Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Who Are All These KIngs? Ethelred II Part Three

But things did not really improve, and Ethelred’s eldest son Athelstan was killed in battle in 1014.

It was also in 1014 that Ethelred, in the company of St. Olaf, King of Norway, sailed up to London, where they were pelted with stones by Danes who had taken control of the city. They tied ropes to the wooden slats of the bridge, and pulled it down, thus being able to recapture London. This event is remembered in the children’s rhyme “London Bridge is Falling Down”.

In 1015, Ethelred led a punitive raid into Lindsey, to punish the people for welcoming Sweyn, and executed Sigeferth and Morcar, two of the leading thanes of the Danelaw. Ethelred imprisoned Sigeferth’s wife at Malmesbury. She was, however, rescued by Ethelred’s son Edmund, who married her.

In the meantime, Cnut took his fleet to Gravesend, where he was bought off again. Before that, however, he returned the hostages which his father had taken at Sandwich – minus their ears, noses and hands.

When Cnut returned later that year, it was increasingly Edmund who led the English, especially after Edmund and Ethelred had quarrelled about the need to defend the Kingdom. Although Edmund was gladly followed in Mercia, gaining the title Ironside, the men of the South refused to fight unless the King led them in person – not something that happened very often.

Edric Streona again declared himself for Ethelred, although Edmund declined to join him and risk the usual betrayal. So Edric defected to Cnut.

Cnut made a lightning strike into Northumbria and killed Earl Uhtred, who would probably have fought alongside Edmund

In 1016, on 23rd April, a day later to be celebrated by Englishmen as St. George’s Day, Ethelred died. He was only 48, but he was worn out with the cares of kingship, a role for which he was clearly unsuitable.

Ethelred had married twice, and had a number of children, some of whom survived him.

His first marriage was in 980 to Elgiva, the daughter of Ealdorman Thored of York.

Their children were Athelstan, born in 986 and regarded as the probable next King, until being killed in battle in 1014; Edmund, who succeeded his father as King; Edgar, who died in the fighting in 1014; Edred, who also died in the fighting in 1014; Edric, who died young; Edward, who died in 1004; Edwy, who was murdered on Cnut’s orders in 1020, after a failed attempt to place him on the throne; Egbert, who died in 1005; Edith, who married the notorious Edric Streona; Elgiva, who married Uhtred, Earl of Northumbria; Wulfhilda, who married Ulfketl, Ealdorman of East Anglia; and two daughters whose names are not known.

After Elgiva died at Winchester in 1002, Ethelred married, within weeks, Emma, daughter of Richard I, Duke of Normandy. It was hoped that this union would ensure that the Danes would not be able to use Normandy as a base for attacking the South of England.

The children of this marriage were Edward, later to be known as Edward the Confessor; Alfred, who was murdered on Earl Godwin’s orders at Ely; and Godgifu, who was married firstly to Drogo, Count of Mantes, and secondly to Eustace II, Count of Boulogne.

Emma, who had remained loyal to Ethelred to the end, was later to marry Cnut.

Ethelred was buried at Old St. Pauls Cathedral, but his remains were lost during the Great Fire of London in 1666. He is one of a number of prominent people who are remembered for this reason on a tablet at the entrance to the crypt of Wren’s cathedral built after the fire.

He was succeeded, firstly by Sweyn, and then after his restoration and subsequent death by his son Edmund II.