel hæðen here”.[18]

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle ’s wording suggests that this micel hæðen here was an organized military force that operated under one leader with the objective of conquering England. However, nowadays many scholars, among them Richard Abels and Ryan Lavelle, are convinced that this concept of the Viking army is misleading and not true. Probably, the raiding armies were only temporarily assembled forces consisting of people who were interested in their own profit rather than being loyal to one leader. The leaders of the fleets were probably constantly changing. So the Vikings’ conquests in England were not systematically planned operations, but acts of piracy which were carried out by many individual and heterogeneous bands.[19] Keynes and Lapidge suggest that the Viking forces; which were active at the beginning of Alfred’s reign; probably consisted of 2000 to 3000 men.[20] The Chronicle does not mention the heterogeneity of the Viking war bands, but rather makes it seem as if they were one great army. Richard Abels compares this objectification of the enemy to “George W. Bush desperately trying to objectify terrorism in order to deal with it in a proper military manner”.[21]

While most statements about the composition of the Viking armies are only speculations, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives detailed information about the invaders’ actions and their conquests. In 867, the Vikings took over and destroyed the kingdom of Northumbria, and in 870 they took over East Anglia. From 867 until 871, Alfred campaigned with his older brother King Ethelred to help King Burgred of Mercia, and to defend their own kingdom of Wessex, which was attacked for the first time late in 870.

According to his biographer Asser, Alfred led the Wessex army against the Vikings in a battle at Ashdown in 871: “[A]cting courageously, like a wild boar … he moved his army without delay against the enemy”:[22] Although this battle was won, the situation became worse in spring 871, because Alfred’s brother King Ethelred I died and the West Saxons had to face a second Viking army. Despite fighting the invaders repeatedly, Alfred, now being the King of Wessex, and his men “namon … friþ wiþ þone here”[23] in order to make the Vikings go away. The phrase ‘made peace’ appears repeatedly in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. According to Keynes and Lapidge, this wording probably means that Alfred paid tribute to the Viking army so they would leave the kingdom.[24] After the peace of 871, however, the invaders continued their attacks on Mercia and the kingdom was destroyed in 874 and divided up in 877. King Alfred hoped to make the Vikings leave by paying tributes, but they continued their campaigns in Wessex.

The year 878 was an important turning point in Alfred’s fight against the Viking invaders. David Sturdy even calls this year “the most dramatic episode of English history”.[25] At the beginning of January 878, a Viking army led by the Danish King Guthrum attacked King Alfred and his court at Chippenham, where they had probably been celebrating Christmas. After defeating the kings of Northumbria, East Anglia and Mercia, the Vikings were particularly keen on bringing Wessex, the last surviving kingdom with an English king, under their control. King Alfred was forced to flee and hid in the Somerset marshes at Athelney while the invaders started to share out Wessex. In May, Alfred left his hideout and rallied forces to attack Guthrum and his army at Edington. He defeated his enemy, and Guthrum was forced to be baptized.[26]

David Sturdy states that the king himself was probably involved in the fighting, and he is convinced that “Alfred’s tactical skill and high courage on the battlefield cannot really be faulted”.[27] After Alfred’s victory at Edington, the King of Wessex and Guthrum negotiated the boundaries between the English and the Viking settlements. In the Treaty of Wedmore, Alfred and Guthrum established the so called Danelaw, which allowed the Vikings to settle in a large area north of a boundary stretching roughly from London to the northern tip of Wales.[28] By establishing an area of settlement for the Vikings, Alfred hoped to appease the enemy. In the treaty between Alfred and Guthrum, which was probably made around the year 886, this boundary is defined as follows: “First concerning our boundaries: up the Thames, and then up the Lea, and along the Lea to its source, then in a straight line to Bedford, then up the Ouse to Watling Street”.[29]

The Treaty of Wedmore forced the Vikings to abandon Wessex, so the kingdom was spared from major Viking attacks during the 880s. However, the Vikings started to settle permanently in Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia, and with the creation of the Danelaw they were able to replace the existing political structures with their own system.[30] During this time of peace, King Alfred had time to take care of military, political and educational reforms. He carried out plans to strengthen his kingdom’s military power, issued a law code and devoted a lot of time to the advancement of learning and to his translation program, which will be explained later in this work. In the year 886, King Alfred managed to bring London under his control and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that all English people outside the Danelaw recognized him as their ruler: “Þy ilcan geare gesette Ęlfred cyning Lundenburg, 7 him all Angelcyn to cirde þæt buton deniscra monna hæftniede was, 7 hie þa befæste þa burg Ęþerede aldormen to haldonne.”[31] Alfred’s recovery of London is important, because he remained the only native king in England and “preserved a nucleus of traditional English kingship and government” in the midst of the turbulences caused by the Vikings.[32]

In 892, Viking armies, which had previously been raiding on the continent, started to attack southern England again. Now these armies received support from the Danes who had settled in the Danelaw, and they were able to attack simultaneously in different parts of the country. However, the Vikings could not move as freely as they had been able to in the 870s. King Alfred’s military reform program paid off, and probably he had the support of Mercians, Welsh and Frisians as well. In 896, the raiders realized that they had no chance to beat the English, so they dispersed. Many of the Danish invaders left England and returned to Scandinavia or the continent.[33]

Thus, in his reign, King Alfred managed to fight off the Viking threat. When he died on 26 October 899, he knew that for the time being he had saved his kingdom from being conquered by the Vikings. He had appeased and calmed the Danes by letting them settle in the Danelaw, so there were only minor problems caused by Viking invaders in the first decades of the tenth century. Alfred’s successors mostly profited from the peaceful situation, so they managed to enlarge and unify the Anglo-Saxon kingdom. The tenth century saw the emergence of a unified Anglo-Saxon kingdom, ruled by Wessex kings, who were able to establish their authority in most parts of England. The decline of this relatively stable situation began towards the end of the tenth century after the reign of King Edgar.

3. The Reign of King Ethelred the Unready

3.1 The General Situation in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom

When King Edgar the Peaceable died in 975, he left two sons, who were born of different mothers: Edward was no more than thirteen years old and Ethelred was seven or eight years old. There were no rules concerning the succession, so the half-brothers started to fight about the crown.[34] Eventually, Edward was accepted as the new king, but he was murdered in 978. A group around Ethelred was suspected to have killed Edward, and later it was assumed that Ethelred’s mother Elfthryth might have instigated the murder.[35] Ryan Lavelle describes the results of recent pathological examinations concerning Edward’s murder and comes to the conclusion that Elfthryth definitely benefited from her step-son’s death. Yet, it is impossible to be absolutely sure of the exact circumstances of Edward the Martyr’s death.[36]

When Ethelred succeeded to the throne in 978 as Ethelred II, he was only about twelve years old and still too young to rule the kingdom on his own, so it was his mother Elfthryth who exerted the most influence at the royal court. During the first years of his reign, Ethelred II was bound to the “status quo of lands and patronage” and hierarchies in the nobility and clergy remained the same. In 984, two influential members of the royal court died and Queen Elfthryth’s position became weaker, so Ethelred assembled new advisors around himself and ruled on his own, without the influence of the traditional group of powerful nobles.[37]

Ethelred’s long reign was marked by many phases of Viking raids and internal political problems. From the end of King Alfred the Great’s reign until the end of the tenth century, England was spared from severe series of Viking attacks. At the beginning of Ethelred’s reign, the descendants of the Danelaw-Vikings were living side-by-side with the English and they were subject to the same king and the same laws. John Edward Damon even speaks of a “unified nation of Danes and Anglo-Saxons”.[38] These Danes were not involved in the renewed Viking raids that started at the end of the tenth century. This time, the invaders acted mostly under the influence of the royal government of Denmark.[39]

When the attacks started, Ethelred the Unready was under pressure, because after the West Saxon kings had brought all the English kingdoms under their control, he had to defend a huge area of land. At the same time he had to continue the elaborate government system that his predecessors had developed, which proved to be difficult, because there were conflicts between the individual ealdormen and reeves. Ethelred depended on his governors, but the clashes of interest between rivalling prominent families and the manipulation of royal patronage led to severe tensions all over the kingdom.[40] To solve these problems, the king sometimes resorted to extreme measures like blinding traitors and opponents or massacring big groups of people. The massacre of St Brice’s Day in 1002 has become a symbol of King Ethelred’s alleged cruelty.

Despite all the problems, Ethelred’s government can be regarded as mostly successful until 1006, because art and literature were flourishing, the economy was stable and the church was influential.[41] Ethelred’s own political activity can be seen in the legal codes and charters that he left for future generations. During most of Ethelred’s reign, his kingdom was prosperous and the economy flourished. This wealth attracted Viking invaders who hoped to make a fortune by raiding the English who were known to be wealthy but militarily weak.[42] However, when the Viking attacks became too strong, the fragile government institutions and the economy were threatened and began to fall apart.

With hindsight, it seems as if King Ethelred II was relatively successful during the first part of his reign. Only when the Vikings put more and more pressure on his kingdom and when the rivalries among Ethelred’s governors became more severe, the king appeared to be weak and powerless. The different causes for Ethelred’s diminishing power will be explored in detail later in this work, but it is safe to say that the king’s downfall was certainly connected to the Viking attacks which he had to face during his reign.

3.2 The Viking Threat during King Ethelred’s Reign

The renewed Viking raids started soon after Ethelred’s accession. These early attacks, however, were not successful and “Æthelred seems to have shown both energy and ability”.[43] During the first years of his reign, Ethelred managed to keep the Viking threat under control, but in August 991, the king and his people suffered a great shock caused by an event that occurred at the River Blackwater in Essex. A famous Anglo-Saxon poem called The Battle of Maldon[44] describes in great detail how ealdorman Byrthnoth and his men were defeated by an invading Viking army led by Olaf Tryggvason. In this famous Battle of Maldon,[45] the very influential English leader Byrthnoth and many of his soldiers were killed. After the battle, the English paid a great amount of tribute for the first time in Ethelred’s reign.[46]

Although they received great sums of money, the invaders stayed in England and continued their raids, so King Ethelred II and his advisors developed a new strategy in the winter of 993/994. They wanted the enemy’s fleet to remain in England to defend the country, so they paid them and gave them provisions. In 994, a treaty was signed by both sides, which established a permanent peace and committed the Vikings to assisting the English against any enemy. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle also mentions that Olaf was baptized and that a separate agreement between Ethelred II and the Danish leader Olaf Tryggvason made Olaf promise that he would leave England and never return as an enemy.[47]

From this year on, most of the Vikings left England for Saxony or Scandinavia, so there were only minor Viking attacks in southern England. In 1001, however, an army returned from Normandy and caused a lot of damage in England, which the English could only stop by paying tribute.[48] Because the king suspected his Danish mercenaries to be disloyal, he ordered all Danish people in his kingdom to be killed on November 13, 1002: “on þam geare se cyng het ofslean ealle þa deniscan men þe on Angelcynne wæron; ðis wæs gedon on Britius mæssedæig, forðam þam cyninge wæs gecyd þæt hi woldan hine besyrwan æt his life 7 siððan ealle his witan 7 habban siþþan þis rice,”[49] Today, scholars suspect that this massacre might have been the cause for new Viking invasions under the leadership of the Scandinavian King Swein Forkbeard. After attacking different parts of the kingdom, Swein returned to Scandinavia in 1005, because many of his men were wounded in unsuccessful fights against the English and because there was a severe famine in England.[50]


[1] Simon Keynes, “A Tale of Two Kings: Alfred the Great and Æthelred the Unready,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society Fifth Series 36 (1986), p. 196.

[2] Simon Keynes, “Vikings”, in The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Michael Lapidge, John Blair et al. (Oxford, 1999), p. 460.

[3] Keynes, “Vikings”, p. 460.

[4] Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge have compiled a translated collection of the written sources of King Alfred the Great’s reign in: Simon Keynes, Michael Lapidge, eds. trans. Alfred the Great: Asser’s Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources (London, 1983).

[5] Simon Keynes, “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle” in The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Michael Lapidge, John Blair et al. (Oxford, 1999), pp. 35.

[5] Keynes, Lapidge, Alfred, p. 10.

[6] The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle consists of annals relating Anglo-Saxon history from around 60 BC onwards. The original composition of annals is known as the ‘common stock’, and was compiled in the 890s. From then on, the ‘common stock’ was continued and amended at different times by many different chroniclers. Therefore, the Chronicle survives in different versions (MSS. A to H). Keynes, “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle”, pp. 35f.

[7] Keynes, Lapidge, Alfred, p. 10.

[8] Simon Keynes deals with King Ethelred’s diplomas in: Simon Keynes, The Diplomas of King Æthelred ‘the Unready’ 978-1016. A Study in Their Use as Historical Evidence, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, Third Series 13 (Cambridge, 1980).

[9] Keynes/Lapidge, Alfred, p. 281. An alternative translation of the Chronicle has been published by Garmonsway: George Norman Garmonsway, ed. trans. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (London, 1953).

[10] Keynes/Lapidge, Alfred, p. 16.

[11] Keynes, “A Tale”, pp. 208f.

[12] Keynes/Lapidge, Alfred, p. 18.

[13] For a list of all the ealdormen appointed during Alfred’s reign, see David Study, Alfred the Great (London, 1995), pp. 130ff.

[14] David Pratt, The Political Thought of King Alfred the Great, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, Fourth Series 67 (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 30f.

[15] Keynes/Lapidge, Alfred, p. 18.

[16] James Campbell, ed. The Anglo-Saxons (London, 1982), p. 155.

[17] Henry R. Loyn, The Governance of Anglo-Saxon England 500-1087, The Governance of England 1 (London, 1984), p. 67.

[18] Susan Irvine, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. MS E, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. A Collaborative Edition 7 (Cambridge, 2004). Transl. in: Dorothy Whitelock with David G. Douglas and Susie I. Tucker, eds. trans. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. A Revised Translation (London, 1961), p. 45: “a great heathen army”.

[19] Richard Abels, “Alfred the Great, the micel hæðen here and the Viking Threat”, in Alfred the Great. Papers from the Eleventh-Centenary Conferences, ed. Timothy Reuter (Aldershot, 2003), pp. 275f.

[20] Keynes/Lapidge, Alfred, pp. 210f.

[21] Abels, “Alfred the Great, the micel hæðen here”, p. 279.

[22] Keynes/Lapidge, Alfred, p. 79.

[23] Janet M. Bately, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. MS A, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. A Collaborative Edition 3 (Cambridge, 1986), p. 49. Transl. in Whitelock, Anglo-Saxon, p. 47: “And the West Saxons made peace with the army that year.”

[24] Keynes/Lapidge, Alfred, p. 18. Compare: Ryan Lavelle, “Towards a Political Contextualization of Peacemaking and Peace Agreements in Anglo-Saxon England”, in Peace and Negotiation. Strategies for Coexistence in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Diane Wolfthal, Arizona Studies in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance Vol.4 (Turnhout, 2000), pp. 39-55.

[25] Sturdy, Alfred, p. 145.

[26] Keynes/Lapidge, Alfred, pp. 20f.

[27] Sturdy, Alfred, p. 151.

[28] Keynes/Lapidge, Alfred, pp. 18-23.

[29] Keynes/Lapidge, Alfred, p. 171.

[30] Keynes/Lapidge, Alfred, p. 23.

[31] Bately, Anglo-Saxon, p. 53. Transl. in Whitelock, Anglo-Saxon, p. 52: “That same year King Alfred occupied London; and all the English people that were not under subjection to the Danes submitted to him.”

[32] Loyn, Governance, p. 62.

[33] Keynes/Lapidge, Alfred, pp. 41ff.

[34] Ann Williams, Æthelred the Unready. The Ill-Counselled King (London, 2003), p. 6.

[35] Williams, Æthelred, p. 12.

[36] Ryan Lavelle, Æthelred II. King of the English 978-1016 (Stroud, 2002), p. 44.

[37] Lavelle, Æthelred, pp. 45f.

[38] John Edward Damon, “Advisors for Peace in the Reign of Æthelred Unræd”, in Peace and Negotiation. Strategies for Coexistence in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Diane Wolfthal, Arizona Studies in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance Vol. 4 (Turnhout, 2000), p. 73.

[39] Campbell, Anglo-Saxo ns, p. 194.

[40] Williams, Æthelred, pp. 66f.

[41] Ian Howard, Swein Forkbeard’s Invasions and the Danish Conquest of England 991-1017, Warfare in History (Woodbridge, 2003), p. 70.

[42] Howard, Swein, pp. 16f..

[43] Campbell, Anglo-Saxo ns, p. 194.

[44] The poem has been edited and published by Donald Scragg: Donald G. Scragg, The Battle of Maldon (Manchester, 1981).

[45] For further information on the battle, see Lavelle, Æthelred, pp. 65-71.

[46] Campbell, Anglo-Saxo ns, p. 198.

[47] Williams, Æthelred, p. 47.

[48] Howard, Swein, p. 60.

[49] Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, The Anglo Saxon Chronicle. MS C, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. A Collaborative Edition 5 (Cambridge, 2001), p. 89. Transl. in: Whitelock, The Anglo-Saxon, p. 86: “And in that year the king ordered to be slain all the Danish men who were in England – this was done on St. Brice’s Day – because the king had been informed that they would treacherously deprive him, and then all his councillors, of life, and possess this kingdom afterwards.”

[50] Howard, Swein, pp. 68f..

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Alfred the Great and Ethelred the Unready. Two Anglo-Saxon Kings and their Actions against the Viking Threat
University of Göttingen
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Anna Poppen (Author), 2010, Alfred the Great and Ethelred the Unready. Two Anglo-Saxon Kings and their Actions against the Viking Threat, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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