Friday, November 13, 2009

Today In History: "Unræd" means "bad idea"...

The king of England in the latter half of the Tenth Century, Æthelred the Deuce, (known to history as "Ethelred the Unready",) was getting pretty tired of Viking raids all up and down the English coast. He was especially annoyed at reports that the raiders were being given aid and comfort by the undocumented Danish aliens who had been settling in the eastern half of the country.

Therefore he launched a cunning plan: In order to cut down on the amount of assistance they could give the seagoing freelance tax men, he would have all the Dane settlers in England put to death. Every man jack of them. Every woman jack and child jack, too. The massacres were carried out on St. Brice's Day, November 13th of 1002AD.

Unfortunately for Æthelred, one of the woman jacks he had killed had a brother, and her brother was currently working as a king in Denmark, going by the rather butch handle of "Sweyn Forkbeard". Sweyn saddled up his posse and after the requisite amount of burning and pillaging and bribing and betraying, Æthelred skipped town for Normandy ahead of the Viking horde and Sweyn was crowned king of England, too.

With two crowns under his belt, as it were, Sweyn only needed to conquer three more countries and he'd get the sixth free, but he died before he could get any more punches on his card, leaving his son Canute to deal with Britain and Æthelred.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Cnut was a great legal reformer, giving us hope, change and the Code of Cnut the Great.

Cnut did to England what Obama is doing to the USA--taxes, bloodshed, intrigue, alliances with those hostile to the country and lots of new laws.

Shootin' Buddy

Tam said...

I don't think Canute was a native-born Englishman. They should have demanded to see his birth certificate.

Earl said...

In those days, only the Angles and Saxons were Englishmen, and Canute was of the Viking persuasion... Concentrate on the KING part, after the v for victory and the I for it is all about himself. When he got old enough the famous story about his turning the tide became ours... and he was not wrong "The tide waits on no man." gosh can run this forever. He was definitely not English.

Brian J. said...

As a reminder, the appelation "the Unready" originally meant "the uneducated," not "the Obama-y."

Tam said...

The Wikiist caught me off guard. I knew what "Aethelred" meant, and I knew what "Unraed" meant, but I had never stopped to think on the fact that it was actually a pretty funny nickname to hang on the guy.

Wolfwood said...

Hold on...I'd always heard that "Unready" was a misspelling of "Unrædy," which in turn meant "one who doesn't listen to counsel."

Ed Foster said...

forget the family squabbles among the Scandihoovian English along the east coast, there's an even bigger split between the ones who tan and the ones who burn.

To this day, there is a great deal of regional dislike between the western English and the eastern English. Hilarious story told by a friend of mine from York who found himself in a little village in west Yorkshire.

He calls it his "Strawdogs" moment, and is convinced any of the pink, round faced Pommies found in the western half of the island are sister-mounting cretinoids, with the worst found in Cornwall.

The entire north-west fourth of England, along with a big chunk of south-west Scotland, was a Welsh speaking area called Cumbria until suprisingly recent times.

Cornish is still spoken as a family tradition and seems to be making a comback, and the Welsh claim everything up to the city limits of Chester. With a certain justification, as most of the names and faces you see in the Welsh marches are indeed Taffie.

Another friend, from Oswestry, goes out of his way to dislike the east Yorkshireman, who reciprocates.

There is a Welsh TV cartoon that is quite popular with the kiddies. It shows all the happy, hard working little Welsh speaking mice going about their business, until attacked by big, scrofuloid rats, all speaking Cockney flavored English.

Except for their leader, called "Meelord", who has a quite Etonian drawl.

The Welsh mice always win in the end, by being brave, clever, and working together, with the rats driven out into the forest to lick their wounds and vow revenge.

The place is going rapidly down the crapper (Crapper was a Yorkshireman), and the silly buggers are still fighting the Saxon-Briton thing from 405 A.D.

If the railroads hadn't come in during the 19th century, they wouldn't even be speaking the same language.

A great place to visit, but...

Anonymous said...

Yah,that was poor planning ont he part of Aethelred, because once the Scandinavians got in with their adminstration that was pretty well the end of Anglo-Saxon England... they did stage a comeback first as a Saxo-Scandinavian mix, but that proved not to have the mojo to deal both Hardrada and William in short succession.

(Talk about "bad luck" - pissing off the the two greatest European expeditionary military leaders at of the era at the SAME TIME.)

And once William got his claws into the island the Anglo-Scando aristocratic culture got the boot, in the head, but hard. Not only did "all your base belong to us", but the women too.

Matt G said...

"...leaving his son Canute to deal with Britain and Æthelred."

Knute dealt with Æthelred, and not Harold? Let's not be too Hastings!

Sam said...

"With two crowns under his belt, as it were, Sweyn only needed to conquer three more countries and he'd get the sixth free, but he died before he could get any more punches on his card"

Now that's teh funny, right there.

Don said...

Laughed out loud.

Thanks!

Ed Foster said...

Matt G, you should be ashamed of yourself. That pun was so bad it's actually kind of good.

Anonymous, he actually pissed off three of the greatest European expeditionary leaders of all time.

William's cavalry was composed of Norman heavies in the center and right flank, and Breton light cavalry on the left flank.

The Bretons were commanded by Leary, the first Irish king of Dublin, and former commander of the Byzantine's Varangian cavalry.

The Normans exausted themselves in charge after charge at the Saxon shieldburg, and, as the day was ending, staggered back down the hill with their horses slipping and falling.

The Saxons, realizing the Norman plight, broke their shield wall to run downhil and rip the Normans out of their saddles and butcher them.

Then Leary and his fresh, professionally handled Bretons (they'd spent the battle fighting dismounted, working in shifts) broke in on the exposed Saxon flank and rolled them up with brutal butchery, saving William's ass.

Leary then tailed off most of his light cavalrymen in a ruthless pursuit of the retreating Saxons that lasted three days and carpeted the road from Senlac to London with dead locals.

If the Saxons scattered, they were ridden down and speared in the back. If they forted up in a farmhouse or barn, they were burned alive, along with whomever offered them help.

If they formed up and stood their ground, the Bretons dismounted, engaged them on foot from three sides, then peppered the shield wall on the forth side with arrows until it crumbled and the horse mounted spearmen poured through.

No quarter was given, and none of the Bretons stopped to loot, as they were being quite well paid in free land at the conclusion of the campaign. Also, they were exceptionally disciplined and lived in awe of Leary's infamous boot.

Britain hadn't seen professional light cavalry since the departure of the Romans six centuries before, and it wasn't until the evolution of the Welsh Hedgehog a century later that defeated foot soldiers could manage a retreat without being massacred.

Interestingly, the Bretons were given land in western England, in the Welsh marches.

Since Bretons and Welshmen are essentially the same people, William and his sons thought it practical to stop border jumping Welsh raiders with Breton bodies, setting the two Celtic peoples at each other's throats.

It didn't work, as they soon intermarried, and the area was of shaky loyalty to the crown until the invasion of Ireland a century later, when virtually all of the "English" troops were Welsh or Breton.