Ethelred was born around 966, the son of Edgar, King of England and Elfthryth. Edgar died suddenly in July 975, leaving controversy over who would succeed him.
Ethelred’s elder half-brother Edward although believed illegitimate, came to the throne but was assassinated after only three years by members of Ethelred’s household. Ethelred now took the throne in 978, he was no more than fourteen years-old.
In 980 the Danish started small raids along the English coastline including Hampshire and Kent. Over the next 3 years they continued these in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset.
The Battle of Maldon took place in 991 and was a crushing defeat for the English, leading to further raids in 991 – 993. In 994 the Danes headed for London, but there was no decisive victory and a treaty was agreed and the Danes were paid gold and silver to secure peace. This later became known as Danegold.
The Danes raided again in 997, but again the English paid them off with Danegold in 1002.
On 13 November 1002, St Brice’s Day, Ethelred ordered the massacre of all Danish settlers in England, however there were areas where the Danes were too strong to complete this, but it is believed that Gunhilde, sister of Sweyn Forkbeard, King of Denmark was one of the victims.
The Danes continued to raid England, but England continued to pay them off. In 1007, the Danes were paid £36,000 and in 1012 they were paid £48,000.
In 1013 Sweyn, King of Denmark invaded again, this time with the intention of crowning himself King of England and by the end of 1013 he had succeeded, however his reign did not last long and he died on 3 February 1014. Sweyn’s army then swore allegiance to his son Canute.
Ethelred, who following the 1013 invasion had fled to Normandy, was now convinced to return and regain his throne, and he launched an army against Canute.
Canute decided in 1014 to withdraw his army and return to Denmark, as he was unable to complete his preparations to fight. He would however return in April 1015.
When Canute returned to England he found that Edmund Ironside, son of Ethelred had revolted against his father, however they finally joined forces again to defend London.
Ethelred died on 23 April 1016, and is buried in Old St Paul’s Cathedral, London.
His son Edmund Ironside now continued the fight against Canute.
Canute won a decisive victory at the Battle of Ashingdon on 12 October 1016, however acknowledging Edmund’s reputation as a great warrior, he agreed to divide the country and gave Edmund control over Wessex.
Edmund died on 30 October 1016 and Canute became ruler of the whole of England.